Who are the New People’s Army of the Philippines?
An introduction to the world’s oldest Communist guerrilla insurgency.
Background to history of Filipino armed struggle
Like many countries in east Asia such as Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Indonesia, and Malaysia, the Philippines has been the battleground for communist guerrillas in the 20th century. The New People’s Army of the Philippines (NPA) is a communist guerrilla army which has been operating within the Philippines since they were founded in 1969 by a man called Bernabe Buscayno who also goes by the pseudonym “Commander Dante”. The NPA is still fighting today with tens of thousands of members which makes the New People’s Army the oldest communist guerrilla army in history. Similar to the aforementioned communist revolutions, the Filipino communists organised as a response to dire poverty and western imperialist interventions. To give some background understanding on the Philippines and its fight for sovereignty, here is some essential background information:
For over 300 years the Philippines was a Spanish colony until a revolution overthrew the Spanish in 1898. Spain sold the Philippines to the USA for 20 million dollars. Independence revolutionaries fought for independence from the USA in a war that saw the death of over 1 million Filipino people. The USA has had extensive presence in the Philippines ever since. The USA has a great interest in the Philippines because of their strategic location in Asia, its abundant natural resources, and its cheap labour force. The USA granted the Philippines independence in 1946 however they continued to have a tight economic and military hold on the Philippines. The 1960s saw students and peasants conducting left wing political organising and by the late 1960s an armed revolution was sparked by Filipino communists against the government. In a desperate attempt to slow down the revolution, The government of the Philippines declared martial law in 1972.
Why rebel in the Philippines?
What made the Philippines such fertile land for communist guerrillas such as the New People’s Army(NPA) was not just the outside interference of the USA but the economic structure of the countryside. In rural Philippines the land is mostly owned by large landlord dynasties who pass down ownership from parent to child. Police and the military have been known to conduct arbitrary detentions and killings of workers who strike. One of the most well-known cases of this was the Hacienda Luisita massacre in which 12 farmers and two children were killed by Philippine police and soldiers (two suffocated and died after inhaling tear gas). Other various problems facing the Filipino working class include pollution and environmental destruction, lack of employment, low wages, drug abuse, Islamic terrorism, and violent crime.
What does the NPA provide to rural villagers?
Despite being a guerrilla fighting army, most of the activity of the New People’s Army of the Philippines does not include fighting. NPA recruits are required to undergo several months of work for the NPA before they are made into full member fighters.. Most of this work depends on the skill of the individual recruit but it is mostly farming and doing small jobs in rural villages in NPA areas. The NPA offers medical services to rural villagers and offers its guerrillas to conduct labour jobs on rural farms and villages. The medical services the NPA offers are very varied but the most common medical services the NPA offers are vaccinations, circumcisions, infant health advice, and wound treatments. This was demonstrated best after the Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 which killed 10,000 people in the Philippines. After the typhoon had ended, NPA soldiers came out the jungles to help rebuild villages and farmers rebuild their homes and offer emergency aid to rural people. Being a guerrilla fighting force in a country covered in thick jungle and hills, the NPA makes the most of the environment to evade the government and build bases in hard to each places. This is why many of their recruits and the people they come into contact with are peasants in the countryside.
How does the NPA conduct its army?
Weapons and tactics are very typical for a guerrilla army. The NPA uses the jungles, caves, and mountains to build bases in isolated and hard to reach areas. The heavy rains, jungle mist, and strong winds all provide a degree of to camouflage guerrillas from being spotted by spy drones which the USA military deploys in the Philippines. NPA weapons are very varied but typically the NPA has been spotted with under barrel grenade launchers, M16 rifles, M14 rifles, Kalashnikov rifles, and in an NPA propaganda video one NPA leader showed off his exotic Tavor rifle used by the Israeli military. The NPA have been accused of being funded by the Chinese and North Koreans which is not unlikely given that both countries have a history of funding foreign anti-colonial and communist forces around the globe. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland there were many cases of Irish immigrants sending weapons from the USA to the IRA by sending individual pieces of weapons through the post. The USA very relaxed gun control and a high Filipino immigrant population so it is not unrealistic to believe that Filipino immigrants are one of the sources for NPA weapons. The Philippines is a poor country with violent drug gangs, a high level of violent crime, covered in hard to penetrate heavy jungles, and is one of the capital shipping countries in the world. All of these factors make the control of weaponry very difficult and easy for the NPA to acquire.
The NPA is aiming towards a ceasefire with the Philippine government and its current president Rodrigo Duterte but has not cancelled the revolution and is very unlikely to lay down arms. Communist guerrillas in history have never been defeated through brute force alone since most attempts to fight guerrillas also ends up harming local people and thereby creating more communist guerrillas. The only way the NPA can be defeated is either from inside the NPA itself or if the Philippines ever sees a single day without poverty, but the NPA has kept itself together for nearly half a century and the Philippines has never in hundreds of years seen a single day without mass poverty.