The Philippine revolution: A brief review

41 mins read

By Jose Maria Sison
Founding Chairman , Communist Party of the Philippines & Chairperson Emeritus,International League of Peoples’ Struggle

Dear Comrades and Friends,

I am highly honored and deeply pleased to be invited to this seminar, which is being held on the occasion of the yearly “Literature and Revolution Congress” and which carries in this year the theme, “The Anticolonial Status of Mankind”. I am aware that the focus is on the Third World peoples’ struggles against imperialism and colonialism. 

I thank the organizers from the Teatro dos Desoprimidos Project for inviting me to lecture on the Philippine revolution and present its origins, general line, development, setbacks and rectification and prospects.

I convey warmest greetings of international solidarity to you dear organizers, to my fellow lecturers who will speak on other people’s struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America and to the entire audience and participants from the Espiritu Santo Federal University and from various sectors of the progressive intelligentsia.

1. Origins

Spain colonized the Philippines for more than 300 years since the 16th century. Still lacking national consciousness, the people in various communities in the archipelago engaged in more than 200 localized revolts intermittently. But these were defeated even as they expanded from century to century. Spain was able to impose a colonial and feudal system on the people who were still in diverse types of highly localized communities.

But the centralized system of colonial administration, oppression and exploitation resulted in the formation of national consciousness among the oppressed and exploited people. They ultimately realized that the system could rule over them because they were divided in disparate communities and were thus vulnerable to subjugation with the use of the sword and the cross.

The revolutionary organization Katipunan started the Philippine revolution in 1896 when it called for national independence of the Filpino people against Spanish colonialism. At that time, the leadership of the revolution had a bourgeois liberal ideology and targeted the Spanish colonial administration and the religious orders owning vast landed estates.

The Philippine revolution won against Spanish colonialism throughout the archipelago in 1898. But the US had its own plan of colonizing the Philippines. It engaged Spain in a war through which it would take over Spain’s colonial possessions . On December 10, 1898, the US and Spain made a treaty in Paris which effected the sale of the Philippines to the US for 20 million US dollars. 

The US launched a war of aggression against the new Philippine republic, starting on February 4, 1899. The Filipino people fought heroically and valiantly. But the US prevailed with superior military force. With 75,000 troops with machine guns and cannons, it massacred 1.5 million Filipinos from 1899 to 1913. It was also able to coopt a number of leaders of the Philippine government who came from the landed class.

The US started laying the ground for a new colonial regime in 1902 with the call for “benevolent assimilation” and capitulation of the key leaders of the Philippine government, even as the national resistance was still going on. By the second decade of the 20th century, the US had consolidated its power over a colonial and semifeudal ruling system.

By 1930 the Communist Party of the Philippine Islands (CPPI) was established mainly by Filipino trade union leaders, under the auspices of the Third Communist International and the US Communist Party. The CPPI upheld Marxism-Leninism as guide to action and promoted the class leadership of the proletariat in the struggle for national independence and democracy.

The CPPI was banned soon after its founding and its leaders were arrested and convicted on the charge of sedition for which they were imprisoned or exiled. But in 1936 the US allowed the puppet president Quezon to release these leaders from prison or exile in connection with the international anti-fascist united front developing against the fascist powers. The CPPI merged with the Socialist Party to form one party in 1938.

After the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941, the merger party decided to form the People’s Army Against Japan (Hukbalahap) in 1942. By fighting the invaders, this army became strong mainly in Central Luzon, a region adjacent to Manila, and enabled land reform, the strengthening of peasant and other mass organizations and the establishment of local organs of political power.

Were it not for certain major errors of the leadership of the CPPI-SP merger party during World War II and the succeeding years, the Filipino people and their revolutionary forces would have emerged far stronger and more capable of overcoming the return of US imperialism and achieving national liberation and democracy. Instead, US imperialism was able to dominate the Philippines again and turn it to a semicolonial and semifeudal system run by puppet politicians representing the big comprador and landlord classes.

Because of its adventurist errors in 1948 to 1949, the merger party weakened itself, the people’s army and other revolutionary forces to the extent that they became insignificant and close to total destruction from 1952 onwards. It became the task of young proletarian revolutionaries from the youth, trade union and peasant associations to revive it from 1963 onwards and to leave it in 1966 when the revisionist elements became too obstructive to the advance of the revolutionary movement.

2. General Line

The Communist Party of the Philippines was re-established on December 26, 1968 in accordance with Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought/Maoism as the theoretical guide to action, the general political line of people’s democratic revolution through protracted people’s war and the organizational principle of democratic centralism.

We applied Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought to the study of the history and concrete circumstances of the Filipino people and we were determined to apply it further to the realization and development of the Philippine revolution. We considered ourselves fortunate that our revolutionary knowledge and vision of the socialist and communist future were enriched by the teachings of Comrade Mao in the course of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.

But we were absolutely clear that our general political line was to pursue and realize the people’s democratic revolution through protracted people’s war against US imperialism, domestic feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. We were continuing the unfinished revolution that was started by the Katipunan but was frustrated by the US imperialist war of aggression. But it was also clear to us that we were carrying out a new democratic revolution led by the working class in the era of modern imperialism and proletarian revolution.

In carrying out the general line, we consciously built the three revolutionary weapons of the Filipino people: the CPP as the advanced detachment of the working class and the leading force of the revolution, the New People’s Army as the main instrument for destroying the state power of the reactionary classes and for guaranteeing the rise of the people’s organs of democratic power, and the national united front, supported by the anti-feudal united front in the countryside.

The CPP builds itself ideologically though the study and practice of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought/Maoism. It conducts social research and investigation and issues statements and acts on important concerns. Organs and units at various levels collect adequate reports for collective discussion and decision-making. Party schools are run at basic, intermediate and advance levels for the education of cadres and members. The Party conducts politico-military training for cadres and fighters of the people’s army, people’s militia and self-defense units,

The CPP builds itself politically in accordance with the general line of people’s democratic revolution. It arouses, organizes and mobilizes the masses. It conducts political education on the general line and on the burning issues. It exercises absolute leadership over the people’s army. It builds various types of mass organizations of the workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, women, youth, professionals and other people. To invigorate and make them effective, they are mobilized in campaigns to inform, protest and make demands or to carry out social programs and projects.

The CPP builds itself organizationally under the principle of democratic centralism. It recruits from the ranks of the most committted and most militant activists of the mass movement, especially from the organizations of the toiling masses of workers, peasants and urban petty bourgeoisie on a nationwide scale. It follows the principle of democratic centralism, which means centralized leadership on the basis of democracy. It observes conscious iron discipline as well as democracy in collective discussions and decision-making.

Under the leadership of the Party, the NPA carries out the strategy and tactics of protracted people’s war. It encircles the cities from the countryside. It avails of the physical and social terrain of the countryside which allows it to grow from small and weak to big and strong over a long period of time. It relies on the peasantry as the main force of people’s war. This can develop in three probable strategic stages: defensive, stalemate and counter-offensive. Through successful tactical offensives, the main form of warfare can advance from guerrilla warfare to regular mobile warfare and finally to regular warfare.

The NPA carries out agrarian revolution in order to gain the trust and confidence of the peasant masses and satisfy their democratic demand for land. According to the circumstances, the NPA carries out the minimum land reform program of rent reduction, elimination of usury, improvement of the wages of farm workers, raising the prices at the farm gate and promoting agricultural production and sideline occupations. When possible, the maximum program of land confiscation from the landlords and big corporations for free distribution to the poor peasants and farm workers are carried out.

The NPA engages in mass-base building in the countryside and applies the anti-feudal united front policy of relying mainly on the poor and lower middle peasants, winning over the middle peasants, neutralizing the rich peasants and taking advantage of the splits among the landlords in order to isolate and destroy the power of the despotic landlords. The NPA encourages and supports the mass organizations of the peasants and other sections of the people, builds the organs of political power and trains the people’s militia and the self-defense units in every village.

The national united front implements the revolutionary class line of developing the working class as the leading force and the peasantry as the main force, winning over the urban petty bourgeoisie and the middle bourgeoisie and taking advantage of the splits among the reactionaries in order to isolate and destroy the power of the enemy, which is the ruling clique of big compradors and landlords subservient to US imperialism. In case of aggression by an imperialist power, the current civil war becomes a national war against such aggression.

The most consolidated form of the national united front is the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which consists of 18 revolutionary organizations. While the NDFP itself is already a formidable united front, it is always open to a broader united front in order to isolate and destroy the power of the current enemy. It employs all forms of legal and illegal struggle. It develops all forms of revolutionary forces and allies. It engages in all forms of struggle inside and outside the ruling system.

Like the CPP, which always strives to develop relations of proletarian internationalism with other communist and workers’ parties and movements, the NDFP always strive to develop relations of internationalist solidarity with all peoples and their anti-imperialist and democratic parties and organizations. It develops relations of friendship, mutual support and cooperation between the Filipino people and other peoples of the world on the basis of seeking a new and brighter world against the oppressive and exploitative conditions under imperialism and all forms of reaction.

3. Development

When it was founded in 1968, the CPP had only 80 full and candidate members. They led trade unions, youth organizations and other types of mass organizations whose members ran into thousands, but not yet more than 25,000. Now, the CPP membership is in the tens of thousands. Its organized mass base of workers, peasants, national minorities, women, youth, professionals and other sectors run into millions.  

The CPP has become the largest and most powerful revolutionary proletarian party that has ever arisen in Philippine history. The mass base is nationwide, in nearly all the 81 provinces of the Philippines and is deeply rooted among the toiling masses of workers and peasants. This has been realized by waging the people’s democratic revolution through the strategic line of protracted people’s war.

The CPP had a wide basis for nationwide expansion because of the thousands of mass activists in the youth organizations, trade unions and peasant associations led by the CPP cadres. It also engaged in politico-military training for hundreds of committed and able-bodied activists to serve in expansion teams for selected areas in five regions of the Philippines.

After only three months from its founding in 1968, the CPP founded the New People’s Army on March 29, 1969 and expanded the CPP mass base by 80,000 people with the integration of the veteran cadres and fighters of the old people’s army in the second district of Tarlac province. The NPA started with only 9 automatic rifles and 26 other inferior firearms for the initial 60 Red fighters. NPA expansion teams without firearms were immediately deployed to prepare guerrilla zones and acquire firearms from localities.

Now, the Red fighters run into thousands and their units operate nationwide in more than 110 guerrilla fronts in 74 provinces. More than 90 per cent of NPA firearms have been seized from the enemy and the rest have been acquired as gifts and through purchases. The full time Red fighters are augmented by tens of thousands of members of the people’s militia and hundreds of thousands of members of the self-defense units of the mass organizations. These are active auxiliaries as well as reserve forces for the NPA.

The NPA has surpassed the number, strength and scale of all previous revolutionary armies in Philippine history. It is now striving to advance from the middle phase to the advanced phase of the strategic defensive in order to enter the stage of the strategic stalemate. The advance of the revolution is assured by the tempering and accumulated experience of the revolutionary forces and the desire of the people for revolutionary change because of the worsening crisis of the ruling system and the escalating oppression and exploitation. 

The wide reliable rural mass base of the CPP and NPA is constituted mainly by the peasant masses who participate and benefit from the various stages of the agrarian revolution. It is the solid foundation of the local Party branches and the local organs of political power. In carrying out the agrarian revolution in stages, the CPP applies the antifeudal united front as earlier explained.

As a result of the advances in armed struggle and mass work, the CPP has been able to establish and develop the people’s democratic government in the countryside on a nationwide scale. At first, the organs of political power are constituted by appointed cadres of the Party and the representatives of the masses and subsequently by those elected by the mass organizations or the masses in the guerrilla bases.

The people’s democratic government is in charge of local administration, mass organizing, public education, socioeconomic programs, cultural activities, self-defense, internal security, settlement of disputes, the people’s court, environmental protection, and social work to cope with enemy-caused and natural disasters. 

The enemy is deluding itself when it claims that the Philippine revolution has failed merely because after the last 50 years the CPP has not yet captured the presidential palace in Manila. In fact, there are now two governments fighting each other. One is the revolutionary government of the workers and peasants; and the other is that of the big compradors, landlords and corrupt bureaucrat who are servile to imperialist masters.

By applying the national united front policy and tactics, the CPP has been effective in advancing the revolutionary armed struggle and the various forms of legal struggle. As a result, the broad united front has been successful at isolating and ousting from power the most hated enemy regimes, like the US-instigated Marcos fascist dictatorship in 1986 and subsequently the corrupt Estrada regime in 2001.

At the moment, a broad united front has arisen to fight and overthrow the traitorous, tyrannical, brutal and corrupt US-Duterte regime in order to frustrate its scheme of establishing a full-blown Marcos-type fascist dictatorship through a series of extremely repressive measures of state terrorism and under the pretext of charter change for federalism. In the grossest way, this regime is culpable for treason, mass murder, corruption and other grievous crimes against the people. 

The tyrant Duterte is obsessed with seeking to destroy the CPP, NPA and other forces of the Philippine revolution. He announced that he would destroy the revolutionary movement before the end of 2018. When he saw his impending failure, he moved his deadline for destroying the movement to the second quarter of 2019. Subsequently, he and his subalterns have moved their deadline to 2022 in the face of the growing strength of the revolutionary forces and the people. 

The Filipino people fully recognize and detest the anti-national, anti-democratic and anti-people character of the Duterte regime in terminating the peace negotiations with the NDFP in order to push through its scheme of fascist dictatorship. This regime faces the prospect of political destruction even before the end of his term in 2022. Whether Duterte can finish his term or not, the Philippine revolution will outlast his rule and will continue to grow in strength and advance. 

The CPP has established comradely relations with communist and workers parties and movements abroad in the spirit of proletarian internationalism. It has promoted the relationship of Filipino mass organizations with their counterparts abroad in the internationalist spirit of peoples’ solidarity. It has also fostered the solidarity relations of overseas Filipinos and their organizations with the host peoples and other guest communities in scores of countries.

4. Setbacks and Rectification

The great achievements of the Philippine Revolution in more than 50 years have been realized by building the the CPP, the NPA, NDFP, the mass organizations and the organs of political power through hard work and fierce struggle, which involve overcoming tremendous odds in the objective situation, the violent and deceptive assaults of the enemies and the setbacks that are due to subjectivist and opportunist errors and shortcomings of the revolutionary forces.

The tremendous odds come from the the objective situation not only in the domestic semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system but also in the world capitalist system. In fact, US imperialism has dictated on Filipino puppet regimes the preservation and aggravation of the domestic system of oppression and exploitation and has provided a wide range of counterrevolutionary weapons, including the ideology of anti-communism and the hardware for surveilling, tracking and killing people.

The CPP resumed the armed revolution of the Filipino people when the US was waging the Cold War to spread anti-communism in the Philippines and the Soviet Union was also spreading modern revisionism to discourage armed revolution through the Filipino revisionist renegades. Worse external conditions seemed to go against the Philippine revolution when the Soviet Union collapsed and US imperialism became the sole superpower in 1991.

But the CPP became inspired by the continuing revolutionary movements abroad and focused on taking advantage of the chronic crisis of the Philippine ruling system, the growing inability of the ruling classses to rule in the old way and the rising desire of the Filipino people for armed revolution. It became even more determined to strengthen itself and wage the people’s democratic revolution through protracted people’s war.

The CPP has been able to overcome all the strategic campaign plans of military suppression and psy-war unleashed by the reactionary ruling system from the 14-year fascist dictatorship of Marcos through the subsequent pseudo-democratic regimes of Corazon Aquino , Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III to the current tyrannical regime of Duterte who idolizes Marcos and aspires to rule as fascist dictator.

In the course of the revolutionary struggle, there are times when the attacks of the enemy can be damaging to the people and the revolutionary movement. But the scale and duration of the damage has never eliminated any regional organization of the CPP or regional command of the NPA or any of the various forms of people’s struggle in any region of the Philippines. 

In fact, the major subjectivist and opportunist errors of certain renegades have been more than damaging than the offensives unleashed by the enemy. The CPP has benefited greatly from criticizing, repudiating and rectifying the major errors of the series of Lava brothers acting as general secretary of the CPPI-SP merger party.

Vicente Lava committed the error of Right opportunism from 1942 to 1946 by adopting the passivist “retreat for defense” policy and welcoming the return of US imperialism to the Philippines. Jesus Lava committed the error of “Left” opportunism from 1948 to 1949 by taking the adventurist line of aiming to win the armed revolution in only two years without need of land reform and mass work. Finally Jesus Lava committed the error of Right opportunism again from 1950 to 1962 by issuing orders to liquidate the people’s army in 1955 and the CPPI-SP merger party in 1957.

So far, the biggest errors committed by certain renegades in the CPP are the subjectivist one of reconsidering the semifeudal character of the Philippine social economy as industrial capitalist (in effect praising Marcos for supposedly industrializing the country) and the “Left” opportunist one of prematurely regularizing and verticalizing the NPA and neglecting mass work supposedly for the purpose of speeding up military victory. 

These errors resulted in serious shrinkage of mass base and more effective enemy attacks in certain regions at different periods from 1985 to 1992, limiting gains from the overthrow of the Marcos fascist dictatorship. Worst of all, in certain regions, the renegades scapegoated comrades and allies in good standing as “deep penetration agents” and meted out undeserved punishments. The Second Great Rectification identified the major errors and crimes. It criticized, repudiated and rectified them.

The rectification movement resulted in raising the level of theoretical and political education in the entire CPP rank and file and caused the recovery and advance of the revolutionary forces in the areas adversely affected by the errors. Thus, from 1992 onwards the Philippine revolution gained in strength and advanced. The CPP was able to play a major role in the overthrow of Estrada in early 2001.

In subsequent decades, the problematic phenomenon of conservatism arose in Luzon and Visayas, while the forces of the NPA in Mindanao were able to adopt the correct combination of combat and mass work in order to strengthen the NPA and the mass base. Conservatism is characterized by overconcentrating on mass work and neglecting the task of launching tactical offensives against the enemy by overdispersing small NPA units (squads or teams) over wide areas and reducing effective command over them. The overdispersal of small NPA units renders these vulnerable to enemy offensives. They can be easily put in purely defensive positions and upon their destruction their previous mass work comes to nothing.

The need for full-time combat units of the NPA to take the initiative in launching tactical offensives is also sometimes prejudiced by overdependence on the people’s militia and the self-defense units of the mass organizations, which should be properly assigned to internal security tasks in the main. The result is that the NPA commanders at higher levels and even the NPA units themselves adopt civilian ways for extended periods at the expense of politico-military training and combat operations.

The Second Congress of the CPP identified conservatism as a major error and launched a rectification movement against it. There is unanimity in rectifying the error by comprehending further the strategy and tactics of people’s war and by redeploying the NPA units in such a way that in guerrilla fronts there is a center of gravity for the people’s war and a sufficient proportion of fighters dispersed for mass work. The periodic rotation of Red commanders and fighters is undertaken to give every NPA formation or unit the chance to experience and learn combat and mass work.


The prospects for the further advance and ultimate total victory of the Philippine revolution are bright. Further victories in the revolutionary struggle are guaranteed by the continued worsening of the chronic crisis of the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system. The inability of the ruling class to rule in the old way is demonstrated by the recurrence of the open rule of terror from Marcos down to Duterte. The ruling system continues to decompose and heighten the people’s desire for revolutionary change. The conditions are therefore favorable for the growth and advance of the CPP, NPA and other subjective forces of the revolution.

There is no letup in the worsening of the socio-economic crisis. The whole economy and the reactionary state are bankrupt and dependent on rising taxes and domestic and foreign debt. While import-dependent consumption is favored, the agricultural and industrial sectors are deteriorating. Underdevelopment, unemployment and poverty are rampant as the foreign monopolies rake in superprofits from the exploitation and export of natural resources and importation of consumer goods and the local big compradors and landlords increase the exploitation of the people.

The socioeconomic crisis generates political crisis within the ruling system. The ruling classes of big compradors and landlords, together with their political agents, brazenly engage in the plunder of public resources. Divided into political factions, they compete in using criminal means in order to keep power and enrich themelves. The current Duterte regime is escalating the repression of the people as well its political rivals within the ruling system. The regime and its political rivals are engaged in a competition for influence and control over the reactionary armed forces and police.

The regime tries to win the support of two imperialist powers, the US and and China, which are now increasingly at odds with each other. To gain the support of the US, it has pledged to destroy the revolutionary movement, it has allowed the reestablishment of US military bases within the puppet military camps and it has promised to amend the constitution to allow US corporations 100 per cent ownership of all kinds of business enterprises. To gain the support of China, it has sold out Philippine sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and the rich marine and mineral resources under it in exchange for high interest Chinese loans and overpriced infrastructure projects.

But the regime is not getting everything in its favor from the two imperialist powers. The US resents Chinese interference and obstruction of the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, China gaining control over the telecommunications system in the Philippines and turning the Philippines into its own debt colony. The US remains the dominant imperialist power in the Philippines and is in a position to instigate a coup against Duterte among the pro-US military officers. At the same time, China is not promptly delivering on its promised infrastructure projects while it is still compelling Duterte to make more explicit declarations of sell-out and treason. Even then, he has already made enough declarations of puppetry to China that the people and a significant number of pro-US military officers are already enraged against him.

Even when the US had not yet declined strategically as much as now and had not faced any overt challenge of political rivalry from China, the Filipino people and the revolutionary forces could successfully wage the new democratic revolution against the US-supported reactionary government of big compradors and landlords. It can be expected that the escalation of inter-imperialist contradictions, especially those between the US and China, would aggravate and complicate the contradictions among the reactionary political factions of the big compradors and landlords and result in advantages for the Philippine revolution. In any case, the revolutionary forces will continue to advance on the basis of the mass participation and support of the people in accordance with their national and democratic rights and interests.

The depredations made by the tyrannical, treasonous, mass murdering, corrupt and swindling Duterte regime inflict great suffering on the people but at the same time drive them to rise up in resistance. By its own gross and systematic crimes against the people, the regime is unwittingly compelling the people to join the armed revolution and provide support to the revolutionary forces such as the CPP, NPA, the mass organizations and the local organs of political power. The protracted people’s war has enabled the growth of the people’s government in the countryside and all the revolutionary forces on a nationwide scale. 

On the basis of the experience and strength that they have already gained, the revolutionary forces will gain further strength and advance from year to year. The CPP will strengthen itself ideologically, politically and organizationally. The NPA will strive to develop guerrilla warfare intensively and extensively on the basis of widening and deepening mass base during the strategic defensive, build companies and battalions as mobile combat units in the strategic stalemate and mobilize entire battalions and regiments for the strategic offensive. At the same time, the NDFP shall strengthen its component organizations and develop broad alliances with other forces in order to isolate and destroy the enemy, whether this be a domestic ruling clique in the civil war or an imperialist power in a war of national liberation. 

The Philippine revolution will be able to take advantage not only of the crisis of the domestic ruling system but also the crisis of the world capitalist system. All the imperialist powers will continue to shift the burden of crisis to the oppressed peoples and nations. But the contradictions within and among the imperialist powers will sharpen. The Filipino people will carry out the Philippine revolution not only to realize their own national and social liberation but also to help the working class and all oppressed peoples and nations to advance in their own revolutions. They will benefit from mutual support and cooperation under the principles of proletarian internationalism and internationalist peoples’ solidarity. ###

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