Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dramatic increase in tactical offensives

A few weeks ago, Malacañang spokespersons were quoted in the news as saying that the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the clandestine Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), remains “the biggest threat to national security.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) described the NPA as the country’s “No. 1 security threat” in mid-2004 – for the first time since the early 1990s.

This is a tune that is vastly different from what the government was singing as recently as the beginning of last year. Not too long ago the government was dismissing the NPA as a “spent force,” an “ideological orphan” engaged in extortion and other forms of banditry.

While the short time it took the government to make a turnaround on its earlier assessment of the NPA’s strength can cast doubt as to the accuracy of its statements, the NPA’s own figures appear to show that it became a stronger force for the government to reckon with in 2005.
Last year was a crucial year in the growth of the NPA forces, if we go by the Dec. 26, 2004 statement of CPP Central Committee chairman Armando Liwanag.

“The NPA now has the critical mass to intensify tactical offensives and increase its seizure of arms at an unprecedented rate,” Liwanag said in the statement. “It has raised its capability of arresting for investigation and, if the evidence warrants, for trial the most rabid puppets of U.S. imperialism, the most corrupt officials, the most cruel human rights violators, the worst exploiters and crime lords in prohibited drugs and other nefarious activities.”

“The attainment of critical mass means it has become extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the government to overcome the NPA militarily,” said CPP spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal in a recent interview with Bulatlat.

Surpassing “critical mass”

In 2005, Rosal told Bulatlat, the NPA grew beyond the “critical mass” it attained last year.

Rosal said the total number of NPA regular, or full-time, fighters has gone up this year to the equivalent of 27 battalions. Asked for a more exact figure, Rosal said the NPA is still in the process of consolidating its data for the present year. But considering that in the military a battalion has about 500 troops, this would mean that the NPA now has roughly about 13,500 regular fighters.

And these are just the regular fighters. This does not yet include the members of the so-called People’s Militia, the village-based NPA fighters who perform community police functions – whom, as Rosal pointed out, the military describes as “peasants by day, NPA fighters by night.”

With the growth in the number of NPA forces has come an increase in the number of tactical offensives compared to last year, Rosal said.

Citing data obtained from reports by various guerrilla fronts, Rosal said the NPA was able to wage a total of 116 tactical offensives from Sept. 13 to Nov. 23 this year. Of these, there were five ambushes, six raids, four sparrow operations (quick attacks in population centers), eight sniping operations, and 14 executions of “criminals and human rights violators.”

From these, he said, the NPA was able to seize 54 high-powered firearms, as opposed to one loss. There were 128 government troops killed in action and 73 wounded during these offensives, as opposed to five killed and two wounded on the NPA side.

And that was just from Sept. 13 to Nov. 23. Rosal in particular cited the Southern Tagalog region, where a total of 62 government troops were killed in NPA offensives since March.

“This campaign is continuously being pursued,” Rosal said, “and is going to be pursued until the end of this year.”

The tactical offensives for this year were particularly numerous in Mindanao and the Bicol region, said Rosal – owing, he said, to the relative strength of the NPA in those areas compared to that in other parts of the country.

The rebel leader said the NPA wages an average of two tactical offensives every week in 2004. This is roughly equivalent to 104 tactical offensives for the said year.

Rosal said the NPA still has to consolidate its figures on the exact number of tactical offensives from the start of 2005 to the time of the interview with Bulatlat. However, he said, with the tactical offensives waged in various parts of the country from Sept. 13 to Nov. 23 alone, the number of NPA operations for this year has definitely exceeded that of last year.

The CPP called for an increase in tactical offensives in the latter part of mid-2005, Rosal told Bulatlat, as a contribution of the armed revolutionary movement to the struggle for the ouster of the Macapagal-Arroyo regime – which is under fire for the imposition of what have been described as “anti-national and anti-people” policies, corruption, electoral fraud, and human rights violations. The intensification of tactical offensives, Rosal explained, serves to weaken the AFP’s capacity and resolve to defend the regime.

With all these, Rosal said, has come an improvement in the NPA’s capacity to wage agrarian revolution, which the underground revolutionary movement considers a main component of the armed struggle. He said there were several successful campaigns this year for the lowering of debt interest rates and the increase in peasants’ harvest shares as well as the wages of farm workers and the farm gate prices of crops.

Increasingly formidable

The NPA, Rosal said, plans in the next few years to increase the number of guerrilla fronts it maintains from the present 130 to 140, and attain a more advanced stage of the present strategic defensive phase of the armed struggle and thus bring it closer to the strategic stalemate where the armed revolutionary forces would have acquired capacity for engaging in more massive confrontations with “enemy” troops.

There is a high probability that the NPA would achieve these goals should it be able to at least maintain the momentum it attained this year. The NPA upped the ante this year and it appears there is no stopping it from going further.

It is clear that the NPA has gone beyond the point where the government began to stop dismissing it as a “spent force.” From all indications, it is capable of going even further.

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