Insurgency in the Philippines could provoke full-scale war unless growth is checked
Until recently most observers tended to dismiss the Philippines' communist guerrillas as a peripheral problem. Now some of the same observers -- in the governments of the United States, the Philippines, and other Western nations -- describe the Philippines' communists as one of the world's most sophisticated and successful insurgent movements.Skip to next paragraph
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A number of Western and Filipino insurgency specialists feel that a full-scale war between government and communist forces -- known as ``strategic stalemate'' in Maoist guerrilla strategy -- could come in the next two to three years, if the government does not take drastic action to forestall it. If it comes to this, some observers warn, the government will be in very serious trouble.
``Quite frankly,'' said one foreign specialist, ``if the situation gets as far as the stalemate, I don't think that [President Ferdinand] Marcos or any of his likely successors will be able to turn it around.''
In strategic stalemate, the Communist Party's armed wing, the New People's Army, would increasingly operate in large military units. The underground's political organizations would aim to immobilize the machinery of government -- first selectively and temporarily, then totally and permanently.
A communist cadre said, ``Even analyzing our prospects in the grimmest possible light, I see no way we can lose now.''
``Let's assume major political mistakes on our part and direct US intervention to back up the Marcos regime,'' said the cadre, a longtime member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. ``Even then we'll reach the strategic stalemate by end of this decade.''
What follows is a brief look at the insurgents' strength, leadership, strategy, and aims.
Strength: The Communist Party (founded 1968) claims about 35,000 members, and the New People's Army (NPA) close to 20,000. These figures cannot be verified independently, but the general feeling among guerrilla watchers is that they are reasonably accurate.
Party members claim that the movement's growth rate, already fast, is still picking up momentum. The nation's deepening economic crisis, one cadre says, ``has provided very fertile ground for recruitment.''
The claimed fast development has brought with it a number of problems. One is political: Party sources say they no longer have the time they would like for the political training of new recruits.
``At best 40 percent of the NPA are party elements [candidate or full members],'' says a cadre. ``Sooner or later we'll have to slow down a little and consolidate.''
Another problem is financial: large-scale political actions and guerrilla operations are expensive. And the Communist Party like any other organization in the Philippines, has been hit by the country's economic crisis.
A year ago, usually-reliable sources say, it cost the NPA about 15,000 pesos ($850) to maintain a 100-fighter company in the field for a month. This cost has now doubled, the sources estimate.
Then there is the problem of arming the new recruits. The Communist Party maintains that 90 percent of its arms are captured -- or purchased -- from its enemy, the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In recent years the majority of NPA weapons have been provided by the underground's main growth area, the big southern island of Mindanao. There is no sign that the Communist Party-NPA regularly obtains weapons overseas -- though there are reliable reports that a small number of Soviet-designed AK-47 combat rifles were bought fairly recently somewhere in the Middle East.