Marcos Presidency Reinvigorates Communist Insurgency in the Philippines
Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 7
The perceived historical parallels and symbolic nature of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s coming into power has galvanized the Philippines’ communist insurgent movement. In 1972, Bongbong’s father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., declared martial law with the stated purpose of securing the government against threats from violent actors, sparking protests across the country. Marcos Sr.’s martial law also motivated aggrieved elements of Philippine society to go underground and take up arms against the “US-Marcos dictatorship” (PRWC, September 1, 2022).
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has touted itself, the “New People’s Army (NPA), and other underground organizations allied with the National Democratic Front (NDF) as having served as the core of the Filipino people’s resistance against the tyrannical regime of Marcos Sr. Now, with a new generation of the Marcos family ruling the country once again, the CPP and NPA are ramping up their armed resistance against the Philippine government and military. Likewise, Marcos Jr.’s government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have indicated their lack of interest in peace talks with the communist rebels and have declared that the military will intensify its counter-insurgency operations (Manila Standard, June 11, 2022).
Rhetoric Heats Up and Clashes Continue
The narrative war heated up on August 10, 2022, when AFP head, Gen. Vicente Bacarro, ordered the military to “increase operational tempo so that we can defeat the armed [c]ommunist group” (Philippine News Agency, August 10, 2022). In a display of the priority he places on counterinsurgency, Bacarro’s order was issued during his very first command conference as military chief. He stated there is an “urgency of completing the task” and that the AFP “will be unyielding in ending the insurgency that has plagued our people and fueled poverty in the various sectors of our society” (Manila Bulletin, August 12, 2022).
Shortly after, the CPP’s Chief Information Officer, Marco Valbuena, responded with a statement titled “AFP stepped up operations vs NPA will be in vain,” wherein he argued that “no amount of ‘increasing the tempo’ by the AFP can resolve the deep-seated social and economic roots that compel people to wage all forms of resistance” (PRWC, August 11, 2022). Conversely, doubling down will only act to fuel the insurgency, he argued, by claiming the “heightened suppression of the people’s civil and political rights in the context of counterinsurgency are pushing more and more people to the path of armed struggle.”
The CPP believes the original “fascist system” largely implemented by Marcos Sr. persists in the Philippines, and notes “like a cruel joke of history the Filipino people will mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law right on the moment that the dictator’s son and family, repudiated and driven away through a people’s uprising, are now back in power” (PRWC, September 1, 2022). However, the CPP believes this can serve as a wake-up call for the communist movement to “confront a burgeoning authoritarianism under Marcos Jr. and the ruling clique.” The party further contends that the communist fighters are “in a good position to further expand its territories, gather armed strength and strike bigger blows against the fascist terrorists.”
AFP Operations and Firefights with NPA
Alongside the AFP’s declaration of intensified operations against the communist insurgents, there have been reports from the CPP and regional NPA groups of increased aggression and brutality from the military. Ka Bayani Obrero, the NDF-Negros spokesperson, stated that the first month of the “Marcos regime” saw the AFP “intensifying their attacks” (Negros Revolutionary Portal, August 13, 2022). Likewise, Juanito Magbanua, the former spokesperson for the Negros Island Regional Operational Command, wrote about the “massive military operations to crush the revolutionary forces” and accused the 303rd Brigade of “horrific killings, illegal arrests, abductions, torture, threats especially against suspected families of revolutionaries, the theft of the animals and the destruction of peasants livelihood” (PRWC, August 3, 2022).
The CPP claims the government is “fighting dirty,” citing Adora Faye de Vera’s arrest on what the communists allege are trumped-up criminal charges of murder through the use of explosives (land mines, specifically) and charges of rebellion, in another case (PRWC, August 27, 2022; Philstar, August 30, 2022). Adora had once been involved in militancy, decades ago. Her commitment to the cause has, according to CPP spokesman Marco Valbuena, since become expressed more through art, poetry, and women’s rights activism—but not violence.
The AFP is also targeting high-profile communist insurgents and claims to have scored some counter-terrorism successes under the Marcos Jr. presidency. The AFP claims to have made the province of Davao Occidental “insurgency free,” although the CPP denies this (PRWC, August 21). More recently, the Philippine army reportedly interdicted a motorboat carrying several insurgents, including CPP–NPA–NDF chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, who is secretary-general of the same network (Philippine News Agency, August 31, 2022). Further, on September 3, the AFP killed Vincent Isagani Madlos and his wife Angie Polandres Salinas, with the former being the son of legendary NPA leader Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos (MindaNews, September 5, 2022). The CPP—like in other cases, such as that of Tiamzon and his wife Wilma—denies the AFP’s recounting of events. It also accuses the 8th Infantry Battalion and the 4th Infantry Division of capturing Madlos and Salinas unarmed and then executing them while they were detained (PRWC, September 5, 2022).
Juanito Magbanua’s Killing and the Military’s Targeting of Negros Island
On October 11, it was reported that Ka Juanito Magbanua, spokesman of Apolinario Gatmaitan Command (AGC)-NPA Negros, was killed the previous day by elements of the 94th Infantry Battalion (Negros Revolutionary Portal, October 11, 2022). Given Magbanua’s high profile and the Philippine government’s long and resource-intensive campaign to eliminate him, the operation marked a significant counter-insurgency success by the military. The event likewise became a flashpoint of rhetorical hostilities between the CPP/NPA and the Philippine government and military, as each side presented differing accounts of Magbanua’s death.
The AFP released a statement framing him as a criminal and terrorist, detailing how he was “directly responsible for all the crimes committed by NPA members under his command” and had “existing warrants of arrest for rebellion, robbery-in-band, and attempted and frustrated murder” (Armed Forces of the Philippines, October 11, 2022). The AFP further predicted that “[a]side from losing its propagandist, Magbanua’s death leaves a leadership vacuum in said NPA Command that will result in the demoralization and disintegration of its members.”
The NPA Regional Operational Command made their own statement, which alleged Magbanua’s killing was “a cold-blooded murder, not an encounter” (Negros Revolutionary Portal, October 11). Further, it added that Magbanua was “suffering from hypertension and arthritis, [and] chose to stay in Sitio Medel to closely monitor the situation of the masses while the NPA unit maneuvered away from the area after the October 6 encounter.” Then, as he was separated from his forces, NPA claims Magbanua was “was summarily killed by elements of the 94th Infantry Battalion after he was captured in the area.”
The CPP further paid the “highest tribute and red salute to NPA-Negros spokesperson Juanito Magbanua” (Twitter/@cpp_marco2, October 12, 2022). It also celebrated his life and commitment of 25 years to “the Filipino people’s cause for national and social liberation,” asserting that “his life of revolutionary service will forever inspire the people of Negros and the entire country to persevere in their fight for national democracy.” It should be noted that the mention of high-profile NPA figures having ill health or being unarmed non-combatants is commonly made following such targeted AFP operations, however. Similar claims, for example, were made about the killing of Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos (Militant Leadership Monitor, February 2022; pna.gov.ph, October 31, 2022).
The island of Negros, for its part, has seen frequent clashes. The local government of Himamaylan City declared a state of calamity due to armed encounters between NPA and Philippine security forces, which have impacted thousands of residents in the barangay (barrio) of Carabalan (Manila Bulletin, October 12, 2022). Marco Valbuena, the CPP’s Chief Information Officer, asserted that “[m]ore than 16,000 have been forced to flee their communities amid AFP shelling and imposition of “no man’s land” policy in interior villages.” He added that the “media [is] denied access to [the] area” (Twitter/@cpp_marco2, October 13, 2022).
Moreover, the NPA group on Negros island seems set to intensify its operations in 2023, following their recent claim of having launched “44 military offensives and punitive actions.” The NPA alleges that it killed a platoon leader and injured another soldier (Negros Revolutionary Portal, February 18). Further, to build support for the NPA branch’s military campaign, the communists published a communique online calling for the raising of a “Revolutionary Internet Army” (Twitter/@liberationph, February 19).
The AFP’s aggressive targeting of NPA fighters on the battlefield is occurring as the narrative war heats up, with Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio even claiming that the government’s “policy against criminals and terrorists and those that support and espouse their ideologies of violence should be hardline” and the AFP “should show no mercy” (Manila Times, September 6, 2022). Nevertheless, one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies continues on after more than 50 years, with neither side showing any sign of relenting—to the contrary, as both parties have clearly stated their intention to escalate.