The Leadership Crisis in the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army

After forty-three years of waging war against the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) continues to project itself as a relevant and well-coordinated organization that is capable of challenging the GRP. Its principal objective is “to replace the current economic and political order in the Philippines with a socialist system”[1] and its main function is “to wage a protracted people’s war to destroy the reactionary state power and the interventionist U.S. imperial forces, protect the people and advance their national and democratic interests.”[2] To achieve its objectives, the CPP-NPA utilizes all tactical means at its disposal: military engagement, mass mobilization, political lobbying, political subversion and International Solidarity Work (ISW) with other left-wing organizations. In addition, the CPP-NPA has announced its intention to engage in peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), although this initiative may have been occasioned by the NPA’s designation by the United States and the European Union in 2002 as a foreign terrorist organization.[3]

Intelligence estimates provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) indicate that the CPP-NPA is steadily losing its military strength. Recent estimates reveal that the organization still mobilizes around 5,000 cadres[4], a drastic decrease from its peak of 28,000 cadres in the mid-1980s. The AFP still considers the CPP-NPA as the primary security threat against in the Philippines due to its capacity to operate nationally and its ability to infiltrate various state and private institutions.[5] However, despite of all the activities the organization undertakes, it cannot deny that it is struggling for survival.[6]

In the special anniversary issue of the CPP-NPA’s official publication Ang Bayan[7], the organization’s Central Committee discusses the importance of its “five year offensive plan”, which aims to advance the CPP-NPA’s armed struggle from the current strategic defensive stage to a strategic stalemate stage. While these are powerful statements, they are just standard propaganda lines which the organization uses to project its significance. The real message of the publication is actually a wakeup call: the CPP-NPA is needs to advance its armed struggle because it has nearly lost the war.

One of the basic reasons for the problems facing the CPP-NPA is that it lacks a genuine leader who provides direction to the organization. All militant organizations require some leadership function to exist; and even within relatively small-sized militant organizations there is a diversification of functions. Leaders are critical in turning the organization’s mass base into a well-coordinated force. The leader does not only develop training courses but provides the ideology, identifies the enemy, and articulates the strategy. Therefore, the current leadership crisis that is present within the CPP-NPA will contribute to the downfall of the organization.[8]

Current Power Struggle

The CPP-NPA leadership crisis, which is manifested through the rift between CPP Central Committee members Jose Maria Sison and Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, has developed into a significant conflict that has prompted the Tiamzon couple to consider overthrowing the Netherlands-based Jose Maria Sison. The motivation for this rift was the fundamental disagreement about the strategy of Sison to take advantage of the 2010 National Elections and the peace talks between the Philippine Government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) by grabing state power.

The Tiamzon couple disagreed with the idea of the CPP raising an extraordinary amount of money to fund the electoral campaigns of Leftist candidates Satur Ocampo and Liza Masa, because this move was a significant departure from the two-pronged party strategy of People’s Protracted War and United Front. Sison’s strategy of pursuing political participation effectively sidelines the CPP-NPA’s armed struggle that Benito Tiamzon has been directing since Sison moved to Utrecht, Netherlands.

With this situation, Jose Maria Sison now finds himself in a beleaguered position since the Tiamzon Faction controls majority of guerilla fronts and cadres around the country. Furthermore, the Tiamzon couple is supported by their comrades from the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK), which has been the nemesis of Sison’s Kabataang Makabayan (KM) since its inception in 1968. Prominent SDK leaders who are presently occupying the highest positions within the CPP have rallied around the Tiamzon couple in preparation for Sison’s expulsion. 

History of Infighting

The struggle for legitimacy and power between communist organizations and leaders in the Philippines can be traced to the early 1960s even before the official establishment of the CPP in 1968. The competition between the CPP Jesus Lava Faction and the CPP Armando Guerrero Faction intensified in 1964 when Lava was captured and six months later, Sison established a rival organization the KM.[9] More infighting ensued when Jesus Lava appointed his nephew, Francisco Lava to lead the CPP after his arrest. The continued Party leadership and control of the Lava family generated infighting between the members of the CPP executive committee members. By 1967, the CPP executive committee led by Sison expelled the Lava group from the CPP.[10] Consequently, Sison assumed leadership of the CPP-NPA since it was re-established in 1968.

After his release from prison in 1986, he was re-elected to the Executive Committee of the CPP Central Committee but was not allowed to assume chairmanship due to a decision by the CPP’s Politburo. The decision stated that Sison could only become chairman of the CPP if he returned to the Philippines. Since he was based in Netherlands, Sison could not participate in the day-to-day collective leadership of the CPP and was given the theoretical task of writing CPP anniversary statements (with the approval of the Politburo) and preparing key documents for CPP Congress.

However, starting 1990, Sison started deviating from his designated tasks. In one of the Politburo meetings, he was criticized for submitting the 1989 Party Anniversary Statement to newspapers in Manila even before it was approved by members of the Politburo. This act was followed by several unilateral decisions by Sison that caused embarrassment to local CPP leaders. By the early 1990s, a leadership vacuum dominated the Party. Since then, continued debates about the future direction and strategy of CPP-NPA has widened the rift between Sison and Tiamzons, somehow reinforcing the Politburo’s decision in the 1980s that Jose Maria Sison cannot lead the CPP-NPA by remote control.

Implications for the military

The CPP-NPA is at the weakest point of its 43-year armed struggle. Aside from its significant leadership and organizational conflicts within the CPP-NPA[11], the organization’s physical strength, weapons, and guerilla fronts have been severely depleted due to consistent losses to government forces over the past decades. Considering this trend the CPP-NPA can be considered insignificant.

The AFP now has the opportunity to finally fulfill one of its main objectives of defeating the CPP-NPA with the assistance from other sectors of society. While the AFP’s current strategy of winning the people’s loyalty through development and humanitarian aid (winning people’s hearts, minds and stomachs)  has generally been successful, it is critical for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to continue collaborating with other sections such as local government units, non-government organizations and private companies to compliment and reinforce its strategy. This “whole of nation approach” should be institutionalized to effectively counter CPP-NPA operations in rural and urban areas nationwide.[12]


[1]Peter Chalk, Angel Rabasa and others The Evolving Terrorist threat in Southeast Asia: A Net Assessment. (Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation, 2009): 57.

[2] Alfredo B. Saulo, Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002): 228.

[3] Chalk, et. al., The Evolving Terrorist threat in Southeast Asia, 57.

[4] Armed Forces of the Philippines, Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan” (Quezon City: General Headquarters, Armed Forces of the Philippines, 2010): 10

[5] Chalk, Peter, Rabasa, Angel, et. al. (2009). The Evolving Terrorist threat in Southeast Asia: A Net Assessment. Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation: p. 58

[6]Francisco N. Cruz, The Eventual Demise of the Communist Insurgency in the Philippines (Quezon City: Armed Forces of the Philippines Civil Relations Service, 2010): 7

[7] CPP Central Committee “Strive to make a great advance in the people’s war for new democracy” Ang Bayan  Special Issue (2009)

[8] Kim Cragin and Sara Daly, The Dynamic Terrorist Threat: An Assessment of Organization Motivations and Capabilities in a Changing World (Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation, 2004)

[9] Alfredo B. Saulo, Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction. (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002):  79-80

[10] Rainer Werning and Jose Maria Sison, The Philippine Revolution, The Leader’s View (New York: Taylor & Francis, 1989): 45-47.

[11] Cruz, The Eventual Demise of the Communist Insurgency

[12] Armed Forces of the Philippines, Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan”

 

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Comments

The "leadership and organizational conflicts" within the NPA have probably done more damage to the organization than the Philippine military, which is fortunate to face such a thoroughly self-destructive adversary. I agree that the NPA are largely spent as a national force, but they retain a significant presence in parts of the country, most notably in Eastern Mindanao.

I would personally caution against any assumption that the NPA can be finished off by military action, even by actions that include development and humanitarian aid aimed at winning people’s hearts, minds and stomachs. The NPA remains strongest in areas afflicted by corrupt and abusive political dynasties, where military and police officials frequently collude with these dynasties in money-making ventures, and where the indigenous people that form a large percentage of the NPA footsoldiers are marginalized and threatened. The government's ability to close out the insurgency will depend less on its ability to bring the insurgents within the rule of law than on its ability to bring its own representatives within the rule of law. Development and humanitarian aid is not enough: the dynastic rulers of these regions need to be brought within the rule of law and held accountable for their actions. If this isn't done the root causes of rebellion will remain, and they may someday be exploited by more competent and more dangerous leaders.

I completely concur with this assessment. I will only highlight a couple of points from my perspective:

1. Organizations come and go. Leaders of organizations come and go. Ideologies come and go. Individual fighters and supporters come and go. None of those are "the insurgency." The insurgency is a condition existing deep within some society based upon their perceptions of the nature of the governance that affects their lives. Such perceptions can not be beaten out of a populace, nor can they be bribed out of a populace (though both approaches, usually applied in tandem can indeed suppress the outward manifestations of insurgency if applied diligently). Bottom line, worrying about the NPA or the leadership of the NPA is focusing on the wrong thing. It is a metric of the problem, but it is not the problem.

2. "Hearts and Minds" has been much abused of late. It is not about bribing a populace. It is merely a poetic way of saying "psychology." One must address the psychology of a populace percieving their governance to be so out of step as to move them to insurgency. This does not mean talk them into accepting poor governance, it means address core drivers of poor governance such as Dayuhan describes in this section of his response:

"The NPA remains strongest in areas afflicted by corrupt and abusive political dynasties, where military and police officials frequently collude with these dynasties in money-making ventures, and where the indigenous people that form a large percentage of the NPA footsoldiers are marginalized and threatened."

This in not a broken popualce that needs fixing. This is not an ideologically brainwashed populace who need convinced or bribed or beaten to stop acting out. This is a populace who is tired of this type of governance. Every form of foreign adventurism left a different scar on the society they touched. The US leaves scars today. This is a very common form of scarring every place where Spain planted their flag. France is picking at old scars today in Mali. Likewise the UK in Afghanistan. Certainly there are deep scars in the Philippines from the US as well (and of course Japan). - key terrain attracts such unwanted attention.

Until we can learn to understand and accept our own contributary roles to these troubled places, and until we can truly shfit our focus to addressing true drivers of insurgency we will remain unsuccessful in our efforts. Most importantly, when we are percieved as primarly working to make the government better able to avoid listening to and evolving to address the reasonable concerns of their populace, we put ourselves on the target list for acts of transnational terrorism. The NPA used to target us actively until we stopped targeting them. One bad policy decision and we are back on that target list. Likewise with other nationalist groups around the globe that we unwisely poke with CT and SFA sticks.

Largely agree, but in the last paragraph I'd say this:

Until we can learn to understand and accept our own contributary roles to these troubled places, and until we can truly shfit our focus to addressing true drivers of insurgency we will remain unsuccessful in our efforts.

goes a bit far.

We don't really have a contributory role in either the problem or the solution. This one isn't about us, and any attempt to make it about us would IMO be a huge mistake.

"The insurgency is a condition existing deep within some society based on the nature of the governance that affects their lives."

Herein, the problem becomes -- yesterday as today -- can governance serve two masters, for example:

a. The foreigner and

b. The indigenous population?

In this example, the "nature of governance" is perceived of more as "enemy" -- rather than as "friend" -- when said government's efforts are noted as being (1) clearly directed toward achieving the goals of the foreigner and (2) clearly made at the expense of the different and opposing wants, needs and desires of the indigenous population.

Thus, the enduring task of the foreigner, his often "installed and kept" governor, and their combined "instruments of power" becomes -- yesterday as today -- to "convince" (by various means) the indigenous population to:

a. Give up its hindering way of life -- and the values, attitudes and beliefs upon which this hindering/obstructing way of life is based and

b. Adopt a more foreigner-accommodating way of life -- and the values, attitudes and beliefs that are associated with and correspond to this more foreigner-friendly way of life.

These unwanted requirements of governance -- yesterday as today -- giving rise to diverse insurgencies, which find varying ways, means, forms and times to express their distaste for these governing conditions.

In the Philippine insurgency there is no foreigner in the picture, and the insurgents are fighting to change the status quo, not retain it.

Don't you think the status quo today is heavily shaped by the Spanish colonization, or do you see this as something that existed long before foreigners came into the picture? It seems very similar to what Spain left behind in many places around the globe, particularly in South and Central America.

Certainly you could point to all manner of foreign influence in the history, though Mindanao's "big man" political structures often seem to owe as much to the pre-colonial datu system as to any colonial relic. Still, today's government efforts are not at all "directed toward achieving the goals of the foreigner" or toward forcing the populace to "adopt a more foreigner-accommodating way of life" (citations from Bill C's post). The insurgency is about local elites trying to sustain a status quo that favors them against insurgents who seek to alter that status quo in ways that they believe will be to their advantage. Given the nature of that status quo, I'm not sure it's necessarily appropriate or desirable for the central government to reflexively side with the local elites, but that's something the Filipinos need to resolve for themselves. I don't see any case here for US or other foreign interference.

Post repeated. Someday I will learn not to click "refresh" when I see "service unavailable"...