The Explainer: On the New People’s Army

That was a scene from “The Last Emperor,” showing the period in China’s history in the late 60s known as the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution thrilled radical students in the Philippines. The idea of Chinese-style revolution gave birth to the New People’s Army.

March 29 will mark the 38th anniversary of the New People’s Army. To crush the NPA, the government has declared war on political parties it claims are allies of the NPA. It’s latest target has been a member of congress: Satur Ocampo, who is now in police custody.

Does crushing the NPA require the elimination of certain legal political parties? That’s our topic for tonight. I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.




If Filipinos who matured in the first half of the 20th century defined politics and society in American terms –Lincoln’s a government for, by and with the people, Jefferson’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, by the 1960s such sentiments seemed horribly old-fashioned. A new generation of Filipinos that grooved to The Beatles, became long-haired hippies, and discovered marijuana, and many thrilled to a different set of beliefs.

The beliefs were known as Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. And if their parents parroted Jefferson, Filipino students, to be different, parroted the Sayings of Chairman Mao Zedong. In a sense, the same kind of colonially-minded dog, but this time wearing a Mao collar.

The bible of these young radicals were the collected sayings of Mao Zedong. They are authoritative, concise, and therefore, convenient. Particularly when you’re doing indoctrination or what’s called the teach-in. They’ve come down in history as The Little Red Book.

What Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought teaches is a particular framework for history:

Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history, such is the history of civilization for thousands of years. To interpret history from this viewpoint is historical materialism; standing in opposition to this viewpoint is historical idealism.

-“Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle” (August 14, 1949), Selected Works,  Vol. IV, p. 428.


If, said Mao, you adopted that framework, then you would seek to work with like-minded people to accomplish victory; and victory would be the aim of an organization, the Communist Party:

A well-disciplined Party armed with the theory of Marxism-Leninism, using the method of self-criticism and linked with the masses of the people; an army under the leadership of such a Party; a united front of all revolutionary classes and all revolutionary groups under the leadership of such a Party – these are the three main weapons with which we have defeated the enemy.-“On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship” (June 30, 1949), Selected Works,  Vol. IV, p. 422.

Therefore, the Great Helmsman advised,


It is up to us to organize the people. As for the reactionaries in China, it is up to us to organize the people to overthrow them. Everything reactionary is the same; if you don’t hit it, it won’t fall. This is also like sweeping the floor; as a rule, where the broom does not reach, the dust will not vanish of itself.-“The Situation and Our Policy After the Victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan” (August 13, 1945), Selected Works,  Vol. IV, p. 19.

And because class struggle required hard work and making tough decisions, it would be well to remember, Mao said in one of the most famous passages he ever wrote, that

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another. -“Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan” (March 1927), Selected Works,  Vol. I, p. 28.*

And finally, Mao said, it is necessary to know thine enemies:

Our enemies are all those in league with imperialism – the warlords, the bureaucrats, the comprador class, the big Landlord class and the reactionary section of the intelligentsia attached to them. The leading force in our revolution is the industrial proletariat. Our closest friends are the entire semi-proletariat and petty bourgeoisie. As for the vacillating middle bourgeoisie, their right-wing may become our enemy and their left-wing may become our friend – but we must be constantly on our guard and not let them create confusion within our ranks.

-“Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society” (March 1926), Selected Works,  Vol. I, p. 19.*

I’ve quoted Mao extensively because only by reading what he wrote can we know how thoroughly Jose Ma. Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was indebted to foreign influence. He crafted a modernized, Beijing-oriented Communist ideology for in the wake of the defeat of the Moscow-oriented Huks. Listen to his words from 1964, as recorded by Eric Quizon:

Kabataang Makabayan, in its historic role as the vanguard organization of Filipino youth, should know the balance of forces between imperialism and feudalism on the one hand and national democracy on the other. On the side of U.S. imperialism are the compradors and the big landlords. On the side of national democracy are the broad masses of our people, composed of the working class and the peasantry to which the vast majority of the Filipino youth today belong; the petty bourgeoisie, composed of small property-owners, students, intellectuals and professionals; and the national bourgeoisie, composed of Filipino entrepreneurs and traders.

From the present scheme of social classes, we can derive a new and powerful combination of youth—the students, young professionals, labor youth and the peasant youth. Above all, the Filipino youth should integrate themselves with the masses in order to achieve victory in the fight for national freedom and democracy.


Sison’s words became the theoretical and rhetorical foundation for a way of thinking that won’t go away. Two concepts from Sison’s ideology concerns us in particular tonight.

The first is class war. The second is the concept of the united front.

Class war is fought in the mind and in the mountains: through the study of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, and its application in reorganizing areas controlled by the NPA, areas secured by fighting it out with our armed forces.


As Human Rights Watch in 2006 said,

The NPA and CPP continue to enact “revolutionary justice” against civilians in areas under their control, including the killing of individuals they consider to be criminals, despotic landlords, or business owners.


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Writing in the Asean Focus Group newsletter, historian Patricio Abinales, gives us more details:

The NPA has largely survived on its own, amassing its weapons from carefully planned small attacks against government forces. Military victories in the countryside have been complemented by successes in “revolutionary taxation”. Businesses and entrepreneurs operating in the rural areas have now come to include NPA extortion as part of their annual budgets, with such allotments sometimes going as high as 2 million pesos.

These triumphs have prompted the Party’s eternal chairman Jose Ma Sison to encourage the formation of larger company-size units to replace the smaller platoons. But this move has been a major stumbling block for the NPA… now that the NPA has just about returned to the level it was in 1980.


At its height in the early 1980’s, that level was 25,000 armed fighters. If Abinales is right, this explains to us why-

AFP chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. would rather that the Communist Party of the Philippines be outlawed once more.

But so much for the NPA. What of other parties, perfectly legal ones, who also believe in Marxism. Should they be lumped with the NPA, and fought in the same way? The endangered, but for now, still legal Left, when we return.




That was a scene from “Citizen Kohn,” a TV movie on Ray Kohn, McCarthy-era persecutor of suspected American communists.

A while ago, we took a broad look at class struggle.

Let’s look at another concept, that of the united front.

The united front is forged when Marxists participate in the political arena, by building alliances or by using other groups and parties to create an atmosphere conducive to their movement’s goals.

Opponents call such efforts subversion. From 1957 to the Ramos administration, the Communist party,  Communism itself, indeed, anything that might be considered, even confused, with Communism, was declared illegal, and anyone the government disliked could be branded a subversive.

There was no fiercer anti-Communist fighter and lover of the Anti Subversion Law than Ferdinand Marcos, but his policies came in for criticism from Pope John Paul II.

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As Rodel Rodis pointed out in 2005, Pope John Paul II castigated President Marcos for human rights violations. He did this on February 17, 1981, in Malacanang itself:

Even in exceptional situations … one can never justify any violation of the fundamental dignity of the human person or of the basic rights that safeguard this dignity.


Hating Communism didn’t excuse hateful methods in fighting, the Pope said then. This is what critics of our government’s policies towards political parties disliked by the government are saying now.

From 1986 to 2005, or almost 20 years, the policies of our presidents from Aquino to Estrada, was to convince rebels to come down from the hills.

Mrs. Aquino set political prisoners free. President Ramos issued an amnesty proclamation in 1994, had the the Anti-Subversion Law repealed by Congress, and established the National Amnesty Commission to process applications for amnesty.

President Estrada extended the NAC’s existence twice, in 1998 and 2000. From Ramos to Arroyo, our government encouraged united front politics, on the principle that integration is preferable to discrimination.

But on March 22, 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Executive Order 415, abolishing the National Amnesty Commission. This was the prelude to abandoning two decades of peace-building.

In June last year, President Arroyo gave the army a two-year deadline to eradicate the New People’s Army (NPA): in itself, that wasn’t so different from anything her predecessors had said. What is different is that the very same parties president Ramos had encouraged to be set up, and join in mainstream politics, have been declared the targets of the government.

Testifying before the US Senate last week, G. Eugene Martin of the United States Institute for Peace, said he’s pessimistic –that’s the precise word he used- that political killings would stop. Let’s quote verbatim from his testimony.

* Campaigning for national elections on May 14 is well underway. Little if any serious effort will be exerted to investigate killings of political significance.

* Candidates from left-wing political parties will be particular targets. National Security Advisor Norberto Gonzales stated on March 8 that such candidates must not be allowed to win seats in the Congress. The Gonzales view [is] that party-list candidates “are under the direct influence of the communist party” gives a potential hunting license to military and local officials who agree with him.

* The new anti terrorism law, which President Arroyo signed on March 6, gives new “legal teeth” to the government’s war on terrorism. The Arroyo administration describes the law, titled the “Human Security Act of 2007,” as being “very concerned on human rights.” Many observers fear the law may increase unfettered military operations against opponents deemed to be terrorists. National Security Advisor Gonzales has already stated that the NPA will be labeled a terrorist organization when the new law is promulgated. Legal leftist organizations and elected individuals may be designated.

* The new Defense Secretary, Hermogenes Ebdane, Jr., is a retired police officer. He succeeds a civilian… Secretary Ebdane likely will promote military perceptions of security threats. UN Rapporteur Alston stated “the AFP is in a state of almost total denial…of its need to respond effectively and authentically to the…killings…attributed to them.”


Why is the government so upset at political parties it claims are merely fronts for the CPP-NPA?


Here’s why.


Recently, the Social Weather Stations, conducted for the Ateneo School of Government, with support from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation a survey on political parties and guess which three parties did best? Lakas-CMD, then the Liberal Party and –surprise, surprise- Bayan Muna.

Yet of the three, Lakas is as traditional as a party gets, the Liberals are divided, and the government claims Bayan Muna is the enemy. Rep. Satur Ocampo, who was arrested over the weekend, is a Bayan Muna representative and it’s a sign of how badly the mainstream parties are doing, that Ocampo has more credibility in a survey than say, Kampi, the President’s pet party.

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Here’s another reason. According to the  First Quarter 2007 SWS Survey, the top three choices for the party list are all parties the government says are Communist fronts.  17 percent of respondents said they will vote for Bayan Muna; 9.4 percent for Anakpawis; and 8.1 percent for Gabriela.

SWS says that given the survey result’s scenario: “Bayan Muna would keep its  current 3 seats… Gabriela would gain 2 from its current 1 seat, while …Anakpawis [is]  poised to gain 1 more seat to [its] current 2.”

Anakpawis is represented by Rep. Crispin Beltran, who has been under hospital arrest for over a year, accused of conspiring against the Marcos government. The Marcos government is gone, eliminated by millions of decent Filipinos having rebelled against it in 1986.

President Aquino granted Beltran an amnesty; but apparently an amnesty isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Under similar logic, despite President Roxas’s amnesty in 1948, successive presidents could’ve imprisoned Laurel, Recto and other covered by the amnesty for charges of collaboration in the 1950s.

Finally, there’s the question of the electorate. In the 2004 elections, for party list Bayan Muna came in first with         1,203,305 votes; Anakpawis came in fifth, with 538,396 votes; Gabriela Women’s Party came in seventh with         464,586 votes. That’s millions of Filipinos entitled to representation –and who should deny them that? Any other congressman with as many votes wouldn’t tolerate being deprived of their seat.

So I ask you, isn’t there a major betrayal going on here? From 1994 our government had said, join the system. And when, time and again, the Left has done respectably, instead of respecting their mandate, now our government reacts by denying those that elected those parties, representation?


My view


If you can’t beat ‘em, cheat ‘em. If you can’t cheat ‘em, kill ‘em. If you can’t kill ‘em, harass and arrest them. In a nutshell, that seems government policy today. It’s brutal, and stupid.

Creating martyrs is not the way to go.

Cory Aquino released Jose Ma. Sison from jail, and it provoked coup attempts against her by the military

But the end result of that policy was to reduce Sison to singing karaoke in the Netherlands and dancing with Ara Mina.

A rebellion needs martyrs. Sison is not a martyr. Those martyrs are being created here, at home, by a military unable to see how counterproductive it is when people dedicated to legal political work are killed. How subversive it is, to law and order when a turning a blind eye to liquidation squads becomes military policy.

An idea, which Communism is, can only be fought if other ideas remain relevant and prove they can accomplish social justice better than Communism ever can.

You do not fight Communism with fire. You fight it, as it has been effectively fought before, by dazzling a previously oppressed and hopeless citizenry with the blinding light of a democracy that works.

You do it by means of  a corruption-free military, where honest generals command well-fed troops respectful of the civilian population; where government delivers justice, and doesn’t indulge in political persecution; where the state delivers basic services, and holds fraud-free, credible elections.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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