Thursday, August 30, 2007

Armed Struggle - Can it Transform Society?

This morning the local papers reported another attack of New People's Army(NPA) guerillas on a remote military detachment in a nearby province. The other week they also attacked a police station and carted away several firearms. The leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines have ordered the NPA units to increase their tactical offensive. This is most likely their response to the arrest of Joma Sison (the founder and chairman of the CPP) in the Netherlands. He has been accused of ordering the assassination of two former leaders of the CPP/NPA (Kintanar and Tabara). The widows of the two leaders have filed a case against Sison.

Kintanar and Tabara were involved in the internal debates within the CPP during the early 1990s. In view of the new realities brought about by the end of the Marcos era and by the collapse of the Soviet Union, they questioned the doctrine of armed struggle/protracted people's war as laid out by Joma Sison. They also questioned the style of leadership of Sison. On the other hand, Sison and his supporters accused Kintar and Tabara of military adventurism and of being responsible for the purges within the party that led to the killings of many cadres. This internal struggle led to the split of the revolutionary movement. There were two factions that emerged - the Reaffirmists (the pro-Sison) and the Rejectionists (the anti-Sison). Kintanar and Tabara went on the form their own party.

The question that confronts the revolutionary movement remains the same: Is armed struggle the most effective means of transforming society?

More than twenty years ago, during the dark period of the Marcos dictatorial regime I myself thought that the only way left to transform Philippine society was through armed struggle. After my mother's death I even toyed with the possibility of following the foosteps of Frs. Balweg and Navarro who left the priesthood and joined the armed struggle. However, the EDSA people power proved that society can be transformed without violence or people's war.

While democracy has been restored in the Philippines, the basic problems remain the same- poverty, inequality, foreign domination of the economy, graft and corruption, patronage politics, forced disappearances and summary killings, armed conflict, suppression of civil rights, etc.

The CPP/NPA hold on to the strategy of people's war and armed struggle as a means of transforming society, although they have entered into peace negotiations with the government for the last 20 years. Other leftist groups have availed of the democratic space and have followed a peaceful, non-violent path.

I myself believe that armed struggle cannot transform Philippine society. It is a futile, ineffective and costly strategy that will only escalate the spiral of violence. The possibility of a total victory by the NPA is very remote. They can continue attacking police stations, remote military installations, cell sites, etc. but that is not enough to achieve total victory. The military can not completely annihilate them but the NPA cannot grow and expand into a regular army and capture territories. They do not have any wide popular support. The people's war and the counter-insurgency war will be a war without victors, only victims.

We live in an era where many revolutionary movements all over the world have abandoned the armed struggle and engage in the peace negotiations. The most shining examples are the ANC in South Africa, the FMLN in El Salvador, the IRA in Northern Ireland. Armed struggle has proven to be ineffective and costly in transforming society. The CPP and the government should resume the peace process without precondition. This is the legacy that the aging leadership of the revolutionary movement can leave behind.

Here's a poem I wrote the expresses my thoughts and feelings about armed struggle.

Amado Picardal

In the middle of the night
you appeared
claiming to be our friend
and savior.

With a gun in your hand
you revealed to us
why we are poor and hungry.
You proclaimed to us
the good news
of revolution.

We fed you.
We shared with you
the fruits of our toil.
We gave you
our brave sons and daughters.

We believed and hoped
you could give us
a better tomorrow
with that gun in your hand.

So many tomorrows
have come and gone
but we are still poor and hungry
and we have lost
our brave sons and daughters

Our farms have become
a battle ground.
Our furrows have become
shallow graves.

What can we harvest
when only bullets and bombs
have been sown?

Since you came
other strange monsters
have also appeared in our land.
Like vampires they swoop from the sky.
We keep hoping this is only a nightmare.
We dread the barking of the dogs
and the knocking on our doors
in the middle of the night.

We had to pack up
and leave our homes and farms,
our carabaos, pigs and chickens.
We are exiles
in our own country.

You told us political power
comes out from the barrel of the gun.
Now we know
only death, more hunger and terror
come out from the barrel of the gun.

We are the casualties
of this protracted war
and this total war.
The bursts and explosions
drown out our cry
for justice and peace.

You promised us
a land we can call our own
and all we got
is this no man's land.

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