Still at it

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The threat posed by the communist insurgency was used by Ferdinand Marcos the elder as the excuse for declaring martial law in 1972.

“FM” also played the communist card to enjoy US support throughout his authoritarian, kleptocratic rule. The oppression and injustice under the dictatorship actually served as the best recruiter for the communist movement. But Uncle Sam has often shown that when it comes to human rights, as long as a foreign SOB is Washington’s SOB, he’s OK.

The end of the diktadurang Marcos (yes, school kids, that’s the accurate nomenclature), combined with the discrediting of the communist ideology except in holdouts China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam weakened the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army. Continuing social injustice, however, allowed the CPP-NPA to survive in the Philippines, making it the longest running communist insurgency in the world.

Rodrigo Duterte, who befriended communist leaders when he dabbled with socialism in his youth, explored peace with CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison, but eventually gave up. Duterte then shifted gears and went after the political backbone of the movement.

He ignored denials of progressive groups that they are front organizations of the CPP-NPA and the National Democratic Front. Duterte not only brushed aside complaints of red-tagging, but also officially classified certain groups as terrorist organizations, which cut off their funding and allowed a freeze on their assets.

During elections, those seen to be supporting progressive groups were deprived of government aid programs and other services, according to Bayan Muna, which lost all its party-list seats in the House of Representatives in the 2022 race.

At the same time, the national and local governments embarked on an aggressive carrot-and-stick approach to lure rebels back into the social mainstream, tapping even relatives of the rebels to promote surrenders.

You can see some grain of truth in the declaration of the Department of National Defense in September last year that “strategic victory” has been achieved against the communist movement.

The challenge is sustaining the victory.

It’s interesting that on the 51st anniversary of the declaration of martial law, with Marcos’ only son and namesake at the nation’s helm, the fight against the communists is back in the spotlight.

*      *      *

Whether or not the Armed Forces of the Philippines is telling the truth about environmental activists Jhed Tamano, 22, and Jonila Castro, 21, the government has egg on its face.

Either adherents of “The Butcher” Jovito Palparan are active again, or counterinsurgency forces got conned into an elaborate drama staged (according to the AFP) by the NPA.

A miffed Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who is a lawyer, said perjury charges would be filed against Tamano and Castro for denying the contents of their signed statements that the AFP and the National Task Force to End Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) had touted as yet another victory in the battle for hearts and minds.

If the AFP got conned by two young women allegedly sympathetic or belonging to the communist movement, that was an epic failure of military intelligence. Whoever botched what was supposed to be a propaganda coup for the AFP should be given the boot… quietly, lest it aggravate the military’s embarrassment.

It would be worse, of course, if the two women are telling the truth and were kidnapped by Army soldiers, and then forced to sign statements declaring that they were leaving the communist movement and had surrendered to get state protection.

That smacks of martial law and the diktadurang Marcos, or the heyday of Palparan during the presidency of his fan, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

If Tamano and Castro are telling the truth about their abduction, at least they didn’t end up like Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan – the University of the Philippines students who were kidnapped in Bulacan and tortured by Palparan’s forces in 2006, and who remain on the list of the Philippines’ desaparecidos.

Tamano and Castro were reportedly dragged into a sport utility vehicle on the night of Sept. 2 in Orion, Bataan. The two were working with groups assisting communities adversely affected by reclamation activities in Manila Bay.

The groups decried what they described as a kidnapping and demanded that the military produce the two.

Security forces said don’t look at us, until Sept. 19, when a triumphant NTF-ELCAC organized a press conference, wherein the two women were presented by the chief of the Army’s 70th Infantry Battalion.

From the look on the face of the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Ronnel dela Cruz, it took some time for him to fully process what was happening, as Tamano and Castro denied surrendering.

Instead the girls, who were seated beside him, accused his command of kidnapping them and forcing them, on threat of harming their families, to sign the statements of surrender.

*      *      *

The nature of the threat was not specified. Tamano’s stepfather said in an interview that Castro was the NPA member and might have merely influenced Tamano. The Public Attorney’s Office, which had assisted the two women in the preparation of the affidavits, said the statements were already prepared before they were provided PAO counsel.

If the women’s story is true, and the military had decided to gloat using coerced testimonials, you wonder, what was the Army thinking?

On the other hand, the AFP has stuck to its version of events and admitted that it got conned. “We were betrayed through a web of deception,” an AFP officer said yesterday.

Perjury charges are expected to be filed by the government against the two women. We have yet to hear if the women intend to file kidnapping charges against the AFP.

This has also boomeranged on the NTF-ELCAC, controversial enough as it is.

Perhaps the AFP was made complacent by the many other presentations of rebel surrenderees in the past years, with no one later disputing the story or reversing their statements.

Inevitably, the mess has dredged up memories not only of the atrocities attributed to Palparan, but also of the kidnappings, disappearances and mass warrantless arrests and detention in those first months following the declaration of martial law.

For the current administration, it would be a monumental achievement if the CPP-NPA campaign, which Joma Sison launched in 1968 during the regime of Marcos 1.0, could be accurately, unassailably declared to be over under the watch of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The story of Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro  sets back that victory.

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