General Palparan is daydreaming
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-04-06
HIGHLY controversial Major General Jovito Palparan was quoted in the Inquirer story of Tonette Orejas as saying that he would wipe out the four-decade-old communist insurgency before his 56th birthday on Sept. 21.
It was not clarified if General Palparan was referring to the insurgency within his place of assignment, which is Northern Luzon, or if he meant the entire country. Either way, having been involved in the post-People Power 1986 successful containment of the communist insurgency when I served in President Cory Aquino’s Department of Interior and Local Government with Jimmy Ferrer, I think General Palparan is daydreaming.

If there is one thing that I learned from my Local Government experience it is that no military offensive can solve the communist insurgency problem. That is a fact because the insurgency is a political problem that is fueled by sub-human economic conditions, and therefore the solution can never be the use of arms and more repression.

As proven during the Ferdinand Marcos years, the communist insurgency grew by leaps and bounds because of the martial law repression and the deterioration of economic conditions. When Marcos became president in 1965, the Philippines was the second best performing economy in Asia after Japan.

By the time Marcos was deposed by People Power, the economy was in tatters. The drop in economic performance together with martial law repression became the greatest recruiter of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army. In fact, it was the threat that the communists would achieve an effective stalemate by 1987 that convinced the otherwise pro-Marcos Reagan administration to shift its support to Cory Aquino.

After massive cheating robbed Cory Aquino of victory in the 1986 snap presidential election -- which was forced on Marcos by the US and the World Bank -- then-president Ronald Reagan sent his personal emissary, Philip Habib, to size up Cory Aquino and assess the developing situation here. Shortly after Habib returned to the US, the events that resulted into the People Power revolt unraveled.

Habib was reportedly awed by the over two million people who trooped to Manila's Rizal Park where Cory Aquino initiated a nationwide civil disobedience campaign that was designed to force Marcos to restore democracy. At a subsequent meeting with Cory Aquino in her Makati office, Habib saw for himself what the lady was made of, her dedication to her cause, if she could hack the job of succeeding Marcos.

Towards the end of their meeting, I was told that Habib asked Cory Aquino: “What can we do for you?”

Habib was likely waiting for Cory Aquino to appeal for US help to pressure Marcos to resign and allow the restoration of democracy. He was stunned by the answer that Cory Aquino gave him.

Without hesitation, Cory Aquino answered him: “Nothing. I have the support of my people and that is all I need.”

The friendship between Reagan and Marcos went back all the way to 1968, when Reagan, then governor of California, visited Manila and became the guest of honor at the opening of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It was bruited about that Marcos was one of the biggest contributors to Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign, which was quite understandable because Reagan’s White House predecessor, Jimmy Carter, posed problems for Marcos with his landmark human rights campaign.

The last thing that Reagan would have wanted to do was to junk Marcos. There was no relationship whatsoever with Ninoy or Cory Aquino to bank on. But the threat of a political stalemate with the communists after the moderates had been marginalized following the massive cheating during the snap election convinced Reagan that Marcos must go. The US Department of State was convinced that a lot of people would then look at the communists as the last recourse for getting rid of Marcos.

The US had lost in Vietnam. Cambodia fell to the Communists. The Russians were in Afghanistan. The Cold War was still on. The US thus decided that Marcos had to go if the Philippines were to be saved from communism.

In the post-Marcos era, the communist insurgency was one of the top three priorities of the new Cory Aquino government. No economic takeoff would have been possible with so many active communist fronts in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

But the Aquino government had better approaches to tackling the insurgency -- the political weapon was used against a basically political problem. One of the biggest mistakes of the Marcos regime was the use of the military as the lead agency in fighting the insurgency. The more communists that the government military killed, the more communist rebels the government military spawned.

Against the Huk communist rebellion of the 1950s, President Ramon Magsaysay had his hand on the right button. He knew that to fight communism one had to offer a superior political ideology. Magsaysay -- with help from the US -- used social justice as his main weapon in convincing the Huks under Luis Taruc to give his administration a chance.

In the post-Marcos era, Cory Aquino used the new democratic space to entice the rebels to come down from the hills and join the rebuilding. The insurgency was thrown in disarray, and what followed was one of the darkest chapters of the communist movement in the Philippines. Suspicion that many of their members were shifting allegiance led the communists to undertake wide-scale purging. Many rebels accepted the government's offer to trade their guns for plowshares.

The ultimate weapon that scuttled the communists and decimated their numbers was the Local Government program under Jimmy Ferrer that successfully transformed their political fronts into new bulwarks of democracy. Over P2 billion worth of projects were concentrated in known communist political fronts -- projects that addressed the most urgent needs of the communities.

The role of the government military was to clear the political front of the presence of the New People's Army -- the armed elements of the communists -- so that local government teams could proceed with the projects. This was the big difference in the approach to the insurgency between the Marcos and Aquino governments.

This is now the mistake that the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime is committing in relying on the likes of General Palparan in fighting the resurgence of the communist movement. The Arroyo regime should be using Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronnie Puno to spearhead the anti-insurgency effort instead of the Charter change effort. The so-called military offensives of General Palparan are mere illusions of military victories and are doomed to exacerbating the insurgency problem.

Stopping the communist insurgency is a political effort and less of a military fight. Development, not more repression, is what will stop the communist insurgency.

General Palparan may end up becoming the biggest recruiter of the communists 20 years after Marcos.

You may email William M. Esposo at

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