|Communist rebellion in the Philippines|
|Part of the Cold War (1969–1991) and Insurgency in the Philippines|
Main areas of communist activity in the Philippine archipelago during the 1970s and 1980s
Government of the Philippines|
United States (advisors)
Communist Party of the Philippines|
China (until 1976)
|Commanders and leaders|
|2,000 (July 2022)|
|Casualties and losses|
|1,132 killed (1969–2022) (according to the Philippine Army)||62,841 killed (1969–2022) (according to the Philippine Army)|
The ongoing communist rebellion in the Philippines is a conflict between the government of the Philippines and the New People's Army (NPA), which is the armed wing of the Marxist–Leninist–Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The conflict is also associated with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which serves as the political wing of the CPP.
The history of the rebellion can be traced back to March 29, 1969, when Jose Maria Sison's newly formed CPP entered an alliance with a small armed group led by Bernabe Buscayno. Buscayno's group, which was originally a unit under the Marxist–Leninist 1930s-era Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas-1930 (PKP-1930), was renamed the New People's Army (NPA) and became the armed wing of the CPP. Less than two years later, President Ferdinand Marcos introduced martial law, leading to the radicalization of many young people and a rapid growth of the CPP-NPA.
In 1992, the NPA split into two factions: the reaffirmist faction, led by Sison, and the rejectionist faction, which advocated the formation of larger military units and urban insurgencies. Thirteen smaller factions eventually emerged from the group. Until 2002, the NPA received a considerable amount of aid from outside the Philippines, although later developments forced it to rely more on support from local sources.
The CPP-NPA rebellion is the world's longest ongoing communist insurgency and is the largest, most prominent communist conflict in the Philippines, in contrast to the 1995–present Marxist–Leninist Revolutionary Workers' Party rebellion and the now-defunct 1942–1954 Hukbalahap and 1986–2011 Cordillera People's Liberation Army rebellions. Between 1969 and 2008, more than 43,000 insurgency-related fatalities were recorded. Another rebellion is that of the Marxist–Leninist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the Rebolusyonaryong Hukbong Bayan (RHB),: 682 which broke away from the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1998 and has since been in conflict with both the government and the CPP.
The original Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas-1930 (Communist Party of the Philippines) was established in 1930 by members of the Partido Obrero de Filipinas and the Socialist Party of the Philippines with the help of the COMINTERN. It would later lead an anti-Japanese Hukbalahap Rebellion in 1942 with the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon. During World War II, these communist guerrillas fought against both the Japanese and other guerrilla bands. In the years following, Maoist factions began organizing mass organizations such as Kabataang Makabayan, Malayang Kilusan ng Kababaihan and hosting theoretical studies on Marxism–Leninism–Maoism. They would eventually break off from the old party and form the Communist Party of the Philippines/Marxist–Leninist–Maoist in 1968.
Main article: New People's Army
See also: Kumander Dante
The New People's Army would be established by Jose Maria Sison and Bernabe Buscayno as the armed wing of the CPP-MLM. The new Maoist leadership would drop the reformist ideas that led the CPP-1930 to collaborate with the government of Ferdinand Marcos, and enforce Maoist principles, aimed at creating a socialist state through New Democracy by launching a people's war. Its initial strength was estimated to compromise approximately 60 guerrillas and 35 weapons.
Main article: National Democratic Front (Philippines)
The National Democratic Front was established in 1973 as the political front of the CPP-MLM, bringing together broad revolutionary organizations which accepted their 12-point program, and building international relations with foreign communist parties such as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
When Buscayno's forces became the NPA in 1969, they were reported to have only 60 guerrillas and 35 WWII-era guns.
At first, the NPA tried to follow the Maoist military doctrine of "establishing stable base areas." But this was abandoned when their forces took heavy casualties in Northern Luzon, in favor of dispersing their forces.
The NPA's stockpile of weaponry allegedly grew to 60 guns, but all 60 of these guns were lost in an encounter against the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and they were not able to regain firepower until the defection of Lt. Victor Corpus and the December 29, 1970 PMA Armory Raid.
Even on September 23, 1972, when Martial Law was announced, the Philippine National Security Council didn't see the NPA as a big threat. Just a few days earlier on September 19, 1972, the council's threat assessment was "between 'normal' and 'Internal Defense Condition 1'," where the highest condition "3." One of the generals serving under General Fabian Ver of the National Intelligence and Security Authority later recalled that "Even when Martial Law was declared, the communists were not a real threat. The military could handle them."
Despite the small size of the NPA at the time, the Marcos administration hyped up its formation,: "43" supposedly because this would help build up political and monetary support from the US,: "43"  which was caught up in red scare paranoia at the time. As a result, as security specialist Richard J. Kessler notes, the administration "mythologized the group, investing it with a revolutionary aura that only attracted more supporters."
The NPA was finally able to regain weaponry on December 29, 1970, when Philippine Military Academy instructor Lt. Victor Corpus defected to the CPP-NPA and led a raid on the PMA armory, timing the raid when most cadets were out on Christmas vacation and the PMA's senior officers including its Superintendent, General Ugalde had left the camp to meet President Ferdinand Marcos upon his scheduled arrival in nearby Baguio City. Corpus, who was PMA's designated officer of the day (OOD), guided the NPA raiding team which managed to escape with Browning Automatic Rifles, carbines, machineguns, and various other weapons and ammunition.
According to now retired Brig. General Victor Corpus, the first act of NPA rebellion took place on August 21, 1971, when NPA militants allegedly threw two grenades onto the stage at a Liberal Party rally in Manila, killing nine people and injuring 95 others. This, however, is disputed by most historians, who blamed President Ferdinand Marcos as the perpetrator of the bombing. José María Sison and the Communist Party of the Philippines continue to deny responsibility of the bombing. Relying on small armed community-based propaganda units, the NPA found itself in an all-out rebellion by 1972.
The NPA's first tactical operation, however, would not take place until 1974, two years after Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. This took place in Calbiga, Samar, where the NPA ambushed an Army scout patrol and seized a number of their weapons.
Main article: Martial law under Ferdinand Marcos
The Communist Party of the Philippines underwent rapid growth from 1972 during the period of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos.
The social unrest of 1969 to 1970, and the violent dispersal of the resulting "First Quarter Storm" protests were among the early watershed events in which large numbers of Filipino students of the 1970s were radicalized against the Marcos administration. Due to these dispersals, many students who had previously held "moderate" positions (i.e., calling for legislative reforms) became convinced that they had no choice but to call for more radical social change.
Other watershed events that would later radicalize many otherwise "moderate" opposition members include the February 1971 Diliman Commune; the August 1971 suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the wake of the Plaza Miranda bombing; the September 1972 declaration of Martial Law; the 1980 murder of Macli-ing Dulag; and the August 1983 assassination of Ninoy Aquino.
This radicalization led to a significant growth of the CPP and of the New People's Army under the Marcos administration. Writer and peace advocate Gus Miclat cites the example of Mindanao: "There was not one NPA cadre in Mindanao in 1972. Yes, there were activists, there were some firebrands... but there were no armed rebels then except for those that eventually formed the Moro National Liberation Front. When Marcos fled in 1986, the NPA was virtually in all Mindanao provinces, enjoying even a tacit alliance with the MNLF."
The parallel Moro insurgency created favorable conditions for the development of NPA. During the 1970s, 75% of the Philippine military was deployed on the island of Mindanao, a Moro stronghold, despite the 1976 peace deal between the government and MILF. As of 2000, 40% of the AFP troops continued to engage Moro rebels.
China provided support to the NPA from 1969 to 1976. After that period, the Chinese ceased all aid, resulting in a five-year period of reduced activity. Despite the setback, the rebellion rekindled with funds from revolutionary taxes, extortion and large scale foreign support campaigns. Besides extortion, the NPA has also conducted kidnappings of Filipino civilians and foreign businessman as a source of funding. Both the CPP and NPA attempted to garner support from the Workers' Party of Korea, the Maoist factions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Japanese Red Army, Sandinista National Liberation Front, Communist Party of El Salvador, Communist Party of Peru, and the Algerian military. Financial aid, training, and other forms of support were received from a number of the above. NDF-controlled trading companies were allegedly set up in Hong Kong, Belgium, and Yugoslavia. At the same time the Communist Party of the Philippines formed a unit in the Netherlands and sent representatives to Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Ireland, United States, Sweden, and various parts of the Middle East. Despite the massive amount of aid previously received, foreign support eventually dried up following the 1990s collapse of socialist governments worldwide.
After Ferdinand Marcos was deposed during the 1986 EDSA Revolution, president Corazon Aquino ordered the release of political prisoners, including Jose Maria Sison and Bernabe Buscayno. Buscayno ceased activities related to the CPP-NPA while Sison eventually went into self-exile in the Netherlands, ostensibly to become chief political consultant to the NDF. Many activists who had joined the underground movement against Marcos chose to resurface.
Preliminary peace talks were held between the new administration and the CPP–NPA–NDF, but these ended when the Mendiola massacre took place on January 22, 1987.
Main article: Second Great Rectification Movement
Between the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of volunteers, including youth and teenagers from both urban and rural areas, joined the organization. In 1992, NPA split into two factions: the reaffirmist faction led by Sison and the rejectionist faction which advocated the formation of larger military units and urban insurgencies. Through NPA's history, 13 smaller factions emerged from the group, the most notable being MLPP-RHB, APP, RPA-M, RPM/P-RPA-ABB and CPLA.
This split resulted in a weakening of the CPP-NPA, but it gradually grew again after the breakdown of peace talks in 1998, the unpopularity of the Estrada administration, and because of social pressures arising from the Asian Financial Crisis that year.
A breakthrough in the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines took place on October 11, 1992, when Republic Act (RA) 1700 – the 1957 Anti-Subversion Act – was repealed by RA 7636 and the government declared a policy of amnesty and reconciliation. This was quickly followed by the Hague Joint Declaration of September 1, 1992, in which the Government of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines (through the National Democratic Front) agreed to work towards formal negotiations and "a just and lasting peace."
In 1995, negotiations led to the signing of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), under which negotiators on either side of the conflict were assured of "free and safe movement—without fear of search, surveillance, or arrest."
In 1998, another agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) was signed in an effort to protect civilians from the violence between the two parties.
The peace talks broke down soon after the 1998 agreement, however, and conflict between the two parties resumed at high levels after Joseph Estrada assumed the presidency later that year. In March 2001, a few months after Estrada was ousted by the "EDSA II" Revolution, National Security Advisor Roilo Golez noted that the number of "barangays influenced by" the CPP-NPA grew from 772 barangays 1,279 under the Estrada administration, which Golez added was "quite a big jump." In July 2001, officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines noted that the NPA grew in strength "at an average of three to five percent yearly" since 1998.
In 2001, the AFP launched a campaign of selective extrajudicial killings, in an attempt to suppress NPA activity. By targeting suspected rebel sympathizers, the campaign aimed to destroy the communist political infrastructure. The program was modeled after the Phoenix Program, a U.S. project implemented during the Vietnam War. According to Dr William Norman Holden, University of Calgary, security forces carried out a total of 1,335 extrajudicial killings between January 2001 – October 2012.
On August 9, 2002, NPA was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the United States Department of State. A parallel increase in counter-insurgency operations negatively affected the course of the rebellion. Netherlands-based Jose Maria Sison is currently the leader of CPP's eight member politburo and 26 member central committee—the party's highest ruling bodies. Despite the existence of the politburo, NPA's local units receive a high level of autonomy due to difficulties in communication between each of the fronts across the country.
Rebel recruits receive combat training from veteran fighters and ideological training by Mao Zedong in: the Three Main Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention; the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. NPA units usually consist of 15–30 fighters, with special armed partisan units of 50–60 rebels serving in a special operations capacity. NPA also formed a limited tactical alliance with the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the island of Mindanao, enabling the mutual transfer of troops through each other's territory. Between 1969 and 2008, more than 43,000 insurgency-related fatalities were recorded.
Plantations run by Japanese companies have been assaulted by the NPA.
In the State of the Nation Address by President Rodrigo Duterte which happened in July 2016, Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire to the leftist rebels. Due to this declaration, the peace talks between the government and the NDF resumed in August 2016. The peace talks were carried out in Oslo, Norway.
In February 2017, the CPP–NPA–NDF declared that it would withdraw from the ceasefire, effective on February 10, 2017, due to the unfulfilled promise by the government that it would release all 392 political prisoners. After the communists killed three of their soldiers, the government also withdrew from the ceasefire. The peace talks were informally terminated and an all-out war was declared by the AFP.
In March 2017, the government announced a new truce and the resumption of peace talks, to take place in April. The fifth round was planned to take place in June.
However, on December 5, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations after several attacks by the NPA against the government. The NDFP, the political wing of the communist rebellion was not included on the proclamation.
In order to centralize all government efforts for the reintegration of former communist rebels, President Duterte signed Administrative Order No. 10 on April 3, 2018, creating the Task Force Balik Loob which was placed in charge in centralizing the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). As of December 30, 2019, the Task Force reported over 10,000 former CPP-NPA rebels and supporters who have returned to the fold of the law and availed of E-CLIP benefits, which include PHP65,000.00 cash assistance, livelihood training, housing benefits, among others.
On December 4, 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70, which institutionalized a "whole-of-nation approach" in attaining an "inclusive and sustainable peace" to help end the decades-long communist insurgency, while also forming the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which was directed to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of the approach. This order further intensified the Philippine government's campaign against the insurgency, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines reporting 11,605 rebels and supporters surrendering to the government, with 120 rebels being killed and 196 more arrested in military operations from January 1 to December 26, 2018.
Since the early stages of the rebellion, the island of Samar has been considered to be NPA's main stronghold. While Samar represents 2% and 5% of the Philippine population and territory respectively, 11% of all NPA related incidents have taken place on the island. Samar's terrain consists of densely forested mountainous areas, providing fertile ground for the conduct of guerrilla warfare.
An important factor in the spread of the rebellion was the issue of widespread landlessness. Land reforms provided only a limited solution for the millions of Philippine landless farmers. In the case of Samar, 40 landowning clans controlled approximately half of the island's agricultural land. Instances of landowner harassment and violence towards working class tenants led to escalating tensions between the two social groups.
Another factor into the Samar Island being a stronghold is historically the island has been among the most rebellious against the American Commonwealth rule, Spanish rule, and the Japanese occupation.
In 1976, NPA gained popular support among the inhabitants of Samar following vigilante actions against cattle rustling gangs. The following year, NPA transferred agents from Cebu and Manila where conditions were less favorable. The influx of troops enabled the NPA to form units fully engaged in guerrilla activities. In 1982, an unofficial communist government was formed, solidifying Samar as a communist stronghold. The 1980s downfall of the coconut industry greatly affected the livelihoods of many Samaranos, further fueling the rebellion. Between January 2011 and December 2012, a total of 153 insurgency-related incidents took place in Samar, resulting in 21 deaths and 55 injuries.
Prior to Ferdinand Marcos's September 23, 1972, announcement of Martial Law, the NPA did not have a presence in Mindanao, which was also only seeing the beginnings of the Moro separatist conflict in the form of clashes between the Ilaga and Blackshirt ethnic militias. Marcos's enforcement of martial law radicalized this situation until, as peace advocate Gus Miclat notes: "When Marcos fled in 1986, the NPA was virtually in all Mindanao provinces, enjoying even a tacit alliance with the MNLF."
Based on the records of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the Government of the Philippines and the CPP–NPA–NDF had engaged in over 40 rounds of peace talks by November 2017.