The Renewed Filipino Insurgency War and US-China geopolitical games

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We read stories of reports of casualties in the ongoing insurgency war. People are being killed from both sides—the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Several days before the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Filipino hero Andres Bonifacio, disturbing reports of young military men ambushed in the Visayas and Mindanao surfaced in the media. At the other side of the fence, a statement said that a young consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDF), Ericson Acosta, and his companion were reportedly killed by Army elements in an alleged “encounter” in Negros. That’s the official government version. Another version from the NDF indicated that Army intelligence agents might have attacked Acosta by hacking and stabbing him to death.

I don’t need to get official statistics. The Nation is losing its brightest sons and daughters to an intractable war that seems to be heading toward an intensification never before seen in this country’s history. With both sides closing their doors on peace, this insurgency war will never stop and will surely frustrate whatever economic gains this administration expects to reap. The losers here are Filipinos, ordinary citizens who want to live peacefully under a stable economy.

These stories indicate a disturbing spike in counter-insurgency operations since Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Junior ascended as President. While the NDF has expressed its intention to work with Marcos on peace, the administration has not responded equally encouragingly. This indicates that government is somewhat confident of its direction—annihilate the revolutionary forces by engaging in community-based interactions, thereby splitting the movement now run remotely by its leaders abroad.

That explains why no development on the peace front is being reported as I write this. The public needs to find out if there is a peace adviser. Without a peace adviser from the civilian sector, indeed, the hawks within Malacanan have won their argument through the NTC-ELCAC. This insurgency war will surely intensify throughout the Marcos Junior administration.

Two obvious reasons why the BBM administration wants armed confrontation against what it describes as a “slowly dying” Leftist movement. First, the United States government had just agreed with the BBM administration, allowing the Superpower to use seven military camps in the country as forward bases. Some of the areas being considered are, right now, heavily engaged in the counter-insurgency war. The US knows that it risks exposure of its personnel in these areas because of the continuing presence of Communist rebels. In the past, US personnel had been killed by Filipino insurgents. Many US-led operations were compromised when rebels bombed and attacked military installations, particularly during the first Marcos regime. I am pretty sure that the initial US$70 million that the US gave as a form of military assistance will be spent primarily on counter-insurgency operations, which is understandable given the propensity of Filipino rebels to harm US military personnel.

The second reason seems to be the perception of the military that the mainstream Left is dying. They presumed that there was already fragmentation within the movement. With just 2,000 rebels remaining, the Left is seen as weakening at the seams and its very core. This figure remains doubtful, especially the assertion that only nine (9) active guerilla fronts exist throughout the archipelago. Reports are rife that the movement is attracting thousands of young activists who have lost their trust and confidence in the government for the past few years. Instead of weakening, the best description of the movement right now is that it is undergoing a consolidation phase.

They are underestimating the capabilities and traditional strength of the revolutionary movement. First, it is wrong to presuppose and compare the Hukbalahap and the CPP-NPA-NDF on an apple-to-apple basis. Many military experts believe the CPP-NPA-NDF will “slowly fade away” beset by succession and leadership problems. Assassinating the middle and top echelon of the Party seems to be the tactic the military employs. This tactic came from their interpretation of the historical fate of the Huks—isolate the Leaders from their mass bases and lure its members from the armed struggle by dangling financial benefits such as livelihood projects, etc.

Historically, the Hukbalahap was never defeated by Magsaysay’s charm offensive—it just hibernated and morphed into what is now known as the CPP-NPA-NDF. This means that the revolutionary movement here is so widely and socially entrenched that traditional counter-insurgency tactics like Low-Intensity Conflicts (LIC) might not work as effectively as such strategies did in Central and Southern America and Indo-China.

The thing is, the second component of the AFP strategy—that of winning the hearts and minds of the CPP-NPA-NDF—seems to be backfiring. Slowly, rebels realize that this civil component of the counter-insurgency strategy is just a ploy to constrict their movements for eventual neutralization. Many so-called “balik-loob” or rebel returnees are not given the proper livelihood or financial assistance as promised by the government. And those who did indeed receive such service remain under constant surveillance by military agents. Worse, some were even killed under spurious circumstances. Meaning, laudable as this plan may look on paper, on the ground, this is being exploited by unscrupulous members of the military who reportedly corrupted public funds for their benefit. That explains why most rebel returnees return to the fold of the movement because life outside those rebel camps seems to be worse and uncertain.

The military cannot defeat a grassroots-based organization just by its carrot-and-stick strategy. One must understand that the Left is not just a movement but a fully mature revolutionary organization with a tiny economy. Over the years, the CPP-NPA-NDF has developed a vast network that operates similarly to a shadow government in several parts of the archipelago. It would be tough to dismantle even the economic support system the Party had established over the years.

I hate to burst the military’s bubble, but I believe the path toward peace will remain elusive. Using military tactics to solve an insurgency that has survived the most brutal and murderous challenges that a 150,000-strong military armed with billions of pesos worth of funds had thrown at them for nearly six decades will never work. Worse, with the BBM administration dragging the US into this counter-insurgency fight, what is evident is the possibility of China also heightening its support for these rebels thru funds and supply of war material. As they say, the enemy of your enemy is my friend. It would be in the best interest of China to support the CPP-NPA-NDF because these local insurgents would serve their purpose of frustrating the plan of the US to arm the Philippines and make it a de facto colony. With this becoming a certainty in the next few months, expect not just an intensification of the brutality of this war—but a worsening of economic conditions that may lead to extreme armed civil conflict.

 

 

 

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