CPP-NPA and the Duterte Administration: Realpolitik in Insurgency and Terrorism

For the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the National People’s Army, strategic positioning is key to spreading influence from the organization’s core to the grassroots level.

NPA tactics of dispersal, concentration, and shifting can be viewed from two perspectives: in line with their activities or ideological, political, and organizational (IPO) efforts as well as about that of the enemy, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). To conduct extortion and other malign activities, NPA territorial platoons break up into squads to cover the area of the platoon within the guerrilla zone (GZ) with each squad having an assigned number of 10 barrios at an average.

The SDG (Sentro de Grabidad, which serves as a “rallying point of all other NPA units engaged in military or mass works in the guerrilla front”) disperses with its squads only deployed in a shorter distance from a relative center conducting the same activities. Both platoons consolidate during conferences, training, and assessment exercises. Shifting is done when a platoon transfers to a different area within the same guerrilla front (GF) or to a different front to participate in a new mission or for a more specific reason, like augmenting the forces of the neighboring GF.

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The NPA has also been externally linked with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) where financial aid is being used to entice both members of the Lumad ethnicity and others to dig in. Yunit Milisyang Bayan (MBs), a highly acclaimed foothold of NPA, has driven a lot of Lumads to take part in the revolution from the ground. As an organized group, they are being armed by NPA themselves to become rogue members of NPA units. For instance, Surigao’s ALCADEV (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development) secures foreign funding from Europe for a hidden agenda—instilling the belief that the government cannot help them, the only groups that can are CPP cadres disguised as teachers, management committees, and even politicians. As usual, with the support of legal fronts, the issue of confronting this will die down in the process because of the protection and bias of various interest groups in favor with NPA. Legal fronts are composed of the following: the Makabayan bloc—Bayan, Anakbayan, Karapatan, Anakpawis, Act Teachers, Gabriela, and all other related groups.

In the aftermath of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte‘s 2017 State of the Nation Address (SONA), the CPP-NPA exploited the President’s controversial statement that Lumad schools were being run and manipulated by CPP-NPA. According to Armed Forces of the Philippines ‘official website, the CPP-NPA employed an institutionalized self-imposed ‘Taktikang Bakwit’ as a well-versed orchestra of rhetoric directed at the President. Conversely, the Kalumbay Lumad Alliance in Northern Mindanao led by Datu Jomorito Goaynon involved itself the investigation of alleged abuses and violations allegedly committed by army troops under 4ID and the PNP as well in Bukidnon, Surigao, and Agusan Provinces August 15, 2017.

According to a 2017 report by Luke Lischin, sixty-four percent of recorded incidents were armed assaults involving the exchange of small arms fire (at a minimum) between the NPA and other actors, 19 percent were attacks on facilities or infrastructure such as mining sites, plantations, and vehicles, while the remaining incidents entailed abductions, arrests, and assassinations/executions.

Further, the CPP-NPA has also initiated a socio-politico strategy of linkage. The Save Our Schools Network (SOS Network) is essentially an extension of the communist party working to subversively influence target populations by using powerful institutions and personalities in their disinformation operations, masked by the appearance of charitable work. This influence campaign supports the efforts of militants, which routinely violate the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law).

In part, the rejection of activism as a concept stems from a belief that a sufficient amount of change has already been made. In connection therewith, many lives of promising students recruited into the organization ended too soon and too tragically because they crossed the path to armed struggle. We can see that rebel life was being romanticized by insurgents, adding that in truth, it was a portal to a life of suffering, violence, and crime. Thus, activism and membership in specific organizations could lead to a violent fate. This way of thinking emerges when people frame the righting of great historical wrongs as concessions that one group has personally made, in largesse bestowed in some ongoing negotiation (i.e., peace talks) for which there must be a quid pro quo.

In assessing prominent Communist politicians in government and their prospects for gaining power in a legislative manner, particularly now that national elections are nearing, one could arguably make the case that it would take years to accomplish such a goal. The CPP’s aim has always been to overthrow any individual in a leadership position. Such actions were initiated by during the administrations of three former Presidents—Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

The CPP-NPA successfully ousted former President Estrada in January 2001 through the Erap Resign Movement but failed to oust both Presidents Gloria Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino through their Oust Arroyo campaign in 2006, and Kilusang Talsik in 2013. The CPP-NPA is currently engaged in the Oust Duterte Movement under a “Grand Coalition,” and are also working on other anti-Duterte initiatives—the Coalition For Justice (CFJ) and the Tindig Pilipinas.

The Coalition For Justice (CFJ) is composed of a group of judges led by former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the Evangelical Church led by Pastor Caloy Dino, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) with Attorney Susan Villanueva as the lead personalities. Meanwhile, Tindig Pilipinas is composed of the rejectionist (RJ) group, Liberal Party and Magdalo Group with Senator Antonio Trillanes, Congressman Gary C Alejano (who campaigned for a Senate seat), Aleta Tolentino, and Ricky Garchitorena as the lead personalities.

Moreover, now that the national election will happen in the same month when Marawi Siege erupted despite its liberation from the hands of Maute-ISIS inspired terrorists, rumors, hearsays, and atrocious commentaries have been circulating to dissuade the people from believing Government’s efforts regarding Marawi rehabilitation. Recently, members of the House Makabayan bloc filed a Resolution 1973 seeking an investigation into the human rights situation and the status of reconstruction in the Islamic City of Marawi.

The resolution was spearheaded by ACT-Teachers  Reps. Antonio Tinio and Frances Castro, Gabriela Reps. Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, Bayan Muna Rep.  Carlos   Zarate,  Anakpawis  Rep.  Ariel  Casilao,   and   Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago specifically asked the House committees on human rights and Muslim affairs to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on reports of human rights violations in Marawi and   other   grave   concerns   of   the   local   people   on   the   government’s   post-siege rehabilitation   plans   in   Marawi.   Meanwhile,   Amnesty   International,   in its report on November 2017 said that the Philippine security forces violated the prohibition on the use of torture and other ill-treatment of people in their custody, adding that most of the violations were carried out against civilians who were escaping from the besieged lakeside town and seeking military protection.

In one case, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate cited an alleged Armed Forces of the Philippine’s (AFP) anomaly wherein the P192.5  million Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program in Maguindanao is unconstitutional and promoted corruption. Zarate, as is his style, jumped on the bandwagon of Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza’s recent statement that he decided to return the extra amount in exchange for a newer version of the budget resolution to be used for allocating funds going forward. They argued that the Peace Talks are a worn-out psychological warfare tactic designed to project victory while concealing the continuing failure of the AFP to suppress the popular resistance and stem the steady growth of the NPA.

Meanwhile, last year, the CPP trade union campaign was developed by the National Organization Department (NOD)—specifically the National Trade Union Bureau (NTUB)—with former DOLE Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod serving as a critical player. When PRRD declared his intentions to stop the practice of ENDO—the so-called “labor contractualization,” Secretary Bebot Bello and Undersecretary Maglunsod collaborated in coming up with the Department Order 174, which imposed workers regulations. Maglunsod, an active member of the CPP operating inside DOLE, led the national audit and inspection of all labor force situation in big companies and industries, with the dubious participation of a known CPP legal organization, the KMU.

Currently, the CPP-NPA also co-opts the grievances of Marawi residents with grave concerns and frustrations over the lack of a clear and comprehensive rehabilitation plan for internally  displaced   persons, a lack of recognition and   accountability over intelligence failures on the part of the government, inability to stem the flow of terrorist groups into Marawi, an absence of any government statement or commitment to indemnify lost lives or provide compensation for damaged property, no assurance of assistance in rebuilding damaged or destroyed mosques and madrasahs, and the apparent absence of a clear government plan for lifting martial law in Mindanao.

The CPP’s rhetoric advances their interests to position the party at all levels of the political hierarchy—from the individual level to party-list representatives. This strategy is designed to counter the government’s initiatives on charter reform and federalism. Thus, the CPP-NPA are wary over the potential to reform the country’s system of government to a more federalist structure, as this will abolish the Party-list system, which would severely affect the entire organization. This was validated by José María Canlás Sison’s statement citing that “federalism is meant to concentrate executive, legislative, and judicial powers in the hands of Duterte.”

Externally, the European Union’s funding for Communist Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), along with UN Special Rapporteur for the Indigenous People (UNSRIP) and similar EU agencies, reveal that the CPP-NPA has successfully established international alliances through front organizations—purportedly to address social ills afflicting Filipino society.

Through its International Department, infiltrating the UN and engaging the EU through “Lakbay Lumad Europe,” to achieve the eventual revival of the People’s Permanent Tribunal, the CPP-NPA intends to humiliate the Duterte administration in international arena purposely to reinforce the initiative of delegitimizing the President on the international stage. According to CNN Philippines, the CPP-NPA is on EU’s list of terrorist organizations, yet the government’s motion to label communist rebels as terrorists is still pending before a local court.

Among the listed Philippine NGOs were the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV); IBON Foundation; Karapatan; Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc.; the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines; the Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, Inc.; the Alliance of Health Workers; the Kilusang Mayo Uno; Gabriela; and ACT. Meanwhile, the ALCADEV and Salugpungan are identified as CPP-NPA alternative learning centers and schools.

In response, the National Security Adviser and Vice Chairman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTFELCAC) Hermogenes Esperon formally wrote to the European Union (EU) to “immediately cease” funding to groups serving as legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army. In a letter to Gilles De Kerchove, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, dated March 26, Esperon said EU funds are being used to sustain terrorist activities of the longest-lasting existing communist terrorist organization in the world—the CPP-NPA—which is listed as a terrorist group by both the United States and the EU.

On March 28, 2019, the EU received a set of documents concerning the more specific allegations by the Government. As a result, the EU issued a Press Statement stating that “since 2005 the EU considers the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist groups, which means, among other things, that no assets can be held in EU by these organizations.”

The European Union’s commitment investigate the government’s allegations that EU funds have been donated to groups acting as legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) is clear, as outlined in the statement. In April, it was announced that an external firm would be auditing EU grants to non-government organizations (NGOs) in the Philippines that were allegedly funneled to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). The EU did not just commit to looking into the voluminous documents the NTF (National Task Force) has submitted; it also committed to enlisting a third-party firm to audit the funds they donated to NGOs reported having links with the CPP-NPA.

Maria Kristina Decena Siuagan
Maria Kristina Decena Siuagan is a licensed nurse and former lecturer in the Philippines. She has worked for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and for Department of National Defense. Her articles also appeared in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, Malaya Business Insights, and Southeast Asian Times along with her independent platform The Open Concavity. She is currently a senior law student and specializing in criminal and civil law, terrorism and insurgency, policy analysis and geopolitics, and universal health.
Jumel Gabilan Estrañero
Jumel Gabilan Estrañero is a defense and security analyst and a university lecturer in the Philippines. He has completed the Executive Course in National Security at the National Defense College of the Philippines and has participated in NADI Track II discussions in Singapore (an ASEAN-led security forum on terrorism). His articles have appeared in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, Manila Times, Malaya Business Insights, Asia Maritime Review, The Nation (Thailand), Southeast Asian Times, and Global Politics. His specialties include the geopolitics of the South China Sea, counter-terrorism/insurgency, cybersecurity, peacebuilding, strategic policy, and intelligence.
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