COMMUNIST Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison is officially the chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the peace talks with the government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). He is also a respected revolutionary, as stated by the CPP during its second congress in 2016. Meaning that his views would be noted but the day-to-day decisions would be with the party secretariat and politburo.
But Sison has long been detached from revolutionary activities in the Philippines since 1987 when he went into self-exile in the Netherlands after the break down of the first NDFP-GRP peace talks. That’s three decades ago. His statements now should thus be taken as akin to that of a political or war analyst. What he says is not necessarily what the CPP would do.
His recent warning that the communist rebels, which are spread in 17 CPP-designated regions nationwide, could kill one soldier a day per region or around five companies every month should thus be taken in this context. He was merely being theoretical and talking about potential, maximum potential even. That does not mean the theory is easily translatable into action. Many NPA units are not that strong to mount such sustained attacks.
But President Rodrigo Duterte, who has taken it upon himself to verbally tangle with Sison, his former college professor and friend, chose to respond with his own warning to kill five New People’s Army (NPA) rebels for every soldier killed, which government troops could not also do unless those killed would be people that are part of the so-called rebel mass base.
Consider that not all rebels are NPA members. Strictly, the NPA is the armed force of the CPP and consists of regular fighters in the countryside and armed city partisans in the urban areas. It has auxiliary support units in the grassroots called militias, which is akin to the government’s Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu), but they are not considered NPA regulars.
The military puts the number of NPA regulars to only an estimated, 3,700 although they could be higher. But they are spread throughout the country and wage a guerrilla war, which means they are mobile and elusive, unlike, say, the Maute group that seized Marawi City and attempted to hold on to it through regular urban warfare. NPA regulars (I mean “regulars”) can’t thus be easily captured or killed, like what the president would have wanted. They aren’t shooting gallery targets.
Which brings me to the recent flurry of reports about the surrender of former “NPA rebels,” the latest of which is the president meeting some of them in Malacañang. But I doubt if all of them real NPA regulars; most could be mere rebel organizers or even rebel sympathizers. Also, the strategy of playing up the surrender of rebels, which is meant to entice the others to surrender, too, is not unique to the Duterte government. Even former president Ferdinand Marcos did that.
Still, this shows that the government is back to its old ways as far with dealing with the rebels in contrast to when the peace talks were on.