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Armed Forces of the Philippines

FAILING OPLANS: from Marcos to Duterte

in Editorial

Since 1981, when the Marcos dictatorship initiated Operational Plan (Oplan) Katatagan purportedly “to defend the state” (the besieged fascist regime) from the fast-growing New People’s Army (NPA), each succeeding administration has followed suit. This is understandable, since the planner-implementor of every Oplan has been the same military establishment habituated to martial-rule repressive action.The Oplans have had varying names. Yet all have been aimed at deterring the growth of or strategically defeating the NPA, to preserve the existing rotten ruling system.These were: Corazon C. Aquino’s Oplan Mamamayan and Oplan Lambat-Bitag I and II; Fidel Ramos’ Lambat-Bitag III and IV, and Oplans Makabayan and Balangay (which transitted into Joseph Estrada’s truncated presidency); Gloria Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya I and II; Benigno Aquino III’s Oplan Bayanihan; and Rodrigo Duterte’s Oplan Kapayapaan and Oplan Kapanatagan.While each succeeding administration adopted its predecessor’s operational concepts, it added new ones. But all such operational concepts were, invariably, copied from the counterinsurgency guide of the US Army. Although these may have worked for some time in America’s wars of aggression and intervention in different parts of the world, over the long run they have failed to achieve their prime objective: decisive military victory.Instead, these American wars—practically wars against the peoples of the countries they invaded, starting with the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century—have left behind countless deaths mostly of civilians, including children; pervasive human rights violations; displacements en masse of the population; and massive destruction of socio-economic resources requiring decades to recover.Similarly, albeit in smaller scale, these have been the dire impacts of the successive counterinsurgency Oplans on our people—since Marcos’ time to the present—in the undefined arenas of war across the archipelago, mostly in the countrysides and hinterlands.The current Oplan Kapanatagan started as Oplan Kapayapaan in January 2017. The latter was also dubbed as the AFP Development Support and Security Plan 2017-2022, which the Armed Forces off the Philippines (AFP) described as an advance from Aquino III’s Oplan Bayanihan. It adopted the latter’s “whole-of-nation” or “people-centered” approach. Oplan Bayanihan, the AFP bragged, resulted in getting 71 of the 76 (out of 86) provinces deemed to be “insurgency affected” declared as “insurgency free” and “peaceful and ready for further development.”The change to Kapanatagan stemmed from the AFP’s assessment that Oplan Kapayapaan was failing to achieve its targeted goal to defeat the NPA midway of Duterte’s six-year term of office.When first announced by AFP chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal before the May 2019 midterm elections, it was billed as the AFP-PNP Joint Campaign Plan “Kapanatagan” 2018-2022. Madrigal described it as a “medium-term broad plan that shall guide the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) in providing guidelines and delineation of authority while performing their mandated tasks to promote peace, ensure security, and support the overall development initiatives of the government towards inclusive growth.” It is anchored, he added, on the national strategic guidance defined in the National Vision, National Security Policy, Philippine Development Plan, National Peace and Development Agenda, and the 2018 Department of National Defence (DND) Guidance and Policy Thrusts.“The respective strategic thrusts of the AFP and PNP were thus harmonized in this Joint Campaign Plan “Kapanatagan” 2018-2022,” Madrigal said. He called it “a dynamic process to establish greater inter-operability in our continuing operations to address security concerns within our respective areas of concern, including all other productive endeavors wherein we join hands in support of national government initiatives as envisioned by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.”Specifically, Madrigal cited two “salient features” of Campaign Plan Kapanatagan: 1) The PNP shall support the AFP in combat operations involving the suppression of insurgency and other serious threats to national security; and 2) The PNP shall take the lead role in law-enforcement operations against criminal syndicates and private armed groups, with the active support of the AFP.”It was in the Cordillera region where the AFP and PNP first “rolled out” Oplan Kapanatagan, after the May midterm elections. Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat then said: “Because of the effort of the AFP and PNP in preventing violence and any actions of the local terrorist groups in the Cordillera region, we assure that the AFP and PNP will continue to work together through Joint Kapanatagan Cordillera.”He emphasized that the AFP-PNP would carry out “joint actions and plans to ensure a more collaborative effort to address the peace and security concerns, especially in those geographic isolated areas” (the guerrilla zones) in Cordillera. He expressed hope that the local government units and other “partner agencies” would collaborate to ensure implementation of Executive Order 70 and the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) it created, headed by Duterte.Gen. Salamat disclosed that at a “national convergence” meeting in Malacañang, all those working under NTF-ELCAC had put all efforts “to come up with a cluster of responses” on the different issues, including “issues that have been exploited by the local terrorist groups” so that the government can respond to them.And how has the government responded through NTF-ELCAC and Oplan Kapanatagan?Recently, the Cordillera People’s Democratic Front (CPDF-National Democratic Front of the Philippines) issued a primer on this two-in-one counterinsurgency plan, titled “Disturbance and Plunder by the State Against the People.” Among others, it points out the following:R(egional)TF-ELCAC Cordillera was formed in July 2019, followed by P(rovincial)TF-ELCAC Mt. Province in September. In the last three months of the year municipal-and barangay-level TFs are targeted to be formed.In September, Nolcom launched military operations in various parts of the Cordillera and Ilocos regions, side-by-side with these joint campaigns by the AFP and PNP: disinfomation, surveillance, psychological war (disseminating false information that the NPA had planted land mines in the mountain areas of Bauko, Tadian, and Sagada towns in Mt. Province); forcible entry into civilian homes purportedly to “collect” firearms kept for the NPA in the communities of Besao town; threat and pressure used on residents summoned to pulong masa to sign up on a memorandum of agreement with the AFP-PNP and a declaration of the CPP-NPA as “persona non grata”; holding seminars and symposia on Duterte’s “war on drugs”; and delivery of “services”, “relief and rehabilitation”, among others.The AFP-PNP also set up detachments within three communities of Besao and one in Sagada, in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). (In the National Capital Region, through Implan/Oplan Kalasag, the NCR version of Oplan Katatagan, the AFP-PNP tandem has also set up detachments in some communities in Caloocan City. Uniformed armed teams engage in red-tagging, harassment, intimidation, while others offer “livelihood programs” to identified leaders and members of progressive organizations).CPDF also says the implementation of Oplan Katatagan and NTF-ELCAC in the region aims to facilitate the entry of energy and mining projects by foreign-local joint ventures that threaten the ecology, and violate the Cordillera people’s right to their ancestral lands. It named the following: Bimaka Renewable Energy Devt. Corp., Hydroelectric Dev’t Corp., Chico River Pump Irrigation Project by China’s CAMC Engineering, Aragorn Power Energy Corp., and Cordillera Exploration Co. Inc.-Nickel Asia of Japan.In sum, CPDF denounces the two-in-one campaign as designed to “pacify and press the people to obey the dictates of the reactionary state.” It calls on the Cordillera people to assert their rights, oppose the campaign through various means, and expose the true intent of the campaign: to crush the just struggle of the oppressed masses.It’s useful to note that, in 1981 the Marcos dictatorship already employed thru Oplan Katatagan the full force of the AFP, the police and paramilitary forces, its “development agencies”, and some civilian organizations. Duterte’s Oplan Kapanatagan and NTF-ELCAC—backed up by extended martial law in Mindanao and state of national emergency in other areas of the country—can be correctly described as an “Enhanced Oplan Katatagan.” Note further: the Oplan failed—in 1986 the people ousted Marcos.#FightTyranny
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DUTERTE REGIME: A propaganda war with dire consequences

in Countercurrent
by Erika Hernandez

Neophyte Senator Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa, the controversial Philippine National Police chief of the Duterte government, recently led a public inquiry in the Senate and instantly spurred controversy and criticisms. He attempted to link progressive youth organizations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

He presented two witnesses who claimed they were “students by day and NPA by night”—a giveaway phrase as to where it came from: the military. That he sought to turn a public inquiry, purportedly in aid of legislation, into a witch hunt immediately became obvious.

The frontman in President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” also presented parents of youth activists, who apparently had been goaded to vilify leaders of Anakbayan and Kabataan Partylist as “kidnappers who brainwash their members.” Bato’s witch hunt came with memes on social media showing NPA martyrs from the youth sector and victims of state-perpetrated enforced disappearances with a theme, “Sayang ang buhay ng kabataan (Youth lives just wasted).”

Military officers, who had been invited as resource persons, called for a review of an agreement between a youth leader and then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, prohibiting the presence of state security forces in the universities and colleges. They gave lame excuses, such as to prevent “front organizations” from recruiting students to join the NPA; avert the proliferation of drugs in schools; and give the military an equal opportunity to explain government programs.

Following the Senate inquiry, members of the PNP attempted to conduct “mandatory” drug testing on students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). Courageous PUP scholars who knew their rights valiantly resisted, driving away the cops from the university premises.

Bato couldn’t wait to use the Senate as platform for pushing the propaganda line against the CPP-NPA of the Duterte regime in its bid to defeat the revolutionary movement before the end of its term.

By striving to directly link the progressive youth organizations with the CPP-NPA and the armed struggle against the reactionary state, the fascist regime aims to justify its red-tagging, harassment, abductions, and killings of youth leaders and activists. The regime blurs—if not totally removes—the distinction between the armed revolutionary movement and the legal, above-ground democratic mass movement fighting for the people’s legitimate demands. It regards the open democratic mass movement as the propaganda component of the armed revolutionary movement.

Thus in the following weeks, the Duterte regime’s red-tagging spree, branding almost all legal organizations as “fronts” of the CPP-NPA, was raised a notch higher. Duterte’s rabid pro-US defense chief urged the illegalization of these organizations by reviving the Anti-Subversion Act of 1957 (the cold war-era legislation that illegalized the CPP; it was repealed under the Ramos government in 1992 as it entered into peace negotiations with the NDFP).

Myth-making through red tags and incessant lies

Red tagging and vilification of people’s organizations is a key facet of the “strategic communication” thrust under the “whole of nation approach (WNA)” of the Duterte regime’s counterinsurgency program. Under this overarching WNA concept—applied unsuccessfully by the US in its unending wars of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and 2002—the regime seeks to “create a movement of and crusade against communist ideology starting with the youth.” It also aims to “assess and conduct counter measures on the current tri-media and social media being infiltrated and targeted by the “CNN [CPP-NPA-NDFP)” through inter-agency collaboration to counter and contain the spread of extremism and revolution.”

What the regime is trying to portray is a supposed state inter-agency collaboration with civil society collaboration against the Left revolutionary movement. While Bato exploits the Senate as platform, Congress is poised to enact repressive measures such as the revival of the Anti-Subversion Law, amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007 (the anti-terrorism law), mandatory military training in schools, among others. The Anti-Subversion Law and Human Security Act amendments portray critics and activists as “terrorists,” to justify unrelenting unarmed and armed attacks against them.

Red-tagging and vilification have preceded many cases of extrajudicial killing, torture, arrest and detention and other human rights abuses against farmers, workers, environmentalists, Church people, lawyers, human rights defenders and other sectors.

The Duterte regime’s propaganda machinery involves both the military and civilian bureaucracy, with the former taking the lead role. The composition of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), formed through Executive Order No. 70 and headed by President Duterte, shows how civilian agencies are being mobilized for counterinsurgency operations.

The NTF has been busy in its efforts to red tag and vilify the legal and progressive mass organizations critical of the Duterte regime and its continuing subservience to US imperialism and obeisance to China as the rising imperialist power.

One of the most glaring incidents of red-tagging happened during the May 2019 elections. PNP men and women in uniform were caught on camera in the act of distributing a PNP newsletter linking Makabayan Coalition-affiliated partylist groups to the underground revolutionary movement.

In other areas such as Panay, Negros, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, leaflets containing a list of persons alleged to be communists were distributed by state agents. In the list are human rights activists, lawyers, members of the religious, journalists, and academics.

Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade, AFP deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations, is one of the most vociferous in publicly labeling human rights organizations and sectoral groups as “CPP-NPA fronts” and in peddling the lie that these organizations are involved in “terroristic” activities.

The regime also takes advantage of social media to vilify its the most vocal critics. The Philippine News Agency (PNA) and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) makes use of fake photos, fake statements, and incredible claims against leaders of the people’s organizations.

The regime has spent tremendous amounts of taxpayers’ money in disseminating its propaganda against the progressive movement to the international community. The NTF-ELCAC went as far as dispatching a team that visited officials of European Union (EU) member states to red-tag Karapatan, Ibon International, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Gabriela, among others. The task force urged these EU countries to cut funding for organizations serving the most neglected rural communities in the Philippines.

The NTF-ELCAC sent a delegation to the United Nations Working Group on Involuntary Disappearances in Bosnia-Herzegovina and egregiously urged that body to delist 625 cases of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, mostly attributed to state security forces. NTF members also furiously lobbied against the passage of a resolution filed by Iceland in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), urging the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to look into the spate of extrajudicial killings and make a written comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines. Their lobbying failed; the UNHRC adopted the resolution.

Even the academe, hospitals and other civilian agencies are not spared from the witch hunt. Policemen did rounds in schools, government hospitals and other offices, profiling the members and officers of employees’ unions.

The AFP and PNP have been spreading outright lies. They claim to have succeeded in ending the “insurgency” in some provinces—claims that have repeatedly been belied since the Ramos government first declared, in 1994, that it had strategically defeated the NPA (which it admitted to be untrue several months later). They present to the media fake surrenderers, mostly farmers they either coerced, deceived, or bribed—through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP)—into admitting they were NPA members. They churn out these falsehoods to conjure the illusion that they are winning against the revolutionaries.

But when their most heinous crimes are exposed, they readily put the blame on the CPP- NPA. This has been shown in the case of the extrajudicial killings in Negros Oriental. Braving threats and the pain of repeatedly recalling the tragic massacres, families of the victims have testified how their loved ones were killed in cold blood during the joint AFP-PNP’s Oplan Sauron operations.

When members and other paid elements of the AFP and the PNP get killed in legitimate armed encounters, they try hide their defeats, or worse, misrepresent these incidents as violations by the NPA of international humanitarian law.

Criminalizing dissent: the biggest lie

Through the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA), the AFP and the PNP jointly try to use the judiciary as a weapon against critics of Duterte and his corrupt and bungling regime. The following are just some examples showing how this administration is criminalizing dissent: the perjury charges filed by Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, the president’s national security adviser, against Karapatan, the RMP, and Gabriela; the sedition and cyberlibel cases filed against Vice President Leni Robredo, political opposition candidates in the May senatorial elections, and some Catholic bishops; and, the kidnapping charges against youth leaders and former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.

A similar ridiculous and malicious kidnapping and child abuse charges were earlier filed against Bayan Muna President Satur Ocampo and Representative France Castro of Act-Teachers partylist in late 2018, when they helped rescue Lumad students who had been forced out of their school that was shut down by the military.

A number of activists, service providers of progressive NGOs and organizers or campaigners of legal progressive organizations, have also been arrested based on patently made-up accusations including illegal possession of firearms and explosives. In most cases the arresting teams have planted the “evidence” in the activists’ bags they seized, in vehicles or residences as in the case of labor organizer Maoj Maga, long-time peace advocate and NDFP peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre, and NDFP peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Adel Silva, and recently Esterlita Suaybaguio.

Professional “witnesses” or “surrenderers” dragooned as witnesses are used from one case to another to churn out false testimonies, almost always bordering on the ridiculous. The use of arrest warrants against “John Doe” and “Jane Doe” have become the norm to justify the illegal arrests of any targeted person.

The “multiple murder” case involving, as supposedly prime evidence, “travelling skeletons”—first allegedly dug up from a mass grave in Baybay, Leyte then years later supposedly dugged up again in Inopacan, Leyte—has been discredited and should have been laid to rest long ago.

But, no! The biggest legal fiction of Gloria Arroyo’s Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG)—the filing of trumped-up murder charges in 2007 against Ocampo (then Bayan Muna congressman) and several others was questioned before the Supreme Court, which granted Ocampo bail. However, the case awaited action by the highest tribunal for seven years. Only in 2014 did the SC, mostly with new justices sitting, referred the case for trial to a regional trial court. Then after hearings held over about five years, the prosecutors recently asked the court to issue warrants of arrest against 38 of the co-accused, including NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison. The court issued the warrants.

In another case, the Court of Appeals recently junked both the petition for writ of amparo and writ of habeas data filed by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and a similar petition filed by Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela (the NUPL is the groups’ legal counsel). The parallel rulings indicate the sway of military influence on the judiciary. The rulings, issued by different CA divisions, practically denied the human rights defenders the legal remedies sought for their protection against political persecution and threats to their personal security and their lives.

Silencing the media

As part of its “strategic communication” strategy, the Duterte regime has been discrediting the journalism profession in an apparent bid to drown out the truth in media reporting and spread more lies. By calling journalists as bayaran, “press-titute”, and other derogatory labels, Duterte wants the Filipino people to doubt and reject the media’s role as watchdogs in society.

  1. The Duterte regime is trying to intimidate the more critical journalists using some of these methods: Producing fabricated matrices that link to a conjured ouster plot against Duterte the media organizations—the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Vera Files, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)—and individual journalists such as Inday Espina-Varona and Danilo Arao.
  2. Threatening non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, a virtual Damocles sword on the broadcasting giant.
  3. Filing a string of charges against online news site Rappler and twice trying to detain its CEO.
  4. Conducting “background checks” on journalists. Members of the Philippine National Police Press Corps have reported police visits and interrogations.
  5. Visiting media outfits in the pretext of “getting fair stories” regarding the bloody war on drugs, such as in the case of two media outfits in the Visayas. Some journalists have been included in the drug watch list even though there is no evidence on the alleged use or trade in illegal drugs.
  6. Red-tagging of the NUJP, the largest organization of journalists in the country, for being vocal in its defense of press freedom. Individual members of the NUJP have also been red-tagged.
  7. Utilizing trolls to harass critical journalists. Some of these include, among others, death threats and threats of raping women journalists.
  8. Launching systematic cyber attacks against alternative media websites Bulatlat, Kodao, Altermidya, Pinoy Weekly and NUJP. The cyber attacks have also targeted the websites of Bayan, Karapatan, Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Ibon and scores of other organizations, including the CPP’s Philippine Revolution Web Central (PRWC). Sweden-based Qurium Media Foundation’s forensic report on the cyber attacks revealed that the attacks were launched on websites which are based in the Philippines.

The escalation of cyber attacks and vilification of media outfits, critical think tanks, progressive service-oriented NGOs and people’s organizations are also part of the Duterte regime’s “strategic communication” plan. The AFP first announced its creation of a cyber workforce in 2017. Since then until 2019, the AFP, the PNP and the Philippine Coast Guard have yearly held a Cybersecurity Summit.

Early this year, the Duterte regime launched a national cybersecurity plan. It created a cybersecurity management system “to monitor cyber threats,” headed by the Integrated Computer Systems (ICS) and the Israeli surveillance company Verint, with an initial licensing period of three years. Verint is a billion-dollar company with a global interception and surveillance empires.

The Duterte regime’s dirty propaganda tactics are coupled with heightening repression.

Labeling activists interchangeably as “terrorists,” “suspected drug addicts,” “kidnappers,” and the like aims to demonize and criminalize dissent and justify their killing and other human rights violations against them.

All these latest misuse of new technology to spread lies, combined with the age-old armed repression, are like carpetbombs seeking to harm not only the armed revolutionaries. Mostly targeted are citizens critical of the regime, the activists, the Church, the media and any other supporter of human rights and the struggle for genuine democracy.

The intended victims of this campaign are unarmed, visible and easy targets. The Duterte regime is fighting a truly dirty war. But the more it lies and kills even non-combatants, the more it reveals the bankruptcy of any promised good inuring to the people that it trots out to justify this dirty and costly war.

As such, the Duterte regime and its dirty war will not likely last long. With every attack it reveals its true face, the face of a rotting government that is puppet to foreign interests and seeking to maintain a crumbling status quo. It only highlights the correctness of waging and advancing the now 50-year national democratic revolution.

To break the cycle of lies and killings being perpetrated by this fascist regime, the people here and abroad should harness the courage and will power to expose and denounce its lies, and call for ever-broadening people’s resistance.###

#DuterTerorista
#FightTyranny
#DefendPressFreedom
#MakibakaWagMatakot

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Signs of a De Facto Martial Law?

in Editorial/Gallery

Do you see the signs?
Now, do the test 🙂

CHECK YOUR SCORE

#DuterTerorista
#FightTyranny
#MakibakaWagMatakot

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Steeled by Decades of Struggle, the Negrenses Keep the Revolutionary Fire Ablaze

in Mainstream
by Iliya Makalipay

Tears were shed copiously. There was mourning all around as the number of dead bodies in Negros Island continued to rise. And there was justified rage—because these were not mere numbers or bodies.

They were peasants, local government executives, educators, human rights defenders, lawyers. There was even a one-year-old baby. All of them were victims of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Duterte Death Squads (DDS).

Stupid as it has shown up itself to be, the tyrannical regime wasted no time in accusing the New People’s Army (NPA) of killing those whom it had tagged as NPA members and sympathizers.

Peasant advocate groups have reported 87 killed from 2017 to mid-August 2019. Forty of the victims were mercilessly slain after Duterte’s Memorandum Circular 32 took effect on November 22, 2018: it ordered more troop deployments in Negros, in the Samar provinces, and in the Bicol region purportedly to “suppress lawless violence.” A month after, in consonance with Memo Circular 32, state security forces launched Oplan Sauron in Negros Island.

Currently, at least 11 regular and special battalions of the AFP and PNP operate in the island, supported by paramilitary groups such as the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit) and the RPA-ABB (Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade). At the height of the killings in July-August 2019, the PNP deployed 300 more members of its Special Forces, further escalating the tension and the abuses.

To justify the massive deployment and brutal military campaign, Col. Benedict Arevalo admitted to media that what was initially passed off as tokhang (“drug war”) operations were actually counterinsurgency actions.

The AFP assumes that the central part of Negros, where most of the killings happened, is used by the NPA as “highway” to easily reach both sides of Negros Island—Occidental and Oriental.

“The rebels are trying to create a base somewhere in the boundaries because it’s very important for them to connect and control both islands. It’s like grabbing Negros by the neck,” a news report quoted Arevalo, commanding officer of the 303rd Infantry Brigade-Philippine Army.

In July 30, the Provincial Task Force to end local communist armed conflict was formed in Negros Oriental following Malacanang’s issuance of Executive Order 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), headed by President Duterte himself. The move is part of the “whole-of-nation approach” the regime is using to create public perception that its counterinsurgency operations involve the participation of the entire government, civil society, and the civilian population.

Still and all, the victims of these police and military operations in Negros were unarmed civilians.

PERENNIAL MILITARY TARGET

This is not the first time state forces deployed hundreds of troops in the island— intended to decimate the NPA and “wipe out” its revolutionary base there. In fact, every president—from Marcos to Duterte—has invariably aimed, by the end of his/her term, to defeat the New People’s Army and destroy its revolutionary mass base.

During the Marcos dictatorship, Negros was depicted as a “social volcano” waiting to explode. Almost 40 years later, it has remained so because there was never any palpable change in the economic system and the deplorable lives of the poor people. As feudal and semifeudal relations in the haciendas remain and exploitation is stepped up, so is the validity of sustained armed struggle upheld.

In the last few months of the dictatorship, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pointed out Marcos’s inability to address the sugar crisis and its consequent labor unrest and the military’s failure to contain the rebellion that has swept the island because of extreme poverty. The CIA report, dated May 1985, had been declassified and sanitized and was approved for release in 2011.

The report said: “We judge that later this year (1985), Negros may become, after Mindanao, the second politically important island in the archipelago where Communist control rivals that of the government.”

It added: “Despite the trouble looming on Negros, President Marcos shows no inclination to improve the counterinsurgency effort by bolstering the military or dismantling the sugar-marketing empire of his political ally, Roberto Benedicto. … Government efforts that are taken to ease the plight of the sugar workers are largely cosmetic.”

The “fall of Negros”, the report concluded, “would provide an important psychological defeat for the government and further depress morale in the armed forces. It would also confirm to the Communist Party that its long-term strategy is on the mark.”

Now under the sixth post-Marcos president, feudal relations, the centuries-old hacienda system, landlessness, and agrarian unrest are still prevalent. Adding to these social and economic ills are large-scale mining companies that prey on the island’s mineral resources and degrade its environment.

More than half of the country’s sugar mill and plantation workers are in Negros, earning an average daily income of Php 50-67, a far cry from the mandated minimum wage of Php 300. The glaring reality is farmers go hungry every day, both before and after the much-dreaded tiempo muerto, the idle period between sugarcane harvests.

There is widespread landlessness despite the so-called agrarian reform programs implemented by past administrations. Negros has still at least 600,000 hectares of lands that have escaped distribution under the largely-failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) started by the Cory Aquino government in 1988.

Continued exploitation and oppression and non-implementation of genuine agrarian reform and rural development have been surefire stimuli for resistance—both armed and unarmed. It is for this reason that all attempts by the successive governments to defeat the revolutionary forces have ended in failure.

The Philippine government may have somehow identified the causes of the protracted armed conflict, but it has persistently pursued the wrong solution—the militarist solution of trying to eradicate the symptom—instead of seeking to resolve the root causes.

SERIES OF FAILED ‘COUNTERINSURGENCY’ OPLANS

Interviews with several villagers in Negros Oriental revealed two military operational plans (Oplans) etched deeply in their collective memory: Oplan Thunderbolt under the Cory Aquino regime and Oplan Bantay Laya of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Decades from now, they would remember too the brutality of the military operations under the Duterte regime’s Oplan Kapayapaan/Kapanatagan.

Despite or because of martial law, Marcos failed. And what the Marcos dictatorship failed to attain, the succeeding “restoration-of-democracy” government of Cory Aquino tried to finish—by using the very same corrupt and abusive state security forces that Marcos had fully harnessed and coddled.

As Cory Aquino wielded her “sword of war” through Oplan Lambat-Bitag I and II, Negros became a “pilot area”. A fact-finding report in 1988, titled “Mountain Tempest”, quoted the government as claiming that “the deployment of more troops and the use of more sophisticated weapons…can wipe out insurgency by 1992.” Essentially, Cory Aquino’s counterinsurgency program was derived from America’s “low-intensity-conflict” strategy which, at the time, was also being implemented in Latin America, with incalculable consequences in terms of countless killings and massive-scale human rights violations.

Rev. Romeo Empestan, in his book “From the Struggles of the People and the Church of the Poor in Negros in the 70s to 90s,” recalled that there were four simultaneous localized Oplans implemented during this period: Thunderbolt, Kahilwayan (freedom), Habagat (south winds), and Amihan (north winds). Oplan Thunderbolt would become the most notorious of the four.

Oplan Thunderbolt resulted in more than 30,000 (some reports cited as high as 100,000) evacuees in seven relocation sites. Most of the evacuees were from the now-familiar town of Sta. Catalina and Guihulngan City, in Negros Oriental, where the spate of killings under Duterte is happening. The late outspoken and courageous Bishop of Bacolod City, Antonio Fortich, said the mass dislocation of civilians at the time was “the biggest evacuation in one place in the country since World War II.”

Aside from the regular companies of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), units of the Scout Rangers, Airborne, were used in the counterinsurgency campaigns, along with vigilante groups such as Pulahan (red), Ituman (black), Putian (white), Way Sapatos (literally, no shoes) and the notorious Alsa Masa (Rise up, masses) that arose in Davao City. Private armies of landlords, hiding under the cloak of Philippine Constabulary Forward Command (PCFC) were also employed in military operations.

Upland farmers in Sta. Catalina town recalled seeing tora-tora planes used in bombing their communities, forest areas, and rivers suspected as NPA encampments. Fr. Empestan also mentioned bombings using helicopter gunships, F5 jet fighters, and howitzers. The communities were eventually declared “no man’s land”, a common practice in those days where anyone on sight was shot at by soldiers. At least seven incidents of massacre were recorded. There were burning of houses and parish churches, arrests, ‘salvaging’ (a term used to refer to what is now known as extrajudicial killings), and disappearances.

In a September 1, 2018 statement, Juanito Magbanua, spokesperson of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command of the NPA Regional Command, described the current military operations in Negros since early 2018 as reminiscent of Oplan Thunderbolt in the late 80’s—the evacuations, bombings, and the destruction of Negros’ virgin forests.

Cory Aquino’s term ended in 1992 with the revolutionary movement surviving the military assaults. Thus, her successor Fidel Ramos—also the engineer behind her two Oplans—only had to continue the same counterinsurgency program Oplan Lambat Bitag III and IV. Oplan Flush Out was its localized version in Negros. It was during Ramos’ term, however, when the government first recognized the need to combine a “non-militarist” solution to the armed conflict—the pursuance of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, which produced positive results.

A decade later, in 2008, a Negros version of Gloria Arroyo’s nationwide Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) I and II, the Oplan Cut Wedge, attempted yet again to “cut/stop the ability of the NPA to hop from one island to another.” The objective was the same; the mode of military operation was similar.

At least four infantry battalions of the Philippine Army were deployed in Negros, plus a battalion of the Special Elite forces of the Scout Ranger, two division-level reconnaissance companies, plus two companies supervising more than 2,000 CAFGU paramilitary recruits. The fanatic groups such as Pulahan, Ituman, etc. were replaced by two platoons of RPA-ABB (Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Buncayao Brigade). A breakaway group from the NPA in the 1990s, the RPA-ABB (Tabara-Paduano group) has morphed into a paramilitary group, recently “demobilized” but has vowed to fully cooperate with the Duterte regime. At the start, it posed itself as a revolutionary group.

Simultaneous deployment of military units in a community, akin to Oplan Sauron, was already employed during OBL’s implementation.

In Barangay Guihulngan for example, almost two battalions of Philippine Army were deployed. In another village, some 130 troops were stationed for six months, with a division-level reconnaissance unit on standby in a nearby town.

People were interrogated, threatened and charged with trumped-up cases, the latter as part of the “legal offensive” of the Arroyo regime against its perceived enemies. There was massive recruitment of people to join the Barangay Defense System (BDS). Parallel formations were created in an attempt to draw in those who were members of progressive organizations.

Arroyo’s OBL was patterned after the U.S. 2009 Counterinsurgency Guide that has formally included the “whole-of-nation, whole-of-people” strategy purportedly to complement combat operations. The “whole-of-nation” approach would become the thread in the subsequent Oplans up to the Duterte regime’s Oplan Kapayapaan (Peace)/ Kapanatagan (peace/tranquility).

A similar counterinsurgency operation was in place when B.S. Aquino III assumed the presidency in 2010. As it was still patterned after the US Guide, massive troop deployment was again employed in the island. The revolutionary forces counted up to 30 combat companies in Negros.

But while Aquino continued OBL, the regime highlighted the “shift” to “whole-of-nation” approach to conjure an image of a nation united to battle “insurgency”, even calling it Oplan Bayanihan (a collective endeavor Filipinos are known for) and complemented it with a task force composed of so-called civil society stakeholders.

Nada. What was fervently targeted has never been achieved by any of these Oplans. Obviously, every Oplan has only brought more killings and numerous human rights violations.

Still, the current government insists on the same strategy that has failed over five decades under a dictatorship and five successive presidents.

THE MASSES PROPEL THE REVOLUTION

The Philippine government chose to remain blind and deaf through time, ignoring the fact that the strength of the revolutionary forces in Negros, and elsewhere in the country, comes from the exploited and oppressed poor, especially the peasants and workers. It is their best interest that the national democratic revolution— the key democratic content of which is agrarian revolution— uppermost fights for.

It is thus not surprising that the “poor but struggling masses of Negros” propels the revolution.

The masses played a vital role in the recovery and rebuilding of the CPP and the NPA in Negros in the 1990s. “(They) did not allow us to give up and encouraged us to rebuild,” recalled Frank Fernandez, detained peace consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDFP). In an article published by Kodao productions on July 8, 2019, Fernandez recalled, “There was almost no NPA left in Negros in 1994.”

The reason was not because the government’s counterinsurgency’program suceeded but because of the internal weaknesses of the CPP-NPA leadership in the area at the time. Fernandez explained that the movement diverted from the correct line and strategy in the conduct of the people’s war.

(That period of disorientation resulted in the breakaway of former members and led to the formation of the RPA-ABB. In 2000 said group engaged in pseudo-peace talks and signed a peace agreement with the Estrada government in exchange for a hefty amount of money. It continued to deteriorate into a paramilitary group, having been involved in numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, victimizing farmers. It has recently signed another ‘peace agreement’ with the Duterte regime and got another Php 500 million purportedly for social services programs.)

Reaffirming the correct ideological, political and organizational line, the CPP-NPA in Negros has since then fully recovered, with the unstinting support of the masses.

As Frank Fernandez said, “It’s time to repay the masses”.

PEASANT WAR, PEASANT ARMY

Repaying the masses comes in three main forms—implementing agrarian revolution, establishing local organs of political power, and pushing forward the armed struggle.

Juanito Magbanua, the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command spokesperson, cited the successful 17 armed actions of the NPA in Negros in the first eight months of 2018 as proofs of the “NPA’s increasing capability in launching armed struggle that is integrated with agrarian revolution and base building.”

As early as 2016, the Pambansang Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka (PKM or the National Federation of Peasants) revealed that the revolutionary movement in Negros and Central Visayas have confiscated some 2,000 hectares of land, which benefitted at least a thousand farmers. The confiscation and distribution of lands, mostly idle and abandoned, are part of the agrarian revolution being implemented by the NPA with the PKM.

Comprehensive military-politico training of red commanders and fighters were launched to improve their “fighting skill, political capability, combat discipline, and revolutionary militance,” according to Magbanua. Majority of the trainees were peasants while 15 percent came from the petty-bourgeoisie.

Recognizing the importance of Negros island in the overall development of people’s war, Magbanua said the armed revolutionary movement in Negros must “overcome its weaknesses and rectify its errors in order to help frustrate the US-Duterte regime’s Oplan Kapayapaan and contribute in the national development of the strategic defensive of the people’s war towards a new and higher stage.”

The last time the island command conducted a training was in 2008 when the AFP implemented Oplan Bantay Laya 2 and shortly after, Oplan Bayanihan.

“The people’s army in the island had to make do with politico-military crash courses in the face of sustained search-and-destroy operations of the enemy until 2013, while prioritizing rebuilding work of the revolutionary mass base thereafter,” Magbanua explained.

At the same time, he added, punitive actions against abusive state forces and criminal elements have been meted out.

In the last six months of 2018, the NPA punished 14 landgrabbers, criminal elements, and intelligence assets of the 303rd Brigade responsible for human rights abuses against peasants, including the killing of activists in the legal organizations. These punitive actions have reduced the AFP/PNP’s capability to “inflict further harm upon the people’s lives, rights, and livelihood within and outside the guerrilla areas in the island,” Magbanua said.

Meantime, Dionesio Magbuelas, spokesperson of the NPA Central Negros-Mt. Cansermon Command, reported that Red fighter burned down some 120 million-peso worth of heavy equipment owned by a mining company. The action, he said, was a punishment meted on the firm for the destruction it had caused on the environment and sources of the people’s livelihood in Ayungon, Negros Oriental.

At the height of the attacks against the masses in Negros, the CPP-NPA central leadership issued a call for the NPA to defend the people of Negros. Magbanua claimed the punitive actions were “long overdue” because killings of unarmed civilians continued to escalate.

The CPP has denounced the spate of killings and numerous human rights abuses against civilians as acts of cowardice. State security forces, it noted, turned their guns against unarmed civilians in retaliation and to cover up for their failure to eliminate the revolutionary forces in the region.

Tempered in fighting one armed counter-revolutionary campaign after another—from the Marcos-era martial rule, through Operation Thunderbolt, and the more recent Oplan Bayanihan that deployed at least 30 combat companies in the island—the NPA in Negros has vowed unwaveringly to defend the masses against the intensifying militarization and fascist attacks of the Duterte regime. ###

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#ServeThePeople
#JoinTheNPA

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