For the military, activists deserve to be arrested because they are members and supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA). This is easy to dispute. For example, why would the rural-based NPA conduct its training in cities like Bacolod when this can be done in the mountains of Negros? Based on news reports, the NPA does not deny if someone from its ranks is killed or injured during clashes with government troops. The NPA is also quick to acknowledge if Communist Party (CPP) and National Democratic Front leaders, especially peace consultants, are arrested by state forces.
When human rights groups denounce the arbitrary arrest of activists wrongly accused of being NPA combatants, they neither defend nor speak in behalf of the NPA. The NPA has its own team of propagandists.
Failing to defeat the NPA on the battlefield, the military is accused of venting its frustration against unarmed citizens. They justify the arrest of activists by linking the latter with the NPA. This is promoted in the counter-insurgency program which treats activists in urban areas as part of the support network of the NPA. Hence, activists are considered legitimate targets of military and police operations.
The danger with this doctrine is that it treats activism as an illegal political act. It demonizes community organizing by equating street protests with NPA activities. It makes no distinction between the revolutionary program of the CPP-NPA and the comprehensive political alternative proposed by activists. Any group is suspect as long as its advocacy can be interpreted as an endorsement of CPP-NPA politics.
Proof of good citizenship is demanded by taunting groups to denounce the CPP-NPA. The military dares activists: ‘condemn the violence of the CPP-NPA and we will stop the red-tagging.’ Unfortunately, for some political forces, they have no need for this kind of state directive since they share a common hatred against the CPP-NPA. And they do more than redbaiting by advancing a narrative which views state repression as a reprisal against the purportedly pro-NPA politics of National Democratic (NatDem) activists.
When NatDem activists get arrested, there are some who will point out that the ideological affinity of the accused with the CPP-NPA is the cause of the crackdown. These anti-NatDem personalities may have some biting words against Duterte’s brutality but they are also consistent in spreading the partisan idea that persecuted activists are guilty of espousing the ‘violent’ politics of the CPP-NPA. What is ultimately being blamed here is the political stand of the NatDem activist.
The CPP-NPA is the big red elephant in the room. Will the mass arrests stop if the CPP-NPA is denounced by activists? Will there be an end to the extrajudicial killing of activists if they will join the military in propagating against the CPP-NPA?
Duterte, the military, and their apologists want us to believe that the political isolation of the CPP-NPA will lead to peace and sustained development. They are spreading disinformation that the CPP-NPA is preventing the progress of the country and that its activities in the countryside are terrorizing the local population and destabilizing the Republic. If this is the case and if the CPP-NPA is obviously operating outside the law, why are the supposedly law-abiding NatDem activists refusing to support the government’s anti-insurgency drive?
The same reason why there are opposition forces and activist groups in other countries. There is no NPA (or a counterpart revolutionary armed group) or communist-led resistance in many countries but the people’s organizations there are equally if not more determined and militant in asserting their rights. Likewise, their governments are behaving a la Duterte and his mad dogs in arresting activists, stifling dissent, and bullying the opposition.
Uprisings happen because there is tyranny, economic injustice, and the democratic space is being closed. Repressive governments are always targeting the groups which are mobilizing citizens in the streets or those which could emerge as a threat to their reign of terror and greed. With or without the CPP-NPA, there are just reasons for the people to resist and build a strong movement against authoritarian regimes. And paranoid governments would always clamp down on critics and dissenters whether the opposition is religious, the wealthy, foreign-backed, or communist. Or should we expand the ‘crimes’ of the CPP-NPA and blame them too for the massive unrest across the world?
Duterte and the military unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence that saw the deployment of drones and surveillance bombs, Tokhang-style operations, and the weaponization of the bureaucracy and legal processes to suppress the political opposition. They are aggressive and desperate to protect their selfish interests, campaign donors, and foreign patrons. It is convenient for them to rabidly portray the CPP-NPA as the embodiment of political evil rather than allow themselves to be exposed as the true enemies of democracy and genuine reform.
To blame the CPP-NPA for the fentanyl-driven violence ricocheting across the archipelago reflects not only the continued use of uncritical anti-communism to divide the opposition, but also the success of the ruling elite in evading accountability for the crimes they committed against the Filipino people.
There are urgent reasons to keep petty anti-communism in check so that we can form broader movements that can challenge the Duterte tyranny.
In the Philippine context, this means acknowledging the role of the CPP in history when it joined forces with the mainstream political opposition and conservative institutions like the Catholic Church to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship. As a political force, it has a nationwide presence and grassroots organizing that can help gather more people to oppose the atrocities committed by Duterte’s goons in the police and the military. Duterte, a cunning lewd boomer, is aware of the CPP legacy in building a coalition that can unite opposition groups and hijack his plans for 2022 and beyond.
There is no need to be affiliated with the CPP-NPA, or to be part of its so-called legal front, to recognize that its work is directly undermining the popularity and credibility of the Duterte government. It is part of the national liberation movement that has thrived for decades because of its consistent advocacy and organizing on behalf of the country’s marginalized sectors. If some believe that CPP-NPA cadres should be held liable for abuses committed in the past, we should call for the resumption of the peace talks and resolve these issues through the joint human rights monitoring mechanism. There are many ways to exact justice but quietly supporting the arrest of NatDem activists is not one of them.
When Senator Leila de Lima was arrested, NatDem activists rightly denounced it as an attack on all critics of the government instead of reducing it as a mere anti-Yellow plot. When sedition cases were filed against prominent members of the church and some opposition politicians, NatDem activists linked it to the use of trumped-up charges to muzzle those who dare speak out against the excesses of the regime. And in the raging and seemingly non-stop attacks against NatDem groups from Mindanao to Manila, should we be echoing the rants of Duterte and his trolls that activists are criminals, communists, and terrorists merely because they do not conform to our concept of political engagement? Or should we be speaking out in the name of reason, solidarity, and the bigger fight against injustice and tyranny?