This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its revolutionary army, the New People’s Army, which has engaged in the longest-running communist insurgency in the world. Perhaps it is necessary to point out at this time why it has failed and yet continues to seduce all those young people who feel a compulsive need for revolution. Its attractiveness to intellectuals also lies in its “scientific” deductions, and its perceived historicity and foreordained success.
Indeed, the Philippines has needed a revolution, way before 1968. For so long, we have been tyrannized by a corrupt political system, which the democratic apparatus of elections cannot banish. For Filipinos then, revolution means the end of our ancient poverty and, hopefully, the disempowerment of our oppressor, the oligarchy.
By its very nature, revolution is a class war -- the people against the very rich and the politicians who support and profit from them. This wide social divide, as evidenced by widespread poverty, is in itself the "objective reality" that every revolutionary must understand. From the very beginning, however, the Communist Party and the NPA were blind to this and to the other objective realities in this country. This willful blindness doomed the Party; it was unable to attract the masa because it lacked credibility.
I remember the cadres who came to me fifty years ago, telling me why they were for Mao. I told them each country must shape its own revolution. I myself was very much for Mao, but it was obvious to me that the Philippines is not China. I pointed out to them the undercurrent of anti-Chinese feeling not only in the Philippines but in all of Southeast Asia. They were also anti-American and I asked how is that an argument for revolution when almost every Filipino wanted to migrate to the United States.
They also regarded the Philippine Army as the enemy. Of course, doctrinally, they were correct because it is an instrument of the government and the oligarchy. What they ignored is that the Army, including its officer corps, is composed primarily of the very poor. It is also a patriotic institution, its heroism tested in Tirad Pass, in World War II. It is also the Army, and only the Army, that can hold the country together. The Party should have worked to win the Army to their side.
THE NPA LEADERS also ignored the past, the peasant rebellions that are very much in our nationalist tradition. They did not learn from the mistakes of the Huk uprising, how that movement was weakened by internal dissension. The same dissension would weaken them later on. I asked the late Huk Supremo, Luis Taruc, if any of the NPA leaders had ever spoken with him about history, about organization, and tactics. Ka Luis said no one had ever approached him.
Let me state that during the Marcos regime, I was for the NPA. I saw it as the only formidable opposition to the dictatorship. Besides, it was Marcos, with the tyranny of his regime, who was their best recruiter.
Then EDSA I in February 1986 -- the NPA was not there because its leadership was composed of orthodox communists. They were unable to grasp the difference between Marcos and Cory Aquino, and did not appreciate the objective reality -- the masa supported Cory. Instead, they forfeited an opportunity that may never come again. I believe the outcome of EDSA I would have been different had they marched with the people and the Army. Perhaps the NPA would have been able to temper the restoration of the oligarchy.
After EDSA came the so-called cleansing of their ranks. So many cadres were killed in the internal purges, which could have been avoided had there been more party discipline in the upper levels of command. The NPA has not recovered from this tragic internal hemorrhage to this day.
And now, the supreme irony of the revolutionary tax it collects from capitalists. By exchanging the revolutionary tax for protection, the NPA has emasculated the very foundation of the revolution itself and has joined the ranks of the very enemy it wants to destroy.
THE CORRECT FORMULA for revolution, as I see it, still stands -- the need for a revolutionary party that is grounded in reality and has the support of the people. Remember always -- a revolution unites the people, not divides them. It is important for the leader to study the dynamics of successful organizations like the Iglesia Ni Kristo, to consider always the nationalist and religious underpinnings of the people so that in the end, this revolutionary party creates “the sea,” the masa who accept its credibility.
The Party must eventually be led by selfless leaders like Ho Chi Minh, who are willing to live poorly as their own people, and who are able to let go of power once the revolution has succeeded and let the administrators and the bureaucrats take over.
For all its gross errors and seeming irrelevance, revolutionary communism still resonates with the educated and idealistic young. They should not be reviled for this. They should be reminded instead that the communists, for all the noise and the havoc they have raised, did not invent revolution and that, as already evident in Eastern Europe, communism will collapse because of its own internal contradictions.
Revolutions are humanity's efforts -- sometimes violently pursued, sometimes peacefully achieved -- to create just and humane societies. Thus, it requires epic heroism and sacrifice, often made by men and women of obdurate faith and compassion. Above all, it is really untrammeled love of country that fuels the revolutionary leadership and the cadres as well.
Remembering the many lives and billions of pesos that were wasted in the last half century, I lay most of the blame at the door of the Communist Party leader, Jose Maria Sison, a brilliant ideologue, a narcissist, and a second-rate poet.
First published in The Philippine Star, December 28, 2018