Recently, I have been tasked with researching the history of the CPP-NPA, or the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army. Under the banner of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, there has been a communist presence in the Philippines for over 40 years now, and they have been waging a Protracted People’s War (PPW) against the “Manila based authority” for just as long. The conflict has ebbed and flowed, with regressions and resurgences based on the greater condition of the country and its official government. The Communist Party of the Philippines bases its ideologies on a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Thought, and lodges several complaints with the way the Philippines has been run (even controlled, from their perspective) in the past half century.
As I have learned with Peacebuilder’s thus far, relationship is important. So, just as we work with the GPH and AFP’s pro-social programs in the country, we would also seek such dynamics with the NDFP. Should there arise any opportunity to dialogue with them, or even cooperate in peace building, it is important to know their historical experience, their ideology, the scope of their work, the reasons they fight, etc. so that we might sensitively and effectively build relationship with them.
I have enjoyed learning about the NDFP. I find it easy to connect with their social values and revolutionary goals. With the Party as its unifying centerpiece, a Communist society can be egalitarian and progressive, emphasizing the strength of humanity when it cooperates in light of a common vision. However, with Communism, like any movement, institution, belief, or ideology, there is always risk of a misanthropic, dogmatic expression that can blind us to the worthy deeds of our government, and, truly, our fellow people. This speaks more to humanity’s fallen nature, though, and our tendency to pursue selfish desires over harmony and social well-being.
That is the spirit of what the NDFP is working against. In its struggle, they also strive to uphold the values they claim to profess, and thus work in disaster relief, education, and social organization. In order to carry legitimacy in their representation of the people, as I understand, they must serve them, and actually offer an alternative vision of order instead of simply a loud proclamation of the disorder (although that can be important too). In other words, the NDFP must help cure the social ills it diagnoses, not just prescribe it.
As I have been studying, Typhoon Hagupit has come and gone and created more instability, unrest, and general social ailments. This has given rise to government action, which has been prompt and sensible according to their duties – a welcome improvement from Yolanda. The CPP-NPA has also seized the opportunity to assist, as well as echo their longstanding gripes with the nation’s authority in light of another disaster.
This explains my interest when I came across a booklet entitled “This can Happen Again! Typhoon Sendong Lessons and Accountabilities of a man-made Disaster”. The publication was released by an organization called Balsa Mindanao, and stands as prophetic today as it did three years ago. Even though it did not seem immediately relevant to the topic at hand, I read it anyway and was surprised to find that many of the reasons Balsa gives for designating Typhoon Sendong as a “man-made” disaster, as well as the warnings and recommendations the booklet offers to avoid future disasters of this caliber, shared similarities to the root causes of the CPP-NPA’s casus belli against the government. The booklet links resource extraction companies and agribusiness corporations to the degradation of the land which facilitated the immense destruction caused by Sendong (hence, “man-made”). As I am learning, this is not dissimilar to the NDFP’s complaints against foreign business making obscene profit from the Philippines’ landscape. Although this is only one point of agreement between a complex ideology and an activist organization, the connection is important because it illustrates that the scope of these social issues includes everyone, not just a group at war with the country’s government.
Indeed, it is for the people that the NDFP is given continued reason to exist, based on the persistence of these root causes which originally incited the conflict. In their view, these problems include poverty and economic disparity, perceived imperialism from the West, land ownership policies which facilitate big business’ rape of the land for profit, political corruption, and more. It is easy to see that many people across the country sympathize with these complaints, because they are concerned with justice, and therefore peace. Not all are ready to fight for these reasons like the CPP-NPA, who do it for the people through a holistic struggle which includes war. The shared values are clear, and are not negated by differences; I am learning that one can stand for the people with them, but through a holistic struggle rooted in the peace of Jesus. Included in this is the good sense to identify what does and does not need fixing, or what is and is not worth fighting for. The time is now to be ready to discern and support what is right as interest in reviving the dormant peace talks between the NDFP and GPH this year is renewed.
And this fomenting revival cannot go ignored, and neither can the efforts of both parties to contribute to their vision of a just, safe, and peaceful society. Far from vilifying the Government of the Philippines, one can instead celebrate in their efforts to renew the talks and put the right cards on the table this year. Regarding the topic of disaster response, it is clear that the GPH has made immense strides in their capabilities to predict and respond to disaster and fulfill their duty to protect the people. In fact, they have garnered international praise for the way they handled Typhoon Ruby. It is important, then, to give credit where credit is due. But to do so in ignorance of past and ongoing failures would be an injustice.
Indeed, governments and groups with power around the world and throughout time have shown complicity with decisions that favor greed and power for the few over the well-being of the many. One may view the 45 year old civil war in the Philippines as an ideological battle, with two sides admirably fighting for justice, while in actual fact compromising it. This would not be inaccurate. But perhaps a wider lens can be applied, where an unjust system deceives conflicting parties into violence while the people are shocked into fearful complacency, and there is no winner but the underlying system. Principles are evoked, values are veiled, and confusion reigns as people and government destroy their (albeit flawed) communion in the name of their own vision of the collective good.
Surely, though, there are redeemable qualities in most every group who has ever engaged in conflict – and both the GPH and NDFP are no exceptions – but the glare of their iniquities is all too noticeable when viewed through the incisive lens of Jesus. Any revolution achieved according to the same rules as the current power in place will only be a replacement of authority that masks meaningful change. True transformation comes with a radically inclusive process, one that takes the time to consider all the concerns of every party. The GPH is attempting at such a process right now with the MILF and the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and should be commended. Of course, human attempts at utopian justice are sure to fall short, but God has given us capacity to understand and strive for justice without violence. In this regard, the mettle of the GPH and NDFP will be further tested this year – at the table, in the mountains, and in the hearts of a war-weary people.
Dann Pantoja thinks aloud while walking along a seashore in Tacloban City a few weeks after SuperTyphoon Haiyan/Yolanda. This particular waterfront devastated by Haiyan was one of the most expensive real estate properties in the City of Tacloban. (PBCI ICT Video File)