Via: Michael Hart
“The best stumbling block to peace for the Philippines is long past.” That was once the response of the Philippine executive in December after the dying of New Other people’s Military (NPA) chief Jose Maria Sison, elderly 83, in exile within the Netherlands. Sison had led the Maoist insurgent motion—which has waged battle towards Manila’s forces around the archipelagic country since 1969—since its beginnings, having based the Communist Birthday party of the Philippines (CPP) a 12 months previous. The NPA, because the CPP’s armed wing, has battled since then to interchange the federal government with a socialist one-party state.
At its height all the way through the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. within the Eighties, the NPA may just rely on 25,000 combatants and ceaselessly ambushed executive troops and cops on patrol within the nation-state. For many years, the NPA has exerted regulate over rural communities thru intimidation, threats of violent retribution for combatants, and the number of so-called “innovative taxes.”
But in keeping with the Philippine army, the NPA’s days are numbered. Simply earlier than Sison’s passing, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported that handiest 24 of 89 guerilla fronts remained energetic national, with the crowd’s power having lowered from 4,000 rebels in recent times to two,112. It’s estimated that simply 1,800 firearms stay in its arsenal. And now, and not using a figurehead having emerged to interchange Sison, the management of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has the NPA in its points of interest, 4 a long time after his father’s failed quest to finish the insurgency below martial legislation.
The management void on the best of the NPA is stark. Sison’s most evident successors—Benito and Wilma Tiamzon—have been lately showed by way of the CPP to have died remaining 12 months in a disputed conflict with the army in Catbalogan at the island of Samar, 750 km south of Manila. Benito, 71, had served as chair of the CPP’s govt committee whilst his spouse Wilma, 70, was once secretary-general. Each were allies of Sison since their days as early life activists within the Nineteen Sixties. His handiest different possible successor, Luis Jalandoni, is 87 and has lived in exile for years. It sounds as if there’s no one with the stature of Sison to encourage the following technology.
The army has been prepared to attract consideration to the NPA’s struggles. The Armed Forces leader within the Visayas, protecting the Philippines’ central belt of provinces, Maj.-Gen. Benedict Arevalo, has mentioned the NPA is “enormously degraded” within the area. Within the jap Visayas, the NPA is leaderless after shedding 4 key commanders during the last 12 months, and the AFP claims “no person is giving [the rebels] directions.” In keeping with the AFP, handiest two NPA fronts stay within the area, with round 200 combatants each and every. Maximum are considered hiding out within the mountains of Samar and in large part chorus from attacking squaddies for worry it is going to divulge their positions. Previous this month, Arevalo mentioned the rest rebels within the jap Visayas have been “drained because of consistent motion [between camps] and haven’t any secure position to cover.”
Within the western Visayas, the AFP claims NPA rebels are increasingly more demoralized and feature “no transparent operational course” after their commander Rogelio Posadas—answerable for operations in Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor, and Negros Island—was once killed in an come upon with executive squaddies. Troops have taken regulate of many far flung villages in the past below NPA affect, stymying insurgent recruitment.
NPA nearing defeat?
Within the NPA stronghold of jap Mindanao, the trajectory is identical. Its maximum senior commander within the area, Menandro Villanueva, was once killed by way of troops in Davao de Oro remaining 12 months. The AFP says there are actually simply 4 energetic insurgent fronts left within the area, down from 32 in 2017, when the AFP stepped up its marketing campaign after peace talks with the CPP faltered below former president Rodrigo Duterte. The NPA’s losses have led his successor Marcos to claim that “half-a-century’s combat with insurgents is coming to an finish.” The Nationwide Safety Council (NSC) declared “strategic victory” over the NPA in April, and mentioned it foresees the AFP securing “general victory” towards the rebels inside of two years.
The federal government credit the degrading of the NPA no longer handiest to AFP offensives, but in addition to the introduction of a Nationwide Activity Drive to Finish Native Communist Armed War (NTF-ELCAC) in 2018. This frame has engaged NPA commanders on the native point, and inspired insurgents to put down their hands in go back for livelihood improve below the Enhanced-Complete Native Integration Program (E-CLIP). It has additionally directed construction budget to rebel-influenced villages to blunt its rural improve base.
The NTF-ELCAC was once established by way of Duterte after he ended national-level negotiations with the CPP management. Marcos has rejected resuming talks and endured with Duterte’s technique. Arguably, after Sison’s dying and the loss of life of the Tiamzons, there’s now no person left to barter with. Manila hopes the symbolic blow of Sison’s dying, and the ensuing hit to morale, will lead extra NPA rebels to give up. There’s controversy over precisely what number of have surrendered so far—with the duty pressure accused of checklist NPA supporters and the members of the family of ex-rebels as former warring parties.
The CPP has stated struggling setbacks however denies the level of losses from its ranks. It additionally rejects claims by way of the AFP that few insurgent fronts stay energetic. Is the NPA actually on the point of defeat after Sison’s dying, because the AFP claims? Having a look at insurgent job in 2023 signifies that it’s suffering.
From January 1 to Might 23, the NPA has been energetic in 29 provinces, with no less than 70 armed clashes and violent incidents involving the crowd. This means a insurgent presence throughout broad swaths of the NPA’s historic spaces of operation, from northern Luzon to Mindanao. The NPA is, alternatively, firmly at the retreat, with proactive roadside ambushes and bombings an increasingly more uncommon prevalence. That is borne out by way of the casualty figures from clashes thus far this 12 months, with 68 NPA rebels killed in comparison to simply six AFP troops.* Maximum clashes have been initiated by way of executive squaddies, both whilst encountering rebels on regimen patrol or all the way through focused intelligence-based operations.
NPA job has remained prevalent in Jap Mindanao, Samar, Masbate, and Negros Island, indicating that the crowd continues to be retaining out in a few of its conventional strongholds. But even in those spaces, the rebels’ affect over citizens has considerably lowered because the NPA lacks the capability it as soon as needed to coerce complete rural communities into compliance. Arson assaults on corporations that refuse to bow to extortion calls for, and raids on companies to thieve guns from non-public safety guards, are turning into a lot much less common, proscribing the rebels’ skill to maintain and finance their marketing campaign.
With the NPA in decline, the federal government might but bolster AFP offensives and the efforts of the NTF-ELCAC with an amnesty legislation, aiming to steer closing rebels to give up with out the specter of dealing with courtroom over already-filed prison fees. The NTF-ELCAC has beneficial the amnesty to President Marcos, whilst AFP leader Gen. Andres Centino has mentioned the army would improve it. If this type of legislation is enacted, as was once the case for a smaller, now-defunct Maoist insurgent crew, the Modern Proletarian Military-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), the NPA will battle to carry directly to its combatants.
The CPP maintains that rank-and-file NPA contributors won’t defect, retorting that any amnesty be offering can be “rejected by way of revolutionaries who’re whole-heartedly dedicated to serving the oppressed and exploited plenty.” If this is true, the CPP should hope this ideology, which has sustained its five-decade insurgency within the Philippine nation-state, does no longer perish with its founder Jose Maria Sison.
*Information on spaces of NPA job, violent occasions, and casualties in 2023 is from this creator’s tracking of incident stories.
Michael Hart has researched for the World Institute for Strategic Research (IISS) and Motion on Armed Violence (AOAV), and is publications guide on the Landmine and Cluster Munition Track. He blogs at Asia War Watch.