Oplan Kapanatagan, a joint and synchronized operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) is the current “counterinsurgency” (COIN) program being implemented by the Duterte regime.
But this program, like his predecessors’ programs, is going to fail and will be a waste of billions of people’s money.
Every government in the Philippines since the United States (US) colonial period had its own program for countering the Filipino peoples’ struggle for genuine Philippine independence and democracy. Until now, the people persevere in their struggle because the counterinsurgency program of the government cannot provide the just demands and welfare of the people and also cannot completely quell the people’s movement for national liberation and democracy.
Different COIN programs implemented by previous Philippine presidents
|1969-1982||The “nip in the bud” operations of the Marcos dictatorship were called Task Force Lawin, Task Force Saranay, Task Force Isarog and others (implemented in the regional areas)||Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.|
|1982-1986||Oplan Katatagan||Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.|
|1987-1992||Oplan Lambat Bitag I, II, III, IV||Corazon Aquino|
|1992-1998||Oplan Mamamayan||Fidel Ramos|
|1998-2000||Oplan Makabayan||Joseph Estrada|
|2001-2010||Oplan Bantay Laya 1 & 2||Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo|
|2011-2016||Oplan Bayanihan||Benigno Aquino III|
|2016 -2019||Oplan Kapayapaan||Rodrigo Duterte|
|2019-present||Oplan Kapanatagan||Rodrigo Duterte|
From March 1969 until now, after the founding of the New People’s Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) launched an armed struggle for national liberation and democracy.
The struggle for national liberation and democracy, in all forms, is real, strengthening and winning. At present, it is actualized by “the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army, the revolutionary mass organizations of workers, peasants, youth, women, children, and cultural activists, and the organs of democratic power are strengthening themselves. In the course of the people’s war, they are carrying out programs and campaigns to improve the conditions and lives of the people through self-organization, public education, health care, land reform, economic production, self-defense, arbitration of people’s disputes, cultural upliftment, gender equality, and environmental protection,” said CPP Founding Chairman Prof. Jose Maria Sison in 2014.
In 1969, remnants of the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan or HMB and the newly re-established CPP came together to form the New People’s Army (NPA) on March 29, 1969. By then, the agrarian conditions that had motivated the Huk Rebellion in the 1940s and 1950s had worsened nationwide.
The emergence in the 1960s of mass organizations of students, trade unionists, slum dwellers, and multi-sectoral political opposition groups in the capital and other urban areas provided new and powerful allies to the previously isolated peasants.
The post-Huk rebellion that exploded and flared in the 1970s would emerge in the 1980s as a full-fledged revolutionary movement active throughout much of the national territory.
The counterinsurgency methods in used in the Philippines even until now was drawn “directly from both the experience of the 1950s and the later development of US counterinsurgency doctrine and practice.” It is enhanced to fit the situation.
In the analysis of the US military: “Although the influence of the Philippine Communist Party (PKP) on the rise of the HMB was relatively minor” but the role of the PKP had been seen in the “agrarian roots of the conflict were recognized, the ideological viewpoint that categorized the Huks as communists dominated practical policy.”
When Ferdinand Marcos became the president, he “justified” the struggle of the people for national liberation and democracy led by the re-established CPP in declaring martial law on September 21, 1972.
Recognizing the growing problem, Marcos intensified the counterinsurgency effort, “emphasizing civic action. Under the sponsorship of the Home Defense Program, military units constructed roads and schools, provided disaster relief, assisted in maintaining security and public utilities, and performed law enforcement.”
Army engineer units, greatly expanded with US assistance, played a key role in these development efforts. The AFP also took part in literacy projects and the National Livelihood Program, which were designed to improve the standard of living in rural areas.
Nevertheless, the government lost ground in its efforts to win hearts and minds with these programs. One of the reasons was the brutal campaign against the communities of peasants and other sectors. Bombings, food blockades, hamlettings, illegal arrest and detention, salvagings, massacres and other human rights violations deteriorated the image of the Marcos dictatorship
Human rights groups documented all of these. Most victims were suspected or alleged insurgents or their supporters.
Another reason of the declining of popularity of the Marcos government was the increasing criticism of the armed forces. Many Filipinos felt that those in the military, particularly in the Philippine Constabulary and the militia, the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), were abusive and corrupt.
Public respect for the military eroded while relations between the armed forces and important groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church and other Churches had deteriorated. Attempts to improve discipline within the armed forces through retraining, punishment, and dismissal appeared to do little to quell growing public fear and suspicion.
During Marcos’ last years, the communist movement expanded rapidly in political influence and military strength. Marcos failed to quell the Philippine revolution and the Filipinos ousted him in February 1986.
Post – Marcos regimes counterinsurgency drive
When the first woman Philippine president Corazon Aquino came to power in 1986, the AFP estimated that there were some 22,500 regular NPA guerrillas active in 63 of the country’s 73 provinces.
The Aquino administration hoped that many NPA personnel could be persuaded out of the hills following the overthrow of Marcos and took up the theme of reconciliation in 1986.
One of Aquino’s first acts was to release political detainees, including captured CPP Founding Chairman Sison. Later on, the peace talks with senior representatives of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) was initiated for the first time and the government agreed to a sixty-day ceasefire that ended in February 1987.
The president also issued an executive order establishing the National Reconciliation and Development Program.
“The revived rebel amnesty program was inaugurated in January 1987 to encourage NPA defections by offering land, job training, and assimilation into society. The reconciliation approach was a disappointment to the government, however, as few insurgents surrendered.”[i]
Initially, the Aquino government reversed the decline in human rights performance and made notable strides in restoring the tarnished image of the military.
The 1987 constitution outlawed torture and all forms of “secret and incommunicado detention.” It also established a permanent Commission on Human Rights and directed that the militia, constabulary, and police forces—frequent subjects of abuse complaints—be disbanded.
The armed forces were far less abusive in 1986 according to human rights groups. However, military discipline apparently worsened over the next two years.
In 1987, military personnel were primary suspects in the assassination of a prominent leftist political activist and in two other incidents that resulted in the deaths of twelve Manila demonstrators and seventeen rural villagers.
Although the Aquino government scored other successes in its counterinsurgency campaign, initial efforts proved disappointing.
As a result, Aquino altered government strategy in March 1987 when she announced the “unleashing” of the military. The counterinsurgency was dubbed as Low Intensity Conflict.
International human rights monitors alleged that abuses in 1988 were as bad as they were under Marcos. In an apparent reaction to mounting criticism, the military renewed efforts to improve civil-military relations, and reported abuse by the military declined over the next two years.
Reported insurgents’ strength peaked the following year at about 26,000 people. The Muslim insurgency, meanwhile, was relatively quiet. Although the military maintained forces in Moro areas, clashes with government forces were infrequent and the threat of a full-scale resurgence was low.
The military resumed full-scale counter-insurgency operations with a new strategy known as Oplan Lambat Bitag, added with President Aquino’s theme of reconciliation to the original program of “clear, hold, consolidate, and develop.”
The military combat methods, employed during the 1970s’ war against the Moros, were too often ineffective and counterproductive because they frequently alienated the populace. In other respects, the military’s approach to COIN efforts changed little. Most military units operated as they had under Marcos, in static positions protecting town halls, businesses, and major roads.
The revised COIN plan called for military units, with the cooperation of other government agencies, to systematically clear areas of insurgents, to hold the region against returning guerrillas, to consolidate support for the government, and to develop the area economically.
The strategy was: “The first task – clearing rebel-infested areas – was seen as the task of mobile forces…the army battalions and constabulary special action forces. The role of holding and consolidating liberated regions was assigned to territorial forces…the constabulary, police, and militia units.”[ii]
The updated COIN strategy was complemented by the refurbished AFP tactics “that were generally credited with contributing to the insurgency’s decline during the late 1980s.”
Under Aquino, the military “continued its shift away from conventional methods such as food blockades, cordon and search operations and hamletting (the forced relocation of villages controlled or threatened by the NPA).”i
The deployment of special operations teams (SOT) beginning in 1987 and the formation of new militia units in 1988 were advertised by military leaders as important steps toward more effective COIN.
“Special operations teams were squad-sized military counterinsurgency teams dispatched to CPP-influenced villages to dismantle the communists’ political infrastructure by conducting civic action and propaganda programs. These teams worked in conjunction with the newly revamped militia, now called the Citizens Armed Forces Geographic Units (CAFGUs), to provide security to each remote barangay.”i
The CAFGUs replaced the CHDF, which was frequently criticized as abusive by human rights groups.
Local anti-communist vigilante groups, like, the Alsa Masa, Nagasak, Ilaga Gang, Sagrada Corazon Senior or Tadtad, Kuratong Baleleng, some associated with the military, also proved effective deterrents to people organizing and NPA activity in certain areas.
Improved military intelligence also played an important role in undercutting the insurgency in the late 1980s. Military intelligence agents repeatedly captured top CPP and NPA cadres and gathered revealing CPP and NPA documents.
Rodolfo Salas, the CPP’s former chairman, was among numerous central committee members captured. The fear of government intelligence penetrations of communist ranks contributed to the “devastating purges of rebel ranks between 1985 and 1988.”
Perhaps the biggest contribution to the counterinsurgency campaign in the late 1980s was political, not military.
CPP leaders admitted that Aquino, by restoring popular government and democratic institutions, significantly set back the revolutionary movement. Furthermore, civilian contributions in the fight against the communists were encouraged by the creation in 1987 of Peace and Order Councils.
Established at all levels of government, the councils consisted of political and military leaders as well as selected community representatives and were charged with fostering greater civilian involvement and cooperation in what traditionally had been a military counterinsurgency struggle.
In 1989, a study of United States military concluded that “the COIN effort remained largely a military effort despite the communist insurgency’s political character.”
Foreign and Filipino critics of the government’s COIN program further “alleged that the communist insurgency had endured for more than twenty years because the Philippines had not effectively addressed the social and cultural roots of the rural rebellion. The communist rebellion, it was said, was fed by the same social and economic inequities that had prompted previous peasant uprisings.”
The unjust system between the small, but very wealthy, elite and the many impoverished was fundamental to the appeal of the revolutionary movement.
“Issues such as land reform resonated strongly among poor farmers, who also complained of abuses by landlords and politicians. Until such grievances were resolved, observers noted, they would continue to fuel insurgent activity in the country.”i
Despite many well-publicized programs, the counterinsurgency under Aquino was “clearly failing to shoot the rising tide of communist influence.”
Government estimated an NPA strength “more than tripled between 1983 and 1986, from around 6,000 to more than 20,000.”
The COIN of the different regimes after Aquino was only changed on name but the same program, strategy and tactic employed.
Human rights remained a concern in 1991. According to the United States Department of State’s 1990 annual human rights report to Congress, “abuses – including extrajudicial killings – continued.” The report also criticized the government’s failure to prosecute those responsible for the crimes.
“Lapses in the administration of justice were attributed in part to the strong imperative of the military to protect its own members, who were tried in military courts. Convictions on human rights violations were rare. Still, by 1990 the overall armed forces human rights record under Aquino was much improved over the Marcos era.”i
Fidel Ramos took another route of counter-insurgency. He entered into peace talks with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Bongcayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) and the CPP-NPA-NDFP. Ramos succeeded in neutralizing the MNLF by signing the Peace Accord in 1996 and the RPA-ABB in the same period.
Ramos had approved some agreements with the NDFP like The Hague Joint Declaration, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), among others.
When Joseph Estrada came into power in 1998, he launched an “all-out-war” against the NDFP and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
In January 2001, he was ousted by the people (People Power II) and then-Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency.
Arroyo, in her terms of office, launched a brutal counter-insurgency campaign using the butcher and convicted General Jovito Palparan as the main actor. Arroyo, from 2003 until her last year in Malacañang, carried out a comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign dubbed as Oplan Bantay Laya 1 & 2, that claimed many lives. Some were missing until now, some were illegally arrested and detained on trumped-up charges, many were victims of evacuations and their properties were destroyed.
Because of massive human rights violations during Arroyo regime, the Supreme Court promulgated the writ of Habeas Corpus and the writ of habeas data “to protect the life and security” of the people.
The United Nations also sent UN Rapporteur Philip Alston to investigate the human rights violations under the Arroyo regime.
Benigno Aquino III became the president in 2008. He carried a counterinsurgency campaign called Oplan Bayanihan, which is patterned on the US Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Guide of 2009.
He initially tried to resume peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP. The CPP, in preparing for a ceasefire declaration, reiterated their demand for AFP forces to be sent back to their barracks for the duration of talks in February 2011. The talks would also fall.
Oplan Bayanihan is an AFP counter-insurgency military and psywar operations under the so-called “Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD)” conducted against civilian communities where the NPA operates.
Under the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan, military operations are to be conducted by the AFP against communities suspected to be active in, supportive of, or sympathetic to, the revolutionary cause. The aim is to dismantle the local mass organizations of peasants, women and youth and suppress their mass struggles, especially the people’s enforcement of their own genuine agrarian reform.
“People have been complaining of living in fear and inability to work freely in their farms whenever the AFP conducts its so-called civil-military operations in their communities. These operations are now conducted under the refurbished signboard of ‘peace and development,’ but are actually no different from the vicious special operations conducted by the AFP under Oplan Bantay Laya in 2001-2010,” said the CPP.
(End of part 1)
[i] Philippines Army Weapons System Handbook, USA International Business Publications, 2007, updated annually
[ii] Dolan, Ronald. Philippines: A Country Study, Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1993