Through the barrel of a gun: Interview with philippine, communist NPA militants.
Frontline [Online] had the opportunity to interview Philippine CPP-NPA guerilla units and get a deeper understanding of the relationship between the insurgent and their tool of choice: the gun.
"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." has been a consistent reality in human history. The quote also tells the story of the grim situation in the Philippines: The highly repressive Rodrigo Duterte dictatorship is feared for dealing with their opposition through gunfire rather than dialogue. For more than 50 years, the Philippine state is fighting the armed wing of the communist party CPP-NPA. While the guerilla is gaining more territory and can increasingly build new war-fronts, the Duterte authorities blame everyone who is not on their side in a paranoid struggle for power.
The tactic of 'Red tagging' has become a way to legitimize the authorities fight against everyone who dares to criticize the ruling government. In July of 2020, the 'anti-terror law' has been put into effect to crack down on 'terrorism'. Terrorism is also being used to describe the communist guerilla CPP-NPA.
In fact, the United Nations does not recognize the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization. The UN list of terrorist organizations included only three Philippine-based groups—Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf and Rajah Solaiman Group, which have alliances or contacts with international terror networks like Al Qaeda and Islamic State. The CPP and NPA have repeatedly affirmed that they condemn acts of terrorism and see themselves as a revolutionary organization.
Under this new 'anti-terror' law, Labour unions, feminist organizations, ethnic-rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and every one critical to the ruling authorities, are being tagged as communists. If you dare to stand for human right, you live a dangerous life in the Philippines. In 2019 the NGO 'Global Witness' ranked the Philippines as the deadliest country for environmental activists.
Considering facing a dictatorship, choosing the gun is, for many, not a free decision to make, but rather it is an act of self-defence. The armed wing of the communist party of the Philippines, the CPP-NPA guerilla, is the de facto government for the people in the most impoverished regions in the countryside. Even though the state military is far better funded than the guerilla, the NPA can survive by relying on the local population's support.
"The guerilla NPA succeeds against regular military forces because it fights for the people. The NPA has the masses' support and admiration."
- a guerillera tells us in our interview, who goes by the name of Ka Kathryn. She is one of three NPA militants who will explain their experience in their armed struggle against the government. Frontline [Online] had the opportunity to interview Philippine CPP-NPA guerilla units and get a deeper understanding of the relationship between insurgent and their tool of choice: the gun.
F[O]: What kind of weapon are you carrying?
Ka Kathryn: I am carrying an M16 rifle. It is used for defending the people and my comrades from enemy attacks. As a member of the NPA, the gun I am holding is critical in waging the people's war and achieving our goal to wrest political power from the ruling class.
Ka Richard: An M16 rifle. The weapon issued to me is for protection against oppressors and the ruling class.
Ka Sodan: The weapon I am carrying is a CZ (Česká zbrojovka) vz. 58 assault rifle. It is important to me because it is used to protect the oppressed and exploited people.
F[O]: Where did you get this gun from? How is the guerilla getting its weapons?
Ka Kathryn: This rifle is issued to me by the Party. This came from the state security forces. The AFP (military) and PNP (police) are the NPA's walking armory. We conduct offensives against them and claim their arms after winning.
Ka Richard: It was seized from the enemy. This weapon has been with me for four years now. I have been with six units of the New People's Army since this weapon was issued. I was not part of the actual operation which yielded this weapon, but comrades told me that this was seized in an ambush against enemy soldiers. I am not familiar with what date or year the weapon was acquired. In general, the NPA gets its weapons from enemy soldiers, whether purchased or seized.
Ka Sodan: This rifle is from the enemy. The NPA gets its weapons from the enemy through firefights, most especially during tactical offensives.
F[O]: What is your task in the guerilla?
Ka Kathryn: I am a political officer, and our task is to raise the political consciousness of our comrades and ensure their morale. Alongside commanding officers, we conduct training and give our comrades education to develop their physical strength, foster camaraderie, and raise knowledge and understanding of our revolutionary struggle. During the battle, we keep the red fighters' fighting spirit up.
I am open to whatever task the Party will give to me. We are also trained in different tasks such as medical and production. As red fighters, we are trained and developed comprehensively to serve the people.
Ka Richard: I am currently a commanding officer of an NPA unit. At first, I wanted to be an element of the platoon who would take part in battles. That would be simple, just an element. Whenever there would be plans for mass work, I would take part. Whenever there would be plans for tactical offensives, I would also take part. That's what I wanted. However, when I was tasked as a commanding officer, I also appreciated it because it shouldered collectively and not by me alone. I appreciate all lines of work. I also like medical tasks; however, whenever I see wounds, I am likely to faint.
Furthermore, I was a supply officer from 2008-2009. In 2010, I was assigned to medical and supply work. During that time, we conducted a minor operation. It was my first time. I was tasked to hold the flashlight during the operation to ensure that the comrades operating could see the area of the operation. Later on, I felt nauseous. I wanted to vomit. I asked a comrade to hold the flashlight for me. After that moment, I fainted. The first one who held me so that I won't fall was the patient.
Ka Sodan: I am currently the commanding officer of the platoon. I do not wish for any other position except what is tasked to me by our beloved Party. I strive to be better and develop further in the military aspect of our duty.
F[O]: Did you have to use your weapon already?
Ka Kathryn: Yes, we have fought against the terrorist AFP-PNP, both in defensives and offensives. We actively defend our base amid a military operation/enemy attack. We have had successful active defence where the AFP-PNP suffered casualties instead. Part of our daily training is preparing for an enemy attack. When comrades are trained for an attack and always ready to fight, there is a high chance that the enemy will suffer losses.
I have also participated in offensives. The success of a tactical offensive not only lies in preparation and training but in the masses' support and participation. After offensives, the masses are ready to help us carry supplies, and the weapons claimed from the AFP-PNP and join the offensive. While in the enemy's hot pursuit, the masses help us cover our tracks or decoy pursuing police and military troops.
Ka Richard: Yes, during a raid against the enemy. The weapon is in excellent condition; it can protect my comrades and me. It was 9 in the morning of April 6, 2019. We monitored that three columns of enemy soldiers would pass by; however, there were about 20 columns of the enemy on the actual incident.
I have experienced 12 defensive actions. I have taken part in a raid against a despotic politician in Mongkayo, Compostela Valley, for tactical offensives. The firefight ensued at 11 in the evening. We were able to seize 60 firearms, including three M-16 machine guns. The military target of the offensive was known to be anti-people, has committed countless crimes against villagers, including the abduction of civilians who accidentally enters his territory. He would kill them. He also controls a mining area. I was also able to join an ambush operation and two ruse operations.
Ka Sodan: I have already used the weapon I am carrying. I experienced both offensive and defensive battles, both requiring sacrifices such as hunger, difficulties and exhaustion. I was a part of a successful offensive where I am one of the officers who led it. It was when we sanctioned a destructive project of a greedy foreign capitalist. After the offensive, we were met by celebrating masses who embraced and fed us. I have also led a defensive battle where we successfully thwarted the enemy's attack. It was reported that the enemy had casualties while we safely got away from their sector of operation.
F[O]: What do you need a weapon for? Why do you have to use violence? Why can't you fight peacefully?
Ka Kathryn: The Duterte regime has its state forces (AFP-PNP) used to defend their interest and attack the masses. We are the people's army that defends them and genuinely serves them. We carry weapons to defend ourselves and the people and weaken and crush enemy forces that terrorize the people.
Previous regimes until Duterte's authoritarian regime use violence against the people to maintain their power and the current semi-colonial and semifeudal society. Thus, there is a need for an armed revolution seeking the liberation of the Filipino people from foreign and feudal oppression and exploitation.
After the revolution's success, the people will build a new democratic republic under the leadership of the proletariat and harmonize the interests of all revolutionary classes and sectors.
Ka Richard: It has already been proven that if someone engages in legal battles against the ruling class, they are likely executed or threatened for fighting for their right to land, wage and others; the ruling class would likely massacre them. There was a need to establish a people's army because of the ruling class and their crimes. They would not willingly grant the resources or excess profit to the people. The reactionary government has its army, protecting their interests of exploiting the resources of the Philippines. They employ violent means. The protracted people's war waged by the NPA is justified violence.
Ka Sodan: Right now, I have a greater need for my weapon because of the intensifying war and military violence. It is not enough to air your grievances. There is a need to counter the military's violence with armed revolutionary struggle. It is not enough to fight through peaceful means because the reactionary government will never allow peace to prosper.
F[O]: How does the NPA, a relatively small guerilla, survives against well funded military?
Ka Kathryn: The guerilla NPA succeeds against regular military forces because it fights for the people. The NPA has the masses' support and admiration.
Meanwhile, it conducts guerilla warfare that is best for a small force against a superior and large enemy. As a guerilla force, the NPA's operation is fluid and flexible while keeping the initiative in battle.
Ka Richard: We subscribe to guerilla warfare, based on the strength of the mass base and their support for armed struggle. The masses are the creators of history. In arousing, organizing and mobilizing the masses, the NPA ensures proper SICA (social investigation and class analysis). It enables the Red army to identify the friends of the revolution and its enemies. It enables us to identify who is our strong and weak enemies. Who are the AFP, the CAFGU and its other elements? With these, the NPA is confident whenever it conducts annihilation or attrition offensives. Not only in war and annihilating the enemy, but also in crushing the semifeudal situation of the people—by mounting mass campaigns, confronting landlords for the interest of the masses. The masses always call for the distribution of land from landlords. There are two levels: the maximum and minimum targets whenever a mass campaign is mounted.
Ka Sodan: The victory of the NPA, a relatively small army, against the regular military forces lies in the deep and broad support of the people. The NPA's tactics and techniques are additional factors.
F[O]: Can you go into detail? What are some tactics you are using?
Ka Kathryn: Some basic guerilla tactics we use are from Comrade Mao Ze Dong's 16-character formula: When the enemy attacks, we should retreat; when the enemy is resting, we should harass them; when the enemy is tired, we should attack; and when the enemy is retreating, we should advance.
The NPA combats the AFP-PNP's prolonged and intensified military campaigns by conducting active defence and counteroffensives. We attack the forces that conduct military and police operations inside the guerilla fronts. Because they are constantly entering our bases, they have created patterns in their movements, and when they are most vulnerable, the NPA attacks them.
Ka Richard: If you can know how strong the enemy is, you will assess the strength and identify the lapses and weaknesses of your forces. Using guerilla tactic, every Red fighter must be able to fight ten enemy soldiers. For example, to ensure victory in a particular military campaign, you can use the decoy tactic—make the enemy think you are somewhere else.
Ka Sodan: An example of a guerilla tactic is when the enemy attacks, quickly evade and, whenever they are resting or retreating, take the opportunity to attack the enemy.
For more information, read our other interview about womens perspective of the NPA.