Government News Analysis

Reds on the blacklist

New People's Army

On Tuesday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (photo) declared the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) nexus as a terrorist organisation under the provisions of the 2012 Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act. For most Filipinos this move has been long overdue. Some push-back from communism’s support ranks in Congress and elsewhere can be expected, but across the population generally this declaration will be welcomed.

The notion that paramilitaries can wander around the country wearing ammunition cross belts and brandishing AK-47s, in itself, is abhorrent to the rule of law and an affront to the nation. To most people’s minds, the fact that they engage in violent assaults on police stations and army posts, looting weapons and killing law-enforcement and security-services personnel is more than sufficient reason to outlaw this organisation.

Add to that the NPA’s proclivity for extortion – its “Revolutionary Taxes”, for example; levies imposed on companies, domestic and foreign, operating within its zones of control; or demands for food and other resources made on poor farming communities under the threat of facing ‘disciplinary action’ – and the question isn’t whether this group should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation, it’s why has it taken so long to do so?

The simple answer to that falls between two stools – lack of political will and a political naivety which believed that this fully committed communist grouping could be talked into peace. The fact is, the only president – prior to Duterte – who was prepared to take on the NPA in any meaningful measure was former president Ferdinand E. Marcos. And that was 45 years ago.

Sure, subsequent governments had their campaigns to confront the communist paramilitary, but they also, increasingly, went the peace-negotiations route. Starting with Marcos’s successor, Corazon Aquino, and stretching all the way to last month, 23 November to be precise, when Duterte pulled the plug on talks with the grouping, this futile pursuit of peace by sitting around a table has straddled 27 years. And it’s produced zero.

Thankfully on this issue, Duterte and his major critic, Vice President Leni Robredo, have common ground; Robredo is fully supporting Duterte’s decision. Describing it as “an important message”, this is how she put it: “All the actions of the government to quell violence, to quell the illegal activities, to quell the terroristic activities, I agree with that. Whatever political colour you are in, we need to fight terrorism because this is bad indeed – not only for our security but for the entire future of our country”.

It’s a pity that it’s taken something as important as this to produce bipartisanship, but her endorsement should be welcomed as it will certainly help to dilute the cries from the Hard Left for the order to be rejected.

But let’s look at that historic lack of political will in dealing with this insurgency. This is simply answered; it stems from a fear of successive parties in power of being branded as ‘Marcosian’ – that they might be perceived as pursuing the same strategy as Marcos whom the Aquino presidency had utterly demonised; a slur that lives on to this day.

Indeed, this slur has been given greater resonance latterly by the Duterte opposition – particularly by the Liberal Party of Aquino’s son, former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, and the battery of Left-progressive parties and their affiliates who support the political aspirations of the Marxist-Leninist National Democratic Front (NDF) of which the CPP and NPA are member organisations.

In short, Filipino politicians over the past quarter of a century have had no appetite for mounting an all-out assault on armed communists – as far as they’ve been concerned, going the Marcos route to tackle this armed rebellion would be tantamount to committing political suicide. Thus, they did what they believed was the next best thing – they talked tough before the cameras, sanctioned localised operations, washed their hands of the rest and made it the problem of the next in-coming administration.

Now let’s look at the staggering level of political naivety that’s been involved in the countless efforts by successive governments to put peace on a piece of paper through talks between government and the NDF-CPP-NPA.

All those rounds of talks – scores of them – were premised on an understanding that (a) peace was actually a common goal and (b) the sincerity of the rebel side was genuine. And, even though both propositions flew in the face of the hard realities on the ground back in the countryside where the killings and the coercion continued – and even despite the intransigence of the CPP-NPA to make any meaningful concessions over the decades – political leaderships and their appointed peace negotiators continued to hold out hope of a breakthrough. Or at least appeared to.

The truth though is this. That long-drawn-out process has been nothing more than an expensive, time-wasting fool’s errand which, far from reaching any solutions, has succeeded in bolstering the legitimacy of this grouping. It’s helped to promote the NDF as a solid political entity in its own right – one that can sit across the table from the government-of-the-day and make demands for the CPP-NPA to be recognised as legitimate; as part of the country’s political fabric.

The farce of the ‘peace project’, however, goes beyond naïve; it’s more like tunnel vision, where self-evident facts were repeatedly and almost religiously ignored, or blinkered off. It actually required a committed refusal to understand what the CPP-NPA are really about; their raison d’être – something, in fact, which these organisations themselves never made any pretence about. Actually, the reverse – they boast about it.

That goal is basically two fold – to install a Marxist government in Manila (spurious talk of coalitions and power-sharing aside), and to mount a “Proletarian Revolution” to do so. That shouldn’t have been a difficult concept for the thousands of Congressmen and women – with the law school degrees they love to brandish – to have grasped over the past 27 years. But evidently it was.

So here’s a tip for them. Deep ideologies of the communist kind are not open for negotiation – and certainly not until the armed-struggle option has been fully exhausted. Here’s a couple of simple examples, Colombia, where some 220,000 had to die first; Nicaragua, 30,000+ deaths; and of course the mother of all communists revolutions, the decade-long Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of China’s Great Helmsman, Mao Zedong – the one the NPA specifically wants to emulate – in which 2 million people perished.

What part of ‘Proletarian Revolution’ had they failed to understand? What did they think it meant – some sort of rustic reformatory movement, Greens, unionists, eco-warriors waving placards and burning stuff in the street? These are people with guns; people who know how to use them. They have no interest in reform – whether that’s economic, social or even political.

They seek to rule the Filipino people by subjugating them. They’re committed to the total destruction of democracy and all its institutions in the Philippines. They want to replace capitalism and the free market with a centrally planned command economy; they want to enforce military conscription to the NPA for all youth; they want a one-party system of government where the CPP can rule by fiat, unopposed.

These aren’t things that are up for negotiation; these – and much more in the same vein – are the CCP-NPA purpose. They always were and they always will be. And there’s nothing this government – or any of its predecessors – could offer them that would come even close to satisfying their demands. For one thing, the NPA is never going to voluntarily disarm.

We wrote about this issue quite recently – The next conflict [28 November] – explaining where all this is leading. Duterte’s announcement, delivered by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque three days ago, therefore, was to be expected.

The next step will be to give his order legal legs by applying to the courts to have the CPP-NPA proscribed as a terrorist organisation. Seemingly, as part of the convoluted process for which the Philippine legal system is famous, it first has to be ratified under the 2007 Human Security Act.

That’s now in process – though, given the legendary sloth of the country’s judicial system – that could take a while. Of course it should be fast tracked – this centres on national security; something even the efficiency-challenged personnel of this arcane justice system should be able to appreciate the urgency of ensuring.

But, to give an idea, the Department of Justice filed for the Islamic terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf, to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the order was finally approved. If that pace of progress is replicated here, Duterte will be in the lame-duck phase of his presidency before the CPP-NPA make it officially onto the list.

Certainly, there’ll be the ubiquitous attempts at obstructionism and the filing of appeals – something for which Philippine lawyers and politicians (often the same thing) are renowned. And there’s no reason, as far as we can see, that they’ll be making an exception in this case.

Defenders of this process like to hide behind the notion that it provides greater checks and balances to guard against the abuse of power. We would argue, however, that the courts’ stalling – for political purposes – a presidential order aimed at addressing a critical issue like a terrorist threat and the potential for rebellion is the real abuse of power.

Frankly, there are far better systems than this. In Britain, for example, under the 2000 Terrorism Act, the Home Secretary – equivalent to the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government in the Philippines – can decide, without yielding to the courts, whether to proscribe an organisation as terrorist. The Minister will take legal advice if necessary, but the point is the 2000 Act lays out very clearly the criteria by which such a proscription can and should be made.

Furthermore, the Minister’s determination is final. There’s no appeals process per se. Once proscribed, an organisation can make a written application to the Home Secretary to be deproscribed, a decision on which must be made by the Minister within 90 days. Only if that application is rejected can the listed organisation make an appeal which is then handled by the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission.

In other words, the British system allows the person responsible for the country’s internal affairs – which include all national-security matters – to perform those duties in accordance with the existing relevant Act of Parliament. It does not require another tier of supervision – such as in the Philippine case, a meddling judicial bureaucracy – to vet or clarify or approve anything. In fact, that’s one of the purposes for having that law.

However, the NDF is not part of the president’s order which begs the question, why? Normally, proscription makes it a criminal offence to promote, support or have membership of a proscribed group. Thus, arranging or assisting in arranging meetings to further the activities of such a group, for example, would render it liable to prosecution. Displaying CCP and NDF logos and insignia, for example, would – certainly under the British Act – automatically denote support for the proscribed group.

The answer to that, most probably, is that it would impact on the entirety of the NDF’s member organisations in the over-arching National Democratic Movement. These include agricultural and trade unions, religious and indigenous minorities, youth and student groups, and legitimate progressive-Left political parties and associations.

Either way, as far as Duterte is concerned the CPP-NPA is now a terrorist organisation and will be dealt with as such. Military operations will be stepped up – in fact that’s already in train – and disruption of their finances might also have been put on the agenda.

But what’s also needed is a nationwide education campaign describing the nature of the NPA rebellion and the CPP’s ideological mission. In other words, an explanation of the nature of what the country is really up against – those aspects of this insurgency which past governments have chosen to play down to such an extent that their negligence has exposed the country to a potential internal war.

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