Philippine reds export armed struggle
By Al Labita
MANILA - The communist-led New People's Army (NPA) in the Philippines,
considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European
Union, is not only active at home but also exporting abroad its expertise in
guerrilla warfare to insurgencies in other Asian countries.
Some hardcore cadres, toughened by decades of fighting the security forces,
have reportedly recently trained Maoist rebels in India and their presence is
also being monitored in some
Southeast Asian nations, including Thailand, where a Muslim insurgency has
destabilized the southernmost regions.
How operatives of the NPA, one of Asia's longest-running insurgent groups, have
been able to travel abroad and train other insurgent groups has baffled
intelligence and diplomatic officials in the Philippines. "They could have
posed either as businessmen or students," says a senior Manila-based diplomat.
The NPA, which has gained notoriety for its brutal killings and terror tactics,
is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which is
chaired by Jose Maria Sison, who now lives in exile in the Netherlands. The
rebel group was formed in 1969, a year after the CPP was launched, to wage a
"protracted people's war" against the government.
Alarmed by persistent reports of the NPA‘s export of its expertise in guerrilla
tactics, Manila's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Coordinating
Authority (NICA), called Manila-based foreign diplomats to a meeting this month
to warn them of the communist insurgency's still potent dangers, both at home
In talks later with reporters, NICA director general Pedro Cabuay, a retired
two-star army general, admitted that it was the first time his agency had
received credible reports that the NPA was training communist rebels on foreign
soil. The NICA works closely with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and
its Asian intelligence counterparts.
"We will find out how these NPA cadres were able to travel abroad," Cabuay
said. The NICA was coordinating with the Indian intelligence agency to identify
the Filipino communists reported to have trained Marxist rebels, particularly
in the western Indian state of Gujarat, he said.
Police recently sustained heavy casualties following a recent clash with Maoist
Naxalites, considered by New Delhi as the country's "greatest security threat".
Some Naxalites captured by India's security forces reportedly confessed that
NPA rebels from the Philippines had trained them in guerrilla tactics.
Inspired by the late Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, the Naxalites derive
their name from the Indian town of Naxalbari, where their revolutionary cause
started in the 1960s. As of January 2009, 10,000 to 20,000 Naxalites were
active in 13 of India's 28 states fighting for communist rule in a conflict
that has taken thousands of lives.
''It is not only in India that we have monitored Filipino communist cadres, but
also in other Southeast Asian countries,'' said Cabuay. ''We sighted a few of
them in Thailand."
"We could not yet say that they are training local insurgents in the region,
but the sighting alone would probably mean something," he told reporters.
"Maybe they are coordinating or perhaps they may go into something deeper later
Cabuay said that while Sison, 71, is living in exile, the CPP leader was
mobilizing his NPA followers through the International League of People's
Struggle (ILPS), an organization that Sison formed.
The ILPS, founded on May 25, 2001 in Zutphen, the Netherlands, seeks to promote
democratic struggles and oppose exploitative policies of multinational
companies, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade
Organization. It currently has about 40 chapters across the world.
"Through the ILPS, the CPP leaders are linking up with their counterparts in
other countries. They were successful in organizing the league, which is
actually one way of exporting Philippine communism to other countries," Cabuay
Cold War roots
The CPP was outlawed during the martial law government of then-president
Ferdinand Marcos in the early 1970s, but the restriction was lifted by his
successor, Corazon Aquino, in the spirit of national reconciliation, in 1986.
Freed by Aquino after spending nine years imprisoned in solitary confinement,
Sison led negotiators of the National Democratic Front, then the CPP's
political arm, for peace talks with the government to end the drawn-out
communist insurgency. The talks bogged down after the CPP insisted on a
power-sharing scheme with the government, a demand that officials considered
Sison, a former English professor at the state-run University of the
Philippines and who once studied in Indonesia, later embarked on a speaking
tour abroad denouncing the government's alleged human-rights abuses. In October
1986 in Bangkok he accepted the Southeast Asian Writers Award for a book of his
While visiting the Netherlands in early 1987, on the military's recommendation,
Aquino's government revoked Sison's passport and charged him with crimes under
the anti-subversion laws of the Philippines.
Forced to seek political asylum in the Netherlands, Sison was believed to have
ordered the NPA in the 1990s to purge its ranks of so-called deep-penetration
agents planted by the government. Under the NPA's bloody "Oplan Zombies"
operation, hundreds of suspected military spies were killed.
Meanwhile, the NPA's dreaded "Sparrow Unit", headed by Romulo Kintanar,
liquidated dozens of politicians, judges, soldiers and policemen. While taking
lunch at an upscale Japanese restaurant in the business district of Makati city
he was gunned down by his former NPA comrades on a mission to arrest him in
2003. Kintanar, suspected then by NPA leaders to be a government spy, was the
nephew of the then military intelligence chief, General Galileo Kintanar.
The military now claims that the NPA is a "spent force" and that with the
collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union its derisively refers to Sison
as the "only living communist in Europe".
From a high of 25,000 fighters at the height of Marcos' martial law regime in
the 1970s, the NPA's armed strength has diminished to an estimated 5,000 - a
figure that the rebel group strongly disputes as understated.
Officials attribute the supposed success of the counter-insurgency campaign to
the government's socio-economic and political development programs aimed at
addressing the root causes of the NPA's ideological insurgency, namely poverty,
illiteracy and unemployment.
Many of the NPA's known leaders are now in jail and those who have been freed
have often turned over a new leaf and joined the political mainstream. One of
them, Satur Ocampo, a former business journalist, is even running for senator
under the Nacionalista Party of the businessman billionaire and presidential
aspirant, Manuel Villar.
With the recent reports of the NPA's overseas activities, the military says it
aims to reduce the NPA to an "insignificant force" by June 30, partially as a
tribute to its outgoing commander-in-chief, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,
whose six-year term ends that day, and partially to assuage rising
Officials say the NPA has resorted increasingly to banditry, extortion and
other crimes to financially sustain its struggle. But the NPA's export of
expertise to regional insurgent groups hints at an entrepreneurialism aimed at
keeping its communist armed struggle in business.
Al Labita has worked as a journalist for over 30 years, including as a
regional bureau chief and foreign editor for the Philippine News Agency. He has
worked as a Manila correspondent for several major local publications and wire
agencies in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.