Philippines’ Communist Insurgency Heats Up

On Nov. 22, the Philippine government officially canceled peace talks with communist rebels, citing a growing series of attacks perpetrated by the New People’s Army, which has staged a long-running and largely ineffective insurgency for nearly 50 years. It may be the only organized communist insurgency left in Asia, after even the Chinese have abandoned communism in everything but name.

In a statement, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said the government will only return to the negotiating table when there is a “desired enabling environment” for talks.

The announcement represents a political failure of sorts for President Rodrigo Duterte, who when he came to power offered an olive branch to the NPA, even going so far this June as to offer military jobs to NPA rebels who might want to join the government. The Philippine Army estimates total rebel strength at about 3,500 combatants. They mainly exist on so-called “revolutionary taxes,” which are in effect bribes from businesses to keep from getting to keep from getting shot up or having their operations burned, with most attacks focused on security forces and commercial concerns.

“I am a president for peace,” Duterte said at the time. “I am not a wartime president… We have been fighting for 50 years,” adding he would extend the same offer to members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) after several dialogues with its founder Nur Misuari. “Christians and Moros, we need to talk,” he said.

However, peace talks have been stalemated for 27 years. The Communist Party of the Philippines, whose military wing is the New People’s Army, has been included on the US terror list since 2002.

According to a report by the country risk firm Pacific Strategies & Assessments in a subscription-only report, Duterte now plans to denote the communists as a terrorist group rather than a civil rebel movement. The breakdown of the peace talks indicates a likely continuation of violent incidents in the coming months, PSA said. The latest NPA attack killed a policeman and wounded 10 others in Iloilo Province on the island of Panay.

The communists have been attacking for the past several months in regions that in the recent past have not been heavily associated with violent NPA activity for the past several months, particularly on the heavily populated main island of Luzon.

“This activity has continued in the last several months,” PSA said, warning clients they should revise their travel security plans and avoid travel at night. The unsafe areas include the province of Batangas, as well as a cluster of provinces in north central Luzon and the southern Cagayan Valley, and another cluster of provinces in Ilocos Sur and the southern portion of Cordillera. (see map)

Map courtesy PSA

“Companies may need to revise plans for how to mitigate NPA extortion activities and arson attacks,” PSA said, with construction companies particularly vulnerable. The attacks began to rise in frequency on Luzon following the end of the government’s unilateral ceasefire in January. “This heightened activity has continued into this autumn,” PSA said.

NPA activity in Batangas has been notably more violent in 2017, PSA said, beginning with a Jan. 2017 incident in Batangas at the security office of the Pico de Loro resort at the southern tip of Luzon, where the NPA disarmed guards and torched an office.

On Sept. 25, the government launched airstrikes as part of an operation targeting an NPA camp in the mountainous portion of Batangas City. On the morning of Nov.20, rebels again clashed with the military near Nasugbu town, a tranquil beach community.

“Rebels and left-wing organizations in Batangas are exploiting conflicts, including land disputes, between businesses and the locals in order to drum up support for their activities and organizations,” PSA said, “NPA activity in Batangas has become markedly more violent in 2017.

PSA recorded five NPA-related violent incidents in the province during the whole of 2016, while eight incidents have been recorded so far in 2017. Two of the five incidents last year were kidnappings and one was an arson attack. In contrast, seven of the eight incidents recorded in Batangas this year were armed encounters with government forces.

Another cluster of increased activity is the northern portion of Nueva Ecija, as well as provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino. On the morning of Nov. 22, suspected NPA rebels killed a caretaker of a construction firm. Then on Nov. 9 in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, three soldiers were wounded in firefights with rebels.

Hundreds of families have been ordered to temporarily evacuate from their homes in Nueva Vizcaya at various points in the last several months, according to the report.

So far in 2017, Nueva Ecija has witnessed three violent NPA incidents up from one in 2016. Nueva Vizcaya witnessed one violent NPA related incident in 2016, and four so far in 2017. Quirino on the other hand had previously been declared insurgency free. Before this year the last incident PSA had recorded was in 2012. This year Quirino has been the site of seven violent NPA incidents.

A third area of increased activity is the southern portion of Cordillera region, with the addition of Ilocos Sur province. Two soldiers of the 24th Infantry Battalion were wounded in an encounter on Nov.12.

Perhaps the most disruptive recent attack in Luzon targeting a corporate location was an attack against the substation of a hydroelectric plant in Mountain Province on Oct.10. There the NPA detonated an explosive device in a control room, disrupting the power supply to nine municipalities, the report said.

According to PSA data, Ilocos Sur, which witnessed just one violent NPA attack in all of 2016, has been the site of seven attacks this year. Abra witnessed one violent incident in 2016, and six until this point in 2017. There were no violent incidents in Mountain Province between February 2015 and October of this year, when the attack occurred near the hydro plant. A firefight between the military and the NPA also occurred on Oct. 29.