The Explainer: Left out again

OPINION: Left out again

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Feb 07 2017 04:19 AM

Hitler liked dogs and Lenin liked cats. But it is well to remember that Communists do not subscribe to bourgeois notions of honor. The Revolution is everything, and anything is permissible to achieve everything. For example, as Vladimir Lenin once put it, “psychologically, this talk of feeding the starving masses is nothing but the expression of saccharine-sweet sentimentality characteristic of the intelligentsia.” Which means, as Lenin also famously said, you cannot make an omelet without breaking any eggs.

In 1939, Communists around the world who had been aggressive in condemning Hitler’s Germany got a surprise. Berlin and Moscow signed a non-aggression pact, and the former ideological enemies now formally became friends, as this editorial cartoon from the time shows.

The peace lasted until 1941, with Communists the world over having to toe the new party line. Then, when Germany invaded Russia, the party line changed again. A United Front was proclaimed, with all Communists told to ally themselves with anti-fascist countries. Which is how Filipino Communists found themselves fighting on the same side as the Americans against the Japanese during World War II.

But after the war, things changed again. Following the party line from Moscow, the Huks in Central Luzon waged a rebellion against the government. Our government for its part, toed another party line: Washington’s. And so for us, the Cold War ran hot indeed for the last half of the 1940s and most of the 1950s. The image above is taken from the Historical Atlas of the Republic published last year.

By the late 1950s the Huks were essentially crushed, as the Republic reformed itself and cleaned up the military. As Secretary of National Defense, Ramon Magsaysay captured the Huk politburo, and by the end of his presidency the Huks were reduced to banditry. The tide had turned, as EZ Izon showed in the editorial cartoon above.

The late 1960s saw new Communist group splitting off from the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas or PKP. It cleverly named itself the Communist Party of the Philippines, or CPP. It established an armed force, the New People’s Army or NPA, and a united front organization to engage in above-ground tactical alliances, called the National Democratic Front or NDF.


On the run, its leadership captured, but its members motivated, the CPP-NPA-NDF which was weak when martial law began was so strong near the end of the dictatorship that even the Americans said it was reaching parity with the armed forces of the government. The image above is taken from the Historical Atlas of the Republic published last year.

But as this clipping from Malaya shows, at the moment the public decided to fight Marcos in the realm of elections, the Communists decided to opt out of the fight, calling for a boycott of the Snap Elections.

While the leadership of the Communists made a major error in calling for the boycott of the February 7, 1986 Snap Elections, by the fall of the dictatorship weeks later, the national mood was for reconciliation, and a recognition of the bravery and sacrifice of Communists in fighting the dictatorship.

This Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial cartoon from those heady, post-EDSA days shows how one of the first acts of the new government was to release political detainees. But the Communists found themselves in bind: they had been at the front of resistance in the 70s to early 80s; but they missed out on EDSA. Worse, the new democratic space led to questions whether armed struggle was still the best way forward to achieve social change. An editorial cartoon, again by EZ Izon, showed how the NPA found itself opposing the country’s newly-restored democracy along with Marcos loyalists and military putschists.

The result of the internal debate within the ranks of Communists, as it has been in all Communist movements, was a purge. At the same time, the military found the new government too kind to the Left. To rekindle revolutionary fervor, confrontations with government forces were encouraged and the military and police, with a deeply-ingrained martial law mentality, took the bait.

President Ramos, however, there arose the hope of peace being pursued on three fronts. Ramos arranged an amnesty for military rebels, he signed a peace agreement with Moro rebels, and he convinced Congress to decriminalize Communism, as this hopeful editorial cartoon by EZ Izon showed.

Of these three, the pact with military rebels proved the most successful as we see with Gringo Honasan’s continued presence in the Senate. The deal with MNLF failed due to Nur Misuari’s carelessness with public money. The Communists continued in the hills, where they continued to retreat on all fronts during Ramos’ successors even as they gained a foothold in politics through the party list. Still, off and on, peace talks have taken place since 1992, with major agreements in 1995 and 1998, and 2011 and breakdowns in 1999, 2004, and 2013.

During the 2016 campaign, then still-Mayor Duterte didn’t objected to the NPA’s collecting “revolutionary taxes” and charging for the issuance of permits to campaign. The military wouldn’t have been happy over this, but the Duterte campaign was bold and brash in proclaiming a new era of peace deals with Moros and Communists. The President showed his commitment to peace with the Communists not just in speeches but in doing something no previous president had done. Even before he assumed the presidency, negotiations began, abroad, to resume peace talks.

And six days after being elected to the presidency, President-elect Duterte offered seats in the cabinet to Communists. Prominent Communists would take on cabinet or sub-cabinet positions in Social Welfare, Land Reform, Labor.

Yet in the end, the peace talks have collapsed. The deal-breaker were 392 individuals imprisoned for crimes –not for being Communists, which hasn’t been illegal since the Ramos era, remember?—and which the Communists wanted freed as a precondition to signing an agreement.

These individuals facing trial or already convicted, from the point of view of the military, are enemies of the state whose arrest and capture cost the lives of soldiers and civilians. From the point of view of the Communists, they are political prisoners. When the President ordered the release of Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, the husband-and-wife supremos of the Communist movement here at home, the military was outraged, but obeyed.

But one wonders how much room there is for reconciliation considering the givens.

The state considers itself the legitimate republic; the Communists consider themselves the legitimate People’s Republic. The state believes it is crushing an illegal rebellion. The Communists believe they are fighting a Civil War. The state does not recognize the Communists as a government; the Communists insists it is, and demands to be treated like any government would, particularly in terms of asserting the Geneva Convention governing soldiers in battle.

Back in December, speaking before Peter Wallace’s forum, the President confidently said, the Reds will die for me, believe me. He even went as far as ask the United States to take the CPP-NPA off its terrorist list. It may be that the Communists thought the President needed them more than he needed the army. Or that he was just posturing when he said freeing too many Communists in jail ahead of an actual peace agreement would be a tough sell.

The Communists imposed a deadline, then announced they would resume fighting in the hills on February 11.

Last Sunday, the President announced he now considers the CPP-NPA-NDF a terrorist group.

Over the same period (last weekend), in one of his midnight press conferences, the President said he wanted the freed Red leaders to come back home and go directly to jail. He also announced he was cancelling their travel documents.

Twenty-four hours, two weeks, or two months is a long time in politics. But it’s increasingly safe to assume that when the President takes a gamble, and loses, his response is to raise the ante. He has done so by announcing that the armed forces should be prepared to use every bullet in their inventory.

Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall in the next cabinet meeting?

Manuel L. Quezon III.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.