At high noon on Saturday, March 29 the commanders and foot-soldiers of the New People’s Army along with leaders of their umbrella organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines will gather to celebrate 45 years since the establishment of their armed struggle.
According to a party statement in their website, the event will include flag-raising ceremonies, collective singing and a 21-gun salute to honor their fallen comrades – slain fellow fighters who the group claims are “exemplars of selfless service to the people for present and future generations of revolutionaries and fighters.” In other words, these commemorations seek to inspire more intelligent and politically-active students and professionals, who would’ve been great contributors to our society, to abandon that future and pick up arms and fight an impossible war in the jungles instead.
The New People’s Army and its’ hierarchy are still under the disillusion that somehow their vision of fighting a protracted people’s war to establish a democratic people’s republic still corresponds to reality. They still claim to be fighting for land reform, for the rights of workers and in the abolishment of monopolies and to liberate underpaid plantation workers in rural areas. The sad reality is that, their organization has existed for nearly half a century on Friday – 45 years to be exact – but yet there is still a great deal of poverty and oppression happening in the countryside. Industrial workers are still underpaid and overworked. The oligarchy is still alive and well.
The forty-five years that the NPA has existed can instead be remembered with their cowardly assaults on small police factions that patrol the rural counties, their deliberate violation of the Geneva convention for their continued use of land mines and their raids on foreign corporations employing rural folks in mining and plantations which our economy so desperately needs.
Let’s remember 2010, when the group was running amok in Samar province. In February that year, a farmer was executed in front of his wife and kids by members of the NPA. The following month, a local government official was beheaded at the center of his town in front of his constituents also by the rebels. Later that same month, a family was gunned down by forces under the command of Artemio dela Cruz – an NPA commander – during their sleep. Two people died and another was critically wounded in this barbaric assault.
The following year the NPA raided a rural prison in the same province, executing one jail guard with a gunshot to the back of the head and taking four other guards hostage while ransacking the station of several firearms and two laptops.
On October of 2011, the NPA conducted three different raids on three mining sites in Surigao del Norte resulting in the damage of ten dump trucks, eight backhoes, two barges and a guest house in the attacks perpetrated by Guerrilla Front 16, 30 and 21 of the New People’s Army. This came after the three firms refused to pay extortion money to the group.
At the start of 2012, the group lost six men after a firefight with the Philippine Army. The gunfight started when a company of NPA fighters attempted to raid a banana plantation in Compostella Valley, again after refusing to pay extortion money. And just last year, the group took full responsibility for the massacre of nine people in La Castellana, Negros Occidental. A truck full of civilians and rural police officers returning from a town fiesta were ambushed by a group of 30 members of the New People’s Army.
These are not new incidents, the most abhorrent atrocities perpetrated by the communist group occurred during their early years. The most brutal that comes to mind happened in 1989 during the now infamous “Digos Massacre”. A total of thirty-nine people, most of them children, were gunned down by NPA rebels as they were attending a Sunday church service. A pastor and his brother were both beheaded. The attack was due to the village refusing to protect undercover NPA fighters from pursuing government forces.
Mass killings have also resulted during internal purges committed by the NPA. The group has frequently eliminated its own members suspected of providing intelligence to the government. A prominent example happened just after the EDSA revolution in 1986, when forty-eight activists and sympathizers of the CPP-NPA were mercilessly gunned down under orders from Jorge Madlos, the current spokesman of the movement. The slaughter is now known today as the Antalongan Massacre.
The military have also found several mass graves the past few years, all of which are linked to NPA internal purges that happen regularly. The skeletal remains of eighteen suspected rebel fighters were unearthed in Bukidnon in 2006. Just six years after, the military again found a mass grave of 30 skeletal remains in Quezon province which was linked to the mass disappearance that happened in many towns in that province during the 1980s – when the NPA was implementing ‘Plan Missing Link, their most brutal internal purge.
The NPA claims to be waging a war on the harmful effects of capitalism and oppressors of the poor, but so far in their history they have instead been attacking helpless rural residents trying to live in peace, foreign corporations which our economy so badly needs and even their own supporters – people who have been disillusioned into believing that they are fighting for a greater good.
Instead, the NPA has been on a war with civilians, the economy and in hindsight, they have become a hindrance to the prosperity of the very people they claim to stand for.
It’s hard to think of one positive impact the group has made, but on the flipside you have to be impressed that this guerrilla movement that started with 72 fighters and nine rifles survived for almost five decades. Not to forget the difficulty in gathering financial support as the group is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union.
They have outlasted their Marxist comrades in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers, who at one point were on the verge of toppling their government. The NPA is now Asia’s longest surviving insurgency, and one of the last followers of Mao Zedong’s version of socialism – something even the latter’s home nation of China have long abandoned.
In all fairness, the New People’s Army was established to go against the Marcos regime and yes, at one point in history they were defending the oppressed and fighting a very corrupt government but Marcos has been dead for decades and the Martial Law era is now just a memory of the past. Democracy now exists in the country and we now have the opportunity to achieve the dreams of our founding fathers of a prosperous nation – but the NPA is standing in the way of making that dream possible.
A famous quote from the move “The Dark Knight” put it best: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” As the NPA mark their 45 years with their big event on March 29, I hope they ask themselves: is the group still relevant? Is the NPA still fighting for the downtrodden or are they at war with them instead? Is it really better for them to continue to exist or have they long served their purpose?
Has the NPA become the very oppressors and terrorists they set out to fight in the first place? Recent events are telling us that they are. If the group wants to stay relevant as a force for good, they need to return to the fold of the law. That would give the government one less headache to cure and give foreign investors one less reason not to invest in the country. Yes, perhaps the most positive contribution the NPA can make in its’ existence is to not exist at all.