40 years and counting: The communist movement in Mindanao

Written by Edwin G. Espejo
Monday, 29 December 2008
var sburl2669 = window.location.href; var sbtitle2669 = document.title;var sbtitle2669=encodeURIComponent(“40 years and counting: The communist movement in Mindanao”); var sburl2669=decodeURI(“http://zumel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=563”); sburl2669=sburl2669.replace(/amp;/g, “”);sburl2669=encodeURIComponent(sburl2669);The ride was rocky and uphill.  In another place and time, the roar of motorcycle engines used to ferry visitors and select members of the Mindanao press for 24 hours non-stop would have easily given away that something big is going on in the mountains just a handful of kilometers from the national highway connecting the cities of Butuan and Surigao.

It was the 40th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines and an endless stream of visitors and supplies are being ferried deep into the jungles of a Mindanao town where at least 200 fully armed regulars of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the communist rebel movement, have assembled themselves to celebrate the four decades of “armed revolution” in the countryside.

Unlike previous celebrations and press conferences of the Mindanao Commission of the CPP, the ride was not easy and worry-free.  For only a little over a week before, some 60 fully armed rebels stormed a police headquarters in nearby Tubay town in Agusan del Norte and a mining company owned by Rep. Edilmero Amante.

Just forty five minutes into the back-breaking ride, we arrived at a makeshift stage hastily prepared for the occasion and for a press conference called by the communist leadership in Mindanao – all muddied and wet.

Instead of arriving at the appointed time of nine o’clock in the morning amid intermittent drizzle and heavy downpour, the last batch of press people did not arrive at the rendezvous point until past noon, our supposed schedule to leave the area.

Interestingly, the press people did not see any of the visitors who arrived the day and night before even as residents near the area said they have not seen them leaving the area.

The customary handshakes and greetings were brief.

Jorge Madlos, a.k.a. Ka Oris, apologized for the bad weather and offered us lunch consisting of rice, slice of roasted pig, pork adobo, beef stew and menudo all neatly packed in separate cellophanes.

We were also handed out kits that include a green sweatshirt with sticker announcing the 40th anniversary of the CPP and logos of the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front – the same sweatshirts worn by young NPA regulars who were racing up and down the road, or shall we say a trail, in the middle of the thick vegetation.

Also inside the neatly arranged press kit were an MTV of revolutionary songs, a planner (revolutionary in theme – of course), and a 2008 first quarter copy of Pasa Bilis, the “people’s magazine” of the Southern Mindanao Region Party Committee of the communist rebel group.

Another leap forward

At 59 years old, Madlos, a member of the CPP Mindanao Commission and Mindanao spokesperson for the National Democratic Front (NDF), still carries the zeal of a man on a mission who has seen the ebb and flow of “people’s war” in Mindanao.

Himself a veteran of almost four decades of life in the underground movement spiked by several years of detention under the Marcos dictatorship and Aquino regime, Madlos read a four page statement of the rebel movement in Mindanao and later held a press conference with invited select members of the press from all over the island.

“We are on the verge of entering a new stage of our revolutionary struggle and have fully recovered from our debacle in the mid-80s,” he told reporters.

He said the CPP-NPA has re-established strong presence in “more than 2,000 barrios (villages) of 200 municipalities in 19 provinces in the island.”

They have also added four new guerilla fronts this year, bringing the total to 39 fronts and did not lose a single guerilla zone in 2008.

In addition, Madlos said the communist rebel group was able to launch more than 300 tactical offensives (up from last year’s 190 NPA-initiated attacks) and seized over 200 high-powered firearms throughout the island.

“All these are signs of the growth of people’s war (in Mindanao),” Madlos quoted one Ka Puman who signed the CPP-Mindanao Commission’s statement on the occasion its 40th anniversary.

They can now again mobilize large formations of up to a battalion of NPA regulars if the target so requires and if conditions call for it, according to him.

“It is a case to case basis.  If there is a subject that needs battalion size formation, we will do that,” he said.

But he also quickly added that the NPA, the military wing of the CPP, has no plans of organizing regular battalions.

“What the NPA is doing right now is to organize a minimum of at least one platoon in every guerilla front, and three platoons or equivalent of one company in every region,” Madlos further explained.

He said at least a company of NPA guerillas was involved in the simultaneous raids on the Tubay police headquarters in Agusan del Norte and on the San Roque Mining Incorporated, a company owned by Rep. Edilberto Amante, where they burned heavy equipment.

The rebel spokesman said they are now setting their sights on entering the advance sub-stage of the strategic defensive stage of their revolutionary struggle.


The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) however quickly belied claims made by Madlos.

AFP Chief of Staff Alexander Yano said the government is right on target in reducing the NPA into irrelevance by 2010, the year President Arroyo said the communist movement will be decisively defeated.

“Defeating and reducing them into irrelevance is the same.  We are on pace,” Yano said in a mobile phone interview.

The general said the communist rebels will no longer be treated as a national security threat by 2010 and would be reduced into a matter of police concerns.
Major Gen. Armando Cunanan, commanding general of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) of the AFP, on the other hand, said the number of armed NPA guerillas dropped by four per cent this year.

Eastmincom spokesperson Major Randolph Cabangbang placed the total strength of the NPAs in the island at no more than 1,400 armed regulars.

“They have been reduced to criminal activities, preying on helpless businessmen,” Cabangbang quoted Gen. Cunanan as saying.

In October, defense chief Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said the CPP-NPA has been reduced to holding criminal activities.  He said the communist movement in Mindanao is extorting money from small scale miners and large mining companies.

Major Cabangbang said the NPAs are generating at least P20 million a month from miners and mining companies in the Diwata ranges in Compostela Valley alone.

“This money is being used to finance the expenses of members of the central committee of the CPP,” Cabangbang added.

The military also said the number of tactical offensives launched by the NPAs in 2008 is misleading.  Cabangbang said more than half of them cannot be even considered harassment activities.

And although he conceded that the NPAs may have seized over 200 rifles, these were allegedly taken from “soft targets” like security guards and government militiamen.

The AFP chief of staff however conceded that the increase in armed activities of the NPA was due to the AFP’s shift in the focus of its military operations to the MILF with whom the NDF has forged a tactical alliance.

Otherwise, Yano said, the rebel group has reportedly suffered huge losses in personnel and territories in Northern and Central Luzon.

The AFP chief likewise said the number of guerilla fronts in Mindanao can be misleading.
“They can easily split their fronts with just a skeletal organization to present some semblance of strength,” he added.

But the AFP chief also conceded that the NPAs are most active in the Davao and Northern Mindanao regions.

Reinventing the NPAs

Madlos said the CPP and the NPAs have learned their lessons in the debacle of the 1980s.

They have abandoned the prolonged encampment of large formations which took its toll on their “mass base” and exposed their supporters to counter offensives from the military.

Instead, they have deployed their armed guerillas in their base areas and directed them to engage in production and political, organizational and ideological work.
Still, Ka Oris said they won’t shy away from inflicting damage on government troops if the situation warrants.

The Mindanao Commission also gave standing orders to all NPA units not to open fire on military targets who are in the company of civilians or inside civilian houses and on private vehicles and public transport with civilian passengers.  Corollary to that, the NPA has abandoned its military policy of providing room for civilian casualties during
tactical offensives.

But he hastened to add that it will be impossible for NPA units to determine the presence of civilians in military installations and encampments at all times.

“That is why we are enjoining civilians to refrain from living inside military camps and riding in military vehicles because these are legitimate targets of the NPA,” Ka Oris said.

“Where before we allow ‘budget’ for civilian casualties, all guerilla commanders and political officers will now face stiff sanctions for any civilian collateral damage,” said Ka Don, an aide to Ka Oris.

But the CPP-NPA said they will continue to mete out “capital punishment” to military personnel, government officials and civilians who have incurred blood debts “against the people.”

“We are the army of the masses.  They run to us to get justice where our bourgeois courts cannot give them.  It is our duty to implement the verdict of punishment by death if it so warrants,” Ka Oris said.

But he also explained that the CPP-NPA has now been very judicious in meting out its brand of justice, described by the military as a “kangaroo court.”

All indictments and decisions by the “people’s court”, he added, will undergo thorough review from the highest territorial units of the CPP-NPA in the area depending on the gravity of the “crime” and the person involved.

The struggle lives on

Ka Oris said the resiliency of the communist movement will allow it to ultimately achieve its objective of “establishing a national democratic government with socialist perspective.”

He said the conditions are ripe for the “revolution’ to move forward and inflict more damage on the Arroyo government.

He likewise warned that any effort to extend the term of Arroyo beyond 2010 will only strengthen the CPP-NPA.

If that happens, he said, Arroyo will go down in history as the “greatest recruiter” of the NPA.

He said they have no illusions that a comprehensive political settlement and lasting peace will be achieved under the Arroyo administration.

He accused the government of continuously undermining the possibilities of the resumption of the peace negotiations.

But also said the CPP-NPA-NDF is not closing its door to the resumption of the peace talks provided the government dropped all preconditions it has imposed on the rebel group.

He also said that before any peace negotiations could proceed, the government must reiterate its commitment to honor the The Hague Declaration.

The Hague Declaration, also known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human rights and International Law (Carhiil) signed by the NDF and the Philippine government under the Ramos administration, was a historic piece of document which should be the basis for further talks between the rebel group and the government, according to Ka Oris.

Otherwise, he said, the NDF is willing to wait for a new government to replace the Arroyo administration and see if the peace process could move forward.

In the meantime, the NDF said it will continue to implement its own brand of agrarian reform in the countryside and wage its armed struggle “even if it takes another four decades to achieve complete victory.” mindanews.com

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