No end in sight as Philippine communist revolt marks 50th year

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Masked members of the outlawed National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the umbrella organization of the Philippine communist movement, during a demonstration in Manila on Monday, March 25, 2019. (AP)
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Masked members of the outlawed National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the umbrella organization of the Philippine communist movement, during a demonstration in Manila on Monday, March 25, 2019. (AP)
Updated 27 March 2019

No end in sight as Philippine communist revolt marks 50th year

  • The NPA launched its rebellion to create a Maoist state on March 29, 1969
  • At its peak in the 1980s the group had some 26,000 fighters in its ranks, but the number is now around 4,000

MANILA: Philippine policewoman Ruby Buena’s introduction to one of the oldest communist insurgencies in the world was a roadside bomb blast followed seconds later by an eruption of gunfire.
“I thought it was my time to die,” said 25-year-old Buena, who instead woke up in a hospital with a cracked pelvis to learn three of her colleagues were dead in the 2018 attack in the central Philippines.
In a nation plagued by armed groups ranging from kidnap-for-ransom outfits to secessionist movements, the communist New People’s Army (NPA) is among the deadliest.
Yet after decades of failed peace efforts there is no end to the killing in sight as the campaign marks its 50th year.
The NPA launched its rebellion to create a Maoist state on March 29, 1969 — months before the first human landed on the moon.
It grew out of the global communist movement, finding fertile soil in the Philippines’ stark rich-poor divide.
The rebellion also benefited from Ferdinand Marcos’s 1972-1986 dictatorship, when the legislature was shuttered, the free press muzzled and thousands of opponents tortured or killed.
At its peak in the 1980s the group had some 26,000 fighters in its ranks, but the number is now around 4,000, the military says.
Its main stronghold is in the Philippines’ restive south, but also scattered in the nation’s center and a few areas in the north.
According to rarely revised official figures, the Maoist insurgency has killed up to 40,000 — less than a third of the estimate for the Muslim separatist rebellion in the south.
But while the killing in the so-called Moro insurgency dropped off significantly even before a landmark 2014 peace deal, the NPA has maintained its campaign of violence.
Complete statistics on police and civilian deaths are not available, but military figures show the communists were its deadliest opponent for the period of 2014-2018, killing 444 soldiers.
This outpaced kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf and Daesh group-aligned factions responsible for periodic spikes in killing like the 2017 Marawi siege.
The five-month siege — where militants seized the southern city of Marawi last year — killed about 1,200 people, most of whom were enemy fighters, according to government figures.
It destroyed much of the center of the city.
“In terms of threat to national security, NPA is the biggest for now,” military spokesman Noel Detoyato said.
The NPA’s staying power and deadly reach are rooted in the Philippines’ deep poverty and the group’s ability raise large sums of money, even after the US labelled it a terrorist group in 2002.
It imposes a so-called “revolutionary tax” in its strongholds, the equivalent of two percent of any business project, that police say generates a minimum of 200 million pesos ($3.8 million) per year.
Failure to pay results in violence, like torching a company’s heavy equipment or facilities.
This year promises to be a particularly lucrative one due to legislative elections set for mid-May. Candidates are hit with “permit-to-campaign” fees if they want to hold events in NPA areas.
Experts see entrenched poverty in the Philippines, where one in five people live on less than $2 per day, as key to the NPA’s continuing presence.
“NPA is living in a fertile environment,” Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said.
“The main reason why they were created 50 years ago — feudalism, bureaucratic-capitalism, and imperialism — is still here,” he added.
The hardship endures even as the Philippines economy has grown at more than six percent per year for most of the last decade, one of the fastest rates in Asia.
Decades of peace efforts have come to naught, including the burst of optimism produced by the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has called himself a socialist.
Talks seemed to initially make progress, but devolved into threats and recrimination. In 2017 Duterte declared the peace effort officially dead, though sporadic moves to revive negotiations continued.
Duterte branded the talks dead yet again in a speech on March 21, saying the communists “can maybe talk to the next president of this republic one day.”
The political wing of the communist effort, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), sees no end to the violence either.
“The revolutionary forces... have no choice but continue the people’s war until total victory is achieved,” said party founder Jose Maria Sison, who lives in exile in the Netherlands.
“If they do not fight back, they can only suffer the monopoly of violence by the exploiting classes,” he said.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 October 2019

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.