The Philippines’ Third War

The Philippines’ “War on Drugs” and battle against ISIS-affiliated groups have received global media attention over the past year, but a third conflict has gripped the country since the 1960s. Already stalled peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) have now been frozen, after a series of tit-for-tat clashes. “No more talks,” President Rodriguo Duterte announced last Monday at a press conference following his State of the Nation Address in congress, vowing to recruit at least 20,000 more soldiers and purchase new military equipment.

On July 19, communists reportedly shot dead two soldiers who were purchasing supplies at a public market in the town of Roxas in Palawan province, 510 kilometres south-west of Manila. The military reported that the killing was in retaliation to the seizure of a communist rebel training camp a few weeks ago. Also on July 19, Maoist fighters attacked a checkpoint on Mindanao, killing a paramilitary guard officer and injuring five soldiers from the presidential guard, a day after Duterte asked Congress to extend martial law until the end of the year to tackle unrest by Islamist armed groups.

“I don’t want to talk with them anymore,” Duterte said. “They have killed many of our soldiers, many of our police officers. Imagine, killing two soldiers while they were going to the market. That really angers me. After we finish off those [ISIS] fools there, we will re-orient our offensive against the New People’s Army,” referring to the armed wing of the rebel group.

Director General of the Philippine National Police Ronald dela Rosa disclosed on Sunday that he has already ordered the distribution of 2,900 rifles and almost five million rounds of ammunition to his men on the field, especially in rebel-infested areas.

Duterte had also threatened to bomb Lumad (indigenous) schools teaching “subversion” and “communism” that “brainwash” children into hating the government, though Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag said Duterte was only threatening those Lumad schools “which don’t have permits from the Department of Education and refuse to comply with the Department of Education (DepEd) requirements on curriculum.” The armed forces have confirmed they will not take his threat as policy without accreditation from the Department of Education.

These negotiations have never been easy. On-and-off talks between the government and CPP broke down in 2001 when the rebels backed out after the United States designated them as a “foreign terrorist organization,” making it difficult to secure overseas funding.

The CPP’s leader, Jose Maria Sison, has been in exile in the Netherlands since the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that ousted another “strongman,” President Ferdinand Marcos. “If deemed necessary by the revolutionary movement, I will return to the Philippines to fight the Duterte puppet regime of US imperialism,” Sison said in an online interview. “I choose the battlefield where I fight and the types of battles that I wage. These cannot be dictated by Duterte, who hopes vainly that the US and European intelligence would tip him off as soon as I leave the Netherlands for the Philippines.” A palace spokesman said, “It is unfortunate he needs to be coaxed to return to his homeland, while his wounded comrades in the mountains in the Philippines are left dying only for our soldiers to rescue and accord medical care,” referring to Sison’s NPA allies.

The violence highlights the challenge facing a military stretched on multiple fronts in Mindanao, an island of 22 million people. More than 400,000 people have been displaced in Marawi and over 7,000 have died in the war on drugs. With that said, it is imperative that Sison returns to Manila and Duterte reopens the door to peace talks, as the Filipino people cannot afford another war.

Elizabeth Burden