Another NPA founding anniversary

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Sunday, March 29, 2015


THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was placed on red alert yesterday for the 46th anniversary of the New People’s Army (NPA).

That move has actually taken the form of a ritual. When the NPA was at its strongest and its reach widest in the ‘80s, it was capable of launching major tactical offensives almost everywhere that worried the forces of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Things have considerably changed since then.

The NPA, the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was formed on March 29, 1969 in Central Luzon. While the CPP was born from the wombs of the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), the NPA was initially composed of elements from the PKP’s Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or Huks), formerly the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or Hukbalahap.

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The CPP used an ideology to guide the NPA different from the one that the PKP used to guide the HMB. Looking at the Philippine situation through the prism of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought (later Marxism-Leninism-Maoism), it laid down the strategy of protracted people’s war, with armed struggle starting from the countryside as an important component. PKP’s Moscow-based Marxism-Leninism favored urban-based uprisings to topple the government.

Marcos later used the dramatic growth of the CPP (from its beginnings on Dec. 26, 1968) and of the NPA (from 1969) as the main reason to impose military rule on Sept. 21, 1972. While the dictatorship initially succeeded in stifling dissent in the country’s major urban centers, it failed to stop the nationwide spread of the armed struggle. The CPP wisely spread thin the AFP’s forces by forming NPA units in the archipelago’s major islands.

It didn’t help that Marcos was also battling the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which waged a secessionist war in some parts of Mindanao. Helmed by Nur Misuari, the MNLF brought the Moro struggle to a new and higher plane.

The NPA became a formidable and popular force especially in the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship. People, many of them youths with fire in their bellies, considered it a badge of honor to be associated with or to become a member of the armed group. NPA units and elements were extolled in songs and lionized by the media. From Bernabe Buscayno and Victor Corpuz down to Conrado Balweg and Gregorio Rosal--the NPA didn’t lack the names that would give face and voice to its legend.

The first NPA units formed in Cebu were not the regular ones. Armed city partisans (ACPs) were formed here in 1984 to conduct armed struggle in the province’s urban areas. They operated in groups of four or five, hit designated targets and then fled. The partisans became known as “sparrows,” their group referred to as “sparrow units.”

A few months later, regular units of the NPA were organized in the province’s hinterlands. Areas where the rebels roamed were transformed into guerrilla fronts and guerrilla bases. Soon Cebu saw guerrilla operations that they only heard in other islands and provinces of the archipelago. Ambuscades and raids were conducted until the early years of the Cory Aquino government that replaced the Marcos dictatorship.

That was several decades ago, and those who experienced the heydays of the NPA in Cebu have grown old. The generations that followed may not have even known about it. But it happened. NPA units used to roam the countryside of the province promoting the cause against feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and US imperialism.

And in those days, March 29 was always a big deal—indeed.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 30, 2015.

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