Peace talks beginning tomorrow in Oslo may be the best hope in years for halting an insurgency that has prevented development in large parts of the Philippines.
The Communist Insurgency in the Philippines: Tactics and Talks , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses why, after fighting for more than 40 years, neither the army nor the communist New People’s Army (NPA) has been able to win militarily.
“The parties to the resumed peace negotiations should give them momentum by immediately committing to making human rights monitoring mechanisms work and holding their forces to account for abuses”, explains Bryony Lau, Crisis Group South East Asia Analyst. “Both sides have mistaken the existing monitoring body for a tally sheet”.
Since the Communist Party of the Philippines was founded in 1968 and its armed affiliate, the NPA, launched an armed struggle against the government, tens of thousands have died. The conflict peaked in the 1980s, under the repressive government of Ferdinand Marcos. Military operations coupled with an internal split crippled the organisation and cost it many of its supporters in the early 1990s. Over the past ten years, however, the CPP-NPA has proved remarkably resilient, despite declining support from the middle class and difficulties in recruiting highly educated cadres and raising funds.
The Philippine government and military insist the CPP-NPA is in irreversible decline, but clashes continue. Planning their attacks and securing weapons and funds locally, the rebels have strong roots in the different regions where they operate and have proved hard to defeat. The counter-insurgency strategies used by successive governments have combined military operations and intimidation of communities with development work, yielding few results and often proving counter-productive. Reliance on poorly supervised tribal militias and paramilitary forces has increased violence and enabled a spate of extrajudicial killings.
The Aquino administration’s professed commitment to human rights and pursuit of a political settlement require a dramatic change in the army, which has had the green light to pursue the NPA militarily for many years. The government needs to ensure that it has full support for its new internal security plan, known as Oplan Bayanihan, not only from all ranks of the army, but also from police and paramilitary forces.
President Aquino has declared he will end the country’s two insurgencies, one waged by the CPP-NPA, the other by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), before his term ends in 2016. The international community and many in the Philippine government have been more concerned about the MILF because of the higher level of violence, the potential threat to the country’s territorial integrity and the occasional links to international terrorism. But even if the government can contain the conflict with the MILF, violence on the southern island of Mindanao (and elsewhere) will continue because of the CPP-NPA.
“Serious obstacles remain to reaching a political settlement”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “But it is far better to negotiate than to wage an unwinnable war or hope the CPP-NPA will disintegrate over time”.