While waltzing toward Communist China, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte aims to quell local communism at all costs. Duterte was quoted as saying: “I’m serving a notice to everyone that in the coming months – not really bloody – but there will be a little trouble. We have to finish it.” It was a warning directed at the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), specifically the New People’s Army (NPA).
Empty threat? No. This is real; and knowing Duterte and his minions, it translates into a coming massacre.
After the failed peace talks in 2017, Duterte signed Proclamation No 374 designating the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group. Last December, Duterte signed Executive Order No 70, creating a national task force to end the local communist conflict (NTFELCAC). Last month, Philippine National Police Chief General Oscar Albayade supported the initiative to revive the Anti-Subversion Law or the Republic Act 1700 to strengthen EO70. Albayade claimed that the repealed law “emboldened” the CPP-NPA, including its front organizations, to pursue their ideologies to topple the government. Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano also said the EO could be invoked to increase the police visibility inside schools, particularly the state universities where organizations linked to a communist group actively recruits students.
But this is not the first time that the government launched a massive witch-hunt in the guise of quashing the communist movement.
In 2017, during the onslaught of Operation Plan Tokhang (or the Drug War, as Duterte calls it), writers, journalists and activists already knew the patterns of killings – either you are an addict or red-tagged. Either way, you are as good as dead.
Red-tagging or red-baiting has been used by previous administrations from Corazon Aquino to Benigno Aquino III and those presidents in between who feared a “communist takeover” of the Philippines, which in truth only drew criticisms from the opposition and protests against what were perceived as anti-people laws and policies such as ending job contractualization, demolitions of indigenous communities in favor of mining and dam construction, and a lot more.
Although the Philippines is known as a democracy, protests and mass actions, especially those focused against the government, are often categorized as “left-initiated,” and thus activists, farmers’ groups, labor groups, environmental groups and students are lumped together as “subversives” and branded as “communists” or, worse, NPA.
Jose Maria Sison, National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant, said in an e-mail to this author that legal organizations of various sectors are red-tagged and falsely accused them of being “communists” and “terrorists. Sison also claimed that the armed forces and police even staged “returnees” to promote the government’s effort in the peace process.
RA 1700 or the Anti-Subversion Act was enacted on June 20, 1957, during the Cold War, when neighboring Southeast Asian countries were swept by the “tide of communism.” It was intended to counter the Hukbalahap or the Huks (Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon, the Nation’s Army against the Japanese), a communist guerrilla movement whose members were landless peasants in Central Luzon.
During the Japanese occupation, they fought the Japanese army in Central Luzon. Although the Huks were previously disarmed by the Philippine government with the help of US forces in 1946, they regained control in Central Luzon and were pushing toward the seat of the government in Manila in 1950. However, the election of the charismatic Ramon Magsaysay, from Zambales province in Central Luzon, in 1953 shifted Filipinos’ support back to the government. In 1954, the Huk Rebellion ended with the surrender of its leader Luis Taruc to Magsaysay.
Despite the Huks’ fragmented leadership, various resistance sprouted due to poverty and injustices committed against the people. On December 26, 1968, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) was founded by Jose Maria Sison. In the following year, March 29, 1969, the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the CCP, was established by Sison and Bernabe Buscayno in Capas, Tarlac. Despite being outlawed, Sison and Satur Ocampo, a journalist and a former representative of the Bayan Muna Party List, founded the National Democratic Front (NDF) on April 24, 1973. The NDF is a coalition of different people’s organizations. Hence it is now known as the CPP-NPA-NDF insurgency.
Although the Huks no longer posed a threat to the Philippine government, the law remained and was used by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos to subdue the rebellion.
In Section 4 of RA 1700 it is stated that the law punishes “whoever knowingly, willfully and by overt acts affiliates himself with, becomes or remains a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines and/or its successor or of any subversive associations, or whoever conspired to overthrow the government.”
During Corazon Aquino’s presidency, she ordered the dissolution of vigilante groups Alsa-Masa (Mass Uprising) and the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF) in 1987, yet she issued Executive Order 264 creating the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units (Cafgu) to fight the insurgency or the NPA.
Red-baiting became rampant. Human-rights violations were common in the name of the counterinsurgency campaign to protect the newly installed Aquino government. Casualties of this campaign included church workers, students, activists and peasants.
The end or just the beginning
On September 2, 1992, then-president Fidel V Ramos repealed Republic Act 1700 by the virtue of RA 7636. However, sedition remains a crime.
In a speech, Ramos emphasized the need for peace talks as well as addressing the root cause of rebellion – poverty, landlessness, and injustices.
“We are willing to sit and dialogue with them in the hope that we can put an end to the killing and the suffering; and bring back to civil society the young men and women – the cadres of the movement – who are also its sacrificial victims.”
Despite RA 7636, the witch-hunt continues. In fact, it only exposed the left-leaning legal fronts to the elements of the government.
During the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Jovito Palparan, known as the Butcher by human-rights groups and activists, was given preferential treatment. As early as 1991, Palparan was implicated in various rights violations in Central Luzon and Leyte. On August 12, 2014, he was arrested during the administration of Benigno Aquino III for the disappearance of two students.
Duterte the NPA supporter
As mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte had praised the New People’s Army, even commending it for “religiously following” international law when it came to handling captured policemen and soldiers after the communist group handed him two captive policemen in 2015. He also credited CPP-NPA for winning his presidency.
During his presidential campaign in Bohol in 2016, Duterte said that he would not kill NPA members because they were fighting for “an ideology.”
According to a report by John McBeth, although Duterte was not a member of the CPP or the NDF, he used to arrange meetings between foreign journalists and communist leaders in the early 1980s when the CPP was in full flower.
But when Alsa-Masa was disbanded in 2001, Mayor Duterte replaced it with his very own Davao Death Squad.
Upon his election as president, Duterte abruptly ended the honeymoon with the left. Although he insisted that he was open for a dialogue, his actions say otherwise. In February 2017, Duterte ended the peace talks. He refused to release 400 political prisoners and ordered the arrest of NDF consultants.
In 2018, human-rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos was killed by an unidentified gunman. In January this year, NDF consultant and lawyer Randy Malayao was killed inside a bus in Nueva Vizcaya. These cases remain unsolved.
The blatant abuse of human rights continues unabated. While there are mass actions being held in the capital city Manila, protests among the students’ groups, and other progressives, the majority of Filipino people remain complacent as Duterte’s iron grip rapidly chokes the nation.
Unlike the Martial Law years when the opposition leadership was strong, there is no single leadership that the Filipinos can look up to, except perhaps the left.
The witch-hunt and violent attacks on activists and progressive only strengthen the revolutionary movement.
“While the Duterte tyranny persists, the armed revolution will grow in strength and advance. The drive of the Duterte regime to impose a fascist dictatorship on the Filipino people will be defeated, like Marcos’. The revolutionary forces and people will emerge ever larger and stronger as a result of the revolutionary struggle for national and social liberation,” Sison said.
Sison’s claim may be a portent for the Philippines in the days to come.