The numbers don’t add up. Since 2016, the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) has been pictured as a “dying movement” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). From a high of 25,000 New People’s Army regulars to a mere 3,900 by 2016. Yet, just this April of 2022, the National Task Force To End Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC reported the surrender of 23,000 rebels and expected between 8-10,000 more to surrender by year’s end. How did the Communists grow from just 4,000 in 2016 to 35,000 in 2022? If this is the case, then it goes without saying that former president Rodrigo Roa Duterte already replaced former dictator Ferdinand Marcos as the best recruiter of Communist rebels because the figures given by his very own Interior secretary indicate a phenomenal growth of the Leftist Movement in just a very short time. Or, any reasonable person would presume or raise the possibility that the Task Force is bloating out the figure to justify its existence, particularly its 10 billion peso budget? Just askin.
The Philippines remains the only country with an intractable Maoist-inspired insurgency. Despite the death of Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the government, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), remains engaged with the Party’s active armed force—the New People’s Army (NPA). Both camps stay on high alert since no one declared a Christmas ceasefire. The CPP leadership ordered its armed forces to remain defensive, and all fronts were ordered to intensify offensive attacks against government forces.
The AFP identifies only 23 active guerilla fronts, with only five reportedly capable of implementing party objectives and 18 fronts “weak and gasping for breath.” AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Agular attributes this to a supposed “communication problem” between the Party’s Central leadership and its operating units due to the alleged neutralization of its top leaders, including Benito Tiamzon and his wife.  Tiamzon once served as Party Chairman.
There remain about 2,000 active fighters, according to the Philippine military. This estimation is being used to justify the apparent success of the four-year-old National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTC-ELCAC, an anti-insurgency body created by former President Rodrigo Duterte thru Executive Order 70 last December 4, 2018.
Billions upon billions of pesos are being used to support livelihood assistance projects with so-called rebel surrenderees residing in 822 barangays under the so-called NPA armed fronts. So far, as Rappler checked, the government has already released the Barangay Development Fund of the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), amounting to P16.24 billion (around $321 million) to fund 2,276 projects to at least 812 barangays, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) last 2021. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said projects include 926 farm-to-market roads, 516 water and sanitation projects, 156 health stations, and 135 school buildings.
If we follow this, there are only ten barangays with active NPA fighters nationwide. Spread the estimated number of active soldiers, and you have at least 200 rebels per barangay still fighting government forces. This means that the Task Force needs only 200 million pesos more to erase insurgents’ presence in these areas finally.
Question—why is it that Congress still approved the 10-billion-peso budget for NTC-ELAC?
During budget deliberations, a Senate panel noted that only twenty-six percent of NTF-ELCAC funds for 2,318 projects from this P16.4 billion barangay development program had been spent. At Congress, meanwhile, NTF-ELCAC reported that it has only completed 48% of its projects under the Support for Barangay Development Program (SBDP), while another 48% are still ongoing. The remaining two percent are still in the procurement stage. For 2022, NTF-ELCAC reported only a two percent completion rate, with 98% still under the procurement stage.
With these delays, how can we expect a higher success rate given that surrenderers are being promised left and right by NTC-ELCAC of financial assistance the minute these people put down their arms? Answer—we don’t. Due to these delays, surrenderers have a 50-50 chance of being assisted the minute they surrender. Meaning a surrenderer does not expect to normalize his life soon because funds for projects that are supposed to aid him in his reintegration into society are still either being played by some political forces in the local government unit (LGU) or stuck at the government treasury.
What’s the success rate of the NTC-ELCAC?
Last April, the NTF reported the surrender of 23,000 alleged NPAs.  That is the highest number of rebel surrenderees in the history of counter-insurgency in the country in one year. Four months later, the government announced that it expects 8 to 10,000 more rebels to surrender, of which pegs the current number to only 2,000 remaining rebels active in five different guerilla fronts. Meaning the real target of the Task Force is about 35,000 rebels.
Let’s presume that the figure is correct and not concocted to justify the continuation of the task force budget. If this is true, all the previous reports submitted by the Armed Forces were either inaccurate or just plain fake news.
Since the time of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the AFP has been reporting a steady decline in active guerillas, from as high as 25,000 in 1986 to as little as 3,900 in 2016.  If there were only 3,900 rebels in 2016, how in the hell that 23,000 rebels come back to the fold of the law in 2022—four years after the task force was made? Where did that figure come from? If the AFP had announced just 3,900 remaining rebels in 2016, then, curiously, and after spending billions of pesos of counter-insurgency funds, NPA numbers whittled a little bit to around 2,000 in 2022?
If this figure of 35,000 includes civilians or non-combatants, then the Task Force should have a different name altogether. If the mission of this task force is to end “armed conflict,” then it should concentrate its efforts on luring rebel combatants only, not civilians or non-combatants. Why would a task force dedicated to ending “armed conflict” consider civilians or non-combatants involved in NGOs or cause-oriented groups as “rebels” when they don’t bear arms, thus not engaged in armed conflict with state forces? Okay, so one dumb analyst says they serve as recruiters, or they aid or abet the rebels; ergo, they must be considered fair game. If this is the case, should the military run after environmentalists, particularly those living in palatial mansions at Forbes? Or how about priests and nuns working in the poorest communities in the country? Should the TF also run or neutralize lawyers helping workers, farmers, and indigenous folks in their struggle against their oppressors?
These people are not involved in the armed conflict. And if those involved in the armed conflict number only 2,000, why a 10-billion-peso budget? Likewise, the NTF website says its strategy is founded on the “whole of nation” approach. How will the government stay true to this approach when it considers innocent civilians as targets? Instead of attracting them to the government side, the Task Force (TF) seems to be alienating them and even considering these civilians as rebels to add the numbers up. No wonder this insurgency remains intractable because our government already considered them a lucrative cottage industry.
This is dangerous. We all know what happened to the military establishment in the ebbing years of the dictatorship—it nearly wrecked itself due to massive corruption and cronyism. The government spent billions of pesos fighting the Communists, yet rebel numbers kept rising. Several research findings indicate that these funds were spent wantonly, and most even lined up the pockets of corrupt military officials. With funding civilian militias like the Tadtads in Davao to carpet bombing indigenous people’s communities in the Cordilleras, the Marcosian war machine aided by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) woke up one morning to find out that 25,000 Filipinos turned rogue. Worse, the AFP encountered a severe moral dilemma because corruption seeped into the creases of the institution, eroding discipline and morale. 
Now, history is repeating itself. Public funds are being used to put a 50-year-old insurgency to its knees. In its efforts at ending this armed struggle, the government is corrupting an institution that is supposed to defend us from external and internal threats. Seriously, it doesn’t add up.
 Elmer Requerdo. NICA confirms death of Tiamzon couple. Daily Tribune. 22 December 2022 see link: https://tribune.net.ph/2022/12/23/nica-confirms-tiamzon-couples-death/
 ‘Francis Earl Cueto. Surrender of 23K NPA rebels proof of NTF-Elcac success.’ Manila times. www.manilatimes.net. 6 April 2022 see link: https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/04/06/news/national/surrender-of-23k-npa-rebels-proof-of-ntf-elcac-success/1838995.
 Kristina Maralit. Surrender of 10,000 communist rebels seen. Manila Times, August 18, 2022, see link: https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/08/18/news/national/surrender-of-10000-communist-rebels-seen/1855015.
 Alexis Romero. AFP insists NPA strength is down to 3,900. Philippine Star. www.philstar.com, 11 January 2016. See link:https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/01/11/1541823/afp-insists-npa-strength-down-3900.
 Dencio Acop. The Expanded Nontraditional Role of the AFP: A Reassessment. PRISM 3(2).