The intriguing newness of the New People’s Army

Mong Palatino

The ‘new’ in the communist New People’s Army signifies many things and each deciphering is helpful to understand why this rebel force has never been defeated by successive governments.

The original communist-led people’s army was the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon and Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan. The Huks were a guerrilla force that fought for our independence during World War II; later, it aspired to establish a communist state in the country. The Huk rebellion was quashed in the mid 1950s; although some veteran Huk commanders became pioneering members of the NPA in 1969.

The name NPA was both appealing and threatening. For the oligarchs and landlords, it could have reminded them of the Huk menace. For the poor and landless, it probably gave them hope and courage. And for the radical youth, it certainly inspired them to become part of a movement that wanted to create history.

The Communist Party, which was re-established in 1968, could have chosen a more sinister name for its armed wing but it proved that it has a sense of history when it acknowledged the popular legacy of the Huk and the various armed uprisings in the provinces. The message was simple yet powerful: The NPA will continue the ‘Unfinished Revolution’ of our ancestors.

It was appropriate to herald the rise of the NPA as a new development in Philippine politics. Suddenly, the Filipino everyman has an army that can challenge the private armies of politicians. But looking back, it seemed only logical that a people’s army like the NPA would surface in the 1960s. During that time, the nationalist movement was resurgent, the youth were rebelling against the Establishment, and traditional politics were moribund. The newborn NPA was welcomed as an alternative and fighting weapon that can replace the decaying political order represented by elitist parties.

Fast forward to 2014. Should the 45 year-old NPA drop its tag as a political force that represents the ‘new’? How can it remain ‘new’ when it is already old?

No new army from the margins has superseded the NPA. It is still the people’s army that has the potential of garnering greater political and military clout. More importantly, it still stands for new politics. It continues to be guided by the principles of the national democratic revolution. In other words, the NPA remains the army of the weak that aims to dismantle the oppressive structures of bourgeois and feudal rule in the country.

Some are ridiculing the NPA as it persists in asserting its revolutionary principles instead of maximizing the so-called democratic space in the post-dictatorship era. Many intellectuals reject the violent methods of the NPA. The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the real and symbolic violence in society. The NPA thrives not simply because of its aggressive recruitment drive but mainly because the unjust system continues to make rebellion a necessary and attractive choice for the marginalized. If the NPA combatants are determined in their struggle, it is because we have despotic reactionaries who are unwilling to give up or even share their wealth, pork, and power.

As a revolutionary force in the past half century, the NPA has already achieved numerous political and military victories. It has waged a Maoist guerrilla war in an archipelago, the first in the world. It is officially the longest continuing communist insurgency in Asia. It is neither winning at the moment nor is it losing the war. Surprisingly, it remains the top security threat in the Philippines despite the repeated pronouncements of the government that it is already a dying army.

It is quite difficult not to admire the NPA for its pursuit of genuine land reform, environmental justice, and human rights protection. It is a trailblazer in promoting women empowerment, LGBT rights, and grassroots democracy. It has immensely contributed to the preservation and development of Filipino language and IP heritage. Mountaineering is more fun if it is done the NPA way.

In recent years, the NPA became more active in the cyberspace. For a supposedly underground organization, it is prolific in posting statements, primers, photos, and videos through its website. Its programs, goals, and accomplishments can be read online. It is perhaps the most transparent armed group in the country.

But is it still a people’s army? Is it still affectionately referred to by many rural villagers as Nice People Around? The NPA claims majority of its members are still from the peasant sector. In many provincial towns, it is the preferred sumbungan ng bayan.

Interestingly, it is the anti-Left bashers who are indirectly affirming that the NPA remains an approachable army of the poor. Every once in a while they would ask natdem activists to remind the NPA about some of its alleged excesses and blunders. Some are guilty of red baiting but others seem serious in their intention to reprimand the NPA. It is to NPA’s credit that even its ideological adversaries are convinced that it can be influenced through informal networks. Try sending a similar message to the bureaucratic and corrupt-ridden military of the Republic of the Philippines.

At 45, the NPA looks youthful. Its membership, tactics, goals, politics – they all stand for something new and revolutionary.

How long will the NPA endure? We know that there are World War II veterans but we haven’t heard about NPA veterans or soldiers who participated in the war against communist rebels. Why? Because World War II already ended in 1945 while the civil war is ongoing. After 45 years, the NPA is still the great enigma of Philippine politics. (

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email:

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4 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. 45 years cannot be called short, it is long enough for a protracted war, and it certainly does not need another 45 years of war to make it a 90 years protracted war in order to gain ground.

    This report failed to provide concrete evidence of the successes of new NPA. Successes in recruitment does not carry enough weight for a success in the struggle against the so-called irresponsible elites management of the country affairs. Having a website to talk about themselves is no big deal, as any “Taliban” revolutionaries will tell you in their struggle against hegemonic countries like USA.

    The politic talks, literally, words use in their struggle can be patented to the old communist regime of yester-years that have faded into oblivion. To children with modern education, reading NPA reported claims and advocacy seemingly sounds archaic and anti-modern.

    Every successful enterprise requires repeated reviews after reviews, to reshape their policy, plans, tactics and implementation. If you look at the biggest computing enterprise, for example, Microsoft, they are slowly and now rapidly overtaken by events such as Google Android.

    Changes today are rapid and no longer in incremental steps. Likewise, I would suggest that political changes too have to be rapid, by strategy, and no longer slowly, for society is moving rapidly in capital cities and cities in provinces too.

    Sun Tsu and Machiavelli and so on are great reads but it is today less relevant in the nuclear, missile, technology age, where strategy are produced on opportunities and no longer dragged by foot soldiers.

    I am not suggesting that NPA is an out-modded political entity but as an instrument of change for society, it is no longer compelling as before, unless a revival takes shape, not for its aggressiveness or lack of, but a revival that can endear and touch young hearts of girls and boys, men and women, in a language, culture, norms that can be felt and understood and acted upon.

  2. This article is interesting not only in what it says, but also in what it does not say. It says that the NPA has “…never been defeated by successive governments.” What it did not say was that it has also NEVER defeated successive governments. For 45 years, it has waged a war that has seemed to have gotten stuck in time and never moved forward.

    I am a believer of Sun Tzu, and I believe that war must be waged fast and fullly towards a clear goal. Any war that is “protracted” is not a war, thus, to me, the “digmang bayan” is a misnomer. It is merely a wasting of the country’s resources (both NPAs and government) over beliefs no different from religion.

    I think the better question is this: why is it taking so long? Generations of activists have come and gone and still the NPA is at a state of “war”. You guys in the National Democratic Movement can mouth all those explanations about historicity and correct circumstances, but the fact is, to date, you have not won. This means there is something wrong with how you strategize the “waging of the war”.

    By extension, your manner of executing this “war” is no more righteous than the way the current administration conducts its “Tuwid na Daan”. It means that the strategies you implement remain unable to push the war into a conclusion. It means that somehow, somewhere, consciously or not, there is a reason why you choose to delay a successful conclusion.

    This is what the NPA should ask itself. Because to me, the longer the end waits, the weaker this country becomes.

    1. The comment crows about how the Communist Party-led NPA has not defeated the Philippine State in its more than 4 decades of revolutionary struggle. They are faulted for “taking so long.”

      Thus forgetting the fact that overthrowing the comprador-landlord and big bureaucrat elites would naturally be a lengthy process given their power, resources, and armed force which they use against the people.

      The goal here is clear. The revolution is not simply about a few cadres and activists grabbing power.

      For it would take a long time for revolutionary forces to grow from small to big and organize and empower more and more people for the defense of their interests against the dictates of Capital.

      Thus the name protracted people’s war.

      Does not Sun Tzu himself talk of avoiding an enemy that is bigger and preserving one’s forces to fight the battles one can win:

      “Though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.”

      The revolution has not won. There is clearly still oppression and exploitation. And it will indeed take a longer time to eradicate systemic structures that burden the people.

      To claim that “any war that is ‘protracted’ is not a war” is thus the height of absurdity. The only way for those bereft of property to gather the strength in order to eventually overhaul the system must take a protracted character.

      This does not at all contradict Sun Tzu. On the contrary, impetuous chest beating dogmatically prescribing that all wars must be “waged fast and fully” only betrays an idealism detached from material reality.

      It betrays an incomplete understanding of war that sees only quick victory but does not have the vision for the painstaking work needed towards the attainment of short-term and long-term objectives.

  3. kalokohan sinasabi mo wla n NPA pesonal interest lng gusto nyo..lam kung anu n mga reaction ng mga tao s bundok tungkol s NPA extortion ang ginagawa nyo..kung wla sna kau mayaman n sna ang pinas

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