Thanks to Duterte gov't confusion, the Left regains influence
Many have been castigating the national democratic Left, to which the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) belong, as to why they remain in partnership with the Duterte administration.
These critics have accused these particular leftists of "pera pera lang 'yan" or "hayok sa posisyon lang." From the surface, it would seem so. But are they really that stupid, greedy, and shallow?
One must understand that the national democratic movement suffered a severe shock and setback during the disaster of the 1986 snap elections boycott campaign and their marginalization following that. This was a very painful and traumatic experience for the above- and underground forces of the national democrats. From being previously seen even by the United States government as the number one threat to the Marcos dictatorship, they had been swept aside and rendered irrelevant following the 1986 EDSA Revolution.
Aside from deposing the dictator, the EDSA Revolution also managed to impose a crushing defeat on the ambitions of the CPP-NPA to advance the armed struggle from strategic defensive to that of strategic stalemate.
This led to a steady drop in national democratic membership, especially in the underground movement, in the years following 1986. From a high of 30,000 guerrilla fighters in 1985, the NPA by 2016 had gone down to 3,500 guerrillas. Revolutionary Fronts haVE been overwhelmed by successive government counter-insurgency programs in the past 30 years, gutting the mass base of the movement.
This mass base is the very source of support for their cadres and guerrillas in matters of recruitment and extortion. During the mid-1990s, or 10 years after EDSA 1, the Philippine military felt confident enough to consider modernization programs to address external defense requirements following the Mischief Reef incident, and left the primary responsibility of dealing with the CPP-NPA to the Philippine National Police. Unfortunately for the PNP, it was next to useless in facing off the communists by itself so, after a short while, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reassumed primary responsibility again.
By 2014, the second Aquino administration sought to reassess the threats affecting the Philippines. For the first time, the CPP-NPA lost out to the People’s Republic of China as the number one threat to the country. The CPP-NPA was dismissed as a mere bandit organization that was more interested in collecting funds through extortion rackets than in furthering the people’s war.
Hence, Duterte's peace initiative is a shot in the arm for the national democratic movement and the CPP-NPA. Of course, money does play a crucial role in their activities, especially that of the CPP-NPA. But the dream of re-establishing their strength and influence never left the national democrats, and when they were given plum positions in the Duterte administration as part of the peace process, they hit two birds with one stone.
First bird hit: They became influential in policy making processes in the national government, which they never enjoyed at all and was a first in their history. That claim by RAM coup plotters in the 1980s that Corazon Aquino had appointed communists in her Cabinet was a bunch of hogwash. It took Rodrigo Duterte to bring them in. Ironically some of the same RAM members who are now avid supporters of the Duterte administration for whatever personal reasons that they have, and who cried the loudest in the 1980s against alleged communist infiltration, do not seem to bat an eyelash against that very decision of Duterte.
However, with individuals linked to the national democrats and CPP occupying positions of power in the Cabinet and other agencies, this created suspicion between them and those involved in national security. This had the effect of neutralizing a cardinal concept of governance which is that of whole of government approaches to solving problems affecting the country.
Second bird: More importantly is that this led to confusion and lack of direction in the security sector, as the Duterte administration concentrated exclusively on the drug war and left the military with no coherent policy guidance as to how to deal with the CPP-NPA. Naturally, the CPP-NPA took advantage of this. They managed to organize in areas they had been cleared from. They added hundreds of new recruits into the ranks of the guerrilla movement in less than a year, and had continued mounting offensives, to the chagrin of the confused AFP.
Hence, the Duterte administration ended up rejuvenating the national democrats and CPP-NPA. Since the national democrats are well-versed in history, they are very much aware that such alliances are not meant to last. In fact, given the recent non-confirmations of Judy Taguiwalo and Rafael Mariano by the Commission on Appointments, they know that the relationship will end very soon.
Still, they are patient and are biding their time for that inevitable moment and will milk the relationship for all its strategic and tactical worth. Every single day of government confusion is an additional day for the aboveground and underground movements to strengthen, consolidate, and expand.
Eventually the break will occur and when it does, the Philippine government’s severely overstretched security forces will face a confident and strengthened aboveground and underground movement. Given the disunity and petty squabbles present within the political opposition, the national democrats again have a chance to reassert themselves as the dominant anti-government opposition, pretty much the same way that they did in the 1970s and early 1980s before they squandered it all in 1986.
As Duterte has threatened martial law against future CPP-NPA attacks, this is tantamount to fighting off a swarm of flies with a stick covered in excrement. Martial law is going to be another shot in the arm for the national democrats that may create their much sought for revolutionary situation that has eluded them since 1986. Martial Law in their analysis will result in harsh and draconian measures that they hope will create more abuses against the civilian population. After all, the CPP-NPA has always said that the repressive and dictatorial Marcos regime was their best recruiter. As can be seen in the situation in Lanao del Sur and areas affected by operations against the Maute, the declaration of Martial Law has not diminished what many observers have seen as anti-government sentiments among a number of Maranaos.
It then becomes a race between the government and anti-government forces as to who can win over the disenchanted population. In the case of the CPP-NPA, Martial Law abuses may create the conditions for mass base expansion, guerrilla recruitment, and sanctuaries. They hope to further exploit the Duterte administration’s focus on the drug war, which has caused so many police abuses, and the military’s distraction with the Maute group, which has seen large numbers of government troops tied down in Lanao del Sur, leaving other parts of the country vulnerable to communist activities.
No, the National Democrats and the underground communists are not fools. In their mind, they can sense a brewing revolutionary situation. In fact it seems that the national democrats and the CPP-NPA apparently have gotten their mojo back, thanks mainly to the incoherence of the Duterte administration. These are indeed interesting times. – Rappler.com
Jose Antonio Custodio is a security and defense consultant. He specializes in military history and has post-graduate studies in history from the University of the Philippines. He occasionally teaches history and political science in several universities in Metro Manila.