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[OPINION] Don’t pass the anti-terror bill; legalize the Communist party instead

Let us not kid ourselves: the proposed anti-terrorism bill is a measure aimed at combatting the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Certainly, the military also wants more leeway to go after extremist Islamists. Still, groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute faction are so obviously inimical to national security that our government does not need a law enshrining a vague definition of terrorism to go after them. 

Neither of us is sympathetic to the CPP, its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA), or the “National Democratic” (ND) organizations under its penumbra. Not only have we called attention to their Machiavellian politics — from the Plaza Miranda bombing to their internal purges to their active collaboration with Duterte at the height of the drug war. We have also maintained that any organization that arrogates unto itself the right to speak for the people only to betray them repeatedly is dangerous and totalitarian. Like many Filipinos, we hope to see the end of this fifty-year-old insurrection sooner than later, as much as we want our people’s oppression and exploitation that sustained this longest Communist revolution in the world eliminated. 

The fighting, however, cannot be ended through draconian measures like the anti-terrorism bill. Instead, the government must commit to steps that lead to the full legalization of the CPP and its full participation in electoral politics. 

Currently, the CPP is only legal on paper. President Ramos repealed the anti-subversion law in 1992, making membership in the CPP technically legal. However, with laws like the Human Security Act, it has been easy for the government to argue that membership in the Party makes one an accessory to rebellion. Such laws, therefore, drive Communism further underground and make it difficult for the state to moderate the party through electoral politics. The problem will only become worse with an anti-terrorism law. 

We already know that repression doesn’t work. Marcos tried it, and he earned himself the moniker of “the NPA’s best recruiter,” as the Communist army swelled from roughly 2,500 troops in the late 60s to over 20,000 in the early 80s. 

President Duterte has repeatedly declared his admiration for the Marcos dictatorship. But he also knows what an authoritarian order could do to our politics. The dictatorship’s “anti-terrorism” measures ripped Davao’s City social fabric in the 1980s, turning its districts into battle zones between the Communist partisans and the military. Agdao district, where the urban poor lived, became known as Nicar-Agdao — a homage to the brutal fighting between the Sandinistas and the army in Nicaragua. During those fateful days, Dabaweños became used to dead bodies in their esteros and iskinitas. The repression attracted so much support for the Communists that even Duterte’s mother, Nanay Soling, and his friend Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez marched the streets with the Reds. (READ: [OPINION] Martial rule without martial law: An anti-terror bill subtext)

The fall of Marcos and the return of constitutional politics, no matter how flawed, dissipated political tensions. As a result, the Party split in 1992 into different factions that each had a different vision of revolution in the post-authoritarian period. But more importantly, many of its cadres opted for open politics. Until today, there are tensions within the Party, with certain groups more open to peaceful, parliamentary reform than others. The government should empower these reformers by showing their critics from within the Party that peaceful change is possible. 

The Communists have repeatedly “reaffirmed” their commitment to Mao Tse Tung Thought and the armed struggle. And, yes, in certain areas, the New People’s Army has regained company strength, and Communist propaganda has reanimated the passion of some post-millenials. And yet, its leaders, from exiled Ayatollah Jose Ma. Sison, to the Party’s anonymous highbrow theorist Teo Marasigan, know deep down that people’s war will never really bring about state collapse. NPA troops, many of whom now moonlight as private security, will never defeat the AFP. The Party will also never get a majority to march and die for its national democratic dream—the lure of work abroad will always outbid becoming a gerilyero. 

Ironically,  the movement is doing fine with “parliamentary struggle,” a tactic it theoretically despises for contaminating the March of History. Its leading party-list, Bayan Muna, under the capable hands of leaders like Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, has scored remarkably well in national elections since 2001 (it was only in 2016 where it did poorly), despite sustained efforts by the state to intimidate its ranks with arrests and executions. Bayan Muna has been an active “fiscalizer” in the House of Representatives, and, recently, it has even passed a bill to increase social security pensions (signed by Duterte!). Not bad for a “mass organization” whose role is supposedly merely tactical and ancillary to protracted people’s war. (READ: Rappler Talk: Mujiv Hataman on why anti-terror bill won't combat terrorism)

Unlike the 1970s when people walked around with pictures of Ka Dante and communards at UP Diliman renamed a building to honor the NPA’s first commander, today’s CPP’s guerrilla leaders are no longer household names (the last well-covered commander was Ka Roger of the Southern Tagalog Command who died of cancer and was subsequently forgotten). These days, no NPA kumander can match the charisma and reach of Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago, who has emerged as an articulate voice of youth activism. 

These legal voices are important voices, and we envisage a future when the entire apparatus of the CPP becomes legal, where the CPP, as the CPP, will stand for elections and subject its ideas to open debate, like the Communist Party in Japan or the Maoist Portuguese Workers’ Communist Party. 

The utak pulbura in the palace, the congress, and the military seem to think that the war will end with the annihilation of the Communist movement. This is not the way armed rebellion ends, especially since inequalities will always push some Filipinos toward Communism. Armed rebellion will end when the government integrates Communists into the democratic system, as what happened with the MNLF and is now happening with the MILF. 

To repeat, repression does not work. Signing this anti-terrorism bill into law may benefit President Duterte for a few years the same way that martial law did to Marcos. But inevitably that 85% support will wane if the regressive impact of COVID-19, the decline of OFW remittances, corruption, and repeated kowtowing to China continues. More people will inevitably complain, inviting state repression in the name of anti-terrorism. (READ: [EDITORIAL] 'Terror bill' ang veerus na papatay sa kalayaan)

This will not end well for anyone. – Rappler.com

Patricio Abinales, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, is working on a revised and expanded version of his book Love, Sex and the Filipino Communist (Or Hinggil sa Pagpigil ng Panggigigil) and Lisandro Claudio, assistant professor of Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley, hoped to stop writing about the CPP, until circumstances changed his mind.