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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” 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.” 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.
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, 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. However, despite of all the activities the organization undertakes, it cannot deny that it is struggling for survival.
In the special anniversary issue of the CPP-NPA’s official publication Ang Bayan, 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.
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. 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. 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, 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.
Peter Chalk, Angel Rabasa and others The Evolving Terrorist threat in Southeast Asia: A Net Assessment. (Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation, 2009): 57.
 Alfredo B. Saulo, Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002): 228.
 Chalk, et. al., The Evolving Terrorist threat in Southeast Asia, 57.
 Armed Forces of the Philippines, Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan” (Quezon City: General Headquarters, Armed Forces of the Philippines, 2010): 10
 Chalk, Peter, Rabasa, Angel, et. al. (2009). The Evolving Terrorist threat in Southeast Asia: A Net Assessment. Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation: p. 58
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
 CPP Central Committee “Strive to make a great advance in the people’s war for new democracy” Ang Bayan Special Issue (2009)
 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)
 Alfredo B. Saulo, Communism in the Philippines: An Introduction. (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002): 79-80
 Rainer Werning and Jose Maria Sison, The Philippine Revolution, The Leader’s View (New York: Taylor & Francis, 1989): 45-47.
 Cruz, The Eventual Demise of the Communist Insurgency
 Armed Forces of the Philippines, Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan”