Perhaps one of the most controversial issues today in the Philippines is the occurrence of outright red-tagging. As per the Supreme Court, it is “the act of labeling, branding, naming, and accusing individuals and or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy…by state agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State.’”
In the context of the country, red-tagging is often used against opposition parties and national democratic mass organizations (NDMOs) such as the Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives, Anakbayan, Gabriela, and League of Filipino Students (LFS) among others. But these are not isolated cases as it occurs in almost every sector in the society.
In May 2020, 80 members of urban group San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran, at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan Katarungan at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD K3) were invited, through a letter, by state forces to discuss their “involvement” with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). The instruction came from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)—the government agency tasked in ensuring a “whole-of-nation” approach to counterinsurgency created last 2018 in light of the ratification of Executive Order no. 70 (E0 70).
Students from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) also experienced red-tagging when a clip from a mobilization in the campus was inserted in NTF-ELCAC’s video titled “Mother’s Day 2020”, labeling progressive organizations as fronts and recruiters of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
Last November 24, a senate hearing on red-tagging was commenced to probe into these intensified incidents, especially that of opposition parties painted as legal fronts of the CPP-NPA-NDF. Teddy Casiño—former Bayan Muna representative—said, “We should not consider the CPP-NPA-NDFP as enemies just as we do not consider the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as enemies.” He added that albeit these revolutionary groups have a different ideology, they strive for political and diplomatic engagement.
The state, as seen in previous reports, silences legitimate advocacies and pegs it as an attempt at subversion. Most, if not all, mainstream news outlets and state propaganda machinery often equate communism and the term “NPA” to terrorism and so there exists a wider reach of misinformation. More often than not, there is a negative impression of these revolutionary groups and their means of attaining genuine societal reform. But how is the CPP-NPA-NDF rooted in the course of history? What do they truly uphold and why do individuals opt for armed struggle and “democratic revolution”?
On the Party’s establishment, goals and significance
Reestablished on December 26, 1968, the Communist Party of the Philippines serves as the revolutionary party of the working class and a leading force towards Philippine revolution. Its primary principles are embedded in the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and it serves as one of the convenors of the world proletarian revolution. The NPA, formed in 1969, is the armed wing of the CPP and it utilizes armed struggle against state forces. In what is dubbed as the “people’s war,” the Party is said to combine “armed struggle, agrarian revolution and the building of organs of political power and the mass organizations.” The NDFP, on the other hand, is the political authority that represents the people’s democratic government in diplomatic relations and peace negotiations.
In an interview with Marco Valbuena—chief information officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines—he said that the Party was established amid worsening socio-economic and political crisis. There is oppression and exploitation among the masses through feudal land rent, land grabbing, low wages, corruption, and suppression of democratic rights among other predicaments. “Possessing a scientific worldview, the working class has the standpoint and strength to unite and lead all democratic and patriotic classes in the country to wage a social revolution to overthrow the reactionary classes of big bourgeois compradors and big landlords.”
When asked of their vision and goals for the country, he shared that the Party aims to end the semi-colonial and semi-feudal socioeconomic system and to replace the neocolonial state serving as a dictatorship of compradors, landlords, and bureaucrat capitalists. It also seeks to establish a democratic government that truly reflects the interests of the patriotic classes and the small and middle bourgeoisie. In the talks of economics, the Party sets to distribute free land and national industrialization to destroy the backward conditions of the country and to establish the foundation for socialist revolution and construction.
On the importance of armed struggle in the revolutionary movement, Valbuena said, “Every revolutionary upheaval in history is marked by the armed uprising of the oppressed and subjugated masses against their oppressors and colonizers.” He reiterated that armed struggle played a crucial role in the history of the country as well as to the rest of the world. As evidenced by different movements from the uprisings of Dagohoy against the Spanish colonizers, the slave rebellions of the 1776 American Revolution, the Katipunan Revolution, and the Philippine war of resistance to US armed occupation, to the October Socialist Revolution of 1917 and the 1949 Chinese Revolution.
“Because political power is monopolized by the ruling classes, because laws favor the interests of the oligarchs, because elections are controlled by ruling class dynasties, and because courts are there to protect their property rights, there is no other effective way for the downtrodden masses to defend and pursue their rights, other than to take up arms and wage revolutionary armed struggle,” he asserted.
Why do individuals choose to join the Party? Valbuena said that at the most basic level, members are driven by their desire for social justice and national freedom. Socioeconomic inequalities exist which aggravate poverty and injustice and prompts members to unite, bear arms, fight back and resist. Valbuena shared that the majority of the NPA come from the peasantry and national minorities; he added that minorities from regions such as Sierra Madre, Cordillera Mountains, and the Pantaron range in Mindanao support the NPA because the army helps in resisting land-grabbing, logging concessionaires, plantation owners, and mining companies protected by the military.
On terrorism and the recent spate of red-tagging
The CPP defines terrorism as “the systematic infliction of violence by an entity engaged in armed hostilities against civilians or unarmed people to sow fear among them and force them to submit to the will of the terrorist entity.” The Party and the NPA affirm that they are firmly opposed to terrorism because violence against unarmed civilians undermines their principles. According to their view, “One cannot unleash the revolutionary potential of the people through terrorism. Terrorism is antithetical to revolution. It is counterrevolutionary.”
Valbuena said that they condemned the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Organization, the dropping of atomic bombs by the United States of America (USA) in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945, the bombing of the US military in Afghanistan in 2017, and the aerial strikes in Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria over the last decade which killed thousands of civilians.
He added that the biggest terrorist in modern history is US imperialism due to their goals of grabbing markets, raw materials, spheres of investments and to control trade routes. Valbuena cited the 1901 campaign to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness” by killing every man above 10 years old. “In the Philippines, US occupying forces carried out the worst forms of terrorism against the Filipino people under their so-called “pacification campaign.”
But does bearing arms against the government make the CPP-NPA terrorist? Valbuena replied that it is not terrorism for the oppressed masses to take up arms against its oppressors.
“Their oppressors taught them to bow their heads. With the Party and NPA, they have learned how to raise their fists.”
When asked about the NPA’s tactical offensive against mining corporations of which the military claims that it is terrorism as it causes harm to civilians, Valbuena said that economic enterprises that operate within revolutionary territories abide by policies which prohibit large-scale destruction and extraction of resources for commercial export or capitalist superprofits and that these policies are enforced through persuasion. Coercion only comes in when businesses disregard these set policies. He also mentioned that while economic in nature, mining operations, as well as other logging, energy, tourism, road projects, and other “development projects,” are typically combined with military force. The military harassed agricultural and ancestral lands to drive away peasants and minorities from their land and to keep them oppressed. He added that in 2008, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) formed the so-called Investment Defense Force (IDF) with the specific aim of providing big businesses with military protection and that it receives large funding from capitalists. (Read: GMA wants ‘investment-defense force’ in South)
While the NPA remains firm in its policy not to harm any civilian, there were instances wherein civilians were accidentally wounded or killed during NPA military actions. The NPA admits that these result from the failure of last-minute intelligence on their part. However, Valbuena reiterated that the NPA does not target civilians, nor does it consider civilian casualties as collateral damage. As a matter of fact, Valbuena mentioned that the NPA does not target civilian vehicles and respects humanitarian symbols such as that of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in accordance with international rules of war.
With the recently passed Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) or RA 11479, CPP said, “Duterte’s Anti-Terrorism Act is a law of state terrorism. It overturns universally accepted norms of due processes. It breaks down the bourgeois liberal principles in jurisprudence, threatens civil and political rights, undermines the judiciary, and gives way to fascism and tyrannical arbitrariness, malice and caprices. It is anti-democratic and anti-people. It sets forth the “legal” framework for large-scale suppression of democratic rights. It has emboldened the militarists.”
The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the ATL allows the detention of “suspected terrorists” up to 24 days even without a warrant of arrest; it also legalizes military surveillance among others. What’s considered dangerous under this law is the government’s capacity for an ambiguous and arbitrary definition of the term “terrorism.”
“Their tactic is plain to see: designate and proscribe the CPP-NPA as terrorist, and red-tag or label legal organizations and individuals as supporters, members or allies of the CPP-NPA in order to justify their suppression through mass arrests, torture and mass murder as in Oplan Tokhang.” Valbuena added.
Furthermore, red-tagged individuals correctly assert that “activism is not terrorism” and demand respect for their right to free expression. Valbuena mentioned that it must also be asserted that neither is it terrorism to follow the path of Bonifacio and Sakay to carry out a revolution, to bear arms, nor to wage a just war for national liberation.
The ATL, in the eyes of the CPP-NPA, will only spur more workers, youth, the unemployed, women, and other sectors to join the revolutionary armed struggle.
“The more you suppress, the more that people rebel.”
Stressing that the NPA conducts itself in accordance with the international rules of war, Valbuena mentioned that in the course of civil war, killings and injuries are inevitable outcomes of armed conflicts. But to the NPA, killing enemy combatants is not the objective of the war, rather, it is to take away their capacity to wage war. He also explained that the NPA’s immediate aim is to confiscate the enemy’s weapons in order to arm more people and build more NPA units. This is the reason why whenever in battle, the NPA are often heard calling the AFP soldiers to just surrender their weapons. On using land mines, Valbuena responded that the command detonated explosives (CIDX) the NPA uses are allowed under international treaties such as the Ottawa Treaty.
The CPP believes that there is state terrorism and indicated that it is seen in the form of Duterte’s administration. “The terrorism of the Duterte regime has resulted in gross violations of human rights. State terrorism is being used by Duterte to silence his critics and intimidate the opposition in the vain hope of securing his power and continuing his reign of corruption and national treachery.”
On strength and numbers
The CPP denounces the AFP’s claims that the strength of the NPA has weakened, and instead asserts that the organization continues to increase in numbers. “‘Crushing the NPA’ has been the repeated end-goal of all past regimes, their respective AFP leadership, and their corresponding 6-year plans. Past AFP leadership and regimes have all failed to meet this objective. We have lost count how many times they have moved their deadlines.”
Valbuena rebuked the AFP’s claims that there are already thousands of NPA “surrenderees” and added, “claims of “surrenderees” are part of the AFP multi-billion peso swindle of “livelihood assistance,” “housing projects” and “community integration” where large amounts of public funds get diverted to the pockets of AFP generals and middle officers.”
The CPP described the “whole-of-nation” approach against insurgency by the AFP and NTF-ELCAC as undermining the tenet “civilian control over the military” because it puts everything under the diktat and control of the AFP.
In an attempt to weaponize the law to stifle dissent and opposition, the state blurs the line between terrorism and activism. Criticism and valid resistance is used against individuals, especially non-combatants, and is portrayed as destabilizers and anti-establishment; activists who fight for our human rights and democratic freedom are shamelessly labeled as “terrorists.”
If the term “terrorism” signifies unlawful use of violence, especially against civilians for political claims, then with the facts presented, we must immediately determine the true terrorists of today because the minorities have suffered enough. Continuous “terrorist-tagging” will not invalidate the justness of armed struggle in history nor will it solve existing resistance. On the other hand, condemning the armed revolutionary movement will neither solve the roots of the conflict nor put an end to state sponsored attacks.
Today is a dangerous time to fight for genuine democracy but all the more should we understand and engage with various movements advocating for national liberation and democracy. History has proven that it is the masses who hold the power of granting authority as well as the ability to revoke it if necessary.
As for the Filipino youth, the CPP extends this message, “The fascists seek to snuff out the Filipino youth’s idealism and spirit of patriotism which for decades has inspired generations in the struggle to defend democracy, fight for justice and resist dictatorships. At this critical juncture of the country’s history where the Duterte regime aims to consolidate and perpetuate its tyrannical rule, it is critical for the youth to keep the fires of rebellion burning. The Filipino people expect nothing less.” [P]
Photo from Communist Party of the Philippines