Leaders of Asia’s longest-running insurgency say thousands of armed guerrillas and mass activists are ready to parry the threat of an all-out war under President Rodrigo Duterte.
The CPP on Wednesday issued a statement calling for "all-out resistance to overthrow the US-Duterte fascist regime."
Duterte’s hold on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is much weaker than the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, according to Jose Ma. Sison, the exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
“Government and AFP resources under Duterte are far less and weaker than under Marcos,” Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), said.
The communist leader was replying to questions sent by ABS-CBNNews on the eve of the November 28 clashes in Batangas that killed 14 suspected rebels, the biggest defeat for the New People’s Army in years.
“The CPP, NPA and the masses have already sized up the strength and capabilities of their enemy and are well-prepared to fight him,” Sison said. “The NPA has spread nationwide and has gained experience and strength so many times since 1969.”
Duterte terminated peace talks with the NDFP on November 23. He accused the underground left of engaging in "acts of violence and hostilities" while negotiating for peace.
He threatened to treat the CPP, the NPA and the NDFP as terrorist organizations and said he would unleash the AFP and the Philippine National Police on armed guerrillas and legal activists.
With the five-month war in Marawi against militants linked to the global Islamic State terror network over, new firearms and air resources, and an ongoing ceasefire with mainstream Moro rebel armies, leaders of the 170,000-strong AFP believe they can meet their 2018 timetable of defeating an insurgency that has fought for half a century.
Sison, however, said the peace talks never halted military offensives against the communist movement.”
Since Duterte took power, he said, the former Davao City mayor “adopted and implemented without letup an all-out war policy against the armed revolutionary movement and its mass base.”
During the ceasefires, including the long one from late August 2016 to early February 2017, the military and police “never ceased to occupy communities and commit human rights violations,” Sison said, referring to complaints filed under peace talks mechanisms.
“They deliberately took advantage of the NPA’s strict observance of its unilateral ceasefire to expand and intensify their clearing operations. They never withdrew to barracks,” he stressed.
The NPA has “thousands of full-time Red fighters, augmented by the people´s militia, armed city partisans and self-defense units in underground mass organizations,” according to Sison.
The AFP, on the other hand, claims the NPA has less than 4,000 armed members.
Last month, the AFP announced the surrender of 40 NPA rebels, bringing to 417 the number of rebels who have turned themselves in since Duterte lifted the government’s unilateral ceasefire against the NPA.
The AFP said it had “neutralized” 609 rebels since February, killing 121 and arresting 41 others, with 331 firearms recovered.
The rights group Karapatan, however, has filed charges of murder and homicides in several cases, claiming soldiers had killed civilians and legal personalities.
New figures for 2017 from the AFP list 64 casualties among state agents and injuries to 127 others as a result of clashes with the NPA.
The AFP also claims rebels killed 70 civilians, including a four-month old baby. The NPA has apologized for the death of an infant riding in a vehicle behind another targeted in an ambush.
In several statements over the months, however, it defended reprisals against persons described as military informants and local officials and warlords commanding private armies involved in repressive activities.
A CPP statement in March this year cited Duterte’s command for the AFP to “flatten the hills” by using helicopter gunships and newly-acquired jet-fighters to conduct aerial bombardments.
Ang Bayan, the official publication of the CPP, said the AFP has carried out bombing runs in Compostela Valley, Sarangani, Abra, Maguindanao, Agusan del Norte and others places.
Peace talks and short-lived unilateral ceasefires by both sides never stopped clashes, especially since December when the CPP ordered stepped up defense of guerilla bases against military incursions.
The move irked the President, who rejected the notion of rebels holding any territory and insisted on the military and police’s authority to patrol the countryside.
The CPP on Wednesday released a statement urging “all democratic forces to brace for and resist” Duterte’s threatened onslaught.
It rejected the “terrorist” label, saying it enjoys “deep and wide support among the people, both in the cities and countryside.”
In March, it claimed to have 70,000 party members nationwide.
Sison told ABS-CBNNews that armed struggle and even legal struggles “flourished in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon even under strong attacks by the enemy. “
He also said a rectification campaign that started even before Duterte assumed the Presidency has improved the strategic potential of the revolutionary movement.
“A rectification movement is being undertaken to deal with erroneous ideas and currents, such as conservatism, militiaism, civilianism and the like, which slow down the armed struggle in some areas,” Sison said.
Rectification has apparently been accompanied with reorganization of leftist forces nationwide.
Sison said the experience, knowledge and skills of strong regions “are now being disseminated in the relatively weaker guerrilla fronts and white areas as a result of the CPP Second Congress.”
“In all areas of struggle, positive and negative lessons are studied in order to raise the level of knowledge and practice,” the communist leader added.
He said the NPA has preserved itself and grown in strength through “centralized leadership and decentralized operations.”
The rebel army, he said, concentrated forces to launch offensives and then shifted and dispersed to avoid superior enemy force and carry out mass work.
“To change the balance of forces, the NPA has carried out tactical offensives through extensive and intensive guerrilla warfare on the basis of an expanding and deepening mass base,” Sison said.
The CPP held its second congress, the first in nearly five decades, in the last quarter of 2016, coinciding with the unilateral ceasefire period.
Ang Bayan said the CPP elected a new set of leaders during the congress, which took place in a guerrilla base despite “relentless” military operations and was guarded by a battalion of NPA fighters.
The CPP has often been criticized for its aging leadership. The second congress elected a new Central Committee and Political Bureau for a five-year term, with more than half composed of young and middle-aged cadres, Ang Bayan said.
It said 30% of the second congress delegates were above 60 years old, with 60% in the 45-59 years age bracket and 15% below 44 years old.
Forty-five percent of the delegates came from five Mindanao regions, 40% from Luzon and 14% from the Visayas.
The reorganization of the CPP reflects the summing up of the second congress, which acknowledged “the stark imbalance between the development of the people’s war in Mindanao, on the one hand, and the stagnation in Luzon and Visayas.”
It ordered the building of new party branches and barrios, factories, schools and urban communities and the building of new NPA platoons.
The latter order was in response to the vulnerability wrought by “the overdispersal of NPA units in squads or teams in some regions in the counterproductive effort of covering a wide area with limited forces.”