History of anti-imperialist struggle and people’s war in the Philippines

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NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison / Photo NDFP archive

Lecture on the occasion of the 4th Berlin Autumn Salon
By Jose Maria Sison

Dear Friends, 

I am tasked to give you the history of the anti-imperialist struggle and people’s war in the Philippines. The Filipino people had their first violent encounter with a modern imperialist power when the US launched a war of aggression in 1899 to violate their national independence which they had just won from Spanish colonialism by armed revolution. 

In facing up to an imperialist power with superior military weapons in 1899, the Filipino people have had to learn warfare that relies on their strength and on their mastery of their own terrain. The learning process has continued up to now. The development of people’s war will continue until total victory can be achieved in the struggle for national and social liberation against a semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system still dominated in an all-round way by US imperialism and reaction.

People’s War against Spanish Colonialism and US Imperialism

Towards the end of the 19th century, several countries like the US, Germany and Japan had developed monopoly capitalist economies without the colonies for the secure export of surplus capital and surplus commodities. Thus, they coveted the colonies possessed by the weaker colonial powers like Spain and Portugal which had not industrialized their economies.

Among the new imperialist powers, the US had the advantage of an alliance with British imperialism. It was determined to take over the colonies of Spain and to launch a war for the purpose. In connection with its plan to start the Spanish-American War of 1898, the US pretended to befriend the exiled Filipino junta headed by Aguinaldo in Hongkong and encouraged it to resume the war of independence against Spain.

Aguinaldo was brought back to the Philippines on an American cutter in order to proclaim Philippine independence on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite under the “noble protection” of the US. The Filipino people responded enthusiastically to the proclamation, rose up in arms and liberated the Philippines, except the Spanish-controlled walled city in Manila which was ripe for seizure.

However, the US also brought its forces of imperialist aggression and pushed out Filipino troops from strategic positions around the walled city. It colluded with the Spanish authorities to hand over the walled city after a brief fake naval encounter. In the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, Spain as the loser in the war with the US ceded the Philippines to the US at the price of USD 20 million.

On February 4, 1999, the Filipino-American War broke out. The Filipino revolutionary forces fought the US valiantly against the militarily superior American forces, at first with positional trench warfare from one line of defense to another and eventually with guerrilla warfare. To conquer the Philippines, the US imperialist forces killed 1.5 million Filipinos or 20 per cent of the 1899 Philippine population of 7 million people until 1913. 

The use of brute force was combined with the call for “benevolent assimilation” in order to break the will of the liberal bourgeoisie leading the war of independence. After Aguinaldo’s capture and call for peace in 1902, other leaders of his government capitulated,. Thus, the US formally declared the end of the war and the establishment of civil government in 1902 even as armed resistance continued in many areas such as the ones led by Macario Sakay and waged subsequently by the Moros in Mindanao.

The colonial rule of the US over the Philippines which promoted a semifeudal type of economy. It opened the mines, expanded the plantations for export and increased the local manufacturing of goods for household use. It improved the roads, bridges and ports to support domestic and foreign trade. The public school system was established in order to serve the expanded government and business operations under the auspices of US imperialism.

However, nationalist agitation and agrarian unrest continued. The US tried to counter these by pretending to grant autonomy under the Jones Law of 1916 and allowing Independence Missions of Filipinos to go to Washington to plead for independence. The landed estates of the Spanish religious corporations became the target of land reform. But this benefited the Filipino comprador big bourgeoisie and landlord class rather than the poor tenants who could not afford the high redistribution price.

Due to the colonial and semi-feudal conditions, exploitation of the workers and peasants worsened. The miserable conditions were aggravated when the Great Depression adversely affected the production of export crops. Under these circumstances, the leaders of the trade unions and the peasant associations were determined to establish the Communist Party of the Philippines Islands (CPPI). However, soon after founding, the CPPI was suppressed with false charges of sedition against its leaders. In line with the anti-fascist front, the “commonwealth” government legalized the CPPI in 1936. Thereafter, the CPPI merged with the Socialist Party to become one party in 1938.

Under the Tydings-MacDuffie Law of 1934, the US promised to formally grant independence to the Philippines after a ten-year period of “commonwealth” government. This US promise would later blunt the promises of independence and participation of the Philippines in the “Asian co-prosperity sphere” by the Japanese fascists who ultimately challenged, drove out the US from, and occupied the Philippines in the course of World War from 1941 to 1945.

People’s War Against the Japanese Occupation and US Reconquest

The Japanese occupation of the Philippines created the conditions for the merger party of the Communist and Socialist parties to establish the People’s Army Against Japan (Hukbalahap. This enabled said merger party and the people’s army to fight the Japanese fascists and their Filipino puppets with guerrilla warfare and to carry out land reform and build organs of political power in the countryside mainly in Central Luzon. Were it not for certain errors committed by the CPPI-SP leadership, the armed movement of the people could have expanded and blocked the US reconquest of the Philippines.

At first, the US wanted to renege on its promise to grant independence of the Philippines. But it feared that armed resistance could spread. Thus, it granted nominal independence to the Philippines on July 4, 1946 but this was encumbered by the US-RP Treaty of General Relations which preserved the property rights of US corporations and citizens and retained the US military bases and in effect bound the Philippines to the US politically, economically, militarily and culturally as a semi-colony.

The Filipino people and their revolutionary forces did not accept the semicolonial and semifeudal binds and the violence with which the US and its puppets were imposing themselves on the country. Thus, the CPPI-SP merger party reconstituted the People’s Army against Japan as the People’s Liberation Army to fight US imperialism and the ruling system of big compradors and landlords and took the line of revolutionary struggle in 1948. 

But the line was adventurist as it sought to overthrow the ruling system in only two years, without consideration of the need to do painstaking mass work, carry out land reform and develop the people’s war and people’s army in stages. Because of this erroneous line, the backbone of the people’s army would be broken in the years ensuing from the dramatic tactical offensives it carried out in 1949.

In the wake of the setbacks from 1949 to the 1950s. The CPPI-SP leadership proceeded to commit further errors that amounted to liquidating the remnants of the people’s army in 1955 and the CPPI-SP merger party itself in 1957. It would be in 1958 when young proletarian revolutionaries arose to form an association to study Marxism-Leninism to apply it on the history and circumstances of the Filipino people in order to resume the Philippine revolution as a new democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class in the era of modern imperialism and proletarian revolution.

The young proletarian revolutionaries joined the remnants of CPPI-SP merger party from the 1962 onwards and took the initiative to work in the Lapiang Manggagawa (Workers Party) and develop relations with the trade unions, peasant associations and student organizations. They created revolutionary groups within these organizations and recruited the youth to form the Kabataang Makabayan, which rapidly spread nationwide .

By 1965, the young proletarian revolutionaries raised within the merger party questions about the history of the party and about the errors and shortcomings that had debilitated and nearly destroyed it. They pointed out the Right opportunist line from 1942 to 1946, the Left opportunist line from 1948 to 1950 and the Right opportunism from 1950 onward. In reaction, the defenders of these opportunist lines exposed their revisionist line and subservience to Soviet modern revisionism from 1965 onward.

Renewed People’s War Against the US Imperialism and Local Reaction

By 1966 the proletarian revolutionaries launched the First Great Rectification Movement. This led to the re-establishment the Communist Party of the Philippines under the guidance of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought on December 26, 1968. The CPP adopted the program of people’s democratic revolution and the strategic line of protracted people’s war. It also adopted its Constitution and upheld the principle of democratic centralism.

A few months after the CPP was re-established, it founded the New People’s Army (NPA) on March 29, 1969 in order to start people’s war. In the months before and after the founding the NPA, politico-military training was carried out to form expansion teams for deployment in the selected areas in five regions. The point was to have as many as five guerrilla fronts as soon as possible so as to prevent the enemy to destroy the entire people’s army.

The First Quarter Storm of 1970, which consisted of a series of gigantic mass actions, generated mass activists not only for the development of the legal struggle but inspired many of them to join the people’s army. In response to Marcos’ threats of proclaiming martial law, the youth activists answered the threat shouting back: “people’s war is the answer to martial law!” Consequently, youth activists volunteered for politico-military training and integration with the people’s army and the peasant masses.

When Marcos declared martial law ion September 21, 1972, thousands of mass activists throughout the country went underground in cities and wanted to join the people’s army. They were given politico-military training and assigned to existing guerrilla units. To cope with the work of training the party cadres and members in the countryside, underground organs of the CPP in the urban areas were redeployed to the countryside.

By 1976, the entire Philippines was already covered by regional Party organizations and all regions (except those of the Bangsamoro) were covered by regional commands of the NPA. By then, it was clear hat the fascist dictatorship was not only inutile in trying to destroy the revolutionary movement but was precisely the cause for many people to join the revolutionary movement and fight effectively the crimes of the despotic regime.

Despite the death or capture of most members of the CPP Central Committee in 1976 to 1977, the people’s war continued to grow in strength and advance nationwide. The CPP cadres and members were capable of strengthening their party ideologically, political and organizationally on the basis of the growing revolutionary mass movement. The New People’s Army excelled at carrying out the strategic line of protracted people’s war, waging extensive and intensive guerrilla warfare on the basis of an ever widening and deepening mass base. The organs of political power and mass organizations were established in the guerrilla fronts. 

The US instigated and supported the Marcos fascist dictatorship in the vain hope of using this to suppress the revolutionary movement and perpetuating its hegemony over the Philippines through its all-round control of the reactionary forces, its US military bases and its economic and financial stranglehold on the Philippines. Marcos made it a point to assure the US that the economic interests of US corporations were favored and that the US military bases would stay.

But when Marcos had Benigno Aquino Jr. assassinated in 1983, the US started to reconsider giving support to the fascist dictatorship. It saw Marcos as having become more of a liability than an asset prejudicing US hegemony. It frowned on him as having favored his cronies to an extent that split the ranks of the reactionaries. It also recognized the fact that instead of being able to suppress the armed revolutionary movement this was growing in strength and advancing.

The intensification of the people’s war, the resurgent mass movement in the urban areas, the sharpening contradictions within the reactionary classes, the rise of an anti-Marcos bloc among military and police officers, the anti-fascist pronouncements of the Catholic church and finally manifestations of the US junking of Marcos combined and sealed the fate of Marcos. Millions of people converged on Edsa highway and more a than hundred thousand people encircled the presidential palace. The US had to fly Marcos and his retinue out of the palace and out of the country.

The people’s war made large strides nationwide towards the downfall of Marcos in 1986 and could have made still bigger strides forward after the downfall of Marcos. But the “Left” opportunist line in certain regions started to take a toll on the the revolutionary forces in 1985 and the damage to the movement would increase in certain regions from year to year until the Second Great Rectification movement was launched in 1992 in order to identify, criticize, repudiate and rectify major errors.

The Pseudo-Democratic Regimes After Marcos

After the overthrow of the Marcos fascist dictatorship, a series of pseudo-democratic regimes ensued under the following president: Corazon Aquino (1986-92), Fidel V. Ramos (1992-98), Joseph E. Estrada (1998-2001), Gloria M. Arroyo (2001-10), Benigno S. Aquino III (2010-16) and Rodrigo Duterte (2016-22). All have sought to serve US imperialism and the local exploiting classes of big compradors and landlords, follow the neoliberal and other policy dictates of US imperialism, destroy the revolutionary and preserve the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system.

The first Aquino regime released all political prisoners and nullified the most repressive decrees of Marcos. But it retained those decrees that were exploitative of the workers and peasants. It gave way to a new constitution that formally carried provisions on the respect of human rights and the prohibition of foreign military bases and weapons of mass destruction on Philippine soil. It boasted of carrying out an agrarian reform program but required the voluntary sale of land by the landlords and allowed landlords to incorporate and securitize their ownership of land.

After seeking a short-term ceasefire agreement with the revolutionary movement, the Aquino regime allowed the military to unleash massacres against the peasantry and ordered it carry out the US-designed strategic plan Lambat Bitag to destroy the revolutionary movement. But the revolutionary movement continued to flourish due to the persistent and aggravated problems of the ruling system, despite the deleterious effects of “Left” opportunism. The regime was economically weak because of the profligacy of the previous regime and the subsequent pledge to “honor” the onerous loans incurred by the previous regime. It promoted trade liberalization in line with the US neoliberal policy.

The Ramos regime pretended to be for peace negotiations. But on the day after signing of the Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, which set forth the frame work for peace negotiations, he created the National Unification Commission (NUC) to undercut the peace negotiations. He repealed the Anti-Subversion Law but he made rebellion a nonbailable capital offense. Only after two years of the failure of the NUC did Ramos agree to the formal opening of peace negotiations. This led to a number of agreements but Ramos failed to sign the most important of them, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

Even while the Ramos regime was engaged in peace negotiations, it pursued a policy of seeking to destroy the revolutionary movement under Oplan Manindigan. This coincided with the CPP carrying out the Second Great Rectification Movement to criticize, repudiate and rectify “Left opportunist” errors. The regime reversed the ban on foreign military bases by making the Mutual Logistical Support Agreement with the US. It tried to bloat the GDP by taking foreign loans for private construction and selling state assets to foreign corporations in order raise funds for running the government. The claims to economic development collapsed when the Asian financial crisis hit the Philippines in 1997.

The Estrada regime signed the CARHRIHL in 1998 but terminated the peace negotiations on May 29, 1999 after the NPA captured General Obillo and after the NDFP opposed the regime’s decision to make the Visiting Forces Agreement, which further reversed the ban on US military bases in the Philippines. While the damages caused by “Left” opportunism to the revolutionary movement were already repaired and the NPA was growing at am increased rate. By early 2001, the national democratic movement was in a position to oust the Estrada regime, which by then had become utterly notorious for corruption.

The Ramos regime and the Asian financial crisis of 1997 had so bankrupted the reactionary government that the Estrada regime was reduced to making money for himself by raiding the social security systems, taking commissions on loans for dubious business projects and taking the lion’s share of b bribes from gambling syndicates. The regime was easily exposed and discredited for corruption. A broad united front of forces against corruption arose to overpower it before it reached its mid-term.

Having benefited from the overthrow of Estrada, the Arroyo regime was initially friendly to the legal democratic forces as the main part of the broad united front that overthrew Estrada. Peace negotiations were resumed and all previous agreements were reaffirmed. But after only three months in power, Arroyo succumbed to the pressures of the reactionary military to carry out a strategic plan named Lambat Bitag aimed vainly at destroying the revolutionary movement. This combined the use of exemplary murders and “legal offensive” of trumping up false criminal charges to harass and arrest suspected revolutionaries.

The Arroyo regime benefited from a renewed loosening of credit by foreign banks. Thus, the private construction boom and the plunder of natural resources were revived. To further strengthen its financial position, the Arroyo regime raised the tax burden on ordinary consumers. It was discredited for being corrupt and for making lopsided agreements with Chinese corporations. It was ripe for overthrow by the mass movement. But time ran out on arranging a broad united front for the purpose. Anti-Arroyo blocs in the reactionary armed forces were foiled for trying to get the chief of staff to join the effort to oust Arroyo.

The Aquino regime went through the motion of pretending to be for peace negotiations with revolutionary movement. But soon enough it came under the pressure of pro-US military officers to undermine the framework of the peace negotiations and abandon the peace negotiations altogether. The regime carried out the Oplan Bayanihan, designed by US military advisors and puppet officers of the reactionary armed forces. It entered into the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US in order to allow US military bases within the puppet military camps.

The people’s war continued to grow in strength, despite the conspicuous collaboration between US military personnel and puppet forces in surveillance, psywar and combat operations. But the NPA grew rapidly in Mindanao precisely because of the enemy offensives. In Luzon and the Visayas, the mass base expanded in many areas. But the problem of conservatism became conspicuous. It consisted of overstressing mass work and overdispersing armed propaganda teams and neglecting the task of launching tactical offensives against the reactionary armed forces.

Like previous regimes, the Aquino regime was corrupt, especially in the use of pork barrel funds. But it gained credit for sending to prison a number of big plunderers, including the former president Arroyo. The Philippine economy was maintained by higher taxation, the remittances of Filipino overseas contract workers and the inflow of portfolio investments from the imperialist countries. The Marcos propaganda machinery worked subtly through the social media to discredit all the post-Marcos regimes and to misrepresent the period of Marcos fascist dictatorship as a glorious age.

Davao city mayor Duterte posed as “Left” and “socialist” in order to gain national standing and overcome charges of human violations against him for butchering suspected drug addicts and criminals. But he was back-staffed by pro-US military officers and financed by Chinese criminal syndicates and the Luzon-based dynasties of Marcos, Arroyo, Estrada and others, which enabled him to win the presidential elections of 2016. From the beginning, the Duterte regime continued the Oplan Bayanihan of Aquino. At the same time, he pretended to be for peace negotiations and appointed three progressive figures to his cabinet only to drop them in less than one year.

The Duterte regime is an extremely traitorous, bloodthirsty, corrupt and duplicitous regime. It has assured the US that it can destroy the revolutionary movement and provide further privileges to US corporations through charter change to federalism. At the same time, it has been allowing China to build and militarize artificial islands in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines in exchange for high interest loans and overpriced infrastructure project projects. 

It also collaborates with Chinese criminal syndicates in smuggling and distributing illegal drugs and other commodities. The bogus war on drugs has been used to make Duterte the supreme protector of drugs and to propagate the line that the regime can justly use extrajudicial killings to solve national problems.

In less than one year after coming to power, Duterte has terminated the peace negotiations with the NDFP and has junked all previous agreements since the Ramos regime. He has designated the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations and has created a national task force to destroy the revolutionary movement by all means, including those used in the killing of drug suspects. 

Suspected revolutionaries as well as critics and legal opposition to the regime are subjected to red-tagging and slander for the purpose harassment, abductions and murder. But the Filipino people and the revolutionary movement are determined to fight and defeat the Duterte regime, which they hold responsible for selling out sovereign rights, gross and systematic violations of human rights, bureaucratic corruption and the worsening socio-economic conditions.

Prospects of the Anti-Imperialist Struggle and People’s War

The open rule of terror under the Duterte regime is a manifestation of the rottenness and decomposition of the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system. The crisis of this system has become so aggravated that the ruling classes of big compradors , landlords and bureaucrat capitalists have become more unable than ever to rule in the old way by conjuring the illusion of democracy while escalating oppression and exploitation of the people.

As the Marcos fascist dictatorship stoked the flames of people’s war from 1972 to 1986, so do Duterte’s frenzied drive to escalate repressive measures and realize his scheme of full-blown fascist dictatorship compel the Filipino people to fight back, assert national independence and democracy against imperialism and puppetry and intensify the people’s war to achieve the new democratic revolution. Like the Marcos fascist regime, Duterte’s tyrannical regime is unwittingly generating the objective conditions and inciting the subjective factors for the growth in strength and advance of the revolutionary forces in the people’s war.

The workers and peasants are subjected to worse forms of exploitation and their leaders and lawyers have been subjected to extrajudicial killings. The indigenous people and peasant settlers have been subjected to bombings, massacres and forced mass evacuation to make way for foreign and domestic mining, plantations and real estate corporations. 

Duterte’s termination of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations is meant to put the blame on the revolutionary forces for the armed conflict and give him all the license to realize his futile scheme of fascist dictatorship.###

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