If Ka Simeon Santiago is to be believed, there are now close to 1,000 fully armed New People’s Army guerrillas operating in Southern Mindanao alone.
That is close to 10 percent of the total armed strength of the Maoist-inspired NPA in the whole of the Philippines.
On Saturday, March 29, the NPA marked its 45th Founding Anniversary becoming the oldest running insurgency of its kind in Asia.
In a six-minute video posted on YouTube, Ka Simeon addressed a battalion of NPA regulars saying they have built 40-platoon guerrilla force spread throughout the five sub-regional commands of the Southern Mindanao Regional Party Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines. This has led to the establishment of NPA regional command’s first ever Pulang Bagani Battalion, according to Ka Simeon.
The SMR party committee of the CPP-NPA covers nine provinces in the region including the whole of Davao provinces and cities and portions of Bukidnon, North Cotabato and Agusan del Sur.
It is one of the stronger, if not the strongest, NPA regions in the whole of the Philippines along with the Northeastern Mindanao Regional Party Committee of the communist movement where the more identifiable Mindanao rebel spokesman Jorge Madlos, a.k.a. Ka Oris, is based.
The NEMPRC is believed to have approximately the same number of NPA battle-tested combatants.
An NPA platoon is normally composed of at least 21 armed regulars. A Philippine Army platoon is composed of at least 29 soldiers.
An AFP battalion will have at least 900 men but its effective combat force may only be 600 soldiers while an NPA battalion could not have more than 300 combat forces. An NPA company has between 50-80 men while the AFP has each 120-man regular company.
The Central Committee of the CPP-NPA said in a statement sent to the media Saturday that its armed regulars have now exceeded the number it had in 1985 when party documents said their high-powered firearms were only 5,600.
The CPP-NPA said the actual NPA strength in 1985 was contrary to government pronouncements which placed the rebel strength at 25,000 armed regulars.
“It (NPA) has surpassed its previous peak in 1985 and is now about 10,000 high-powered rifles,” the CPP-NPA said in the statement.
The rebel group said even relatively weaker regions have grown in recent years, citing the 120 percent increase in the number of platoons in Far South Mindanao Regional Command of the NPA. The NPAs in Far South Mindanao are believed to have at least four companies of armed regulars.
The CPP-NPA however suffered a major blow a week before the NPA founding anniversary.
CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, along with five others, were captured in Cebu City on March 22 after a massive government manhunt.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the communist rebels have been decapitated following the arrest of the couple.
The NPA was organized in 1969, months after the CPP was re-established in December 1968.
It was formerly headed by Bernabe Buscayno, alias Kumander Dante, who became a rallying figure for student activists in the tumultuous decade of the 1970s.
Among the activists was Tiamzon who was then a government scholar at the University of the Philippines.
From 35 vintage rifles and handguns, the NPAs have grown to become a continuing security threat to the Philippine government.
The NPA claims it is now operating in 110 guerrilla fronts in 71 provinces.
The CPP-NPA says it aims to increase its armed regulars to 25,000 to advance the stage of its protracted armed struggle to the next stage.
The communists said they are preparing to advance from strategic defensive to strategic stalemate with the government.