Filipino left's truce strategy

The Communist Party of the Philippines has conceded President Corazon Aquino a 60-day cease-fire - and now plans to get something for it. Aquino officials say they need the 60-day cease-fire to gain back the allegiance of the estimated 20 percent of 56 million Filipinos who live in rural areas controlled or strongly influenced by the communist-led New People's Army (NPA).

The communists' main strategy, during this temporary truce, after 17 years of armed struggle, is to reestablish its old ties with the ``middle forces'' that support President Aquino.

Until Ferdinand Marcos's ouster nine months ago, the radical left had some success in forging alliances with business people, religious groups, educators, and ``reformists'' in a loose opposition alliance. Without such alliances, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) admits it cannot achieve a revolution.

But the CPP lost most of those ties because of its decision to boycott the Feb. 7 election and because the left was largely absent during the ``People's Power'' revolt that toppled former President Marcos.

``The left, especially after its `boycott' error, should be very careful in its handling of the middle forces, especially those within the Aquino government,'' states a document circulating among leaders in the communist movement.

``Because both the right and left forces, with their respective armed forces remaining strong, will continue pushing for their respective interests, a showdown between the two will still be inevitable....

``The forces in the center will be forced to take sides.''

The document tries to draw lessons from the experiences of Marxist revolutionaries in El Salvador after a 1979 coup, when the left had a chance to form a coalition with ``the center.''

``The El Salvador experience shows that centrists even within the government, if handled properly, can be decisively won over to the side of the masses and unite with the left. The Philippine left should avoid the tendencies towards sectarianism and inflexibility which affected seriously its relations with liberal democrats, bourgeois reformists, and other allies in 1984-85,'' writes the document's author, using a psuedonym.

The document lays out four lessons from El Salvador applicable for the Philippine rebels:

Leftist mass movements for such causes as land reform and labor rights should be mobilized, forcing the right wing to oppose government reforms. The middle forces will eventually realize that the right is a block to meaningful change and will join with the left.

Under the cease-fire agreement, the government and the communist-backed National Democratic Front (NDF) plan to begin talks by Jan. 10 on ``their political differences.'' Topping the rebels' agenda are land reform, curbing multinational companies, and dismantling American military bases.

The left should quickly form alliances with left-leaning political parties. In August, the communist-connected political party, the People's Party, was formed. A goal was to form tactical alliances with other parties in next May's local and congressional elections.

Internationalize the conflict. The Philippine left has no diplomatic recognition at present. But under the cease-fire pact, the NDF can legally set up an office in Manila, and seek wider international contacts. Government concern about this possibility led to a clause in the pact saying the armed conflict and any agreements were ``internal'' problems of the Philippines.

Take advantage of rifts within the military. The NPA is counting on so-called ``fascist'' elements in the military to break the cease-fire, making it possible for the left to convince Aquino supporters to oppose the military. Satur Ocampo, NDF negotiator, was able to get Ramon Mitra, chief government negotiator, to agree at the cease-fire signing that both sides should join against ``rightist forces'' opposed to a cease-fire.

But, much of the potential for division within the military was removed by Aquino's Nov. 22 replacement of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile with the more moderate Rafael Ileto. And the ``Reform the Armed Forces Movement'' (RAM) - the main source of coup rumors in recent months - is being broken up.

Aquino, who requested the resignation of her entire Cabinet on Nov. 22, replaced two more officials last Friday - from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Public Works - in response to criticisms by military officials and others. At least two more Cabinet ministers are expected to be replaced this week.

Meanwhile, the cease-fire is set to begin Dec. 10. The communists demanded this date for its significance as the UN's Human Rights Day. But a de facto cease-fire has been in effect since an agreement was signed on Nov. 27, the day chosen by the government to remind Filipinos of the President's assassinated husband, Benigno Aquino. The date is his birthday.

What's more, the 60-day period ends on Feb. 7, the first anniversary of Mrs. Aquino's apparent but uncertain election victory over Marcos.

This manipulation of symbols indicates how both sides will be trying to win over public opinion during a cease-fire - however long it may last.

``It's largely a public relations game,'' says Ka Tito, the code name for an NPA top commander. The game is being fought over the minds and hearts of various segments of Filipino society.

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