Our people’s army

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose - The Philippine Star

When we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our independence next week, we can be happy and relieved that this pandemic hasn’t destroyed us, although it did a lot of damage. Of the age-old problems that we have resolved, there is one that continues to cost us so much in money and human lives. This is the Communist Party’s protracted war.

After more than 50 years, the Communist Party has failed. It is so obvious now that this nation can no longer be sundered. Why then does Joma Sison and his aging cabal persist? It is super ego. To admit defeat is to accept the fact that they had sacrificed in vain.

Listening to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon the other day, he quantified the insurgency and said, as of today, the Army estimates the New People’s Army at 2,000 or 4,000, and that through the years, this has been more or less stable in spite of the large-scale surrenders and the death toll exacted by the Army on the New People’s Army.

Esperon admitted that there is a continuing recruitment of Communist cadres who later become armed rebels. He emphasized that this recruitment, particularly among the young, is the main problem the government faces.

Earlier, Esperon talked about what is being done at the lowest level of government. This is an emphasis on the old community development program that was started by President Magsaysay in the 1950s. If we want to resolve this NPA problem, we must go down to the grassroots, in the far-flung communities, the dispossessed tribal groups, the slums of our cities where poverty is rampant.

In these forgotten wastelands, it is not a question of bad government but the fact that there is no government. No government spells injustice, and continued neglect means more poverty. Esperon is correct in seeing to it that government service should start at the lowest barangay level.

As for the young, it is quite normal for them to be attracted to Communism which promises them relief from poverty and the establishment of a classless society. My regard for the Communists has been ambivalent. I can only look at myself when I sympathized with them. In fact, I had been friends with some of the Party’s old leaders. I did not, however, join them for the simple reason that I wanted to preserve my freedom as a writer. I knew only too well that if I joined the Party, I would lose my freedom. And as I said in the 1960s, you don’t have to be Maoist to make Revolution.

My sympathies with the Communists were grounded on the perception that they were nationalists, for they were vocal and articulate in their expressions of nationalism.

In the late 1960s, when I was lecturing in the United States under the auspices of the Council for Foreign Relations, I told the Americans that it was not Communism that they were fighting in Vietnam, but Asian nationalism. All my sympathies for the Communist movement were shattered in EDSA I when I found out that they were not there. Doctrinally, they were of course correct in rejecting EDSA I. There was no difference between Marcos and Cory Aquino; both represented the oligarchy.

It is this oligarchy that I continue to define as the enemy of the Filipino people. I go by that old definition made by the American reformer, Wendell Philips: “If you hold land and land is in the hands of a few, you do not have a democracy – you have an oligarchy.”

A cursory study of Philippine society will reveal that in the past three generations after World War II, the wealth of the country has been held by the oligarchy. It has not changed, and it is the foremost obstruction to our democratic and economic development. It is the continued power of this oligarchy which demands a righteous revolution. But that revolution, which attracts the idealistic youth, need not be violent anymore.

As I have continually said, modernization or revolution is no longer the sole prerogative of a revolutionary party that believes in violence as the only option. There are vivid examples of revolution or modernization in Asia that were not carried out by an armed proletariat.

As I already said, the young people today who are lured by idealism to join the New People’s Army should recognize that they cannot overthrow the state or sunder this nation anymore. What they can do is to join politics or organize themselves into nationalist cadres.

As for the 4,000 members of the New People’s Army, I hope the government will grant them amnesty and induct them into the Armed Forces where they can then illustrate the fullest depth of their idealism. We need a strong Army, and thank God ours has developed democratically. Let us look at the armies of our neighbors and appreciate the difference.

The armies of the Southeast Asian countries are not fighting Communist rebels now. With the exception of the Thai Army, these armies were creations of the imperial power primarily to maintain their hold of the people. As imperialists, they allied themselves with the native rulers and did not bother educating their colonials. When the Dutch left Indonesia, for instance, Indonesia had only over a hundred college graduates. It was the Indonesian Army, born of the Indonesian Revolution, that created the bureaucracy. They also went into business allied with the Chinese. Burma, though not an archipelago like Indonesia, has about a dozen ethnic tribes, some at war with the government. The Burmese Army, like in Indonesia, formed the initial bureaucracy. Many of its generals are in business, which is one reason why it seized power again. It is the same in the Thai military, for which reason many young Thais want to be in the Army. It is challenged not by the Communists but by separatist Muslims in the South and a restive population silently critical of their profligate king.

Meanwhile, although the next election is still more than a year away, electioneering is already in full swing. The prospective candidates include a President who is prohibited by the Constitution from re-election. Philippine politics, in the absence of granite institutions, is very volatile. I wonder if there will be elections next year.


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