The Filipino people’s revolutionary armed struggle for national and social liberation in the past 50 years

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1969 – 1977 | 1978 – 1991 | 1992 – 2001 | 2002 – 2019 | Prospects

By Jose Maria Sison
Founding Chairman, Communist party of the Philippines
March 31, 2019

Dear Comrades and Friends,

Thank you for giving me the honor and privilege of delivering the keynote to A Tapestry of People’s Resistance, the second part of the celebration of 50 years of revolutionary arts and culture in the Filipino people’s struggle for national and social liberation which was successfully held last December 29, 2018 in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

By way of giving a background to the celebration today, let me give you a quick review of the history of the Filipino people’s revolutionary armed struggle in the last 50 years. My focus is the development of the New People’s Army (NPA) under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in a brief historical narrative of five segments, including the prospects as the last segment.

1. Foundational Years, 1969 – 1977

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines conceived of the New People’s Army as the main instrument for overthrowing the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system through protracted people’s war in accordance with the people’s democratic revolution against US imperialism and the local exploiting classes of big compradors and landlords.

The New People’s Army was founded by the CPP in Barrio Sta. Rita, Capas, Tarlac on March 29, 1969. It started with only 9 rifles and 26 inferior firearms for 60 Red fighters consisting of those from the old people’s army and the new recruits from Manila and Isabela who were previously given politico-military training. 

From 1969 to 1971, the revolutionary armed struggle developed in Tarlac, combining guerrilla tactical offensives and mass work and bringing about the level of NPA armed strength to more than 200 automatic rifles that were seized from the enemy forces through ambushes and raids.

When the CPP central leadership shifted to Isabela from late 1970 to 1972, the NPA started with only 20 automatic rifles and these increased to more than 300 by 1974. Hundreds of CPP cadres were given politico-military training for expansion to new areas in various regions. These cadres were subsequently dispatched to provinces in Cagayan Valley, Ilocos-Montañosa-Pangasinan, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. 

More expansion cadres became available after the 1971 suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and then the 1972 proclamation of martial law because the urban-based mass activists who were in danger of being arrested joined the NPA. Still a great number of underground cadres under the CPP General Secretariat were dispatched to various regions in 1974. The nationwide expansion of the CPP and NPA was facilitated by Kabataang Makabayan, trade unions and peasant associations.

As early as 1972, CPP regional committees and NPA regional operational commands were already established in Cagayan Valley, IMP, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas and Mindanao. And in 1976, the Mindanao regional Party Committee began to form several NPA regional operational commands. 

In the foundational years from 1969 to 1977, the focus of the most frequent and most successful tactical offensives shifted from one region to another, depending on the successful mass work and the daring of the Red commanders and fighters. From 1969 to 1971, the focus was Tarlac; from 1972 to 1975, it was Isabela, Ifugao, Quezon, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Negros and Panay provinces; from 1975 to 1977, it was Samar and several provinces in Mindanao. 

The NPA armed strength had reached the level of 1500 automatic rifles as of 1977. However the NPA in Isabela stagnated and weakened because of the error of staying too long in the unpopulated forest region until 1976, despite the order of the central leadership in 1974 for shifting the NPA companies to Cagayan province. But the isolation of the NPA in Isabela forest region was countervailed by its growth elsewhere in Cagayan Valley, Northern Luzon and in the entire country.

2. Further Growth and Major Errors, 1978-1991

The strong foundation laid in the years 1969-77 and the preponderance of CPP and NPA rank and file who adhered to the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the general line of people’s democratic revolution and the organizational discipline of democratic centralism corresponded to the worsening socio-economic and political crisis of the ruling system and made possible the further growth of the NPA to 3000 automatic rifles in 1981 and then to 5,600 automatic rifles in 1985.

The CPP central leadership ensured that whenever certain weaker regions needed support and assistance in terms or cadres and arms, they would get such from the stronger regions. After the NPA forces in Eastern Visayas grew strong from 1976 to 1979, the Party redeployed many of its cadres, fighters and arms to Negros and Mindanao in 1979. But the NPA in every region was always urged to practice self-reliance and grow through struggle.

The most outstanding regions in the frequency and success of tactical offensives from 1981 onward were Eastern Visayas, Mindanao, Negros, Northern Luzon, Bicol and Central Luzon. The most effective formations in combat were companies or platoons augmented by armed propaganda teams and led by commanders who were excellent at planning and were daring.

The NPA forces in the regions of Eastern Visayas, Bicol, Southern Tagalog and Cagayan Valley had a good balance of relatively concentrated force (vertical) and relatively dispersed forces (horizontal) as well as good balance between offensive capability, armed force and mass base. The Party, the mass organizations and the organs of political power assumed much of the work load of the NPA units to enable these to gain more time and opportunities for launching tactical offensives.

From 1981 to 1985, the NPA in Mindanao scored the most and biggest victories in tactical offensives because it tried to build companies rapidly from three to 16 companies. But the rapid formation of the companies and the premature verticalization of forces were done at the expense of paying attention to mass work and strengthening the mass base. The “Left” opportunist error resulted in adverse consequences.

The CC Plenum in 1985 noted that the nationwide NPA armed strength reached the level of 5,600 automatic rifles in 1985 and further increased to 6,100 automatic rifles in 1986 and still further increased by some hundreds in 1987. NPA nationwide armed strength increased because of the correct line, competence, courage and high sense of self-sacrifice and service to the people of the CPP cadres and members and the Red fighters and commanders and by the accelerated deterioration of social conditions and the rising tide of the people’s struggle against the Marcos fascist dictatorship. 

The victories were achieved despite the emergence of wrong ideas and major errors in the CPP central leadership and in certain regional Party committees. In 1979 there arose the notion in the CC of the CPP that the people’s war was already in the advanced phase. This led to the further notion that the “stage of strategic counter-offensive” was in the offing.
This notion had no basis in reality and was not realized but encouraged various “Left”opportunist currents of thinking about short-cuts to final victory.

As early as 1981, the subjective notion circulated among certain CC members that the Marcos fascist dictatorship had succeeded in making the Philippines an industrial capitalist country. It gave rise to the Right opportunist and “Left” opportunist currents. 

3. Rectification and Revitalization, 1992-2001

The Second Great Rectification Movement (SGRM) from 1992 to 1998 saved the CPP, the NPA and the entire revolutionary movement from possible self-disintegration or destruction in the hands of the enemy. The Right and “Left” opportunists were in CPP key positions and were using these to undermine and attack Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the general line of people’s democratic revolution.

The Right opportunists prated about “popular democracy” to attack the leading role of the proletariat and the CPP in the revolution. They blamed the line of protracted people’s war for the supposed failure to be part of the ascendance of the Aquino regime over the Marcos fascist dictatorship. They spouted Gorbachoviste Trotskyite, bourgeois-liberal and other petty-bourgeois currents of thinking.

The “Left” opportunists, especially the most vocal urban insurrectionists, also blamed the strategic line of protracted people’s war for the supposed failure of the NPA to take power or get a significant share of this before the Aquino party took complete power. 

Prior to the launch of the SGRM in 1992, the central leadership had already succeeded in acting against the “Left” opportunist errors and the anti-DPA witch hunts in one region after another. But the SGRM still had to be launched and carried out in order to criticize, repudiate and rectify the errors comprehensively and thoroughly through a movement of ideological and political education. Otherwise, errors could persist to undermine and destroy the Party.

From 1994 to 1998, the forces in Mindanao were able to recover most of the armed strength and mass base that had been lost during the second half of the 1980s. They were able to retain some of the NPA companies in certain guerrilla fronts by a well-balanced correlation of relatively concentrated force for effectiveness in tactical offensives and relatively dispersed force to ensure a sufficiently wide and deep mass base. By 1998, the First Bagani Company had the honor of capturing a brigadier general in the field. 

The recovery and revitalization of the NPA occurred in various regions previously afflicted by “Left” opportunism. The NPA level of strength in 1998 exceeded the level before 1992, There were more than 110 guerrilla fronts nationwide, mostly with platoons rather than companies as the total force per front.

In the National Capital Region, the forces of the national democratic movement grew strong to the extent of generating mass protest actions that ultimately forced Estrada to flee the presidential palace and in effect resign his position. This was a crowning victory of the SGRM.

4. Growth, Conservatism and Upsurge, 2002 – 2019

This period covers the regimes of Arroyo, Aquino and Duterte which launched fierce attacks on the NPA and the entire revolutionary movement. The NPA has frustrated all the strategic operational plans aimed at destroying it. It has preserved and increased its strength despite the strategic offensives of the enemy, such as the Oplan Bantay Laya of Arroyo, Bayanihan of Aquino and Kapayapaan of Duterte.

As a result of the SGRM, NPA armed strength in high-powered rifles continued to grow and peaked in 2005 to a level surpassing the earlier 1987 peak by a few hundreds. It was a four percent growth from the 2002 level. However, from 2005, NPA strength dropped by 21.6% over the course of the next four years until 2009. 

The NPA armed strength in automatic rifles increased again but by only a few hundreds or around 11% accumulated growth in the next seven years, 2009-2016 but remained below the 12.6% below the 2006 peak. The NPA strength further grew by 9% in the second half of 2016 but remained at 4% below the 2005 peak From end 2016 to August 2017, the NPA grew more than 8% and surpassed the previous 2005 peak by three per cent.

Despite the all-out war of the Duterte regime from its continuation of Aquino’s Bayanihan to its adoption of its owned US-designed Oplan Kapayapaan, the NPA is growing in strength. The NPA in Mindanao remains the most outstanding in people’s war notwithstanding the prolonged imposition of martial law in the region and the wanton use of bombings and extrajudicial killings to suppress the armed revolution.

The CPP was able to hold its Second Congress successfully. It was able to identify the error of conservatism and over dispersal of small NPA units over a wide area as the principal error that has caused the stagnation and erosion of NPA and mass strength in Luzon and the Visayas. It is an error diametrically opposite the error of “Left” opportunism that had emerged in the years 1981-83 and grew in various regions until 1992.

The error starts with the good motivation of widening and deepening the mass base and developing all political prerequisites. And the erroneous tendency has been to over-disperse small units for mass work and neglect the main NPA task, which is to launch tactical offensives in order to seize weapons from the enemy and strengthen the NPA. 

The force deployment with no relatively concentrated force for launching tactical offensives, and with the over-dispersal of small NPA units results in roving or floating units that are easy prey to the enemy and vulnerable to being put in purely defensive actions. Conservatism amounts to abstinence from tactical offensives, which has played into the enemy campaign plans like those of Oplan Bantay Laya of the Arroyo regime, during which the NPA suffered a decrease in strength from 2005.

At first, the NPA in Mindanao had difficulties of countering enemy offensives under Oplan Bantay Laya and then Bayanihan. But eventually they were able to prevail against the enemy with the effective use of the basic tactics of guerrilla warfare and master the art and science of the tactics of counter encirclement against the enemy encirclement that were bigger but had wider gaps. The Red commanders and fighters had the wisdom to avail of a combination of mass base and rough terrain and the daring to launch tactical offensives against every enemy weak point.

5. Prospects of the NPA

The current 5-year plan (2017-2021) of the Central Committee aims to carry forward the antifascist, antifeudal and anti-imperialist movement and overthrow the ruling US-Duterte fascist and reactionary regime, and bring the protracted people’s war to the advanced phase of the strategic defensive, in order to reach the threshold of the strategic stalemate. 

The program calls for intensifying anti-fascist agitation, propaganda, organizational work and mobilization in the face of widespread killings and other atrocities of state terrorism, and schemes to establish a fascist dictatorship. Building the broadest united front and mobilizing the people in their millions is the key to defeating the fascist regime. 

First, the program calls for resolving the imbalance of strength, spread and advance of guerrilla warfare between the relatively more advanced regions in Mindanao and those in Luzon and Visayas, and attain effective cooperation and coordination in advancing guerrilla warfare nationwide. The program seeks to develop 7-10 advanced regions, each with more or less 2,000 full-time Red fighters spread throughout Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. 

Secondly, it calls on the advanced regions to develop subregions with three to five interlocking company-sized guerrilla fronts, to serve as anchors and rallying points for interregional and national advance. The program estimates that we can effectively combat the sustained large-scale enemy operations in the advanced subregions with one or two full or undersized companies with nine to fifteen horizontal platoons in interlocking or adjacent guerrilla fronts, in addition to units of the people’s militias spread over several hundred villages. 

Thirdly, the program aims to strengthen the NPA several times over and raise its capability in annihilating enemy teams and squads, and later, platoons. Every region and subregion must have a company as vertical force following the ratio of one vertical company to every nine horizontal platoons (or 1:3). There must be recruitment campaigns to increase the NPA guerrilla units and people’s militia units and campaigns to generate material and other forms of support. 

The NPA must be strengthened through ideological building, strengthening absolute Party leadership, systematic politico-military training and raising its combat capability, in terms of weaponry and technique, active political work to raise the political consciousness, the will to fight and offensive spirit of the Red fighters, strengthen their iron discipline and their close links with the masses. 

It calls for building the NPA operational command at the national level down to the subregional level to develop planning, coordination and leadership of the NPA work. It also calls for the recruitment of cadres from workers and the educated youth and for developing, training and promotion of military cadres. It calls for further expansion and training of units of people’s militias, self-defense units of mass organizations to develop their capability in waging mass guerrilla warfare. It calls for building partisan units. 

Fourthly, the program calls for intensifying guerrilla warfare nationwide and waging all-out resistance against the enemy’s all-out war, gradual constriction and win-hold-win and TRIAD campaigns. It calls for carrying out annihilative basic tactical offensives to deliver solid blows against the enemy, punish the worst fascist criminals, weaken the enemy, seize its weapons, strengthen the people’s army, advance the masses’ antifeudal and other struggles and expand the democratic people’s power. 

The program calls for firmly opposing military conservatism and repudiating the wrong ideas that bring about such weaknesses such as overestimating the strength of the enemy and underestimating the strength of the people and their army; fear of sacrifices and aspiring for comforts and failure to grasp the crucial necessity of intensifying guerrilla warfare in advancing other military and political tasks, locally and in general; lack of attention of leading Party committees on military work; overconfidence, passivity, over-dispersal of forces and so on. The program calls for maximizing NPA armed strength and its deep and wide mass support it enjoys in order to deliver bigger and more frequent blows against the enemy. 

The NPA has already spread nationwide and is deeply rooted among the toiling masses. It occupies most of the terrains favorable for guerrilla warfare. It takes full advantage of the strategic line of encircling the cities from the countryside as well as orchestrating tactical offensives in an archipelago according to the principle of centralized leadership and decentralized operations. The NPA is now in a position to deliver lethal blows to the enemy forces anywhere in the archipelago and thereby raise the level of its armed strength. 

The Filipino people and all their revolutionary forces are confident that they will make great strides towards total victory in the revolutionary war for the people’s democratic revolution because they are gaining political and armed strength as the crisis of both the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system and that of the world capitalist system are simultaneously worsening at an accelerated rate. 

The inter-imperialist contradictions are sharpening and resulting in worse forms of exploitation and oppression, unprecedented crisis of global proportions, widespread state terrorism and wars of aggression. These are signals for the further rise and eventual victory of the people’s democratic revolution in the Philippines and the resurgence of the anti-imperialist movements and the world proletarian revolution.###

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