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New People's Army (NPA)

New People's Army (NPA)

LEADER: Jose Maria Sison

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1969

ESTIMATED SIZE: 16,000

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Philippines

U.S. TERRORIST EXCLUSION LIST DESIGNEE: The U.S. Department of State declared the New People's Army a terrorist organization in 2005

OVERVIEW

The New People's Army (NPA) is a left-wing, communist-based, revolutionary organization that operates under the direction of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). It was formed on March 29, 1969, primarily as the military fighting section of the CPP, but also with secondary duties in organizing and propaganda. The objective of the NPA is to reverse injustices dealt to the Filipino people by the Philippine government and the capitalist class such as the large landlord/property owners. The three perceived injustices it is primarily fighting against are bureaucrat-capitalism, imperialism, and semi-feudal landlordism.

To accomplish these objectives, the NPA carries out an agrarian revolution for the express purpose of overthrowing the Philippine government through the actions of extended guerrilla warfare. Specifically, NPA leaders counter the abuses to the Filipino people with respect to the land tenancy system and, specifically, the peasant desire for farm/rural reform; the economic and unemployment conditions including unfair income distribution; and the corrupt systems and abusiveness within the government and the military. In the end, the NPA hopes to establish its own communistic/socialistic system of government in the Philippines.

HISTORY

In the 1930s, conflicts between rural property owners and tenants resulted in poverty conditions for most peasant farmers living near Manila in central Luzon. Many farmers, who had earlier participated in agrarian protest movements, joined the pro-land reform Communist Party.

When the Japanese occupied the Philippines during World War II (1939–1945), the Communist Party joined with the People's Anti-Japanese Army to fight the intruders. The new resistance group was called the Hukbalahaps, or the Huks. By early 1943, the Huks—consisting of about 10,000 members—was effectively battling the Japanese using remote mountain bases and operating out of fields and paddies.

After the war, the Philippine government began to perceive the Huks, who took up the cause of land reform, as a threat to its power. By 1949, the Huks possessed an army of between 12,000 and 13,000 guerrilla soldiers, along with the support of about 100,000 peasants. At this time, the Huks began to organize farmers into unions, which further perturbed the government. In 1950, the Huks nearly defeated the Philippine government with about 15,000 guerrillas. However, in 1954, the Philippine government crushed the revolution with assistance from the United States.

Fifteen years later, on March 29, 1969, the New People's Army was formed when the newly established CPP, under the leadership of Jose Maria Sison, joined with the remaining members of the Huks. Under the guidance of Bernabe Buscayno (alias, Commander Dante), the Huks gave the CPP—whose members were mostly students, teachers, and other intellectuals—what it lacked: guerrilla warfare experience.

The NPA was comprised of approximately 400 guerrilla soldiers, 500 support troops, and between 3,000 and 4,000 support personnel. The members acted primarily within the regions of Pampanga and Tarlac in central Luzon.

By 1970, the NPA had grown to several thousand soldiers. It also relocated most of its bases and activities to Quezon in southeastern Luzon, and Isabela in northeastern Luzon. The group made agrarian reform its primary focus, especially publicizing the broken campaign promises of re-elected President Ferdinand Marcos.

In 1971, the Philippine government fought its first unified attack against the group near a major NPA base in the Cagayan Valley of northeastern Luzon. Then, in 1972, Philippine military forces launched a counter-military effort—complete with martial law—that resulted in heavy NPA losses. That year, the NPA consisted of 1,000-2,000 soldiers, 7,000-8,000 trainees, and an estimated 100,000 supporters.

Between 1973 and 1974, government forces steadily drove NPA soldiers out of the villages and into remote mountain regions, killing many in the process. As a result, Sison formed small guerrilla groups among the islands to provide flexibility of movements. Each group was self-supporting and able to develop its own agenda based on its specific needs.

With few police present, the NPA was able to help peasants with land reform conflicts involving the Philippine government and private corporations, disputes against landlords, and abuses by the military. For example, in 1976, NPA leaders helped Kalingas tribal members who were being forced off their sacred lands by the government's Chico River Dam project. Because of these actions, the NPA became popular with the citizenry.

Between 1976 and 1977, CPP leader Sison and NPA leader Buscayno were captured. Other leaders were also captured or killed. After these victories, the Philippine government stopped pursuing the NPA. As a result, the remaining NPA leaders used this time to strengthen its political and organizational activities.

By 1978, the NPA began to use military methods that were more conventional, rather than its earlier-used ambush techniques. By 1979, recruitment drives had increased NPA membership to around 3,000 soldiers.

In 1980, the CPP newspaper declared that the NPA would resume its full-time military operations with twenty-six guerrilla fronts in Luzon, Mindanao, and the Viayas. The increased military activity was due primarily to economic difficulties, government corruption, military abuses, martial law, and unemployment, At this time, the NPA had units in forty-six of the seventy-four provinces.

LEADERSHIP

JOSE MARIA SISON

Jose Maria Sison (alias, JoMa Sison) is the founder and chairman of the CPP Central Committee and the founder of the NPA. Originally, in the 1960s, a movement on Philippine college campuses rallied many people against U.S. imperialism. Sison, an English literature instructor at the University of the Philippines, became the leader of a coalition of radial groups brought together to oppose the Philippine government for the benefit of peasants. Sison formally established the CPP on December 26, 1968. He modeled its revolutionary approach to the model provided by Mao Tse-tung of China. From 1977 to 1986, Sison was a prisoner of the Philippine military. As of 2005, Sison leads the CPP and the NPA from the Netherlands where he remains due to his exile after being released from prison.

Although still using small fighting units and avoiding conflicts with large military forces, by late 1982 the NPA was organizing units that numbered 200-300 soldiers. By 1983, it declared that approximately 20% of the villages were under its control and that it had support from about 180,000 citizens. Various foreign analysts estimated that the NPA possessed 5,000-10,000 guerrillas. On September 29, 1983, the largest number of deaths to government personnel since 1969 occurred when about seventy NPA soldiers attacked a government patrol. Thirty-nine soldiers and seven civilians died on Mindanao. At the end of 1983, government leaders admitted that its military forces had been attacked by NPA cells almost every day during the year.

By the end of 1984, according to CPP figures and most Asian terrorist experts, the NPA was operating in sixty-two of the seventy-four provinces with around 20,000 full-time and part-time soldiers and with forty-five guerrilla fronts.

As of 1986, the NPA was considered a serious threat to national security. At this time, the NPA had expanded into nearly all of the country's regions, while the CPP-NPA organization was operating at its most efficient level to date.

The NPA leaders moved toward tactics that were more aggressive when the government seemed ready to collapse in the late 1980s. Three of the more violent attacks included, on October 29, 1987, the bombing of a Pepsi Cola bottling plant and two Del Monte pineapple facilities; on November 14, 1987, the bombing of the Manila Garden Hotel (owned by Japan Air Lines), which injured ten people; and on April 1, 1988, the killing in Davao of two security guards of a Japanese businessman, who was an employee of the Takeda Chemical Corporation and the manager of the Davao Central Chemical Corporation.

In 1992, the CPP launched a campaign to strengthen its revolutionary strategy, solidify its peasant contacts, and broaden its ideological knowledge. As a result, frequent attacks were made. Two of the more violent attacks were, on July 16, 1992, the killing of a Philippine-Chinese businessman and the wounding of his wife when their automobile was attacked in Manila, and on June 4, 1996, the attack on a helicopter owned by the Arimco Mining Corporation, which resulted in the death of a Canadian geologist near Didipio in Nueva Viscaya.

In 1992, the United States closed its Philippine bases. Before that time, the NPA had regularly targeted U.S. military facilities, equipment, and personnel because it opposed any type of U.S. presence in the country. The NPA claimed it had previously killed several U.S. personnel. In 1999, however, the Philippine and U.S. governments signed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allowed for joint military training exercises. Because NPA leaders claimed the VFA compromised the country's independence, the CPP ended its peace talks with the government and the NPA resumed its violent actions against the U.S. military.

Between 1999 and late 2001, while the United States conducted its VFA exercises, the NPA claimed it would target U.S. military interests and personnel at the U.S. Embassy. However, no attacks were made. The NPA did claim responsibility for attacks on Philippine security forces in 1999, including several ambushes and kidnappings against Philippine military and police members. In January 2002, NPA leaders made public statements declaring that it would target any U.S. personnel found within its regions of operations.

During the 2000s, the NPA claimed responsibility for several major attacks. Some of these attacks included, in May 2001, the killing of a Philippine congressman from Quezon; in June 2001, the killing of a Philippine congressman from Cagayan; on November 5, 2004, the attacking of the headquarters of Petron Corporation and Caltex Philippines; on January 18, 2005, the killing of an alleged spy in Gaboc, Baay Village, Labo, Camarines Norte who was working for the military and police; on February 6, 2005, the killing of a public market administrator of Malabon who was (allegedly) abusing his authority and torturing children; on March 31, 2005, the abducting of two farmers in Recto Village, General Luna, Quezon; and on May 10, 2005, the killing of Leon Aracillas, the Santa Rosa mayor, and his bodyguard.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

The NPA is founded under a Maoist-based revolutionary philosophy, with its model being the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Its philosophy is based on Marxism, Leninism, Confucianism, and the ideas promoted by Mao Tse-tung. The NPA specifically adapted communist doctrines into its Maoist philosophy based on its "people's democratic" revolution of land reform.

The mission of the NPA is to overthrow the Philippine government. The primary functions of the NPA are to: conduct a people's war against the government; build a national united front; organize revolutionary committees; circulate propaganda to attract members and supporters; serve the citizens in ways other than militarily; support local party organizations; carry out projects that help itself, the CPP, and the citizens; assist in maintaining public order; conduct training, communications, medical care, intelligence, and logistics seminars; and recuperate and indoctrinate during inactivity periods.

In order to carry out its mission, the NPA initially began to establish and consolidate a front of rural bases in remote areas that were relatively free from police enforcement. With an established rural base, the NPA began its next step of building up around the cities. During this time, NPA members targeted for assassination (especially those considered corrupt or voicing opinions criticizing its goals and tactics) such public and private figures as judges, politicians, police and law enforcement officials, security personnel, government informers, Philippine military personnel, U.S. soldiers, former-NPA members, rival extremist groups, news media members, drug traffickers, and alleged criminals. The NPA also targeted foreign investors and foreign-owned companies to force them to leave the country.

The group also used hit-and-run ambushes and raids for many of its attacks. Such attacks helped to replenish its arms, ammunition, and equipment. The NPA also targeted government installations and projects. NPA leaders were always conscious to protect innocent bystanders by only conducting attacks on verified enemies.

The NPA opposed U.S. imperialism (especially its control over the Philippines) and domestic feudalism. From 1969–1986, the NPA contended with the corrupt government of President-Dictator Ferdinand Marcos. During most of this time, NPA leaders gained public support from perceived dishonesty within Marcos' administration. The NPA wanted all foreign investors to leave the country; thus, rejected the Marcos administration that gave preferential treatment to foreign investors.

Tactically, the NPA is organized in areas called guerrilla bases. Zones around guerrilla bases are called fronts and more distance areas that are less secured are called preparation zones. NPA leaders divide its units into two broad categories: regular forces and local forces, with regular force units containing better trained and equipped soldiers. The majority of NPA members are not armed soldiers but simply Philippine citizens whose work is coordinated by NPA leaders.

KEY EVENTS

1969:
NPA is formed.
1971:
First unified government attack against NPA occurs.
1972:
Philippine government launches a counterattack that results in heavy NPA losses.
1973–1974:
Government forces expel NPA into mountainous regions.
1976:
NPA leaders help Kalingas tribal members who are being forced off sacred lands by Chico River Dam project.
1976–1977:
CPP leader Sison is captured and imprisoned.
1978:
NPA emphasizes political and organizational activities over violent ones.
1980:
CPP declares that NPA will resume military operations.
1983:
NPA soldiers attack government patrol on Mindanao, with a loss of government personnel totaling forty-six.
1999:
NPA restarts its violence against U.S. military in the country after the Visiting Forces Agreement.
1999:
NPA claims responsible for attacks, ambushes, and abductions on Philippine security forces.
2001:
NPA claims responsibility for killing one Philippine Congressman from Quezon (May) and another Congressman from Cagayan (June).
2004–2005:
NPA steps up its number of violent acts.

Over the years, NPA leaders employ sabotage in their tactics. They have displayed an exceptional sense of urban and rural guerrilla warfare. For instance, units generally remain in their local area to defend those areas. The NPA encourages peasants to begin farming without the aid of landlords in order to be able to purchase food directly from the farmers. This system helped the NPA to feed its troops and further its support from the rural citizenry. NPA leaders are well versed in selecting the correct strategy about discipline, operations, tactics, and training.

Most NPA members come from workers, students, and professionals such as teachers. In many rural areas, members of the police force are often members of the NPA. According to the CPP, membership is open to all people who are 18 years of age and older and mentally and physically able and willing to fight.

Although the organization carries out most of its acts in rural parts of the Philippines, the NPA possesses cells within urban areas such as Manila and other metropolitan centers. Such cells are called assassination squads (or sparrow units) that usually consist of less than five soldiers.

In areas where guerrilla fronts are well established, the NDF functions, essentially, as the government of that area as it provides public works and schools, implements land reform programs, collects taxes, and enforces laws. NPA leaders often issue warnings to anyone accused of crimes, which if left unheeded often results in executions at the discretion of the NPA.

From 1969–1975, the NPA was supported partially by the People's Republic of China, that provided material support. For the next five years, the NPA was weakened financially by the loss of China's support. Later, funds and materials were obtained primarily through the levying of taxes, robberies, confiscations, intimidations, and extortions. Today, it also obtains funds through various other means such as local mining and logging firms, local businesses, and rural communities. Most of the businesses that are taxed and extorted by the NPA are remote plantations.

During the 1980s, the NPA established a more comprehensive organizational plan in order to integrate diverse groups (such as students, labor unions, and religious groups) into its membership. It employs sophisticated methods of obtaining funds. As a result, the group possesses a large arsenal of weapons, along with well-developed communications systems. The NPA is believed to be involved in smuggling, especially in the sale of illegal drugs.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

In 2004, according to Ernie B. Esconde, a reporter for The Manila Times, the NPA had maintained a steady presence in the town of Samal in Bataan. NPA soldiers had been accepted by the townspeople. Esconde stated that the NPA effectively controlled problems such as robberies, addictions, abusive police officers and local officials, and marital disagreements. However, after many years of a NPA-controlled town, the citizens saw no advancement for land reform by the NPA and turned against the group. After leaving, rumors spread that the NPA had extorted money from rich families, businesses, and farmers. One farmer claimed, however, that he and his neighboring farmers had never been approached by NPA members for food or money.

According to Benjie Oliveros of the Philippine newspaper Bulatlat, the Manila Overseas Press Club in July 2004 stated that the NPA continues to be the primary threat to "peace and security" in the country. The threat continues because of the NPA presence throughout the Philippines and its continuing ability to launch attacks against government forces in its continuing attempt to take over from the present government.

SUMMARY

The NPA maintains part of its funding through contributions from supporters primarily in the Philippines and Europe but also in various other regions of the world. The other part of its funding comes from local businesses and politicians who are forced to pay what is locally called "revolutionary taxes": in other words, extortion money.

The Philippine Communist Party, acting through its New People's Army, has fought a decades-long guerrilla insurgency against the national government. During the 1990s, the NPA conducted several unsuccessful peace talks with the Philippine government. As of 2005—after over thirty-five years of attacks—the NPA has yet to overthrow the Philippine government. With the U.S. military presence gone from the Philippines, the NPA has lost one of its primary targets. Today, it engages primarily in urban warfare and terrorist activities against (alleged) corrupt politicians, police, and drug traffickers. The group is considered a significant threat to the Philippine government.

According to newspaper reporter Benjie Oliveros, the highest number of reported casualties to governmental military forces from NPA attacks since 1999 occurred in 2004. Oliveros considers that confrontations between the NPA soldiers and government forces will likely increase in the near future based on reported trends and expansions of the NPA's guerrillas fronts. Oliveros considers the conflict to be far from being resolved.

SOURCES

Books

Chapman, William. Inside the Philippine Revolution. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987.

Corpus, Victor N. Silent War. Zuezon City, Philippines: VNC Enterprises, 1989.

Sison, Jose Maria. The Philippine Revolution: The Leader's View. New York: Crane Russak, 1989.

Web sites

Benjie Oliveros, Bulatlat. "AFP-NPA Armed Clashes Increased in 2004." 〈http://bulatlat.com/news/4-46/4-46-clashes_printer.html〉 (accessed Ocot21, 2005).

Embassy of the Philippines. "History of the Philippines." 〈http://www.philembassy.au.com/phi-hist.htm〉 (accessed October 21, 2005).

Ernie B. Esconde, The Manila Times. "A Former Rebel Town: A Case in Perspective." 〈http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2004/aug/11/yehey/prov/20040811pro12.html〉 (accessed October 21, 2005).

Major Rodney S. Azama, GlobalSecurity.org. "The Huks and the New People's Army: Comparing Two Postwar Filipino Insurgencies." 〈http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1985/ARS.htm〉 (accessed October 21, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. "Group Profile: New People's Army (NPA)." 〈http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=203〉 (accessed October 21, 2005).

Tribung Pinoy. "A Brief History of the Philippines from a Filipino Perspective." 〈http://www.tribo.org/history/history3.html〉 (accessed October 21, 2005).

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