This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (,,
Vol. IV, No. 46, December 19-25, 2004 



AFP-NPA Armed Clashes Increased in 2004

The armed conflict between Leftist guerrillas and government forces will likely increase next year based on current trends and the reported expansion of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) guerrillas fronts.

By Benjie Oliveros

The armed conflict between Leftist guerrillas and government forces will likely increase next year based on current trends and the reported expansion of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) guerrillas fronts.

Defense and armed forces officials have consistently downgraded the armed Left’s fighting strength, with former AFP chief Gen. Antonio Abaya himself describing it as an “ideological orphan” and a “spent force” engaged mainly in extortion. Yet the same officials including Abaya agree that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed component, NPA, remain the country’s No. 1 “security threat.”

In a forum of the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) in Makati City last July, Abaya called the CPP/NPA “the main threat” to peace and security because of “its nationwide presence and demonstrated capability to launch armed rebellion and legal struggle in pursuit of its objective of seizing political power.” The message suggests that just the same government takes the armed Left seriously.

Who is then telling the truth? As defense and military authorities belie or at least try to tone down reports of an upsurge in the NPA’s offensives, claims by the CPP-NPA in their various reports and publications – which are regularly sent to the press by email or fax - say otherwise. Their claims can be dismissed as a typical propaganda dish yet these may warrant a second look after all based on reports by a number of independent sources which seem to confirm what the armed Left has been saying.

Recently, the CPP-NPA revealed that it has increased the number of its guerrilla fronts from 81 in 1999 to 128 last year. The fronts cover 8,000 barrios (or villages), significant portions of 700-800 municipalities in 90 percent of provinces all over the country.

The armed Left also asserts that it has an ever widening and deepening mass base of millions of people. These serve as basis for intensifying its guerrilla warfare against the government and launching more and bigger tactical offensives.

Project Ploughshares

However, data from an independent source, the Project Ploughshares of the Canadian Council of Churches, reveal a consistent increase in the number of casualties resulting from the armed conflict up to 2004. Project Ploughshare’s “Armed Conflicts Report” for 2003 and 2004, shows the following table:

Based on the report, armed clashes between the AFP and the CPP-NPA escalated in 1999 after the breakdown of the peace negotiations between the government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). As fighting escalated the number of casualties in the following year also went up until it tapered in 2001. It rose again for the next three years, 2002-2004, as shown in the table.

Intensification of the armed conflict

The report by Project Ploughshares appears to be consistent with the pronouncements of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and the political events of the times. In previous years particularly from 1992-1995, the statements of the AFP and the CPP-NPA-NDFP about the significant decrease in NPA fighters and the constriction of the latter’s mass base seemed to coincide.  By end-1997, the CPP in its Dec. 26 statement, reported an increase in its strength although it also called for breaking the “inertia of conservatism” in tactical offensives. 

When peace talks between the government and the NDFP broke down in May 1999, the AFP stepped up its counter-insurgency operations. The operations coincided with the calls of the CPP-NPA for an escalation of tactical offensives. In the following year, the number of clashes between the AFP and NPA increased with the CPP saying in March 2001 that the NPA was able to launch 66 offensives in the second half of 2000 alone. During this time, the move to oust former President Joseph Estrada from power was accelerating. 

In June 2001 – or six months after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the presidency – the government suspended peace talks with the NDFP and launched big military operations, particularly in 12 of the NPA’s guerrilla fronts.

Project Ploughshares’ report for 2002-2004 showing a rise in armed encounters tends to bolster Ang Bayan’s claim which shows that in Central Luzon alone in 2003, the NPA seized 38 firearms and killed 48 government soldiers. Its Southern Tagalog territorial region on the other hand reported it was able to withstand the intensified operations of the AFP, which increased its combat forces from 19 battalions in 1999 to 38 in 2003.

The Northeast Luzon region claimed it launched successful tactical offensives that resulted in the death of more than 50 AFP soldiers and five NPA guerrillas in the same year. 

Talking while fighting

Meanwhile, peace talks between the GRP and NDFP resumed in early 2004 resulting in the formation of a Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC). The JMC was one step forward in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) that was signed by both sides in 1998. The committee is to monitor the implementation of the agreement and conduct separate or joint investigations on reported violations to the CARHRIHL. The JMC was launched last April with the joint secretariat being formed much earlier. 

Peace talks remained on hold during the May presidential elections. Eventually the talks were stalled in August.

The year 2004 however saw the highest number of reported casualties since 1999. In separate reports, Ang Bayan reported this year about the NPA raid of a detachment of the Philippine Air Force’s 704th Combat Support Group in January, resulting in the death of four PAF soldiers, one Army sergeant, and three NPA guerrillas; NPA attacks in Samar in June-August that killed eight soldiers; eight soldiers killed in NPA tactical offensives in Laguna, Quezon, and Palawan; NPA attacks in Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, Kalinga, and Abra resulting in the death of 10 soldiers; and how an NPA unit foiled a brigade-size AFP offensive in Tarlac resulting in the death of 14 soldiers. 

Aside from Project Ploughshares, a confidential study of a foreign-based think tank also pointed to an increase in armed clashes in 2004.  Occasionally, major Philippine dailies likewise published stories about ambushes and raids staged by the NPA in recent months. 

Relief operations?

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported about an NPA unit ambush of soldiers in Bulacan on Nov. 30 resulting in the death of 10 troops. Reacting to the incident, AFP officials said that their soldiers were conducting relief operations. The CPP, through its spokesperson Ka Roger Rosal, countered that the soldiers were conducting combat operations.

The Nov. 30 ambush was followed by two other tactical offensives from Dec. 11-15: on a command post and on a detachment of the 609th IB, both in Tarlac. The attacks were launched in response to the killing of a peasant leader in the same province who was a key witness in the Nov. 16 Hacienda Luisita massacre. 

Project Ploughshares described the armed clashes as sporadic comprised of a few major battles and a series of minor clashes. The armed conflict has continued owing to the failure of the GRP and the NDFP to reach a final peace agreement, the group said. 

But the AFP has a different assessment of the armed conflict in 2004. General Abaya said that although the AFP had succeeded in "reducing the CPP-NPA capabilities and influence in priority areas," the increase in armed clashes this year was due to the NPA’s “extortion” activities targeting politicians and campaigners during the May 2004 elections as well as “its stepped-up campaign of extorting money from businesses in the countryside.”

On the other hand, the CPP-NPA-NDFP attributes the increase in armed clashes to its growing strength and to the response of its regional units and guerrilla fronts to the general call to intensify its tactical offensives and to raise the national democratic revolution to a higher level. 

No matter what perspective one takes, the fact is that armed clashes between the AFP and the NPA are on the rise – and are expected to rise in 2005. The armed conflict is still far from being resolved. Bulatlat


 © 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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