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Philippines Free Press Special 101st Anniversary Issue

Cover photo by Alexander Loinaz, who recounts,
The cover photo of Cory Aquino which I took on August 24, 1983 was during her press interview after the transfer of Ninoy’s body from their time street home to Sto, Domingo church. There were only a handful of reporters from the various news bureaus probably due to fear of reprisal by the authorities. Only Radio Veritas was bold enough to cover the arrival at the airport thanks to Mr. Harry Gasser who was GM of Radio Veritas in 1983. He assigned Veritas reporters Jun Tanya to cover the arrival at the airport with Ben Paipon stationed in the OB van at Baclaran church where Ninoy was suppose to proceed for a thanks giving mass had he been released on house arrest.

Commentary: A perfect plan, July 11, 2009

July 11, 2009

A perfect plan

By Manuel L. Quezon III

PERCEPTION, some say, trumps reality in politics. For that reason, when a politician told me a couple of weeks ago, that large billboards had begun to adorn the second district of Pampanga, bearing the photos of former President Diosdado Macapagal, his daughter President Macapagal-Arroyo, and her son, incumbent Rep. Mikey Arroyo, together with the acronym “PM: Pamlyang Maasahan,” I thought to myself it matters less if any such billboard even exists, and more that people say such billboards have been erected.

Onofre Corpuz, in his book “The Roots of the Filipino Nation,” observed that “It is still a truism in modern-day Philippine politics that no President of the Republic gains anything by interfering in contests between provincial political ‘chieftains’. Nothing romantic in that; but then the legacies of great events are often found in the mundane and in the pragmatic considerations of leadership.” But other observers have pointed out that one of the great levers of power for presidents, is the ability to referee local contests; but it is a risky undertaking, only for the most daring chief executives.

Mrs. Arroyo has never been one to reflect – in public, anyway- on her philosophy of power, if she has one at all. All we have to gage her approach to the presidency -and power in general- is how she’s actually wielded that power. Her approach has been described as “transactional leadership,” and as far as that goes she isn’t particularly different from her predecessors in leaving local politics alone so long as local leaders toe the party line, which is to support her presidency. Inducements to toe the party line are offered in cash and kind, and again, this is not remarkable departure from past administrations, except, perhaps, in her attention to detail, which admirers and detractors alike concede can be breathtaking.

What is different, though again, not unprecedented, in that it harks back to the national divisions over the question of the continuation in power of President Marcos in 1972 and 1986, is how national politics and politicians have been pitted against local politics and politicians on the question of the survival of the present dispensation.

The President made good use of the argument that the rise and fall of administrations shouldn’t be decided by rallies in Manila, which is a flawed argument. In the first place, national capitals are a microcosm of the nation; and second of all, it usually only in the more liberal atmosphere of a national capital that the public can more often than not, fully express itself in opposition to the powers that be (try holding a rally under the noses of a provincial warlord!). Flawed as it was, the argument was a powerful one, and played up the President’s strength – she knew how to take care of the provincial leaders.

The limits of that strength, however, were demonstrated in 2007 when Lakas-CMD and Kampi proceeded to compete with each other, locally, which limited their opportunity to compete, as a ruling coalition, against the President’s critics, particularly in the national arena. In which case, while Lakas and Kampi both edged out opposition rivals locally, they were left where they’d been prior to 2007: controlling local governments, the House, and the Presidency, but bogged down in the Senate and lacking a firm hold on the Supreme Court.

The 2010 elections could, conceivably, end the battle of attrition in which all sides have been bogged down since 2005. In the first place, the Supreme Court will be dominated by appointees of Mrs. Arroyo. In the second place, with the President’s term about to end, the ruling coalition could, conceivably, recapture the Senate, while maintaining its dominance in local politics and the House. It would be, in 2010, where it’d hoped to be, in 2007. Except for one thing: the President, precisely, would be out of office, and she, for one, besides being at the mercy of a potentially vindictive successor, by being out of the presidency, might provoke the typical realignment of forces that accompanies the election of a new president, regardless of where the former ruling coalition actually stands.

But if the ruling coalition were to go into 2010 with a plan that would maintain the cozy local and House arrangements in place since 2001; if that was fortified by recapturing the Senate; and with an obliging Supreme Court in place – and finally, with former President Arroyo still in a position of power, say, as Speaker Arroyo in the 15th Congress, the possibilities would be delightful, indeed, for everybody concerned – in the current ruling coalition, at least.

The President could, of course, run for the Senate, but it might galvanize her opponents and besides, deprive the coalition of a senatorial slot with which to repay past favors to supporters; on the other hand, a congressional race would be much more manageable. It would also solve a pesky problem, in local Pampanga politics.

In 2007, “Among Ed” Panlilio was elected Governor of Pampanga because the Lapids and the Pinedas fought each other, and the President couldn’t – or wouldn’t- broker unity among her local allies. In 2010, there’s the possibility that the President’s son, Rep. Mikey Arroyo, might be persuaded to run for governor of Pampanga, allowing the Lapids and Pinedas to coalesce and reclaim political control of the governorship. This would also enable the President to run for the position currently held by her son.

Governor Panlilio, so far, has played, perfectly, into the hands of those who want him out of office so business can go back, to shall we say, “normal.” When Randy David announced he might contest the congressional seat if the President runs for it, Panlilio then made noises about some sort of “search committee” to find a suitable candidate – and then suggested if one can’t be found, he’d consider running for congressman. The inevitable result of this sort of talk would be to alienate a reform constituency already galvanized by the idea of a David vs. Arroyo showdown.

Besides which, if Panlilio – who was already previously flirting with the idea of running for senator or even president- decides to run for congressman, he has no potential successor for governor, and so control of the capitol would return, almost certainly, to either the Lapids or Pinedas or both, under Mikey Arroyo. And Panlilio could still face a debacle at the polls, going head-to-head against Mrs. Arroyo.

But then again – if Panlilio seeks a new mandate as governor, and David runs for congressman, challenging the President, could she possibly lose?

Our issue for April 25, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

April 25, 2009 Issue

Main Features

Cover: Speaker Prospero Nograles and Kampi President Luis Villafuerte

1. The Enablers

Speaker Prospero Nograles resigns as president of Lakas-CMD and Rep. Luis Villafuerte steps down as president of Kampi to give way to the merger the two parties of President Arroyo. But the merger is an old story and the resignations of Nograles and Villafuerte are only intended to project concentration on next year’s general elections. The two parties will still force passage of a resolution for a constituent assembly that will revise the Constitution for a shift to parliamentary government, which will enable Mrs. Arroyo to run for a seat in parliament, there to be elected prime minister. Their intention is to get a ruling from the Supreme Court by June on whether the House of Representatives can revise the Constitution without the Senate, which refuses to take part in a constituent assembly. With three new justices on the court by June, the administration believes the decision will go its way. If that happens, forget the presidential election.

         By Guiller de Guzman

2. Moral Force

Chief Justice Reynato Puno leads a new movement for the moral transformation of the Philippines, largely aimed at shaming the Arroyos and their allies into leaving public life after next year’s general elections. Supported by the Catholic Church and other religious denominations in the Philippines, civic, legal, and activist groups, the movement will define the characteristics of good leaders and muster 10 million votes to ensure the election of such leaders next year. But will there be elections?

         By Guiller de Guzman

3. The Killers

Human Rights Watch blames the continuing vigilante-style killings in Davao City on President Arroyo. By supporting the city’s tough-guy mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, Mrs. Arroyo, the group says, in effect sanctions the killings. More than 800 people, mostly critics of Duterte, according to House Speaker Prospero Nograles, have been killed since 2001, about the same number of activists, trade unionists, human-rights workers and lawyers who have been killed in various parts of the country since Mrs. Arroyo came to power in that year. But don’t expect anything to come out of the Human Rights Commission’s investigation: the National Police, though ordered by Mrs. Arroyo to support the probe, is daring human rights advocates to prove that there are vigilante killings in Davao.

         By Guiller de Guzman

4. Give Earth a Chance

April—Earth Month—is cruel to the United States, which insists predictions of catastrophes caused by climate change are based only on computer models and cannot actually happen. The out-of-season storm system and wildfires that swept from Texas to Tennessee on April really happened, and they were exactly the kind of catastrophes that Europe and Asia, including the Philippines, are asking the United States to help avert by joining the global effort to slow down climate change.

         By J. de Jesus

5. Features

Our issue for April 18, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

April 18, 2009 Issue

Main Features

On the Cover: Cavite Gov. Eugenio Maliksi

         (with eight-page, full-color supplement)

         By Dann Fabros and Ricky S. Torre


With their plan to sabotage next year’s general election by revising the Constitution just waiting to be pronounced dead, the allies of President Arroyo are turning to Plan B: find a strong presidential candidate. But there is no one in their ranks. So Lakas-CMD is trying to pressure unaffiliated Vice President Noli de Castro, who is leading in the all polls, into running for the administration. Kampi, Mrs. Arroyo’s original party, has no one, and it cannot dare to play clown and offer its president, Luis Villafuerte, as even half a candidate. The Nationalist People’s Coalition is in disarray, with Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, who is said to be Mrs. Arroyo’s choice, vacationing from the party because the boss, Eduardo Cojuangco, prefers to hand the banner to Sen. Francis Escudero for the race. Cojuangco’s choice could send Sen. Loren Legarda, in the top four in most polls, shopping her presidential ambition around for a backer, weakening some more the administration’s chances of retaining power. The worst-case scenario is drawing from the opposition, and here the ruling coalition’s target is Sen. Manuel Villar. But Villar does not need to cross over to the administration to run for Malacañang. If financing for the campaign is the problem, that is for other candidates to worry about, not his. A candidate must be found before November, the advanced deadline for candidates’ registration.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

2. Failed Again

If the House of Representatives fails to swing the revision of the Constitution before the end of the first regular session in June, that’s it for the ruling coalition. Speaker Prospero Nograles is giving the effort only up to the first week of June. After that, the coalition must seriously turn to finding a presidential candidate or Malacañang will go to the opposition, and everybody knows what that means—big trouble, especially for the crooks. But Luis Villafuerte, the Kampi president who reads only the letter of the Constitution and ignores its spirit, insists the revision is still possible if the House can force a confrontation with the Senate in the Supreme Court for a ruling on how a constituent assembly votes. He thinks the new justices on the Supreme Court will vote for the administration in gratitude to President Arroyo. Chances are they won’t, so the better minds in the ruling coalition prefer to allow next year’s general election to go through. After all, there is still Plan C: buy hackers to monkey with the Comelec’s computers if the House fails to pass Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia’s proposal for a hand count of the vote.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

3. Blacklisted

Good news: The IMF will provide $1.1 trillion to help struggling economies combat the global recession. Bad news: the Philippines will get very little, if not exactly nothing, of it. The Group of 20 major economies has blacklisted the country, along with Costa Rica, Malaysia and Uruguay, for its uncooperativeness in the international effort at transparency in tax information. This is going to hurt the Philippines, which is offering all sorts of incentives to foreign investors to come here and help the government deal with the worsening unemployment. Malacañang says the government is committed to comply with the international standards in tax information, and it is now calling on Congress to review the tax laws to speed up the country’s exit from the blacklist. Only the tax laws? How about the banking laws? The secretiveness of Philippine banking has always been an encouragement for offshore tax fraud and even local official corruption. This is not going to be easy. Never mind the foreign cheats. There’s nothing they can do to stop the revision. It’s the local crooks who will surely lobby Congress to go easy on this one—secretly, of course.

By Guiller de Guzman

4. Meaningful Darkness

The Philippines saved 611 megawatts of electricity by turning off the lights for Earth Hour on March 28. That will not dent the impact of global warming on the Philippine environment, but taken together with the energy savings of the rest of the world that switched off the lights for Earth Hour, the savings will add up to one big message for world officials going to the climate-change conference in Copenhagen in December: Act now and save Planet Earth.

By J. de Jesus

5. Features

Our issue for April 11, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

April 11, 2009 Issue

Main Features

On the Cover: Pampanga Gov. Eduardo Panlilio

1. Fr. Eduardo Panlilio, President of the Philippines

Filipinos fed up with politicians and hungry for good government are encouraging Pampanga’s priestly governor, Eduardo Panlilio, to run for Malacañang in next year’s general election. They suggest that he pick Isabela’s reformist governor, Grace Padaca, as his vice-presidential running mate. Panlilio, who has only one supporter on Pampanga’s 15-member provincial board, says he is open to a presidential run, but needs to go through a “period of discernment,” meaning he will study the matter. Meanwhile, he is campaigning for support among civil-society groups and nongovernmental organizations for a reform candidate—who can very well be him, as there is nobody around who can be seen as a real reformist, unless Pope Benedict XIV discovers that he is a Filipino and migrates to the Philippines tomorrow to meet the one-year residency requirement. Not all Catholic clerics are glad about Panlilio’s setting an eye on Malacañang. There are those who like the idea of a priestly president, like Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, who says canon law does not really prohibit priests from going into politics, and those who believe Panlilio must first leave the priesthood before running for the presidency, like Dagupan-Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, for whom service to God is the sole vocation of a priest. But that is not really a problem, because if Panlilio really wants to serve as president, then he can leave the priesthood. The real question is his readiness to run the Philippines. As Sen. Manuel Villar, a declared presidential candidate, says, the presidency is not for OJTs.

     By Ricky S. Torre

2. Let the Debate Begin

The Commission on Elections can go ahead and automate next year’s general election—it will need the computers anyway. But the votes to be counted will not be for the usual local and national offices. They will be for local offices and members of parliament. As we have been saying in past issues, the allies of President Arroyo in the House of Representatives will force the revision of the Constitution before June, and sure enough Speaker Prospero Nograles has given approval for the start of the debate when Congress returns on April 13. Mrs. Arroyo says she wants the election to go through, but is doing nothing to stop her allies. Would she say no if this emergency project hurdles the Supreme Court?

         By Guiller de Guzman

3. See, She Is No Coddler

Facing impeachment charges in the House of Representatives, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has brought corruption charges against 17 former officials of the Public Works Department for the rigging of bids for road contracts in projects financed by the World Bank. The impeachment complaint against Gutierrez has stemmed from her sitting on the investigation of this scandal for one year and the likely reason is the involvement of her friend, Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of President Arroyo. Now the complainants can withdraw the charges. She has brought charges against the corrupt officials. The contractors involved will be investigated separately, but, rest assured, charges will be brought against them, too. How about Mr. Arroyo? Well, Mr. Arroyo is a private citizen, right? Is there a complainant?

         By Guiller de Guzman

4. Leave No Trace

After the European Union raised a collective howl against the continuing political killings in the Philippines, President Arroyo ordered her security forces to stop unauthorized hits. More than 800 activists, trade unionists and human-rights workers and nearly the same number of journalists have been killed or kidnapped by the military or the police since Mrs. Arroyo came to power in 2001. In addition, more than 800 criminals have been killed in Davao City by groups believed to be vigilantes, although that city’s mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, and his hit men could behind the extrajudicial killings. Mrs. Arroyo’s order for a stop is more likely for the newspapers only. Her national security adviser, Norberto Gonzales, wants to know what killings the European Union is talking about. So don’t expect the abduction, rape and murder of an NPA commander’s daughter to be the last.

         By Guiller de Guzman

5. Holy Week Feature: Apostle to the Apostles

Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel has a literary anomaly. The race between Simon Peter and an unnamed disciple to the tomb of Jesus interrupts the narration of Mary Magdalene’s seeing the risen Lord. Scholars have been quick to notice the irregular position of the race to the tomb between Mary Magdalene’s going there and her seeing the risen Jesus and concluded that the present shape of chapter 20 is not its original form. The final redactor of John’s Gospel interpolated chapter 20 after the death of the evangelist (and also added chapter 21) for a particular reason, which had nothing to do with the Resurrection.

         By Guiller de Guzman

6. Features

Our issue for April 4, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

April 4, 2009 Issue

Main Features

On the Cover: Fighting Contraband (PASG chief Antonio Villar Jr.)

         With eight-page, full-color supplement

         By Pat Ruaya and Ricky S. Torre

1. Operation: Get Lacson

So, the administration has gotten to Cesar Mancao. Sen Panfilo Lacson has no doubt about that, and no matter what Palace officials say, Lacson sees Malacañang’s hand here. Mancao is pointing to Joseph Estrada as the mastermind and Lacson as responsible under the chain of command for the November 2000 murders of public relations agent Salvador Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito. It’s been eight years, not really very long, but Mancao, at least as suggested by his statement now in the possession of the Justice Department, appears to have forgotten protocol. He could not have ridden in the same car with the chief of police, so that the conversation about a hit on Dacer that he claims he overheard aboard Lacson’s car could not have happened. Also, nobody in the Presidential Antiorganized Crime Task Force referred to Estrada by his mustache. From Lacson to the lowest-ranking agent, Estrada was simply “Erap.” At any rate, Lacson and Estrada are definitely in trouble—Lacson for keeping on trying to nail the Arroyos for corruption, and Estrada for trying to unite the opposition for next year’s presidential election.

         By Guiller de Guzman

2. Their Hands Are Dirty

The independent group of investigators headed by former Supreme Court justice Carolina Griño-Aquino has reinstated the charges against three wealthy drug dealers that the Justice Department dismissed in December. It seems that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has been right: Justice Department officials and prosecutors have been bribed to dismiss the charges. President Arroyo has ordered the Justice Department to bring charges against the three suspects and the Presidential Antigraft Commission to go after the Justice officials involved—Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño and Prosecutors Philip Kimpo and John Resado. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has already approved the prosecutors’ recommendation to dismiss the charges, but the Lady Boss, whose ratings are scraping the bottom, has hissed an order. Now he must reverse himself—or he might be suspected of being in on the corruption, too.

         By Guiller de Guzman

3. Still Lacking Power

Congress has approved amendments to the charter of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp., among which would raise the insurance on bank deposits from P250,000 to P500,000. The new charter, however, still does not allow the PDIC to determine which deposits are legitimate and may be insured and which are illegitimate and therefore may not be insured. And the PDIC is still not allowed to function as a “bridge bank,” that is, an entity that can run closed banks until they are rehabilitated.

         By Dean de la Paz

4. Features

Our issue for March 28, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

March 28, 2009

Main Features

On the Cover: Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim

         Cover story c/o Dann Fabros and Ricky S. Torre

         Manila City Supplement, six pages, full color

         C/o Dann Fabros

1.The Ghosts of Murders Past

The Justice Department has reopened the Dacer murders case with the expected return from the United States of one of the suspects, former senior superintendent Cesar Mancao later this month. Mancao, who has decided not to contest his extradition to the Philippines, claims to have witnessed the planning of the murder of public relations agent Salvador Dacer and is believed to know who ordered the hit, which also cost the life of Dacer’s driver, Emmanuel Corbito, in 2000. Expected to get in a grand tussle with the Arroyo administration when Mancao comes home is Sen. Panfilo Lacson, commander of the National Police and head of the police organized crime task force at the time. Lacson has been trying to remove President Arroyo from power and jail her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, for corruption since his election to the Senate in 2001. He says he has nothing to do with the murders and he believes Mancao has not implicated him. But the administration can do anything and make things happen, including the rehabilitation of Mancao, who has already asked to be made a state witness. Lacson is definitely in trouble here.

    By Guiller de Guzman

2. Ill Winds from the Sea

Calls from 20 of the senators for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States come at a time when China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Angered by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s signing a law that defines the Philippines’s base lines as embracing the Freedom Group of islands in the contested Spratly archipelago and the disputed Scarborough Shoal, China has sent patrols to show who is the mightier one in the seas off the Philippines. New US President Barack Obama has finally called Mrs. Arroyo after dodging her for weeks and only because of the increasing clamor for a review of the VFA, an additional agreement to the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries. Obama sees the VFA as vital to the US war against terrorism in Southeast Asia, but most members of the Philippine Senate want the agreement renegotiated because of its unfairness to the Philippines. The United States is unlikely to agree to revising the agreement to give equal protection to Philippine troops and can very well cut military aid to the Philippines and leave this country to be bullied by China if Manila abrogates the VFA.

         By Guiller de Guzman

3. The More, the Merrier?

A year before the Filipinos return to the polls, the House of Representatives is considering expanding its membership from 250 to 300. But it seems that 50 more seats seem to be too few considering that the country’s population is now 90 million because Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has introduced legislation that would add 100 more seats to the House. The reelectionists in the House are jumping for joy. The creation of new voting districts will eliminate strong rivals, as the division will make both defender and challenger win without cheating or shooting each other.

         By Guiller de Guzman

4. Shedding Their Jewels

Saddled with billions of pesos in refunds to overcharged customers, the Lopezes sell 20 percent of their holdings in Manila Electric Co. to Pilipino Telephone Corp., the second wireless phone unit of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. The sale relieves the Lopezes of the pressure of having to fend off alone an expected hostile takeover bid by San Miguel Corp., which is aiming for Meralco’s power lines to diversify into broadband Internet. They plan to team up with PLDT chief Manuel Pangilinan to fight off a raid by San Miguel boss Eduardo Cojuangco. Cojuangco, however, appears to have been reviewing his options, as fighting for control of Meralco could prove quite costly and might affect San Miguel’s venturing into other fields, such as energy. An indication that Cojuangco is waiting for better times is a statement issued during the weekend by San Miguel president Ramon Ang saying that San Miguel is willing to let Pangilinan run Meralco. For now, that is.

         By Guiller de Guzman

5. Features

6. Che and Milk, film reviews

         By Makati Rep. Teodoro L. Locsin Jr.

Insurgency Re-examined, from the Free Press Centennial Issue

The Recusant

Patricio N. Abinales

Insurgency Re-examined

A sympathetic media has kept the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on high profile such that foreign and domestic observers have cited them as evidence of a political system in perennial crisis mode and permanent instability. Intermittent ambushes by NPA and the occasional attacks by MILF commanders on AFP outposts are magnified, morphing into “major military offensives” that purportedly expose the fragility of government authority in the countryside.

Yet if one momentarily steps out of the din of the rhetoric and the reportage and looks at both insurgencies more objectively, one actually will also notice a number of under-reported incongruities. In the CPP’s case, reportage on the surge in ambushes fail to note that most of these are happening in the northeastern portion of Mindanao and only sporadically in other parts of the archipelago. Why this asymmetry exists is something that media seems uninterested to pursue. More importantly, media outlets appear not to spot the one clear anomaly that confronts the CPP today: its difficulty in complementing its “advances” in rural warfare with similar breakthroughs in the urban mass politics. While its parliamentary front Bayan Muna, has been instrumental in keeping the CPP at the center of bourgeois politics, and despite consistent print and media coverage of miniscule student protests led by other front organizations like Anakbayan, the truth is that the CPP is still years, perhaps even decades, of reaching the high numbers it had in the late years of the Marcos dictatorship.

No urban protest has shut down thoroughfares the same way as the waves of welgang bayan the CPP launched in the 1980s. No schools have been forced to suspend classes due to massive boycotts, nor factories locked-down because of widespread workers’ strikes. And when urban poor communities resist “urban renewal,” they do so because their immediate lives are at stake; there is hardly anything political in their battles against the police. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) now relies mainly on its “spokesman” delivering bad speeches in Congress; there is none anymore of those huge “poor people’s marches” that marked the heyday of the now dismissed Jaime Tadeo. The “loudest” of the CPP legal organizations, (in part because it is media savvy), is a fisherman’s group whose membership size is quite dubious (note, for example, that Pamalakaya has never had any national congress).

The question that journalists consistently failed to ask is why this unevenness in the CPP revival? Part of the problem has to do with the 1992 split when its Great Leader and eternal chairman Jose Ma. Sison presided over the destruction of the Party’s more dynamic and innovative regional organization, and the expulsion of over half of its central committee members. This singular Stalinist act deprived the revolution of the very cadres that presided over its growth; cadres known for their refusal to be straight-jacketed by Sison’s dogmatic devotion to Maoism, and who then devised creative strategies to turn the CPP into a national military and political movement. After their expulsion – and in the case of Filemon Lagman (Manila-Rizal), Arturo Tabara (Western Visayas) and Rollie Kintanar (NPA chief of staff and Mindanao), their Mafia-style execution – the Party has been having a hard time developing cadres of the same caliber as these “renegades.” The sickly Ka Roger pales in comparison to Kintanar, BAYAN’s Renato Reyes is a poor copycat of the late Lean Alejandro, and the best united front work Teodoro Casiño and Satur Ocampo have been doing of late is making backroom deals with landlords in Congress. Finally, of all the NPA guerrilla zones that remain active, it is only those in Mindanao that have shown the way. The irony here is that these were the same NPA units that Kintanar and the late Benjamin De Vera created and protected from the bloody internal executions of the 1980s.

These internal weaknesses are being aggravated by a shift in the state’s counter-insurgency warfare. While its senior leadership still refers to its strategy as a “war over hearts and minds,” the military – if we are to believe the claims of the pro-CPP human rights group Karapatan – has adopted a mini-version of the successful Phoenix program that nearly destroyed the entire Vietcong infrastructure in South Vietnam. The selective killing of activists and cadres suspected of playing important roles in the revival of the legal organizations in the towns and cities have maimed the urban mass movements that are supposed to function first as diversions to ease military pressures on the guerrilla zones, and later to back up the NPA as it shifts to a more aggressive conventional war against the Philippine state. But with their organizers dead and those who were supposed to succeed made to think twice before assuming senior positions that could be their death warrants, the Party is more and more forced to rely on its military power to maintain its image as the single biggest threat to the government. Hence the increase in the number of ambushes, which now includes the deployment of improvised explosive devices (IED’s) akin to those used in Iraq by Al Qaeda. This, unfortunately, is not what “people’s war” is all about, but the CPP has really very little choice.

The other insurgency has taken a lot of headline space these days after the MILF and the government have come to terms over the issue of what exactly comprised the Moro people’s ancestral domain. The agreement came just at the right time for both protagonists. For Gloria Arroyo it was a chance to show Congress and the 13 percent who might watch her SONA that something is being done about the Mindanao war, and for the MILF, the agreement has further entrenched its position as the real spokesman (yes, the fundamentalist MILF is an all-male club) of the Moro people.

It is the criticism of weapons that has so far kept the MILF at the center of Mindanao’s political landscape (its senior adviser, the politico Michael Mastura once boasted at a donor’s conference that funders should listen to “us” because “we have the guns!”). A second look at this vaunted capability however raises certain question. Like the NPA, the MILF occasionally probes the AFP’s armor, the latest attacks a month or so before the above agreement (the MILF bosses claim these were tantrums by commanders who were supposedly frustrated at the slow pace of the negotiations).. But unlike the NPA, the MILF’s combat zones are extremely constricted — its forces rarely venture outside areas where the communities are under its control. Roughly, we are talking here of Maguindanao province, parts of Lanao del Sur (the southeastern portions), North Cotabato (towns bordering Lanao del Sur), Sulu and Basilan, and a little patch in South Cotabato. Not much of an area if placed in the larger island frame of Mindanao.

The MILF, in short, is fighting a defensive war and its attacks should be properly interpreted as warnings to the AFP to keep its units outside of rebel territory. They were never aimed to expand that space. And if the MILF does decides to “liberate” the rest of Mindanao in the name of the Bangsamoro, there is a 99 percent certainty that it will not even reach even the border of Southern Kudarat or go beyond Tubod, Lanao del Sur; all these despite its supposedly vaunted firepower (which, if one recalls, paled in comparison to the AFP’s when the two confronted each other in 2000).

To military limitations we add political insularity. The MILF has never disavowed that it is claiming Mindanao, Palawan and Sulu mainly for the Bangsa Moro, with the Christian majorities and lumad minorities having only minor, and the case of the lumad, no role at all in its realization. In fact it continues to stoke the resentment and biases of the latter by its military arrogance and dogmatic attachment to the myth of centuries-long of Moro resistance. The MILF has failed to realize that to ensure the success of its separatist goals, it must be able to draw in Christians and lumad into its fold. Unlike the CPP, the MILF feels no need for an NDF, and the reason for this is its belief that all Muslims are behind it.

This is not necessarily true. There is no solid evidence that the entire ummah is backs the MILF’s struggle. In fact frictions within the community are quite obvious. Family or clan loyalty is still far stronger than devotion to the Bangsamoro and prejudices abound between the three principal groups: the Maguindanaos, Maranaos, and Tausogs (again media seems to miss out on the fact that choices for ARMM are also often determined by which group’s turn to govern). Already, the recent hint by Arroyo’s people that elections to the ARMM may be postponed in the light of the ancestral domain agreement has elicited strong reservations from Muslim politicians whose role in the MILF’s Bangsamoro Judicial Entity is actually ill-defined. Are they expected to turn over power to the rebel group? One doubts if they will.

Insurgencies never win if the states they wish to overthrow do not collapse completely as a result of a major conventional war sustained by a steady supply of war material from powerful external sources. This was the case of the successful Asian communist revolutions of the 20th century. With the exception of East Timor, no other separatist movement has managed to break up a Southeast Asian nation-state. In fact, the universal path to success is through compromises with a nation’s government (see, in particular, the case of Burma). There is no such major war in the horizon for the Philippines and the patrons of Moro separatism are tired of wasting resources on a cause that appears to be succeeding better in the negotiating table than in the battlefield.

We will therefore most likely continue to be witness to these lingering-but-failing-to-succeed wars of the flea, their presence becoming more or less a permanent feature of our political narrative.