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Inside the Communist Insurgency of the Philippines

By Brennan and Jake W.

A New People's Army fighter rests in the jungle. (Photo: AFP)

On March 5th, the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, ordered government forces to “finish off the communists”. Multiple police raids saw nine alleged members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) killed, six arrested, with six more escaping.

Who are these communist rebels and why are they a top priority for Duterte?

The Communist Party of the Philippines was founded by José Maria Sison on December 26th, 1968. At its height, the group had around 20,000 members in its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). The group follows a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, combining principles of Marxism-Leninism with Chinese communist philosophy.

The first reported incident of violence linked to the group was a grenade attack on a rally of the Liberal Party in Manila on August 21st, 1971. The authenticity of this claim is disputed by most historians, with most believing that President Ferdinand Marcos’ government was responsible for the bombing. José Maria Sison denied responsibility for the bombing. Nevertheless, the NPA found itself in a full-scale war by 1972. Shortly after, Marcos declared martial law across the country. The CPP managed to garner the support of China in 1969. However, China ceased all aid seven years later as the Deng Xiaoping administration focused on easing relations with the West. This caused a major setback for the CPP, diminishing their activity into the early 1980s. However, the CPP managed to revive most of its funding through extortion and ‘revolutionary taxes’, along with kidnapping Filipino citizens and foreign businessmen for ransom. Struggling to stay afloat without help from the exterior, the CPP launched a diplomatic mega-operation, setting its sights on acquiring support from other communist groups such as the Workers Party of Korea, the Japanese Red Army, the Communist Party of Peru, and Algerian Military, many of which agreeing to provide financial aid and military training. Front companies were established in Hong Kong, Belgium and Yugoslavia to complement finances, and representatives were sent into Europe and SWANA to maximize support.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, despite a volatile operational aptitude, the group found success in recruiting thousands of fighters from a variety of backgrounds, most of whom youth. Under President Corazon Aquino (1986-1992), a series of peace attempts were employed, but none came into fruition due to the 1987 Mendiola massacre and other instances of workers’ repression. In 1992, the group suffered a major split which severely weakened it. Under the administration of Joseph Estrada (1998-2001), peace talks were attempted once again but ultimately failed in his first year of office. The CPP was able to gain new membership during this time, capitalizing on the unpopularity of the corrupt Estrada government.

New People's Army fighters celebrate the 48th anniversary of the CPP's founding.

On September 27, 2001, George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13224 in the wake of 9/11, which included declaring the NPA and CPP terrorist organizations. With a green light from the US, a series of extrajudicial killings by security forces commenced, targeting suspected CPP supporters in an attempt to quell CPP attacks and damage the political infrastructure of the group. An estimated 1,300 extrajudicial killings took place between 2001 and 2012.

In recent years, the government of the Philippines has insisted that the CPP is “on the verge of defeat”. 2020 saw a large wave of surrenders of CPP units, with the Philippine Army claiming to have killed, captured, or received the surrender of close to 4,000 CPP personnel. On the contrary, José Maria Sison, who still retains a position in the group, has argued that the CPP is in fact gaining strength. Sison claims that the CPP is capable of carrying out operations in 80% of the country. Despite claims of a weakening rebellion, it still seems that there is no end in sight to the Philippine’s decades-long communist insurgency.



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