The Communist Party of the Philippines celebrated its 41st founding anniversary last December 26 and in northeastern Mindanao, local communist cadres commemorated the event in a day-long ceremony in an undisclosed location said to be just a kilometer or so from the national highway in Marihatag town which is just a little over 40 kilometers north of Lianga.
Jorge Madlos, better known as Ka Oris and officially the spokesman for National Democratic Front in Mindanao, outlined the revolutionary movement's optimistic assessment of its current status and its plans for intensifying the war in the next five years. The target, Madlos said, is to advance its conflict with the government to the next level which is supposedly the strategic stalemate stage wherein the communist forces will have attained numerical and tactical parity with the Philippine armed forces. According to NDF thinking, this strategic stalemate level will only be in preparation for the next crucial stage which will be the strategic offensive level where the revolutionary forces will have achieved the capacity to conduct large scale military offensives against an already weakened and increasingly defense-oriented national government.
Ka Oris also reported during the anniversary celebration that the New People's Army (the CPP'S military wing), contrary to government claims that the NPA is a force in decline and that its number of armed partisans has shrunk to less than 6000 at the end of last year, has actually been growing at a healthy 5 percent a year although he has declined to give the actual figures even for just the number of rebel forces in the Mindanao area alone. The target, he claims, is to train and equip one platoon of armed fighters for every town in the country within the next five years for the movement to be able to advance to the next stage of their prolonged and protracted war with the Philippine government.
He also announced the reactivation of the so called Sparrow Units, the urban assassination squads of the NPA which in the past targeted policemen, military personnel and government officials. These units were active in many of the major cities all over the country particularly in the 1980's and gave the urban masses then a taste of the ferocity and violence of the guerrilla war raging almost exclusively in the countrysides.
For those of us here who live in Lianga and Surigao del Sur, it is obvious that that much of what Ka Oris said could be labeled more as propaganda and bombast rather than a cold and sober reportage of the true state of the communist revolutionary movement nowadays as exemplified by it current status in the province. Surigao del Sur has always been one of the flash points of the insurgency war in the country and how well or how badly rebel forces are doing here is reflective to a large degree of the state of the revolutionary war the CPP-NPA is waging nationwide.
While the NPA remains a potent force in the province and remains capable of mounting occasional ambuscades, raids and other small scale military actions against local military outposts, isolated government buildings and facilities, as well selected private and civilian installations and business interests, it is, most certainly not, the military or political force it once was three or even two decades ago. From a high of more than ten thousand armed partisans (according to some military estimates) in the 1970's and 80's, it has shrunk to a much leaner force of less than 6000 armed regulars with just more than a thousand operating in Mindanao.
It is also an ideological movement searching for relevancy and meaning in a world where traditional communist thought has largely become discredited and considered obsolete. As a consequence, it continues to be riven and split by doctrinal and ideological differences among its members and even more so among the top leadership, a fact highlighted by the violent purges and "purification" campaigns that decimated much of the top cadre of the communist movement in the recent past. The decision of many leftist groups to gradually abandon the armed struggle and participate in the democratic process has also essentially sidelined the movement and diminished its overall influence and effectiveness.
Be that as it may, the Philippine armed forces and its security agencies cannot claim victory yet in the communist insurgency war. Weakened though it may be and reduced to surviving and funding its operations through the extortion of "revolutionary taxes" from business interests operating in the countryside, the NPA remains a major security threat particularly in the poorest provinces of the country where it continues to enjoy some degree of support from some sectors of the urban poor.
In Surigao del Sur, specifically in the Lianga area, a number of the remote mountain barangays or viilages remain part of the NPA mass base that provides guerrilla forces with much needed logistical and material support. These remote mountain communities handicapped by extreme poverty, the lack of proper education and viable economic opportunities remain largely isolated from the reach of essential government services, thus providing a steady supply of recruits that the movement desperately needs to sustain its operations.
Yet even in this impoverished province which has for many decades been a major front line in the insurgency war, the NPA has lost much of the clout it once had during its heyday thirty or even twenty years ago. Despite its rural mass base, it enjoys little support in the population centers and among the rural middle class. There are even confident predictions from many local observers here that with further economic development brought about by improvements in road infrastructure, the rise of income levels brought about by outside stimulus to the local economy and the gradual lowering of poverty and illiteracy levels throughout the province , the communist revolutionary forces may become eventually marginalized and weakened further.
That is, of course, something that remains to be seen. What is clear is that the insurgency remains a major political and security concern here as well as all over most of the country. The recent ambuscades and raids conducted by rebel forces in the past month or so against local military targets and private companies that have resulted in numerous casualties on both the government and rebel sides are more than ample proof of this fact.
One wonders, however, if the local leaders of the revolutionary movement, despite their recent confident and optimistic pronouncements, are really blind to the the bleak possibilities in store for for them and their armed struggle in the foreseeable future. Any one who has studied political and revolutionary movements in history knows fully well that no armed struggle against a duly constituted government can succeed unless such a movement has a clearly defined ideology and objectives that have appeal and relevance to most, if not all, of the sectors of the society it wants to lead.
This is something that the CPP and the NPA has clearly failed to achieve either on both the national or local level. Even in Surigao del Sur they remain a marginalized movement existing only outside of the fringes of society and gradually becoming more isolated as the years pass.
Their time in history has, for all intents and purposes, definitely come and gone. What remains is a movement desperately riding on the residual discontent brought about by the continuing poverty, lack of education and social and economic injustice that still prevails in the rural countryside and the urban slums of the country. Little of the fiery Moist rhetoric remains except for the tired slogans and obsolete catch phrases that no longer stir the emotions and captivate the imagination and commitment of the new generation of the youth.
Ka Oris may be trying to see a better and brighter future for the revolutionary movement he has been a part of for most of his life and I understand his need to project a sense of optimism for the many who still dream of a communist utopia for this country. But from where I stand, all I can say is that the dream that he and his comrades are fighting for is already dead (and has, in fact, been dead for some time already whether they accept it or not) and all the countless lives tragically lost and ruined as well as the untold misery resulting from the decades of the relentless war they have been relentlessly waging have been all clearly for naught.