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Doomed from the start: Why the communist insurgency is an unwinnable war

By Jose "Pete" T. Arce Jr. / The Manila Times

THE armed Philippine communist insurgency bred martyrs to its cause, posers after ego and gain and enormous collateral damage in its wake. For more than half a century, it raged from the cities to the countryside. But it is not going anywhere. Its unraveling began long before it even seized power. Its appeal had since lost its luster, although it was still able to lure uninitiated youths whose lives had been ruined. Erroneous analysis, practical constraints and bad karma sealed the fate of this war right from the get-go. It is not bound to prosper.

The revolution had its moments especially during the martial law period and the immediate years of the restoration of democracy. At that time, the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) reached its zenith in terms of strength and influence and came closest to seizing power or at least taking part in a coalition government.

But more than the self-inflicted purges which killed thousands of innocent and capable comrades and demoralized the movement, several factors already spelled the inevitability of the insurgency's defeat. For one, since its founding, the CPP-NPA has been led and dominated by an ideologue who never had a field experience - Jose Maria Sison.

Sison's analysis of the country's conditions then, which was largely copied from that of Indonesia, failed to keep up with the times and became a dogma that CPP-NPA cadres will parrot and adhere to without questioning. Desiring to be for the Philippines what Mao Zedong was for China, he had little tolerance for dissent and had rising potential challengers summarily purged. A revolution led from the outside - thousand of miles away in the comfort of The Netherlands - detached from harsh and poor conditions on the ground will never win.

Secondly, recruiters, protected by their academic or university credentials, who incite students to rebel and go to the mountains do so without a day of experiencing the life of a red fighter. They romanticize the revolution to capture the imagination of idealistic youth who get to be served to a cause they barely understand. Many seasoned comrades either die of old age, get killed in the battlefield, lie low, if not surrender to the authorities, while young recruits pick up the cudgels against well-trained and well-equipped government troops.

Third, due to the country's archipelagic nature, base building and securing external material support is difficult, if not impossible to sustain. This was proven by repeated failures to create viable mass bases in the Sierra Madre and the Cordilleras and failed attempts to secure arms from foreign suppliers.

Fourth, the CPP-NPA invited bad karma right from the onset by engaging in clandestine "dirty tactics" to speed up the revolution. Former comrades spoke of the revelation made by Danny Cordero about being instructed by no less than CPP founder Jose Maria Sison to lob grenades at the Plaza Miranda in 1971 to crystallize opposition to President Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr. and force him to take more draconian measures against the mounting insurgency. As expected, martial law and state repression drove thousands of students and intellectuals to the boondocks to join the movement.

The advanced age of Sison, the lack of a strong successor and record number of rebel returnees, including military cadres and seasoned field combatants, may further weaken the insurgency. However, while the lack of able senior leadership may weaken it, it may not necessarily put an end to it. This brings the importance of developing a counter ideology. This ideology can revolve around several key principles - desire for national unity and cohesion, sanctity of life, importance of the family and belief in a Supreme Being.

Filipinos do not wish to kill fellow Filipinos and those that did regardless of which side he or she is on continue to regret killing his countryman because of differences in views. These values run deep and are held even by less organized nativistic spiritual movements that came as a reaction against foreign-imposed faith and doctrines. Unity despite diversity is an enduring aspiration. Regional and ethnolinguistic differences, not to mention personal jealousies, have long been exploited by foreign colonizers to undermine national liberation movements and weaken the country to engender dependence. Ambitious and self-centered leaders or aspirants also sabotaged the prospects of nationalist movements from the time of the Katipunan to the rise and split of the CPP.

This alternative ideology has to be championed by people in the academe and the education sector and can be reflected in the educational establishment through textbook publications and classroom instruction. For long, teachers who were agitator-recruiters for the CPP-NPA in colleges and universities across the country were given a free rein and were uncontested. To halt the flow of youth and student recruitment to the insurgent cause, teachers and educators have to step up to call out their peers and challenge the idea that the only solution to the country's problems is a violent revolution. Such an ideology can be disseminated through the National Service Training Program (NSTP) or the Reserve Officers' Training Course/Citizen Army Training (ROTC/CAT) programs in colleges and high schools.

The communist insurgency survived the test of time, but failed to make significant strides. It can continue to ride on social, economic and political issues to extend its shelf life. But it is unlikely to mount a major comeback. The flow of recruits and finance sustain it, but will never take it far. The generational passing of its intellectual corps hallowed its ideological compass. The arrest and demise of its senior leadership weakened central structures giving wide latitude to local commanders. It can degenerate to banditry, terrorism or peter out. Promoting a counter-ideology will ensure that no new rhizomes will come out.


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