New People’s Army and the Philippines: No end in sight?
Author: Noriko Hashimoto
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 09/04/2009
40 years of conflict between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and
New People’s Army (NPA), a communist rebel group, is still continuing.
According to news reports from Reuters, some 40,000 people have been killed by
this conflict since the foundation of NPA in 1969 (2008). NPA is the military sector of the Communist Party of the
Philippines (CPP),which is based on Maoist philosophy and practices, has been attempting
to achieve a new democracy by conducting people war (guerrilla war). They
have been spreading nationwide and are currently active in 69 of 81 provinces
(Reuters 2008). GRP has been carrying out effort for peace, by initiating a
peace process. On the other hand, GRP has been shifting their policies toward
rebels, including NPA. Unfortunately, the Philippines has not seen any
improvements to the issue which was pointed out by rebels: the expanding gap
between rich and poor. Accordingly, GRP lost NPA’s trust, and the peace process
had made little progress.
As NPA, and the communist parties that NPA
originated from have a long history, which had started before World War II,
this paper focuses on the period of the former president Fidel Valdez Ramos and
the current president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration. Although it is
short-term observation, this period demonstrates the pattern of government
policy toward NPA. While former president Ramos actively engaged in peace talks
with rebels throughout his presidency, President Arroyo’s commitment to the
peace process changed after the events of September 11th 2001, and
has been inconsistent.
Challenges to the peace process have come not only from the GRP side, however,
but also from the NPA side. This paper is an investigation of the key challenges
to the peace process between GRP and NPA in the era of the former president
Ramos and the president Arroyo. These challenges are: the fact that GRP is considered
untrustworthy by NPA; the interests of foreign powers, which pressured GRP not to
negotiate with communist terrorists; and NPA structure, psychological
pattern, and philosophy.
1.Background of the conflict
between GRP and NPA/CPP from before WWII until president Aquino
A good place to start is to trace the
history of this conflict because it shows what kinds of memories GRP and NPA
have. As far back
as 1930, before WWII, the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (Communist Party of the Philippines; PKP), which is origin of CPP, was formed. The driving force behind rising
communist parties was the increasing poverty among peasants and labors, and the
parallel increase of wealth among landowners who received benefits during Spanish
and American colonial time. Soon after foundation of PKP, in 1932, it was delegitimized
and leaders were arrested by the government. However, it was legalized again in
During WWII, guerrilla groups were based on
peasant resistance against imperial Japan. Armed group called Hukbalahap (Huks),
had formed under PKP and had fought throughout the War against Japanese
occupation. It had been seen that Huks and U.S. army worked with coalition to
defeat Japan. After the War, leaders of Huks were elected in a national
election but conservative landlords deprived their legislative seats receiving
a boost from U.S. because U.S. was hostile towards communism and landlords
feared to be violated their right of their lands by communists. The government
had quelled them because of the pressure from the United States. By the
mid-1950s they were completely suppressed, which meant the end of the first
period of communist activism.
With increasing tension of mass movement
in the background of Vietnam War, José María Sison, one of leaders of PKP, left his group because of its pro-Soviet
Union ideology. Based on Maoism, CPP was founded and New People’s Army (NPA)
was founded as a military sector of CPP. NPA is of the school of Huks, and the commander
Dante of Huks became a founding member. Since 1972, during the Martial Law of
Marcos administration, NPA had been damaged and their leaders had been arrested
one after another, nevertheless in the 1980s they were at the peak of their
history, News resources said there were an estimated 25.800 NPA soldiers (REUTERS,
At this time, NPA and CPP founded the National Democratic Front (NDF) which
supports both NPA and CPP and they elevated their rhetoric toward GRP. Despite former
president Aquino’s effort toward the national reconciliation after the Marcos dictatorship,
the peace process was broken by the Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP).
Although Aquino’s presidency had won the democracy from Marcos, it was a patched-together
government and was not strong enough to complete the democratic transition. In
fact, during Aquino, attempted military coups were reported several times. The peace
process would have to wait until Ramos쳌f presidency to develop further.
There are many factors which are disrupting to the peace process in the
Philippines. Some of the most important factors are: the fact that GRP is considered
untrustworthy by NPA because of their inconsistent policies and human rights
violations; the interests of foreign powers, which pressured GRP not to negotiate
with communist terrorists; and NPA’s structure, psychological pattern, and Maoist
philosophy. These issues make it difficult for the parties to this conflict to
negotiate with each other.
Policy of GRP toward NPA
The pattern of shifting government’s
policy has had a big impact on NPA, and makes confidence-building difficult. While
the cabinet changes every presidential election, rebel groups rarely change
their structure of organization and the leaders therefore maintain longer
memory. NPA tends to think that a peace agreement will break down soon.
Peace effort during Ramos presidency; 1992-1998
To resolve armed conflict always become a
major political issue each cabinet because it create significant obstacles to
economic progress. Economic policies that the successive presidents of the Philippines were same, especially the era of the former president Ramos was the Philippines was left behind other ASEAN countries. So it was absolute must and Ramos aimed
to join NIEs until 2000. He attracted foreign companies to the economic
district. His series of economic policies and peace process brought about
substantial results, which made peace process successful.
Ramos presidency had started set
of economic policy, in parallel yielded breakthrough in relations between GRP and NDF which was
representative of CPP and NPA. Ramos’s effort for peace started from The Hague
Joint Declaration September 1992, which happed soon after his assumption of
the presidency. This
Declaration confirmed both parties willingness for series of peace talks and
negotiation to resolve armed conflict. Both parties had been building mutual
trust through continued negotiation. From The Hague Joint Declaration, Series
of official and unofficial peace talk and negotiation at the mediation of
Norway government reached a framework, CARHRIHL (comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and
International Humanitarian Law Between the Government of the Republic of the
Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines) that had been signed by both
parties in 1998. As long as no ceasefire agreement, CARHRIHL was consider not
only as a regal document for human rights violation, but also as a way to build
the confidence between both parties (Amnesty International Report 2007). These
processes reined in violence, number of killing people by the battle between
GRP and NPA during Ramos administration was diminished; GRP 2 and NPA 2 people
were reported, compared to before and after Ramos presidency. According to the Philippines
Human Development Report 2005, 735 government soldiers were killed in battles
with rebels during Aquino’s presidency, while NPA lost 858 people. Although
statistics should not be trusted completely, these numbers should be carefully
considered, as they show much fewer deaths under Ramos.
According to The
Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, the Era of Ramos’ presidency
% after 1994. This
economic improvement must have had some effect on the number of battles. According to research by National Statistic Coordination
Board, the GINI coefficient had been declining from 0.4881 to 0.4814 for
3 years, from 1997 to 2000, which statistic shows that the society moved toward
more equal income distribution. However, economic
development is not necessarily the case to resolve issue that rebel’s claim,
improvement of poor in provinces. For rural poor, it may cause an increase in
Peace effort of the President Arroyo; 2001-2007
Soon after taking office, President Arroyo restarted the peace process which
was stuck during the era of the former president Estrada. Her early work was to
reaffirm the GRP’s policy on the peace process, as the Ramos administration had
done. On March 9th 2001, both parties had reached joint statement
which confirmed resumption of official negotiation two years after from its
termination. Subsequently, a month after, April 27 to 30, both parties had
conducted a working session in Oslo, Norway (Brillantes 2007 p 15-17). However,
since last working session April 2001, negotiation had stopped. Resuming peace
talks had to wait until January 2004. BBC News reported that the NPA negotiators
were less optimistic and said: We’d
be lucky to complete 50% of the talks… but to finish it would not be possible, (BBC News,10 February, 2004). This interview was before the Oslo Joint Statements, held
February 14 2004. From this comment, there is an assumption: NPA showed their gesture
that GRP is trustworthy using mass media. Even BBC News didn’t mention about
their intention from this comment, it implied that comments to media can be
used as a strategy to shoulder a burden to GRP before starting bargaining for NPA’s
advantage. In the same year, finally JOINT MONITORING COMMITTEE, was agreed in CARHRIHL, had formed in 2004. Perhaps GRP’s gesture to show
their response to NPA was late.
There is a question, why period of absence
of peace talk had continued almost for 2 years. Reason of it is the pressure
from foreign countries. The Philippines쳌f policy of foreign diplomacy is
affecting the peace process, especially their relationship with U.S. The Philippines is considered a front line state of U.S.-led international fight
against terrorism. In April 2001, Arroyo administration had restarted peace
process in Oslo, Norway. However, after September 11 2001, GRP had changed
their policy toward NPA, and implemented Oplan Bantaly Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) which is an armed operation to counter the rebels (Human
Rights Now, 2007 p8). Also GRP had been ignoring the fact that U.S. department of state placed the name of NPA in the Foreign Terrorist Organization
Designations Table in 2002. European Union (EU) also had placed names of NPA
and Sison on the list which designated them as terrorists. In addition, the Bush
administration decided to provide $65 million US to the Armed Force of the
Philippines (AFP) in the 2003 (Lum, Niksch 2006 p19). These series of events
seriously affected NPA’s confidence in their relationship with the government.
Arroyo’s presidency imposed a state of emergency nationwide in January 2006,
next year continuously TEN-POINT AGENDA TO BEAT THE ODDS IN SIX YEARS UNDER
THE ARROYO ADMINISTARATION was declared, which is a political statement that President
Arroyo’s presidency will terminate NPA conflict within 6 years, which made GRP’s
policy toward NPA unclear.
Human rights violations
Since 2001, more than 800 people are reported to have been victims of
extrajudicial killing, and several people were disappeared (Amnesty
International 2008). These people are activists, politicians, social/ NGO
workers and journalists, who are suspected to relation of NPA or communists
rebel groups. It has been happening for a long time but these cases have been
increasing since 2001, when Arroyo administration started. GRP denies any relation
between PNA (Philippines National Army) and PNP (Philippines National Police) and
this series of killing, saying that these cases were from purges or the internal
factional struggle of rebels. However, according to reports of Amnesty
International, safe-conduct agreement of CARHRIHL, included list of individual
member’s name and address of CPP/NPA and other related organizations, promised
their safety, turned to an arrest warrant. It is highly suspected that PNA,
PNP, hired assassins, ex-NPA combatants, and vigilantes used that information
when they committed extrajudicial killings. In addition, vigilantes were
established unofficially by PNA (not under control of PNA, and prohibited in
1987. But, they still exist and are influenced and supported by high rank government
officials that show a tough stand against communist rebels. There is really
very little chance that these vigilante or paramilitary killings will be
punished. The number of missing or killed people has not decreased yet.
Certainly, these killings cannot stop NPA’s violence, but in some sense could
increase it, as the government losses legitimacy. President Arroyo disavowed any
involvement and cannot provide any effective way to solve this issue expeditiously.
Although details of how the GRP and the group of people who killed cannot be
found, at the very least, it is clear that the GRP cannot control them. These
facts are enough to suspect GRP, and unhinge NPA’s trust in GRP, and continue
their violent struggle.
Impact of poverty is caused by government policy,
which has been emphasized by NPA. Since GRP had not implemented large scale land
reform, poverty is still remaining especially among peasants of provinces. The
structure that landlords dominate land has entrenched poverty in the country.
Although peasants sell harvest to earn
hard cash, they have to sell them in lower place in the local market (Personal
interview 2006). In some cases, peasants work longer hours for less money on
plantations. Unfortunately this system supports to provide the export of primary
commodity. The poorest segment of the population is immobilized.
Ramos presidency average According to research by National Statistic Coordination
Board, the GINI coefficient had been declining from 0.4881 to 0.4814 for
3 years, from 1997 to 2000, which statistic shows that the society moved toward
more equal income distribution. This is recognized to be brought by Ramos’s
economic policy. However, does it mean that poverty in
provinces is decreasing and people’s life is improved? After WWII, GRP did not plutocracy
, which formed the
fixed society. Some soldiers of NPA claimed land reform in practical approach
to GRP. There was a history that PKP received an amnesty and built a
cooperative relation through Marcos’s agricultural reform, but large scale of
reform has not been seen. of roughly % until Asia economic crisis in 1997.
authority, structure of NPA
Decentralized authority which is a characteristic of organization, makes peace
process difficult Absence of founder, Jose Maria Sison and other leaders in the
Philippines accelerates decentralized. Since 1987, they obliged to live in
exile in Netherland.As a Amnesty International reported
that the way of collecting revolution tax, NPA had been resorting violence to
civilians who had been falling behind in their payment in provinces. NPA can
not control all of members because they had already been segmentalized and
fighting own war. They are conducting workshop in communities of provinces
but their interpretation of Maoism/ Marxism are different (Taden 2006). It
means that there is no philosophy that can strongly support their action and solidarity.
Decentralized authority also seems like their strategy to avoid to be captured
by AFP. They learned from lesson of the 80s, AFP sent out many spies under
Marcos administration. Because of that, they had been killing each other
of confidence in peace process
Failure of process of confidence-building
is highlighted. GRP lost NPAs trust because of changing policies toward NPA for
long time, which gave an impact on NPA. Despite confidence-building needs
long-time effort, pattern of shifting government’s policy makes rebels
impenetrable. Because the cabinet certainly changes every presidential
election, however, rebel group rarely change their structure of organization
and the leaders therefore these memories as an organization remain them. NPA
tends to think that peace agreement will break soon. And this patterned
thinking allows them to use as an excuse when NPA resort to violence.
Ideology is one of the primary sources of this conflict, and one of the reasons
why they are continuously fighting. It makes conflict complicated because
member of rebel tends to stick it, and defines member’s behaviors and attitude.
Members are also expected to be who they are based on their principle. They are
confirmed their identities from their violent action.
During Ramos administration, communist groups were legitimized, which
encouraged them to participation of politics. It seemed like the success of the
peace talks. However, revolutionaries loyal to Sison rose to fight for ideological
identity, which stymied peace process. Rebel itself create spoilers on peace
process. Inside group of people tended to emerge to argue going back to their
principal. To rebels, it is anything more than compromising because their
goal is new democracy, centering on peasants, through revolution. In addition,
violence inside NPA became a pressure to people who carry forward with
negotiations. Even though Maoism adapted to the Philippines context and
deformed its idea, NPA can never cease its violence. They called great rectification
as known as purge which is to oppress people to confess by conducting
violence. This dehumanizing process exists, which becomes pressure inside NPA and
members are expected to practice or follow it as well. NPA try to contain betrayers
who agree with peace process.
When NPA started fight for GRP because of grievance. They fight for poverty and
recognition, so they believe in these their series of actions for people. But
ironically the public feeling toward NPA has been disengaging from people because
they thought NPA fell to the level of a gang. NPA has been threatening people’s
lives by violent means. It seems like they are not really fighting for peasants
anymore. They are fighting for fighting and struggling for struggling, which
means the way to achieve their purpose become purpose itself. Without
struggling, they cannot see their identities. It is not peculiar to NPA’s case
to fight to confirm their raison d’fêtre.
NPA has problems mainly inside their organization.
As achieving revolutionary justice, members have been killing civilians until
now by attacking public places or kidnapping civilians. But NPA has no power to
completely stop them. Different interpretations justify their violent
activities, but it is clear that the decentralized structure of the
organization and their Maoist philosophies are major causes.
Throughout this analysis of the reasons that the peace process has been failing
from both parities’ perspectives, the situation seems stalemate. Because not
only GRP but also NPA face challenges from inside and outside, and these
challenges are deep rooted.
Effort of conflict mitigation can be found
in civil society. For instance, the case of Peace Zone in Naga city is the one
of the good examples. However, most of these efforts are lead by NGOs. What
this case of conflict needs is a strong ownership of GRP led mitigation. Although
the conflict is deep rooted, as long as the GRP takes an initiative, like Ramos
did, NPA goes back to the bargaining table. For a long time, unfortunately the Philippines has been considered geographically an important strategic location to U.S. If GRP cannot become immune from their influence, GRP has to find a new foreign diplomacy
without military cooperation. It is easily imagined that countries which are
closely allied with US have dilemma between what the U.S. wants and what the
government wants to do domestically. If GRP will follow direction of U.S. and subdue a rebel army, this will probably create new rebel groups. Because problems such
as poverty in rural areas and human rights violations still remain.
Land reform takes a long time
because ownership of land is closely linked to a political power. And it needs
enough budgets because it has to go through many processes to proceed carefully.
Quite a lot of politicians, their background are the landowner. Reform means
that their influence in the provinces will be taken by someone. Once a landlord
owns their land, there is no reason to give up them and distribute them someone.
According to some reports, GRP is gradually progressing towards agrarian reform
and trying to reduce poverty in rural areas (Reyes 2002). But can these small
and slow reforms expect to bring difference in rural area? Until when can
people wait for benefits of these processes?
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Bio: Noriko Hashimoto holds an MA in International Peace Studies from the University for Peace.