With its success in finally getting the top two remaining leaders of the terrorist-rebel Maute Group that attacked Marawi City last May 23, nearly five months ago, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has now set its sights on the Communist insurgency of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of staff of the AFP, said the Philippine Army (PA) battalions that have been fighting the war in Marawi will now be redeployed in Eastern Mindanao, where many remote areas are said to be infested by the NPA. The PA is recruiting 5,000 troopers and will activate 10 additional infantry battalions, and six will be deployed in Eastern Mindanao, the general said.
It is good to hear such optimism from the general, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the NPA is an old problem for the Philippine government. It has been around since 1969 – 48 years ago – when it was formed by Bernabe Buscayno, alias Commander Dante, and Lucio Manlapaz with the goal of carrying out a “people’s war” as the armed force of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Over the years, several administrations initiated peace talks with the NPA but they all broke down, possibly because the Philippine government, with its democratic traditions, could not accept many demands of the NPA. When President Duterte assumed office last year, one of his first acts was to reach out to Jose Manlapaz Sison, founding chairman of the CPP, and several meetings were subsequently held in Norway and the Netherlands. But these too have now broken down.
General Año said President Duterte has now issued this new mandate for the AFP to turn its attention to the NPA. Evidently aware that this is not a purely military problem, Año said the government will soon start a massive economic development program. It will be constructing major highways, bridges, and railways in Mindanao, which, he said, cannot be done if the peace and order problem persists.
The government can also look over the preliminary agreements reached by government negotiators with those of the CPP, NPA, and National Democratic Front during their talks in Norway and the Netherlands. These agreements were in two broad areas – socio-economic and political-constitutional.
Even as the AFP carries out its new mandate from President Duterte to mount a military campaign against the NPA, the government may also begin a parallel effort to develop the areas where the NPA is now active and improve the lives of the people there. Perhaps General Año, who is due to be appointed secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) after he retires as AFP chief on October 26, can help carry on this new Duterte program in his new civilian position.