Government News Analysis

A peace in pieces

The six-month ceasefire between the Philippine Government and the country’s communist leaders is over; and the peace process, which just a few weeks ago held out such promise, is lying in the dust. Now, the war which has raged for half a century between the two sides is on again as troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) return to their amouries and collect their weapons once more. So what happened this time?

First the ceasefire itself was violated – communist forces and anti-insurgency units clashed in North Cotabato, Mindanao on 21 and 22 January; secondly, rebel negotiators at peace talks in Italy last week demanded that 400 political prisoners be released as a pre-requisite for any future resolution. And the latter of these was enough for President Rodrigo Duterte to see red. He terminated the talks scheduled to resume in Norway, withdrew his peace negotiators and put the communist rebels – released from prison to head the communist side’s negotiations – back on the wanted list.

Obviously, it was a ridiculous demand. No one – least of all Duterte – is going to fall for that. It’s like asking for an upfront payment with out any delivery guarantee. Who does that? If the talks had broken down after a mass release of the state’s enemies, however, the anti-Duterte crowd would have been delighted. It would have handed them 400 reasons why he should step down as president. As it is he can maintain the moral high ground; no one, not even his political enemies, can fault him in the efforts he’s made to get the peace process – stalled for more than four years and staggering haltingly since 1992 – moving again.

He met earlier demands for freeing prisoners – the communists’ terms for the ceasefire itself – and gave temporary releases to high-profile leaders, allowing them to travel overseas. But, apart from prisoner releases – and to keep their weapons; they’ve repeatedly made it clear that’s non-negotiable – what do the Philippines’ communists really want?

Let’s look at the nature of this beast. This is 100° proof, high-octane, unadulterated Stalinist-Maoist communism. This isn’t the watered-down version now practiced in China and Vietnam and other reforming one-party states. This is Maoism, an ideology that unleashed some of the worst brutality the world has ever known or could ever contemplate. This is Stalinism, the bloody model for Mao’s excesses. With those, it revels in an adulation of Marxist-Leninist megalomania.

Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward chalked up a death number of 45 million Chinese – just 10 million less than for the entire Second World War’s fallen. And he managed that in just four years. Joseph Stalin, largely regarded as the biggest genocidal maniac of all time, had the blood of up to 62 million of his countrymen on his hands. Through violent purges of their own people, they decimated their populations. They literally crushed their people into submission.

And this is the ideology which the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP), its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA, photo), and the National Democratic Front (NDF) – all represented at the now-failed peace talks – are sworn to follow. Not coincidentally, the CCP was founded in 1968 on Mao’s birthday, 26 December. Four year’s later Mao sent them their first shipment of arms. These are old-school commies whose political ambitions are stuck in a time warp.

The aim of this communist nexus is to beat the country into total fealty, remove all democratic institutions, disband all political parties, install a communist government in Manila and, through a programme of death and purging, convert the country to state communism. While the old communist world has been distancing itself from that past madness, this triumvirate has never forsaken these outmoded goals. They want Mao’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Russia to take over Philippine soil.

President Rodrigo Duterte – often castigated as a communist by his facile detractors – has made every effort to bring the ugly chapter of violent-extremist communism in his country to an end. Since 1969, more than 40,000 Filipinos have lost their lives thanks to the ideological aspirations of the CCP, the NPA and the NDF.

Former President Ferdinand Marcos – though the history’s been rewritten since – was forced to impose Martial Law on his country to defeat this intractable enemy. And we’ll say it – unpopular though it’s likely to be – thanks to him, the hammer and sickle of the CCP flag is not now flying over Malacañang Palace. If it was that would be a very good reason to hold Marcos to account.

The problem is, anyone born after – let’s say, 1960 – has no impression of what life was like when the CCP and the Maoist New People’s Army, to give it its full original title, were bombing and killing their way to national stardom. There’s nothing romantic about their cause; those notions of the proletariat’s struggle against inequality only masks what it was and still is really about – which is, power and ideology, and using the former to impose the latter.

That’s how it worked for Stalin, for Mao, for that other communist butcher, Pol Pot in Kampuchea (now Cambodia); for the repressive regimes of Fidel Castro in Cuba, the Kim dynastic line in North Korea and a list of other communism-in-practice failures.

But those countries’ systems embody the abiding aspirations of Philippine communism. Nothing short of that will satisfy its champions. That fact that Marxism-Leninism has collapsed in all but less than a handful of countries around the world is of no consequence.

Filipinos are a free-spirited race. They don’t want the people’s shop, the conformity rallies, the book of mindless chants, the informing on family members, the punishments for disobedience, the summary executions, economic isolation and the bankruptcy of the nation – the real trappings of communism. But they do want peace. At odds with them is the CCP which advocates a “protracted people’s war” – one of the phrases it borrowed from Mao.

But who are these people? Truthfully, what is the communist population in the Philippines? What percentage of the country’s 103 million share the communist dream? How many actual card-carrying members do they have?

Of course, it’s a tiny proportion. Take the NPA. According to the AFP this group had a fighting strength of just 3,200 troops at the end of 2015 – less than a tenth of its strength when Marcos went up against it. Meanwhile, the CCP and the NDF have never fielded a single candidate in any election – national or local. They argue that “bourgeois” elections are not their thing – apparently, the fact that they’d never win a single seat has nothing to do with it. The bullet, not the ballot box is their thing. And that’s how they aim to win the hearts and minds of Filipinos. The Mao way and the Stalin way and the Pol Pot way.

Duterte as the former mayor of Davao – a city that saw some of the worst atrocities in this 50-year-old war – understands better than most the need to end the communist rebellion; what the CCP refers to as the ‘Philippine Revolution’.

That’s why he appointed avowed communists to posts within his administration; it’s why he extended a temporary amnesty to CCP leaders; it’s why he brokered that ceasefire with the communist rebels, it’s why he revived the peace talks and removed whatever obstacle he could to bring about an outbreak of peace. It’s why, in his words, he went “the extra mile” – and took a lot of political flak for it.

And so, for the hard of hearing and the intellectually challenged, one more time – he didn’t do it because he’s a closet communist. He did it because, after five decades of conflict, he wants peace in his land. The man the mainstream media love to depict as a blood-crazed dictator is actually the man who wants to stop the bloodshed.

But it seems that’s not going to happen now. And unfortunately, we believe, this conflict can quickly escalate. The communists, through the NPA, will want to make their point. To make a show of strength; to kill and grab the headlines, and broadcast to the world that their ‘glorious cause’ is unbowed; that the ‘people’s fight” goes on. And the AFP will be given full licence by Duterte to wipe them out. As he said in announcing the breakdown of the peace process: “I told the soldiers to prepare for a long war”.

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