The NPA as the cat, the AFP as the mouse
Last week, Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the national security adviser and vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, said the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) remains the biggest security threat to the country. He said, “It is actually the CPP and the NPA because they seek to overthrow the democratic form of government and change it with what they call democratic centralism or dictatorship.” This is a surreal view coming from the top national security adviser. He put the CPP-NPA above the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so seriously damaged the economy, closing business establishments and laying off millions of workers, and deepening the poverty and despair of the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized people. He does not mention the pro-Duterte revolutionary government campaign. He does not mention the other communist party, the Communist Party of China, that has waged an undeclared war by encroaching on our territory and using its state enterprises to gain toeholds in, of all places, our military camps.
National security, as taught in defense schools such as the National Defense College of the Philippines, already acknowledge that national security is no longer just military security, but also covers political, economic, socio-cultural, technological, and environmental security. Maybe Esperon needs a refresher course.
There was a time the uniformed services were the area of service where heroes were bred. Which is why in many videos of the national anthem, there is a disproportionate number of images of warriors and soldiers fighting against colonial oppressors and invaders.
But our military and national security establishments have been waylaid. Because they are told that they cannot win over China and they should be deferential and not rock the boat. All that they have learned and are oriented for—fighting the enemy—has been suppressed, and all that angst and energy is now redirected inward to exaggerated internal threats. The NPA has once again become the focus of military attention, along with the various organizations that are associated with it.
For a nation of 110 million people, an estimated NPA force of 5,600 distributed over an archipelago of 7,641 islands does not nearly approach a level of crisis, especially if the military has a force of 180,000, the police has another 205,000, and we have various auxiliary units under arms. We know, of course, that there is an element of institutional ulterior motive here, using the NPA in aid of budgetary increases. The military gets P186 billion while the police gets P187 billion. In a way, the NPA is the unwitting silent partner of the military. The NPA is the surrogate for the operations and battles that the military should be directing at external invaders. There is no way this NPA strength can be “wiped out,” as has been the vision of administrations since Gloria Arroyo. Trying to do so is like eliminating all bacteria from the mouth, which doctors will tell us cannot be done. All we can do is to maintain the bacteria at insignificant levels. The nation and the military must accept that the CPP-NPA are co-terminus with extreme poverty and inequality. At the moment, the next best thing is to forge local peace agreements with NPA commanders on the ground, which the Cambodian experience has shown works.
The military is so invested in eliminating all subversive forces with the right hand of government, when it can see that the left hand—the failure of leadership; lack of good governance; neglect of the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized; the derailment of social development, local government, labor, transportation, public order and safety departments and institutions—is what is feeding the subversive enterprise.
Ironically, retired generals are in charge of that left hand. There are almost 50 former military and police generals in control of key institutions. Even Bangon Marawi, the most critical failure that will spawn the next terrorist onslaught in this country in the next administrations, is headed by a retired general. So, the active military is trying to clean up the mess being created by the neglect or incompetence of retired generals. The active and retired military look like a pair of scissors—those who get in between get shredded.
The military is ceasing to be a fertile ground for real patriotism and heroism. The uniforms are smart, the stars are well polished, but the performance—in the context of responding to the real security travails of this disconsolate nation—is shabby. Only the buck privates and lowly sergeants, still with white sidewall haircuts and discipline from boot camp, have a chance to be heroes by dying for their country. Unfortunately, this happens only in the hands of those countrymen aka terrorists who spring from a people the country has neglected and wronged.
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