Presidential Ernesto Abella, another old guy, has thrown his hat unto the verbal war between his boss, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and Communist Party of the Philippines Founding chair and now consultant to the National Democratic Front (NDF) Jose Maria Sison. Abella accuses Joma of being “out of touch” with his Communist comrades, an accusation which had been repeated several times already by previous governments. During Pnoy’s time, this reason was used by several ex-Joma supporters led by former presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles in justifying the government’s lack of enthusiasm in talking with Sison’s group based in the Netherlands. Deles knows what she was talking about–she once belonged to the Communist movement yet decided to get out of it and went with the so-called “Rejectionist” group led by Felimon Lagman, Nilo dela Cruz, Arthur Tabara and Horacio Morales (only Nilo is alive, most have either been assassinated or died due to lingering illnesses). Deles believes that Sison does not exert influence anymore with NDF-aligned organisations.
There is some basis to why Duterte and his government are acting the way they are right now. Duterte’s administration entered into a bilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party, as attested to by several National Democratic Front representatives who flew in the Netherlands to join other NDF group members exiled there. Shortly after the talks have concluded, several NPA units began their ambuscades and attacks against state security forces, killing several police and soldiers and wounding others.
These events prompted Duterte to re-examine the peace negotiations. There seemed to be a disjunction between what the NDF consultants are telling government negotiators and what is happening on ground level. Defense secretary Lorenzana even spelt it out—Communists are using the ceasefire to regroup and consolidate its forces. Lorenzana even brazenly accused the other side of recruiting more fighters while talking with government, an accusation which met silence on the part of the NDF. Is there a problem with the NPA’s resuming political work while its representatives are having coffee with government’s peace panel? Nothing, except of course, the military thinks that when one talks about “ceasefire”, it means both sides would do nothing literally.
Sison’s dilemma right now is to how to prove to the Duterte administration that he still exerts influence over the rank and file of the New People’s Army (NPA). The only reason why Government is talking with the Communist rebels is because the CPP maintains its armed component which affects peace and order of the country. It is useless for government to spend precious public funds talking with the NDF when in truth, the NDF is unable to effect policies at ground level.
Several reports indicate Sison had lost moral and even political ascendancy over major decision-making bodies of the Party. Sison continues to serve the movement as its “international face” or image, yet, when it comes to major decisions, Sison does not take part anymore, far from the Sison who initiated a rectification movement in 1992-1994.
Prior to their arrests, the Tiamzon couple was suspected of having a tremendous influence over the party. When the Tiamzons joined Sison and other aging NDF personalities over talks with Duterte, there were indications that it was then that the Tiamzons lost a considerable amount of their goodwill with ruling members of the Party. Those who exposed themselves with the Government peace panel are not anymore major decision makers.
The question that the GRP wants resolved is–who now rules the Party? Before I answer this, let me explain to our readers in brief how the Communist Party of the Philippines decides on major issues by explaining its structure.
First, there is no singular body which could claim ascendancy over the Party. Why? The Party is made up of several organisations. These organisations, all 27 of them, enjoy voting rights. When a plenum is called, each Party sents its representatives to vote on organisational and non-organisational issues.
The Political Bureau or Politburo, is the highest executive body of the Party. Though on paper, the Politburo is part of the Central Committee, it exerts a major influence over the rest of the Party, more thorough than any other bodies within the Central Committee.
Right now, due to deaths owing to natural causes or due to armed clashes with the military, the CC is composed of several young cadres recruited from major universities during the eighties. These Party officials are more ideologically astute compared with Sison. Their careers have been carefully handled and thru research and lessons gleaned from experiences of other Communist parties in several parts of the world, these men and women are more professional than their first generation counterparts.
Among these officials, some exert greater influence over the others due to their participation in the Rectification Movement of the nineties. Their membership in the New People’s Army (NPA) have equipped them with the skills in deftly handling organisational matters. As their numbers dwindled, the Party relied most on the NPA, especially when funds also dwindled at the time when the US declared the organisation as a “terrorist organisation”.
Sison has no influence over these new set of Party officials primarily because most of them only read Sison’s books and most of these officials often relied on the guidance given by the Tiamzons especially during those difficult times when the Party and the NPAs were being hotly pursued by state security forces.
Sison’s dilemma is how to re-assert his leadership over the Party which he left in the late eighties to pursue internationalist work. The Party which he founded in 1968 is organizationally, a different animal altogether. It has evolved, and morphed into a fully professional revolutionary organisation which has survived the test of time. There is simply no reason for the Party to succumb to bullying tactics or threats of annihilation as what Duterte is now doing, because for the Party, Duterte, as what Joma expertly described him, is but a “fleeting” personality. The Party will survive both Joma and Duterte. It would be difficult to even mold this Party the way the NDF wants because it has internally transformed itself based on local experiences.