THE government of President Corazon Aquino, hoping to crush a communist insurgency in the Philippines by 1992, has sanctioned the banding together of new anti-communist groups. The first congress of the dozen or more groups was held last week, uniting under an umbrella organization named the National Alliance for Democracy (NAD). The membership, which includes armed vigilantes, was told by Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos to ``hold'' the nation's villages against communist guerrillas.
Bolstering such a civilian force is part of the military's shift away from gun battles with insurgents to political warfare, thus mirroring communist tactics. Mr. Ramos enlisted NAD to roll back popular support for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Ramos described the relationship between the military and NAD as ``synergistic.''
Many NAD leaders, themselves former communist party members, have recently joined Army officers in giving anti-communist lectures to villagers.
NAD leaders see their purpose as countering communist propaganda, helping the government eradicate that movement, and monitoring the spending of government money on projects in rebel-infested areas. Many members have asked the military for weapons, partly to protect themselves from communist guerrilla attacks.
One new anti-communist tactic is organizing ``anti-rallies,'' or street protests to counter leftist demonstrations. NAD also plans to provide ``intelligence'' on the guerrillas.
``Too many Filipinos support the communists without really understanding communism,'' says NAD chairman Cerge Remonde. He says he changed his first name from Serge ``because it sounded Russian.''
NAD receives part of its money from large businesses which use the anti-communist leaders to counter strikes led by the nation's most radical union federation, the May 1st Movement. The May 1st Movement has been described as a communist front by the founder of the CPP, Jose Sison.
NAD includes the country's strongest anti-communist vigilante group, Alsa Masa (which means ``masses' uprising''), in the southern city of Davao. Alsa Masa has been permitted to be armed by the military even though it faces accusations of committing human rights violations. Such vigilante groups became popular after the 1986 ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos and the decline of the CPP.
Other NAD groups, some with religious backing, include the Red-Alert Christian Ministry, Catholic Action to Love the Communists, and People's Alliance against Communism. Members often refer to themselves as ``crusaders.''
Some of the groups are openly anti-Aquino or anti-Catholic in this largely Catholic country.
A Communist Party document last July admitted that ``a number of the people may be lured into joining the ``counterinsurgency.''
NAD leaders claim the group has several million members among the 57 million Filipinos.
The alliance's member groups have the potential to be used by politicians. A number of anti-Aquino politicians have tried to use an anti-communist theme to rally support, but so far have failed as President Aquino herself becomes more hardline anti-communist.
Ramos, a former military chief of staff and a hero of the revolt against Marcos, was introduced at NAD's congress ``as the next president of the Philippines.''
``You have to show the rest of the country that the citizens can be organized,'' Ramos told NAD.
``This is the worst time to be a communist rebel,'' the defense secretary added.