They are not yet ready to show their faces – at least that’s the leadership of the Far South Regional Party Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing the New People’s Army.

That is the reason they gave to explain why TV cameras were not allowed inside the ‘guerrilla zone’.  On December 26, on the day the CPP celebrated its 45th founding anniversary, Mindanao’s fastest growing regional command of the communist underground movement opened up a little of its strongest five guerrilla fronts to a few General Santos City-based reporters somewhere in Cotabato.

Ka Efren, spokesman of the rebel group’s umbrella organization, the National Democratic Front (NDF), said the time will come when they will be ready to give their regional command a “face” – similar to the more vocal and open Ka Oris of NDF Mindanao who also held a similar press conference somewhere in Agusan del Sur.  (The Southern Mindanao region of the CPP-NP-NDF likewise invited members of the local press in Compostela Valley).

Ka Efren: "We will persevere no matter how long it takes."

He said the Far South is making inroads and rapidly expanding their influence in the region which includes the whole of South Cotabato and Sarangani, portions of Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato and Davao del Sur provinces.

The area where they celebrated their founding anniversary is part of its Guerrilla Front 72 , one of the oldest in Mindanao and is also the strongest in the Far South region.

It has a company-size formation of young guerrilla fighters, most of them sons and daughters of peasants and farmers. 

Its main regular unit, also called ‘sentro de grabidad’ or SDG, headed by Ka Dencio Madrigal, was said to be in another guerrilla front.  Ka Dencio is Far South’s most wanted man by the military.

Young fighters

Ka Jam, commanding officer of the Mt. Alip Command (Front 72), can easily pass himself off as a college student about to get his diploma.

But at 33, he is the oldest among the ‘Red’ fighters of Front 72.

“The average age is about 25.  Our youngest is 19.  I am 33,” Ka Jam said.

Jam started as a church worker and was influenced by an older brother into joining the NPA.

“I began as an activist in 1999 and got into integration with the (NPA) unit in 2000,” he narrated.

Jam said he decided he wanted to be a red fighter right then and there.  When he went home, his only purpose was to tell his parents of his decision to join the NPA.

It was a slow rise for Jam, frail at about 5’4” tall, who became the commanding officer of the Mt. Alip Command.

A political officer of the NPAs explains to Erning and Eden the task of their son Ka Diego in the guerrilla movement.

After the anniversary program, 22-year-old Ka Diego had a reunion with his parents who had to walk, travel by bus, then walk again to meet their eldest son.  Erning and Eden came all the way from a remote village in Banga, South Cotabato to see Ka Diego who they have not seen in seven months.

Erning was teary-eyed, holding the AK-47 issued to his son.  Erning and his wife brought along their six-year old youngest son.  Their only daughter was left behind to tend to their home.

Not far away, a young woman Red fighter is carrying – nay, hugging – her son not even a year old.  She has to leave her child to the care of relatives as she and her husband have opted to pursue the 45-year-old armed struggle of the CPP-NPA-NDF.

Such sacrifices are not uncommon for fulltime guerrilla fighters.

Ka Efren and his wife, who is also a fulltime communist cadre, had their Grade 7 son as their special ‘visitor.’

Ka Jam said the biggest ‘victory’ they achieved this year was the ambush of soldiers belonging to the 38th Infantry Battalion in Bituan, Tulunan in Cotabato province.

The NPA detonated a command controlled land mine just as a military semi-truck passed the ‘killing zone.’  Six soldiers and three militiamen were killed following a volume of fire from the NPAs waiting by the roadside as the landmine exploded.

The military claimed the NPAs used excessive fire to dismember some of the dead soldiers.

Ka Jam however said the soldiers were directly hit by the explosive and this explained the mangled faces of the soldiers.

He said they just fired three M-203 shells and used less than 500 rounds of ammunition.  In the aftermath, Ka Jam said they were able to confiscate seven high powered rifles.

Capt. Ernesto Aguilar, the highest ranking officer who was with the semi-truck, managed to survive and escape capture. 

There were at least four other major encounters in Front 72.  Ka Jam said they inflicted considerable casualties to government soldiers while suffering one ‘comrade’ killed in action in 2013.

Still a long way

In 2008, Ka Oris, NDF Mindanao spokesman, said they were aiming at a strategic stalemate in five years.

In the Rappler story by Karlos Manlupig, Ka Oris did not make any reference to his 2008 statement as their target is coming to pass this year. 

But Ka Efren said they are prepared to bring their revolution to the next level (strategic stalemate) no matter how long it will take.

Like Ka Oris, he noted the steady rise in the number of tactical offensives, new recruits and armaments over the last few years.

“Our tactical offensives will became bigger, more frequent and in more locations next year,” said Ka Efren.

It is a veiled warning shared by Ka Jam who said while the NPAs perform their revolutionary tasks of implementing the rebels’ own brand of ‘agrarian revolution’ and building their mass base, they have not lost sight of their principal function and that is engaging in guerrilla warfare.

Ka Efren later addressed their supporters, numbering about 1,000, and laid down their ‘tasks’ in the next few years to include building organs of political power – a euphemism for their “shadow government.”

NPA strength

After 45 years of guerrilla warfare, the CPP-NPA-NDF is the oldest ongoing communist-led insurgency in Asia.

It is nowhere near the strategic stalemate stage – a stage where they are supposed to be in parity with the Philippine government in warfare capability. They are not necessarily at parity in arms and strength but at the point when the government cannot defeat it while the communist is not yet capable of overthrowing the existing order.

In a statement, the Central Committee of the CPP however said it has reached a point where the military cannot sustain offensive operations “for six months to one year on more than 10% of the guerrilla fronts.”

The communist rebels said they now have a total of 110 guerrilla fronts in substantial portions in 71 of the country’s 81 provinces.  Forty-six (46) of these guerrilla fronts are in the Mindanao mainland where the NPAs are strongest.  A typical guerrilla front has at least a NPA-level company size formation which include two regular platoons and a detach unit.

The CPP said it needs to increase its armed regulars to 25,000 and its party membership to 250,000 in order to advance its ‘revolution’ to the next stage.

Ka Oris said there are now 10,000 party members in Mindanao.

But in an unprecedented admission, the CPP also conceded the communist movement throughout the world is “in a period of temporary defeat and strategic retreat…because of the sabotage and betrayal carried out by the modern revisionists.”

It took China and Russia to task for joining the world ‘capitalist order’ in full – a reality that is not lost to the military.

The NPAs claim they are getting even stronger despite military claim to the contrary.

Belittled

Maj. Gen. Rainer Cruz, head of the Mindanao Eastern Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, however belittled the anniversary celebrations of the communists,

“Are they still there?” he said in jest.

The Philippine military said the NPAs are now down to less than 4,000 nationwide and no more than 1,500 in Mindanao. 

Cruz said the rebels are no longer getting fresh recruits and have reduced themselves to thugs and extortionists.

Incidentally for the general, it is in his area of responsibility where the communists and the NPAs are at their strongest nationwide. 

The guerilla fronts of the Northeastern, Southern, Northcentral and Far South Mindanao commands of the NPAs are among the resilient and most active in the country today.

“From only 250 TOs (tactical offensives) in 2010, this has increased to 350 in 2011, to 400 in 2012 and to more than 400 in the entire year of 2013,” Ka Oris said in a statement read before members of the press in Agusan del Sur.

December 26 also marked the first time in the history of Mindanao’s communist movement that these regions – Northeast, Southern and Far South –  held simultaneous press conferences.

In 2010, Ka Oris said they have almost reached the 1980s level of armed strength when the CPP-NPA-NDF were at their strongest.  At that time, during the Marcos dictatorship, the military placed their armed strength at 25,000.

CPP statements however said, their armed regulars at that time were less than 10,000.

The communists defined the stages of their armed struggle in three – strategic defensive, strategic stalemate and strategic offensive.

But on its 45th anniversary, the CPP said it is still on the verge of completing the requisites to advance its ‘armed struggle’ to the strategic stalemate.