On August 29, the same day a rare astronomical event treated millions to the celestial spectacle of the eclipse of a red moon, Jose Maria Sison, founder and chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), was arrested by Dutch authorities at his home in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Sison allegedly ordered the murders of two former fellow Communists in the Philippines, Romulo Kintanar and Arturo Tabara in 2003 and 2004. He is being held in The Hague pending arraignment and trial under Dutch law for allegedly ordering the assassinations, which are the basis of murder charges against him and New People’s Army operatives in the Philippines.
Mr. Sison has been designated a foreign terrorist and the CPP-NPA as foreign terrorist organizations, by both the United States and the European Union for every year since 2002. It is very likely they will be so designated under the new Philippines Anti-Terrorism Law, the Human Security Act of 2007. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo hailed the arrest as “a giant step toward peace. A victory for justice and the rule of law.”
The murders allegedly masterminded by Sison from the Netherlands were part of an long internal struggle within the communist movement which began in the early 1980s, when thousands of suspected government spies believed to have infiltrated the CPP-NPA in the early eighties were murdered in purges.
Several mass burial sites used by execution teams were unearthed last year and led to charges of mass murder against Sison and his associates. A purge survivor, a former member of the CPP’s Mindanao Commission, tells a compelling story of paranoia, treachery and vindictiveness as the CPP’s top leaders moved to eliminate anyone who might oppose their ideological and organizational supremacy. Sison’s deadly purges formed the prologue to the Kintanar-Tabara assassinations for which he was eventually charged.
The CPP-NPA insurgency plagued successive Philippine governments from the 1960s and is a major stumbling block to the establishment of peace and order and economic and social development. While the NPA never won any significant military victories against the government, it nevertheless succeeded in establishing a highly organized, national criminal extortion operation, collecting hundreds of millions of pesos annually from farmers, businesses and institutions. During electoral campaigns, the NPA actually collects “right to campaign” fees from political candidates in their areas of influence. Hundreds of kidnappings, assassinations, arsons, remote-controlled land mine explosions, raids on police stations, and small-scale military engagements are the sharp end of of CPP-NPA fund-raising in the countryside.
The CPP-NPA also runs dozens of political front organizations among workers, students, peasants and other “marginalized sectors”. These militant activist fronts are the CPP-NPA’s major recruiting stations and base of operations for their parliamentary operations. Like the Irish Republican Army, the CPP-NPA had underground and aboveground components. In recent years, Communist front organizations have won several seats in the Philippine House of Representatives under the party-list system. Perhaps the best known of these is Rep. Satur Ocampo of the party list Bayan Muna, who also happens to be Mr. Sison’s co-accused for having ordered the murderous purges of the 1980s, when both were running the CPP-NPA.
Sison’s arrest had long been urged upon the Dutch government by Philippine authorities, which does not have an extradition treaty with the Netherlands.
Sison had been granted political refugee status in the Netherlands nearly 20 years ago on the basis of a claim that his life would be in danger in the Philippines. Once Sison was in safe harbor, the CPP’s top leadership and their families joined him to Utrecht where Sison received millions in financial contributions from the European Left and other international sources. From their European base they ran the CPP-NPA’s operations in the Philippines by fax and email and in coordination with their agents and allies in the Philippines. When anyone defied them, they allegedly resorted to assassinations to eliminate their ideological rivals, some of whom had returned to the fold of the law and were therefore considered “counter-revolutionaries” subject to execution by the same “People’s Courts” responsible for the purges and “killing fields” of the 1980s.
The classification of Sison and the CPP-NPA as foreign terrorists by the US and EU put a major dent in their European exile lifestyles and forced their men in the Philippines to redouble their fundraising efforts through organized crime. But while extortion relieved the financial pressure it also drove a deep wedge between those fighting in the island hills and the Continental exiles in their glamorous and comfortable command in Europe.
Hopefully, Sison’s arrest and the end of his Dutch Treat presages the eventual downfall of the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization in the Philippines. This would clears the way for the island nation to finally fulfill its efforts as the first and the oldest constitutional democracy in Asia; allow it to increase its rate of economic growth, fulfil its potential as a tourist and investment destination and to become a fit ally in the war on terror in Southeast Asia.
Ninety million Filipinos who long have suffered from the communist and Islamic insurgencies can take heart in Sison’s arrest. Still, the totalitarian left and the Islamic Jihad remain formidable. The Islamic insurgents in particular are on a rampage of ambushes and mass beheadings in the southern Philippines where an “all-out war” has erupted. (But that is another story yet to be told!)
For now however, the Filipinos are enjoying the sight of the Red Moon’s eclipse.
Dean Jorge Bocobo is a Filipino media personality who blogs at Philippine Commentary