The Armed Forces of the Philippines has been waging a campaign against the communist insurgency since the Communist Party of the Philippines was reestablished on Dec. 26, 1968, and its military wing, the New People’s Army, was formally rechartered in March 1969.
After 50 years of counterinsurgency operations, the AFP’s spokesmen have boasted that its officer corps gained valuable lessons to teach regional neighbors in similar situations. This is nonsense. The theory and principles of war can be taught only by victors, not by inept battlefield officers.
A subject of crucial importance to military theory is internal war. In “Silent War” (1989), author and publisher Victor Corpus scoffed at the AFP’s counterinsurgency methods such as “hamletization,” search-and-destroy operations, and low-intensity conflict. He said the AFP lacked a “suitable and effective strategy” that fits Philippine conditions to defeat the CPP-NPA.
Corpus defected to the NPA as a Constabulary first lieutenant on Dec. 29, 1970, for a nonexistent idealism and returned to camp on July 14, 1976, as a repentant Benjamin. After the 1986 Edsa revolt, a general amnesty of President Corazon Aquino enabled him to be recommissioned lieutenant colonel in the Army’s reserve force.
The correct strategy, Corpus asserts, is to “surround the cities from the countryside,” camouflaged by philosophizing in the traditional mode of “us versus them.” He offers a “how to” primer with great admiration for Mao Zedong—the direct implication being that, having succeeded in China, it is a strategy for the ages.
Not honed in Marxist political theory, Corpus conveniently forgets what Mao himself said: Guerrilla tactics cannot be replicated by the ruling government.
In Eastern Europe, where Marxism was initially engaged and where the alliance between workers and peasants first saw expression, the need for a sustained workers’ movement in the cities rather than a full-blown insurrection became a standard insurgent tactic. The method of warfare more suitable to a society mired in uneven development was left to Mao to develop based on concrete conditions in China. Thus, Mao’s contribution was to introduce “protracted war” versus Lenin’s classic prescription of “industrial strikes” in more urbanized Russia.
The foremost deficiency of Corpus’ counterinsurgency strategy is his ignorance of the Marxist concept of “people’s war.” The concept of guerrillas being analogous to fish in water, the idea of “when the enemy tires, we attack and when the enemy weakens, we pursue,” which Mao explained in his military writings—and which Corpus seems to praise—are nothing more than the application to the material world of Hegelian dialectics of contradiction. Thus, the CPP-NPA’s guerrilla tactics cannot be separated from the philosophical framework of Marxism itself.
Corpus’ view on insurgency and counterinsurgency begins and ends in a historical vacuum. This lack of historicity that shapes strategy and tactics versus insurgents, renders his proposed measures pointless and abstract. Nothing disarms insurgents more effectively than democratized prosperity.
There is a vain attempt to be original by using clichés like “gradual constriction”—a battlefield tactic known since ancient times—and phrases such as the “Venus Fly-Trap” technique, although this is a ploy (baiting the enemy into a controlled killing zone) surely even cavemen must have known.
But a “how to” manual should pass the test of practical application, and its entire usefulness must be a positive answer to the question “Does it work?” Removing such strained similes as those likening the civilian population to a river and the insurgents to rocks in it, and understanding Corpus’ meaning to be removing/avoiding the civilian populace and/or befriending/seducing civilians to our side, the guarded answer is: “It ought to.”
But success and failure are in the details. The important point is to avoid the great danger of coining and thinking in slogans. A slogan oversimplifies, and the resultant conclusions are usually inadequate and even false. This book may serve the useful purpose of being a primer, like teaching the alphabet, but the whole course of teaching officers and men should quickly proceed to the inculcation of the habit of thinking in terms of historical models and abstracting from them the principles of victory.
Assuming this can be done, we ought to have an officer corps that can think in strategic and tactical terms. Naturally, we expect mental filtering and common sense as well.
A basic problem is that Hannibals and Caesars rarely apply at the Philippine Military Academy. It usually gets the children and relatives of military and police officers, careerists and opportunists, and even sublimated sadists and masochists whose true nature, unfortunately, emerges only when invested with the power of the gun amid impoverished villagers and small businessmen (the bigger ones get kidnapped).
But despite such material, aided by the PMA’s relevant transmutation processes, we have an officer corps undistinguished by greatness but competent enough to go forth into battle and regularly return to an honorable retirement. Have we ever had a George Patton? A Tiberius Caesar? Even an Emilio Aguinaldo? Not in our memory.
The problem at hand is whether books such as “Silent War” can upgrade the officer corps’ battlefield capability. Certainly, there had been similar tracts from more illustrious authors, and the officer corps remains what it is today.
Nevertheless, we have to keep trying. There is no camino real, but the inculcation of sound strategic and tactical thinking can be reasonably achieved using the conditioned reflex as a working substitute for natural talent. And this is exactly what military training systems have sought to achieve. We cannot but insist on a kartilla of fundamentals:
Officers and men must be thoroughly indoctrinated in patriotism and fighting responsibility; professional soldiers must be taught to think in strategic and tactical terms, learning the great infantry campaigns of the past; soldiers must view every situation as a new one; adequate arms and materiel must be provided; intelligence funds must be used, not stolen; soldiers must be extremely kind and helpful to civilians; the garrison concept of ancient Rome, and its road-building strategy, must be remembered; Rome’s patience in its strategy of massing forces steadily, in a pincer movement, inexorably pushing its enemies into dead ends and premature mass attacks must likewise be remembered; foot patrols must be discouraged and more air reconnaissance and village intelligence relied on; and unnecessary convoys/travels between enemy borders and garrison must be stopped, movements must be done only in masses, using the “phalanx” as a concept—or an insurgent war will be fought for another 50 bloody years.
Take heart. Without a remarkable strategy on the AFP’s part, rebel forces have been thinned by time, deprivation, disease, boredom, hunger, disillusion and their own bestial cruelty to each other. Read but don’t depend on “how to” primers; rely mostly on your own guts, arms and common sense. Perhaps, by just being careful, we’ll see them all simply disappear.
Reynaldo V. Silvestre is a retired Army colonel and belongs to the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Vanguard (Class 1968). He is a multiawarded writer, bemedaled officer and former director for doctrine development of the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Bonifacio.
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