Manila Focuses on Rising Foe: Communist Guerrillas ; Philippine Forces and Members of the New People's Army Fought Again This Week
AbTan, The Christian Science Monitor
After a decade of decline, Asia's longest-running communist movement appears to be making a comeback.
At a meeting with reporters last month, armed forces chief Gen. Roy Cimatu described the growth of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed guerrilla wing, the New People's Army (NPA), as "too alarming." Then a few days later, the US State Department placed the CPP and the NPA on a list of 34 foreign terrorist organizations.
In recent years, communist guerrilla raids and military firefights have been reported with increasing frequency. Last week, the NPA took responsibility for the death of a police chief in Vallehermoso. Rebels and government forces clashed again this week in Quezon Province; one communist guerrilla was killed and three others were captured, according to the military.
Persistent poverty and lack of social equity, analysts say, are swelling the ranks of the CPP with a more diverse group of Filipinos - many of whom know little about communist ideology. The trend is raising concern about Manila's failure to reform its economy and politics, nearly two decades after the end of Ferdinand Marcos's dictatorship and the restoration of democracy.
For Manila, it means the communist insurgency may be eclipsing rebels like the prominent Abu Sayaff - a militant Islamic group with links to Al Qaeda - as the main security concern.
"The communists are more insidious - they are the real problem to security in the long term," says security analyst Rex Robles in Manila. "The Abu Sayaff don't want to destroy the government, they just want money. But the NPA has been engaged in a systematic killing of officers and they want to destroy the government."
The Philippine Marxist movement - which includes the CPP and two other breakaway factions - is largely homegrown. Other than limited funding from nongovernment organizations in the Netherlands and Belgium, it receives almost no foreign support.
The NPA gained international notoriety after killing the US military adviser in the Philippines Col. James Rowe in 1989. It supports itself with extortions from logging and mining firms and plantations. Since 1995, the number of villages with NPA presence has grown 20 percent, according to General Cimatu. Today, 5.5 percent of the country's villages are considered "affected," which in military parlance means they have communist influence.
Many of these new supporters, Mr. Robles points out, are young Filipinos who are less ideologically inclined than the original founders of the CPP and NPA. Rather, he says, the resurgence of the communist movement has been fueled by poverty-driven issues like a lack of job opportunities. …