Yesterday (March 29), the Maoist New People’s Army marked its 54th anniversary.
That it has lasted this long in pursuing its goal of seizing political power through the barrel of the gun shows it has managed to gain new recruits and maintain its fighting capability over the years despite the superiority of the armed forces in terms of manpower, firepower, mobility and communications.
But if we’re to believe the recent pronouncement of the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, government forces have managed to bring the NPA to ‘strategic defeat’ with the latter’s guerilla fronts reduced to an insignificant number in just four provinces.
At its height in the 1980s, the NPA was estimated by the military to have some 25,000 combatants.
But that figure appears to be bloated, as the Maoist insurgents could only muster at most platoon-size engagements with government forces in remote areas at that time, and never attacked large military installations.
Hence, if the NPA anniversary statement says, as it usually does every March 29th, that it is growing and winning more people to its side, that claim should be taken with more than a grain of salt.
As things now stand, it appears the armed insurgency is in fact winding down.
News reports from the battlefield indicate more losses on the part of the NPA, which tells us that the ‘people’s war’ that Mao prescribed for a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society like ours may not be protracted at all.
If it has taken them 54 years of armed struggle without having achieved victory, that isn’t something to crow about.
The persistence of poverty in both city and countryside will no doubt continue to attract those who remain poor and unable to feed their families the option to take up arms against the government as a last resort.
But it appears that hit-and-run tactics to wear down government resistance is not working at all, so Mao’s idea of a protracted ‘people’s war’ may well end up withering on the vine.
The NPA as a spent force appears to be the rationale for the national government move to reject the resumption of peace talks with the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the CPP-NPA.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (Opapru) has reiterated the government is determined to put an end to armed rebellion by focusing on localized peace efforts.
This thrust aims to convince NPA members and supporters to lay down their arms and return to the fold of the law.
Opapru Undersecretary Wilben Mayor is confident that the agency is taking the right step in proceeding with local peace engagement because it is “the most effective way” since they have “better communication with those on the ground to reach out to the rebels. “
The government, he said, is now implementing a Transformation Program meant to kick-start the reintegration of rebel returnees into the mainstream of society.
“This is to ensure that former rebels, or what we like to call ‘rescued friends,’ are able to sustain their new life. This doesn’t stop with just giving them aid and livelihood, we want to make sure they are set for life.”