PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has declared a suspension of military operations (SOMO) against the New People’s Army (NPA) during the holidays, or from December 24, 2017 to January 2 next year. This comes as a surprise considering the president’s recent signing of a proclamation declaring the NPA and its mother organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as terrorist organizations.
I think the view by hawkish elements in the government is that “terrorist” groups should be given no reprieve. That’s probably why Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has insisted that he was not the one who recommended the SOMO, or unilateral ceasefire, although he noted that the president’s directive would be followed. The SOMO directive means that the “terrorist” tag is but the placing of a new collar on an old dog. Government’s treatment of the CPP-NPA hasn’t changed.
The announcement was made by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, whose statement also mentioned the hope that the CPP-NPA and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) “would do a similar gesture of goodwill.” That means the government does not actually view the CPP-NPA as a “terrorist group” in the real sense of the phrase. One cannot reason out with a genuine terrorist group.
With the government’s gesture, I say the CPP will have to reciprocate with its own unilateral ceasefire, be it with an official declaration or with an undeclared one. By “undeclared” I mean the party reining in the NPA even if it does not announce an official suspension of military operations. It wouldn’t look good if they would launch offensives at that time—and live up to its terrorist tag.
The days when the government’s SOMO is in effect include December 26, 2017. the 49th anniversary of the founding of the CPP. December 26, 1968 was when the party held its first Congress and elected Jose Ma. Sison as chairman. Months later, (March 29, 1969), the party linked up with an armed group that included remnants of the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan led by Bernabe Buscayno to form the NPA.
It was a recognition by the CPP that it can only achieve its goal of national democracy, then socialism and eventually communism through armed struggle—as the ruling class won’t relinquish its societal control without a fight. In a way, that belief gained credence when then president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Armed struggle became an option for many, and the NPA’s strength grew.
As they say, those who refuse to heed the lessons of history are bound to repeat it. With the Duterte administration seemingly continuing to move to the right with its hunger for unbridled political power, the number of those who get disillusioned will grow. When the disillusioned find the government closing all avenues for redress of grievances, they will gravitate to existing armed groups that include the NPA in predominantly Christian areas and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and even terrorist groups like those aligned with the Islamic State (IS) in Muslim areas.
Those who think the rebellion can be ended by purely military means are either naive or dreaming.