An Interview with Marco Valbuena of the Communist Party of the Philippines on Guerrilla War and Geopolitics
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is engaged in a guerilla war that has been ongoing for over 50 years and is one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies. CPP says it is a revolutionary organization and its movement is waging an armed people’s resistance against a corrupt, tyrannical, capitalist government dominated by the “bourgeoisie” and backed by the imperialist USA. Conversely, the United States and European Union (EU) have designated the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorist organizations — a label the communists vehemently reject.
Due in part to its location in the Philippines, the CPP’s media apparatus functions as a kind of geopolitical weathervane in detecting and commenting upon broader regional and international developments, particularly in the context of US-China great power competition. In this interview, Militant Wire spoke to Marco Valbuena, the CPP’s chief spokesman, about the past, present, and future of the Red insurgency, international affairs, and more.
The armed communist resistance in the Philippines is one of the longest-running insurgencies in the world. Why is this, and what about the movement enables it to continue on after so many decades?
The NPA has persevered through more than five decades of revolutionary resistance primarily by relying on the support of the peasant masses. To win over the peasant masses, the NPA carries out a land reform, with the minimum objective of reducing land rent, eliminating usury, raising farm wages, and prices of peasant produce. The NPA assists the peasant masses in building their mass organizations which serve as the foundation for establishing basic units of the people’s government.
The NPA also enjoys the support of and recruits fighters from workers and middle-class sectors through underground organizations in the cities.
As a smaller military force facing a large US-supported military and police force, the NPA wages guerrilla warfare in order to slowly gather strength and weaken its enemy. Having mainly local peasants serving as its fighters, the NPA has mastery of the physical and social terrain. It strikes only at the weak points of the enemy and avoids decisive battles. It has withstood 14 years of martial law under Marcos, a series of counterinsurgency campaigns over the past 36 years, including the all-out military offensives and aerial bombardment campaign in the past five years.
As a revolutionary organization that has been fighting since 1969, have you had to take a long view of your struggle or has the CPP/NPA always known it would be a protracted conflict? Do you see victory anytime in the near future?
Since the outset, the CPP/NPA knew that the armed resistance will be a protracted war. This is a necessary course because it started out weak and small and is confronted with a large enemy force that is funded, armed, and advised by the biggest military force in the world.
In addition, the Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands and does not have borders with other countries. It does not receive foreign military support and has had to rely on painstaking political and military work to build up its strength.
We cannot predict precisely how soon the Philippine revolution will attain victory. But the economic and political crisis of the ruling system in the Philippines and the crisis of the global capitalist system generate exceedingly favorable conditions for the steady advance of the armed struggle and the people’s democratic revolution.
What is the current battlefield situation and how is the CPP/NPA positioned?
Since 2017, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) have carried out all-out offensives against the NPA marked by a brutal campaign of suppression against the peasant masses to deny the NPA of political and material support, intensified intelligence operations (including the extensive use of drones with electronic surveillance equipment) and focused military operations of a few hundred to a thousand troops concentrating on one or several contiguous guerrilla fronts.
Of course, in war, there are bound to be losses. But so far, the NPA has avoided decisive battles and minimized its setbacks. The NPA continues to expand its territories or areas of operation to broaden and strengthen its ties with the peasant masses and force the enemy to disperse and overstretch its forces.
What are the greatest battlefield challenges faced by the CPP/NPA in the fight against the government?
Right now, I would say that among the greatest battlefield challenges faced by the CPP/NPA is overcoming the enemy’s large-scale focused offensives, aerial bombing, and campaign of pacification and suppression against the peasant masses.
The NPA must constantly exercise a high degree of guerrilla military discipline to keep the enemy blind and render its surveillance equipment useless. For instance, NPA units cannot be encamped in one position for prolonged periods. They must always be concealed underneath forest canopies and cannot expose large formations in open fields to avoid detection by drones. They must master the art of cooking over fire without smoke or moving at night without light. They must be able to maintain undetectable supply lines. They must always check their equipment and supplies for possible infiltration of enemy global positioning devices. While avoiding defensive action, NPA units must be ever-ready to engage the enemy in battle and engage in active defense.
In a guerrilla front, NPA units must be able to launch coordinated tactical offensives at different points to disorganize the enemy and prevent it from mounting a concentrated offensive. This would entail organizing and dispatching small strike teams, militias, and partisan units.
At the same time, the NPA and leading Party committees must be able to arouse, organize and mobilize the masses by carrying out the struggle for land and fighting feudal, semifeudal, and all other forms of oppression. They must be able to respond to the clamor of the masses for justice against the fascist crimes perpetrated by state forces, in order to embolden them to press on with their fight.
A company of NPA guerrilla fighters assembles in a mountain peak before conducting an operation.
How is the NPA able to deal with reported battlefield losses and surrenders?
Of course, the CPP/NPA know that losses and setbacks are par for the course of war. However, the Party and NPA are also aware that many of the reported losses or surrenders are baseless. The enemy claims of the surrender of more than 20,000 NPA members is ridiculous considering that a few years ago, it declared that the NPA has only 4,000 fighters or less. In fact, most of these “surrenderers” are unarmed civilians who were subjected to constant military pressure, harassment and threats.
The ideological and political consciousness of NPA fighters are strengthened through constant education and cultural work. They are steeled and determined to fight and sacrifice their lives for the people’s cause. Fallen comrades are memorialized and given honors.
At the same time, NPA units must assess and learn lessons from their weaknesses. More often than not, losses are a result of failure in discipline or failure to follow basic military policies.
Is the NPA having success recruiting new members to join the armed resistance? If so, what attracts them to the cause?
There is a steady stream of NPA recruits coming from the peasant masses, especially the youth. Recruitment is especially strong in guerrilla zones where land reform and other antifeudal struggles are carried out by the peasant masses together with the NPA. In these areas, Red fighters are highly regarded as models by the youth, and many aspire to become Red fighters themselves so they can serve their community and help advance the overall revolutionary cause.
The masses who have seen or experienced the enemy’s fascist brutality often are driven to join the NPA. They see that only by joining the NPA can they defend themselves, fight back and attain justice. Many mass activists who are being hounded by the enemy seek the safe haven of the guerrilla fronts of the NPA.
There is also steady recruitment of NPA fighters from workers and intellectuals in the cities, especially among those who have joined underground revolutionary organizations. Many join the NPA because they know that their social and national aspirations can only be attained through armed revolution.
The CPP/NPA is a national organizational network, but do you have foreign volunteer fighters from other countries in your ranks?
Yes, there have been non-Filipino nationals who wave joined the NPA. Even now, we continue to receive questions from overseas asking how they can become fighters in the armed struggle in the Philippines.
How do you view the new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and the return to power of the Marcos family? What does this mean historically for those not aware of his father’s tenure in power?
The rise to the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos Jr and the return of the Marcoses to power is a stark manifestation of the rottenness of the ruling political system in the Philippines. Marcos Jr used the vast amount of illegally acquired wealth of the Marcoses to collude with the Duterte ruling clique to rig the automated election system and give him a “landslide” victory, despite the fact that he literally was doing nothing during the past several years. His rise to power together with the Dutertes, in further alliance with the Arroyos and Estradas, marks the rise to power of the worse of the political dynasties in the Philippines.
It is like a sick twist of fate that Marcoses have returned to power just as the Filipino people are set to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law in 1972 by Marcos’ dictator father, his namesake, which started a 14-year reign of terror and plunder. Marcos Sr abolished the congress and shuttered all courts and established military rule. He cracked down against all opposition and resistance marked by the arrest of around 70,000, torture of more than 30,000, and the killing of more than 3,000 people. The Marcoses took over big business operations and plundered government funds and public loans. It is estimated that they accumulated more than $10 billion in wealth during their rule, most of which were stashed away in overseas banks, dummy corporations, jewels, paintings, and other items of luxury. Most of this wealth remain in their hands and used for their political rehabilitation. Over the past years, and especially during the recent elections, the Marcoses have actively pushed the narrative that the period under martial law were “golden years” for the Philippines in a gross distortion of history. The Marcoses will surely use their renewed power to further expand their wealth and their political dynasty.
On the other hand, the fateful return to political power of the Marcoses on the 50th anniversary of martial law has galvanized the patriotic, progressive, and democratic forces in the Philippines to campaign intensely to demand justice for all the victims of martial law and to fight the current Marcos regime and its anti-democratic and anti-national policies.
The administration said that it would not pursue peace talks with the CPP. How will this shape the NPA’s actions?
The Marcos regime’s refusal to pursue peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) gives the NPA all the more reason to carry forward the armed struggle. The other day, Marcos ordered his armed forces to “increase the tempo” of its counterinsurgency war which will only lead to more rampant military and police abuses against the people. Like all past regimes, Marcos does not intend to address the prevailing problem of landlessness and land grabbing. In fact, the problem is being exacerbated by the rush of foreign multinational corporations to expand mining operations and plantation for export crops resulting in widespread displacement of peasants from their land.
A young couple watches as their marriage contract is signed by witnesses.
The New People’s Army recently lost Ka Oris and Ka Bok, two veterans of the movement who each served the cause for over 50 years. How important were these two to the movement, and how detrimental has the loss of two irreplicable leaders been to the armed communist movement?
Ka Oris and Ka Bok were two of the key leaders of the Party and New People’s Army. Their contributions to the growth of the Party and NPA are immeasurable. They trained at least two generations of cadres and fighters. Their deaths in the hands of the enemy are a great loss to the revolutionary movement.
It is to the advantage of the Party and the NPA that they exercise collective leadership where programs, policies, and decisions are arrived at through the collective work of individuals. Furthermore, there is a deep bench of younger cadres and commanders who are more than capable of taking the place of Ka Oris and Ka Bok. The death of great leaders is like the fall of giant trees in a forest: a hole is left in the canopy allowing sunlight to pass through, which in turn, nurture the growth of new trees.
How do the legacies of Ka Oris and Ka Bok live on? What did they teach the movement’s youth and how did they influence the up-and-coming generation of CPP/NPA leaders?
Both Ka Oris and Ka Bok were outstanding guerrilla fighters of the NPA. For many years, they led the growth of NPA units from squads to companies, through guerrilla warfare and always teaching the NPA to be close to the masses. Up to their last breath, even in their advanced age, they worked with younger commanders of the NPA, joining them in conferences, pointing out their strengths, and helping them overcome their weaknesses.
We hope to produce more material about the life and deeds of Ka Oris and Ka Bok which can inspire and teach the younger and future generations of communists and Red fighters in the Philippines.
Can you explain the controversy surrounding Ka Oris’s killing?
Military officers claimed that Ka Oris was killed in an aerial bombing and armed raid against an NPA camp on October 30. In truth, he was flagged down and abducted by soldiers the night before. Ka Oris and his medic (Ka Pika) were travelling together aboard motorcycles en route to a medical facility to seek treatment for his illness. The motorcycle drivers, who were local residents, have never been found. Despite public clamor, the military did not allow the bodies to be independently examined by a pathologist. Claiming “Covid-19 protocols,” the cadavers were cremated without even informing their families, in what clearly was meant to burn evidence of their crime.
What is your view on anti-government jihadist groups in the Philippines such as the Islamic State East Asia Province and BIFF? Does the NPA ever clash with these groups?
Many of the so-called jihadist armed groups in the Philippines are, in fact, armed groups that are linked to the struggle of the minority Moro people in many parts of Mindanao. Most of these groups once belonged either to the Moro National Liberation Front or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which were once a revolutionary fighting organization that espoused the aspiration of the Moro people for national self-determination.
For many years, the revolutionary forces maintained formal and informal alliances with these Moro groups during the time that they were actively fighting for the Moro people’s cause. In 1997, the MNLF surrendered to the Ramos government in exchange for paltry political accommodation. The MILF will go the same path from 2014. Its officials now head the local “bangsamoro authority,” after agreeing to surrender their arms. In partnership with foreign corporations, their officials now partake of the exploitation and plunder of the resources of the Moro people. The land of the Moro people continues to be lorded over by the Philippine government’s military and police force. The bombing of Marawi City in 2017 was a way of reminding the Moro people that they must continue to bow before the Philippine government. The minority Moro people continue to be oppressed; thus, many groups continue to arm themselves to defend their land, continuing their centuries resistance. Many of these groups are under local political leaders, but some also connive with the military.
In general, the NPA does not consider these groups antagonistic to the Filipino people’s national democratic cause. The NPA gives due recognition to their authority in their area when conducting political work among the masses, even as it is alert to some groups that are in collusion with the AFP’s counterinsurgency.
Does the CPP/NPA have any cooperative or simply positive relationships with international communist organizations or communist groups based in foreign countries?
The CPP and other revolutionary forces allied with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines maintain positive relations with other communist, revolutionary and anti-imperialist organizations and individuals in other countries. These relations range from formal links to regular correspondences.
The NPA is criticized for its use of landmines, as it threatens civilians. Does the NPA use them and, if so, why?
The NPA uses command-detonated landmines. These are produced by hand from locally-sourced materials. The CPP and NPA maintains that these landmines do not fall under the definition of weapons banned under the Ottawa Treaty, as these do not explode by contact or proximity of a victim. These weapons are triggered only with a clear military target and are laid out only while awaiting for an ambush. These landmines are not left untended unlike the thousands left by the US in Cambodia, Laos and many other countries. I should also mention that the Canadian armed forces, also maintain that their C-19 landmine are not covered by the Ottawa Treaty as these are command-detonated.
The Communist Party of the Philippines is often critical of the Communist Party of China. People are often confused by this as both the CPP and CPC are self-proclaimed communists. What is the CPP’s view of China? When and how did China stray from its true revolutionary communist origins?
Indeed, the Communist Party of China was once a revolutionary organization and was at the center of the international communist movement until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Since 1978, the CPC was taken over by modern revisionists led by Deng Xiaoping.
For more than a decade (until his death in 1992), Deng overturned all the achievements of the socialist system in China. Under the slogan of “market-oriented reforms” and “family responsibility,” the CPC allowed the re-privatization of land and the dismantling of once productive communes, which forced the displacement of hundreds of millions of peasants and turning them into a vast ocean of cheap unemployed labor. Unions and revolutionary workers committees were dismantled as factories were placed under the authority of managers and bureaucrats, who would later turn state enterprises into private enterprises.
Under the CPC, a state monopoly bourgeoisie has emerged, the scale of whose wealth is almost unimaginable. They use state power to aggrandize wealth and power. They control state enterprises as well as big private firms.
In the late 1960s and until his death, Mao Zedong himself warned against the rise of modern revisionists or the bourgeoisie within the communist party, as he observed the phenomenon in the Soviet Union since the death of Stalin, and within the CPC even under his leadership. He fought hard against those officials of the CPC who put “technological progress” ahead of socialist progress, and who regarded the importance of “experts” above the importance of the masses. This was the essence of the tumultuous times during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when Mao called on the Chinese people to fight against the bourgeoisie inside the communist party.
The CPP has accused China of infringing on the Philippines’ maritime territory. How are they doing this, and what for?
Since the 2010s, especially since 2017, China has built at least 7 military facilities within the territorial waters of the Philippines as recognized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. They used industrial machinery to scoop sand to reclaim land and create large artificial islands in the middle of the ocean, which they have turned into military bases some of which are equipped with runways and ports. These facilities are used to preposition warships, amphibious vehicles, jet fighters and helicopters.
The clear aim of China is to dominate the West Philippine Sea (also the South China Sea) in order to prevent its imperialist rivals (specifically the US) from using the sea lanes as economic and military pressure points. However, in doing so, China is infringing on the Philippines’ sovereign seas.
What is the relationship of the US to the Phillipines?
The US imperialists maintain their dominance in the Philippines through control of economic resources, political and military intervention, and cultural domination. The Philippine government is a client-state or a neocolonial state that is under the control of the US government maintained through its control of the military, through IMF-WB’s control of key economic agencies and business organizations, and through its agents among the Philippine ruling elite. Since the turn of the 20th century, the US has shaped and condemned the country’s economy as a supplier of cheap raw materials, both agricultural crops such as bananas and pineapple, as well as timber and minerals, and from the 1950s and 1960s, as a source of cheap labor for assembly-type manufacturing. To perpetuate this pattern of “development,” the US imperialists connived with the local big landlord class in preventing genuine land reform and prevented local industries to develop. Thus, the country remains largely backward, agrarian, and non-industrial. It cannot even produce needles, and all machinery for food manufacturing and other consumer products are imported. Like other countries that form part of the “global value chain” of multinational corporations, the Philippines hosts “economic zones” where the labor-intensive parts of manufacturing of semiconductors or vehicle parts are carried out, but which are completely disconnected from the local economy.
Do you have a perspective on the US military’s participation in counterguerrilla operations undertaken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)? What do US forces lend to these operations from your perspective, and how, if it all, has US participation altered the CPP/NPA’s overall struggle?
Counterguerrilla operations of the AFP have always been directed by the US military. Officers of the AFP are trained and indoctrinated in US counterinsurgency dogma, which gives premium to projecting and maintaining military superiority. This is superficially dressed with “development projects” that do not actually address the fundamental socioeconomic problems of the people which drive them to wage armed resistance.
On US instigation, the AFP started to employ aerial bombing, aerial strafing, and artillery shelling as part of its counterguerrilla arsenal, despite the fact that these have been proven to be largely ineffective in Vietnam, as well as in the Philippines. These weapons are employed mainly to cause terror among the people and make them bow before the military’s superior might.
US forces are often seen in counterguerrilla operations in Western Mindanao, where they are based, although the US does not deny providing the AFP with assistance in conducting aerial surveillance and other critical auxiliary functions. There have been sightings in the past of American soldiers in tactical command posts of the AFP in anti-NPA operations. American drones have been sighted flying over guerrilla zones. The US military has kept a low-profile in counterguerrilla operations against the NPA knowing that this would spark widespread condemnation.
NPA Red fighters use tents and hammocks as shelter from the rain and sun.
Previous CPP/NPA statements have condemned the status of forces agreements between the US military and the AFP as being “unequal” between the two state partners. Would you care to say more about this relationship?
An “agreement” can never be equal between a master and puppet. These agreements include the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1998 (which superseded the previous status of forces agreement) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) of 2015 all give the US military extraterritorial rights in the Philippines, and special legal status. For more than 70 years, the MDT has served as a framework for keeping the country bound to US geopolitical policies, under which the Philippines has been compelled to participate in US wars in Korea and Vietnam. From 1946 to 1991, the US maintained large military bases covering around 65,000 hectares. These served as launching pads for US wars as far as Iran and Afghanistan. Today, the US wants to use the Philippines as a platform to keep economic and military pressure against China.
Provisions of the VFA has allowed US forces to freely enter the country and enjoy special privileges. Abusive American soldiers, including those involved in killings, have escaped prosecution and punishment. An American soldier, Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was convicted in local courts for killing a transgender woman, did not serve a moment of his punishment in a local jail, but was kept in a US facility inside a military camp. Under the EDCA, the US has been allowed to construct and maintain exclusive facilities within military camps of the AFP which the AFP commander cannot enter or inspect. The US uses these facilities to keep their weapons or serve as rest and recreation facilities for its soldiers.
What is the CPP’s position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the causes of the war? Do you see it as a US vs Russia proxy war?
More and more, the war in Ukraine is clearly a US proxy war against Russia. For close to two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US has wantonly violated the original Minsk Agreement of 1991 in which the US and NATO promised not to extend its alliance to countries that were formerly part of the Warsaw Pact. It started with the war in Yugoslavia, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and so on, one by one, forcing these countries into the NATO, until reaching Ukraine. The US has established military bases and missile facilities along the border of Russia. US political and military intervention in Ukraine has been relentless since the mid-2000s, fomenting an anti-Russia coup and arming and training Nazi-type organizations to mount a brutal war against the Russian-speaking Donbass region, which has killed more than 14,000 people over the course of the past seven years or so.
The Russian military assault in Ukraine, thus, can be categorized as a counter-aggression against US and NATO aggression. Russia has declared it has no intention of occupying Ukraine, only to drive back the US-supported Ukrainian forces that are surrounding the Donbass region, in line with the 2015 Minsk agreement granting the Donbass a special autonomous status. It is to Russia’s interest for it to quickly end the war through peace negotiations instead of being forced to engage in a protracted war in Ukraine. However, continuing and heightening US and NATO military support for Ukraine is prolonging the war and preventing peace negotiations.
Speaking of Ukraine, a recent NPA statement denounced the US State Department’s re-inclusion of the CPP/NPA on their Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list, and states, “While the US labels revolutionary organizations such as the CPP/NPA as `terrorists,’ it does not apply the same label to fascist groups such as the notorious Azov Battalion in Ukraine, which the US, in fact, helps arm and train.” Would you care to say anything more about whom the US designates as terrorists versus those non-state groups and/or government paramilitaries that it chooses to train and equip?
The US maintains its list of “foreign terrorist organizations” as a tool for global intervention, to justify the wars it is waging overseas. This US decides unilaterally on who or what organization to include in this list, targeting primarily the anti-imperialist forces. Among the groups or individuals in the US FTO formerly worked with the US in its wars of intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The US has a long history of arming paramilitaries in different countries to do the bidding for US companies. In the same way that the Free Syria movement in northern Syria was armed in recent years, the US also armed the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s to subvert the Sandinista regime. Since Obama, the US has also mounted a widespread drone war to fire at its targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, causing thousands of civilian deaths in the course of it assassination operations.
What is the CPP’s position on the rising tensions in the South China Sea and, more particularly, over Taiwan in the context of US-China competition?
The CPP has denounced US provocations against China which is pushing the world closer to the brink of war. The recent visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi upended the Shanghai Communique of 1972 which the US signed with China and pledged to recognize only one China and left the matter of Taiwan’s status to the decision of the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan straits. Before Pelosi’s visit, the US defense secretary, together with the war hawks of the Atlantic Council (who are also the people behind Facebook’s “community guidelines”), outrightly called for an end to the One China policy.
These provocations are the most recent moves since Obama’s “pivot to Asia” which is largely targeted against China. This pivot also includes economic and trade sanctions, heightened military presence in the South China Sea, in the Philippine Sea, and the seas west of Taiwan, as well as the revival of the Quad, and the recent declaration of the NATO that China is a strategic threat.
At the same time, the CPP denounced China’s militarism in resolving the question of Taiwan’s autonomy or reunification with China.
How does the intensifying US-China great power competition impact the Philippines and its people given the country’s important geographical position?
Any intensification of US-China conflict will have a big impact on the Philippines. Both China and the US have been pushing to fortify their position in the Philippines in order to either neutralize the country or use it as a springboard for their power projection.
The spinelessness of the Marcos regime in the face of the giants will bring harm the country and the Filipino people. Instead of asserting the country’s sovereignty in the face of rising military conflict, the Marcos regime is merely allowing both the US and China to use the country for their military objectives. Marcos, however, is showing more servility to the US.
The Filipino people must be ready to unite to wage a national war to defend the country in the event that either imperialist power resorts to some form of invasion against the Philippines.
What is the future of the CPP/NPA in the Philippines?
The conditions in the Philippines remain exceedingly excellent for advancing the revolutionary cause. The chronic crisis of the ruling system persists and is set to worsen in the coming years amid the downward trajectory of the international capitalist system. The rise of Marcos to power further exposes the rottenness of the ruling system and makes more and more people acutely aware of the necessity of waging revolution.
The CPP, through the NPA and its tens of thousands of cadres, is in a position to lead the Filipino people in intensifying their resistance through armed and unarmed forms of struggle.
The Party sees the steady growth and expansion of the NPA in the coming years. It seeks to bring the people’s war to the next phase of growth. At the same time, the Party also sees that the growth of the armed resistance will combine with the surging forward of the mass struggles of workers and other democratic sectors in the cities.
The Party has a clear strategy for winning the people’s democratic revolution. The Party and its forces are in a position to bring the revolutionary movement closer to victory.