By Inday Espina-Varona
1. With AFP resources freed from Marawi, the government is poised to focus on the CPP/NPA/NDF. Is the Left, both its armed force and mass base, ready to face the onslaught, especially in regions where, if I read Ang Bayan right, the NPA had flagged or toned down on guerrilla warfare for some years?
JMS: Since the assumption of presidential office by Duterte, he has adopted and implemented without letup an all-out war policy against the armed revolutionary movement and its mass base.
In a sneaky way, he continued Aquino´s Oplan Bayanihan up to the end of 2016. Since January 2017, he unleashed his own Oplan Kapayapaan. During the ceasefires, including the long one from late August 2016 to early February 2017, the reactionary military and police never ceased to occupy communities and commit human rights violations. They deliberately took advantage of the NPA’s strict observance of its unilateral ceasefire to expand and intensify their clearing operations. They never withdrew to barracks.
The CPP, NPA and the masses have already sized up the strength and capabilities of their enemy and are well-prepared to fight him. GRP and AFP resources under Duterte are far less and weaker under Duterte than under Marcos. The crisis of the semicolonial and semifeudal system has become far worse. The NPA has spread nationwide and has gained experience and strength so many times since 1969. There are thousands of full-time Red fighters, augmented by the people´s militia, armed city partisans and self-defense units in underground mass organizations.
The CPP has excelled at leading the people´s democratic revolution through protracted people´s war. The NPA has preserved itself and has grown in strength under the system of centralized leadership and decentralized operations and by flexibly using the tactics of concentration to launch offensives, shifting to avoid a superior enemy force and dispersing to carry out mass work. To change the balance of forces, the NPA has carried out tactical offensives through extensive and intensive guerrilla warfare on the basis of an expanding and deepening mass base.
The mass base may be described as a guerrilla front constituted by guerrilla bases and zones. It carries local branches of the CPP, a detachment of the NPA, the local organs of democratic power, the people´s militia, several types of mass organizations (workers, peasants, youth, women, cultural activities and children) and several types of alliances. The local organs of democratic power are assisted by committees in charge of public education, mass organizing, land reform, economic work, defense, cultural work and arbitration of disputes.
2. While former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s government had gone after legal activists, it is only President Rodrigo Duterte who has openly made it a policy (or openly threatened) to go after the legal mass movement. Will the potential fallout affect the capacity to mobilize for the succor and protection of besieged rural communities?
JMS: Arroyo was brutal enough in going after legal activists. Norberto Gonzales and the late Fr. Intengan went to military camps rousing the military to go after the legal activists on the false ground that they were disguised NPA in civilian clothes. So many legal activists were tortured and murdered under Oplan Bantay Laya I and II. Many were also arrested and detained indefinitely through the fabrication of charges of common crimes under Inter-Agency Legal Action Group.
But Duterte has been more brazen than Arroyo in threatening to frame up and kill legal activists. The mass murder of nearly 15,000 poor suspected drug users and pushers under Oplan Tokhang and Double Barrel has alerted the revolutionary movement to the high probability that Duterte would use the method of mass murder to exterminate legal activists in a futile attempt to deprive the besieged rural communities of succor and protection from the legal activists. Thus, the mass organizations are under advice by cadres to develop the urban underground. Unwittingly, Duterte is now driving thousands of legal activists to the ranks of the NPA, as Marcos did when he declared martial law in 1972.
The urban-based legal activists are far more vulnerable to abduction, torture and murder by a regime that has no respect for human rights and goes on a rampage. But if the Duterte regime runs wild on the path of fascist dictatorship, it shall have a far shorter life than the brutal despotism of Marcos. There are traditional institutions and associations that can stand up against human rights violations. Before they are totally forced underground, the patriotic and progressive mass organizations can resist with mass actions and call worldwide attention to the crimes committed by the fascist regime. The revolutionary forces can launch punitive actions against the fascists.
3. What has the Left learned from the attacks during the Arroyo government (which did affect some sectors, as well as white areas of the underground Left) to prevent the same under the coming Duterte offensive?
JMS: According to some publicly available reports that I have read, armed struggle in certain guerrilla fronts and legal struggle in certain white areas have flourished in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon even under strong attacks by the enemy. Their accumulated experience, knowledge and skills are now being disseminated in the relatively weaker guerrilla fronts and white areas as a result of the CPP Second Congress. In all areas of struggle, positive and negative lessons are studied in order to raise the level of knowledge and practice. A rectification movement is being undertaken to deal with erroneous ideas and currents, such as conservatism, militia-ism, civilianism and the like, which slow down the armed struggle in some areas.
The Left has learned from the attacks during the Arroyo regime: that if the Party leadership and NPA command are highly principled, daring and skillful in the use of the tactics of concentration, shifting and dispersal, the guerrilla forces can repeatedly seize the tactical initiative to annihilate or disable the enemy in the waging of extensive and intensive guerrilla warfare on the basis of an ever expanding and deepening mass base. The attacks that the Duterte regime is unleashing serve to incite the NPA and people to fight more fiercely. The legal activists in the urban areas should have a wide range of alliances and legal tactics to be effective aboveground, while they coordinate with and are assisted by an underground that consistently avoids exposure to the enemy.
4. Some allies of the Left remain confused and disturbed over it’s move to align/partner/engage with Duterte when he came to power. The charge is that, by focusing on the early “progressive” moves and statements of the President, in Left’s “toning down” of criticism, especially when city streets flowed with the blood of victims of his crackdown on suspected addicts and narcotics dealers, gave legitimacy to Duterte’s fascist tendencies. In retrospect, do you think the Left, especially the legal mass movement, could have calibrated its responses better?
JMS: As soon as he became president, Duterte increasingly made it clear that he represented the reactionary state and regarded the revolutionary forces as ¨enemies of the state¨. Indeed, he was being accurate because there was an ongoing civil war between the GRP and NDFP. This state of war has been going on. Thus, there is a clamor for peace negotiations. But efforts to promote peace negotiations have been misconstrued by some commentators as an accomplished alliance between the Duterte regime and the revolutionary movement.
As early as May 2016, when Duterte formed his economic team of Dominguez and Pernia, the Left criticized the looming neoliberal economic policy of the Duterte regime. As soon as the extrajudicial killings under Oplan Tokhang started, the Left encouraged and combined with the human rights and religious organizations in exposing and opposing the Duterte-instigated butchery. As early as July 2016, the first month of the regime, CPP spokesman Comrade Oris (Jorge Madlos) denounced Oplan Tokhang as criminal and violative of human rights and he warned against the use of the anti-drug war as a pretext for murdering revolutionaries.
The NDFP publicly recalled how the US and the reactionaries in Colombia turned Plan Colombia from a campaign against drugs to a campaign against the FARC and ELN. It warned its own forces and the people that the Duterte regime was trying to popularize mass murder of suspects. The revolutionary forces and publications continuously condemned the all-out war policy being carried out by the Duterte regime without let up. Thus, early on, the Left and the revolutionary movement were already alert to and opposed to the fascist tendency and manifestations of the Duterte regime.
5. Aside from the release of some of the top leadership, what did the Left gain in its tenuous alliance with Duterte?
JMS: To repeat a point I have already stated, there has never been an alliance between the NDFP and the Duterte regime. The release of the 19 and then 5 of the more than 400 political prisoners last year was in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). Duterte reneged on his promise to release all political prisoners through general amnesty or withdrawal of the false criminal charges.
The appointment of two Left-oriented individuals to the Duterte cabinet was done by Duterte on the basis of their merits. Those appointed belong to the legal democratic forces. They were excellent choices but Duterte abandoned them to his sharks in Congress. I told Duterte publicly that neither the CPP nor the NDFP cadres can accept GRP appointment before the successful conclusion of the peace negotiations.
6. As you’ve pointed out, there has been a pattern of backroom advances in peace talks only for Duterte to pull the rug from under at the cusp of breakthroughs — even as he never flagged in attacking civil liberties or stopped the AFP from attacking perceived CPP rural bases. Some critics and even allies say the persistence in pushing for peace talks made the Left seem “desperate”. Would you explain why the Left persevered? What would have happened if the move to terminate talks came from the Left?
JMS: Backchannel discussions or consultations beyond the rounds of formal talks do not carry the derogatory nuance of backroom. They are covered and permitted by the Ground Rules of Meetings between the GRP and NDFP. In fact, they are effected and witnessed by the third party facilitator, the special envoy of the Royal Norwegian Government.
There have been peace negotiations because the GRP recognizes the armed strength and political following of the NDFP. Otherwise the GRP would simply ignore the NDFP. The NDFP engages in peace negotiations with the GRP because it is one form of struggle (even if subordinate to the armed struggle and mass movement) in which the NDFP gains equal footing with GRP as co-belligerent under international law.
The NDFP responds to the people´s clamor for a just peace, stands up for the people´s demands for national liberation, social justice and significant reforms and does not allow the rotten reactionary government to appear to be the champion of peace. Now that Duterte has taken responsibility for terminating the peace negotiations and pursuing an all-out war policy, the armed revolutionary movement and the people have all the justification to defend themselves and fight as best as they can.
7. Some sectors say that, despite the open Left’s support for Grace Poe, in areas where votes mattered, the Left’s bases (Mindanao esp, and not just Davao) swung for Duterte. Was this a conscious strategy? Many don’t know what the underground Left’s policies/strategies are with regards engagement in elections.
JMS: We must give credit to Duterte himself for winning the 2016 presidential elections. To call national attention to himself as a national figure and not just a probinsyano mayor, he capitalized on his friendly relations with the revolutionary forces of Southern Mindanao region, offered himself to Luis Jalandoni as consultant of the NDFP in peace negotiations in 2013, repeatedly mentioned me from 2014 onwards as his mentor in Lyceum of the Philippines and for some amount of substance he offered to have a coalition government with the CPP in order to end the civil war and in the heat of the electoral campaign he was making national news by receiving prisoners of war from the CPP and NPA.
Duterte pretended until November 2015 not to be interested in the presidency while rumours spread that he would run. He made his rivals look hungry for power while he was sure that he would outshine them in denouncing the already stinking Aquino II regime. Mar Roxas suffered from the kiss of death from the discredited regime. Miriam Defensor was well known to have terminal cancer
and little campaign money. Binay was already devastated by Trillanes’ corruption charges. Grace Poe was on top for a while but was restrained in hitting the Aquino regime. Duterte knew that he could outshine his rivals.
He rounded up financial support at first from the oligarchs of Mindanao and the Visayas and eventually Luzon. To get his 39 per cent plurality vote to win the elections, he had about 25 per cent from his Mindanao-Visayas bailiwick and he added to that some 14 per cent from the bailiwicks of the worst living plunderers of the country, the Marcoses, Arroyos and Estradas in Luzon. The social media troll army of Duterte provided the icing on the cake, hyping Duterte and abusing his rivals.
8. In retrospect, did the Left fail to see that Duterte’s past friendship was based on the utilitarian concept of “befriending” to ease pressures as he consolidated power? (See the attacks on US and then the romance with Trump). Hard to believe that, of course. But did the Left really believe in Duterte’s “nationalist” and “progressive” pronouncements?
JMS: The Left knows that every newly-elected president tries to consolidate his power by winning over the followers of the rival parties and trying to neutralize the Left. But you must recognize that Duterte was unique in proclaiming himself as a Left president and as a socialist. Has there ever been a presidential candidate or president who has talked that way and who has a record of more than 20 years of good relations with the CPP in Mindanao? Should you not take the face value of his words so that you can use it against him when he contradicts himself in word and in deed?
Frankly speaking, the comrades in Mindanao since the beginning have characterized Duterte as a bureaucrat capitalist and a demagogue who is capable of saying or doing anything that is Left, Middle or Right, depending on what serves his self-interest from moment to moment. Now that the spotlight is on Duterte nationally and internationally, how can he deal with various forces with his self-contradictory words and deeds? For the sake of his self-interest, he has moved more and more to the side of the US and his fellow oligarchs.
When Marxist-Leninists wage revolution, they build the basic alliance of the working class and the peasantry as the most reliable force. When they deal with the internal contradictions of reactionaries, they can only act accordingly after observing and studying the way the reactionaries unfold and unravel themselves. Marxist-Leninists do not run ahead of the unfolding or unravelling process in reality and pretend that they have a crystal ball to predict the ultimate course of every reactionary personality or phenomenon.
9. Has there been any initial assessment of the alliance with Duterte? From your end, how would you assess this? Strengths and gains, self-criticism, if any?
JMS: From my end, there has never been an alliance with Duterte as president. The principal fact is that Duterte has unleashed an all-out war against them even while efforts have been exerted to have peace negotiations. The CPP, NPA and NDFP have never claimed that Duterte is an ally in any full and formal sense. Peace negotiations should not be construed as alliance but as an effort to resolve the casus belli between warring parties.
10. Duterte boasts he will ground the Left to dust. Do you think he is serious about this revolutionary government thing? Can he really push it, are the circumstances favorable to him?
JMS: Duterte is crazy and serious and is capable of murdering thousands of legal activists and suspected revolutionaries and bombing communities, as well demonstrated in the so-called war on illegal drugs and in bombing Marawi City to the ground. But he cannot ground the Left to the dust. The CPP is not the PKI of Aidit, completely exposed to enemy intelligence agencies in the course of electoral politics.
The advantage of the CPP is that more than 90 per cent of its cadres and members are not known to the enemy. Just to kill one real communist, the enemy has to kill 100 to 1000 non-communists. One more important thing: the CPP and the people have the NPA, people´s militia, the armed city partisans and the self-defense units of the mass organizations.
If Duterte kills too many noncommunists, he himself will be exterminated in a short while by the people or by his own military and police. Duterte´s revolutionary government is pure bull shit. How can a counterrevolutionary agent of the US and the oligarchs make a revolutionary government. His reactionary opponents inside the ruling system, government and armed forces are hoping that he would proclaim a revolutionary government so that he could be overthrown for going against the 1987 Constitution.
It is more likely that he will change first the 1987 Constitution through a Constituent Assembly under the pretext of establishing a federal system of government. Thus, he will impose on the people his fascist dictatorship, with him as the unitary center of all governmental powers on top of a pseudo-federal system of regional governments. Same tactics as Marcos did when he junked the entire 1935 Constitution under the pretext of adopting a parliamentary form of government only to impose fascist dictatorship on the people.
11. There seems some courting of the AFP among the traditional opposition. How do you view the AFP’s role in Duterte’s unraveling/strengthening (depending on where an observer is coming from)?
JMS: The anti-Duterte opposition is now busy rallying support from their relatives, friends and townsmates in the AFP and PNP and urging them to turn against a tyrant and a mentally deranged president. If most of the officers and personnel of the AFP and PNP turn against the Duterte ruling clique, there will be little or no bloodshed in overthrowing Duterte in the same manner as when Marcos and Estrada were overthrown.
The protest rallies of the democratic mass movement can inspire the anti-Duterte soldiers and police to withdraw support from Duterte. If he uses the AFP and PNP to kill the marchers and rallyists, he will be ordering them to kill their own relatives, friends and other people who are simply exercising their right to assemble and speak. Tyrants are overthrown when they give out orders that their own military and police cannot accept according to law, professional standards or in good conscience.###