- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

MANILA — New People’s Army rebels attacked government forces 335 times in the first nine months of this year, making the Marxist-led movement a greater threat in the eyes of Philippine intelligence chiefs than al Qaeda and its local allies.

Police have suffered 72 killed and 380 wounded during that period while the army is averaging one soldier killed every day by the resurgent NPA.

Targets have ranged from communications sites to police stations and local mayoral offices, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said in an interview. The rebels have also destroyed scores of construction and agricultural machines and equipment.

The NPA gets political support from eight members of Congress who are split among three neo-Marxist political parties.

Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia said in an interview that he believes he has persuaded the eight pro-NPA members not to walk out or shout insults as they had planned to do during President Bush’s speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow.

Mr. de Venecia also was optimistic that recent peace talks with NPA leader Jose Maria Sison in Norway will produce results within six to nine months. But veteran military and intelligence chiefs are much less hopeful about the on-and-off peace talks, which have been under way for several years.

Mr. Sison, 60 and charismatic, lives in the Netherlands with his Dutch wife.

The NPA is the world’s oldest guerrilla group, having started out fighting the Japanese occupation during World War II. Since 1965, its orientation has been Maoist.

Philippine officials say the NPA’s 11,000 guerrillas are present in about 70 percent of the country, a vast archipelago spanning 7,000 islands. It uses encrypted e-mail and satellite phones and other sophisticated equipment, almost all of it stolen from army and police forces.

Military intelligence estimates that the group takes in $30 million a year from gold mining at Davao in Mindanao. It also collects clandestine levies from gambling casinos and protection for narcotics traffickers.

Powerful Chinese Filipinos control the drug trade and they, in turn, are protected by corrupt congressmen, say intelligence officers who spoke not for attribution. One congressman has been indicted for 11 murders. His chief defense attorney is a former chief justice of the Supreme Court.

“Police, judges, journalists, both print and TV, are on the take,” said one antidrug specialist.

Another such specialist said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo “is acutely aware of the dangers. That is why some totally corrupt politicians are closing ranks to block her bid for [re-election] next May.”

An abortive military coup on July 27 was far more extensive than first reported and probably would have succeeded had it not been penetrated from its formative stage. It was inspired by what junior officers had been reading in press reports about scandalous behavior by leading politicians. The government waited until the coup, led by a mid-level officer, was under way in downtown Manila before acting to block the seizure of a television station and taking other steps.

The Philippine air force is now down to two ancient F-5 fighter bombers. A third one crashed recently. Officers explain that since the United States was asked to evacuate Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark Air Base, the Philippine armed forces have been left to their own devices and the country’s meager resources. Mrs. Arroyo’s commitment to the U.S.-led war on terrorism has eased the situation somewhat. A handful of Black Hawk and Huey helicopters have been pledged.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large of The Washington Times, is editor at large of United Press International as well.

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