- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

CEBU, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, proclaiming success against Muslim terrorists in the southern Philippines, is now turning her attention to the country's armed communist insurgency.
"The war on terrorism does not distinguish between ordinary terrorists and those espousing a political ideology," the president said last week before directing the military to redeploy troops away from the fight against the Abu Sayyaf, al Qaeda-linked separatists who kidnapped and killed two Americans in the past 15 months.
The troops, including light reaction companies trained by U.S. soldiers in recently completed joint exercises, will focus on a communist rebellion that has lingered for more than three decades.
Days after Mrs. Arroyo's promise to step up the war against the communists, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced the designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its military wing, the New People's Army (NPA), as foreign terrorist organizations "as defined under U.S. law."
Mrs. Arroyo's declaration of a crackdown on the communists has ignited a war of words between the government and the self-exiled founder of the local Communist Party, Jose Maria Sison.
Mr. Sison, who has held up Stalinist North Korea as a model for a postrevolutionary Philippine society, issued an angry statement last week from his headquarters in Utrecht, Holland, urging the party's armed wing to "deliver telling blows to the [Arroyo] regime."
"Go into new kinds of special operations such as destroying electrical towers and lines like during the final years of Marcos," Mr. Sison said, referring to economic sabotage the rebels conducted before the fall of strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
He also called for the revival of "armed city partisan warfare," a reference to the so-called "Sparrow" assassination teams that in the 1980s targeted policemen and government officials in Manila. One such group was responsible for the assassination of Col. James Rowe, an American assigned to the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in Manila.
After years of declining influence, the communist movement has made modest gains as of late. A recent report from Philippine military intelligence estimates that the number of communities under communist influence increased from fewer than 500 in 1995 to some 2,300 this year.
During the same period, the number of armed fighters grew from about 6,000 to more than 11,000. At its peak in 1987, the rebel army consisted of more than 25,000 fighters.
"The CPP and NPA are on the rebound, but they're still a long way from being the sort of player politically and militarily that they were in the 1980s," said Gregg Jones, author of "Red Revolution," a well-regarded book on the communist movement in the Philippines.
"They have the capacity to cause trouble in parts of the country, but their military capabilities are limited to relatively small-scale armed attacks and carefully planned ambushes and assassinations not the sort of company-sized operations they could mount with great skill and frequency during the mid- and late-1980s," he said.
Mr. Sison, reacting to criticism that his call for terrorism would bring only economic misery to the poor he purports to defend, toned down his rhetoric in recent days.
In an e-mail sent to he Philippine Inquirer, Mr. Sison said his earlier statement was just an "analytical piece, with the purpose of demonstrating to [Mrs. Arroyo] a possible dialectical chain of events that can follow from her all-out war policy."
The softening of his position, however, could have more to do with the implications of Mr. Powell's listing of the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization. That designation, published last Friday in the Federal Register, called on governments to "isolate these terrorist organizations, choke off their sources of financial support and prevent their movement across international borders."
"Sison might fear that in the post-September 11 environment, any call for renewed violence in his homeland could create problems for the Dutch government," said a Western diplomat who asked for anonymity. "I would imagine that Sison doesn't want to endanger his rather comfortable lifestyle there."

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