Fear as a weapon

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

Every totalitarian government utilizes fear as a weapon and spreading this fear using various means is a specialty of dictatorship. Without fear, the citizens can always change the government that neglected its responsibility to them. World history is replete with instances of state terrorism and despite their eventual destruction, new dictators emerge with the inevitable end – the scorn of the future generations. Ambitions for power never wane in the heart of those who believe that they are the answers to the world’s problems.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently called on the military to put an end to communist insurgency, a rebellion that believes that imposing their already discarded political ideology is the answer to the Philippine malaise. Despite his bold order, there is no national echo of support; some even expressed cynicism citing the history of communist insurgency and the inability of the government to finally eradicate this national scourge.

The communist military arm, the New People’s Army has been engaged in a campaign of fear in the hinterlands, the least protected of our people. It is this fear that makes the countryside a haven for them. Fear keeps the people there shackled to support the NPA. Not just the poor but even investors who had to pay “revolutionary taxes” to be left in peace.

We know that the NPA has been here for over half a century. But even before that its predecessor, the armed Huks and the militant labor unions, were influenced by a socialistic ideology that appealed well to the suffering poor. But as the late Huk Supremo Luis Taruc lamented in his book, “He Who Rides the Tiger”, the followers of communism always end up destroying themselves. His title was taken from an Asian proverb: He who rides the tiger always ends up inside. And that is what happened – they got gobbled up.

The communists had their heyday when they ruled the countryside and posed a daily threat to towns and cities. In the 1980s they were strong; they almost overrun Bacolod but they reached only in Mandalagan where they were forced to withdraw after a firefight. Finally, the backbone of their forces was broken in the massive military operation “Thunderbolt” in southern Negros, their stronghold. Led by now-retired BGeneral Raymundo Jarque, that operation was so disastrous to the NPA that they never recovered their armed capability. That operation was named after the Israeli rescue of hostages in Uganda in 1975. Our version was staged in 1987.

The existence of the NPA killer units in Bacolod in the 1980s sowed fear among the citizens but this assassination teams chose mainly police officers, especially the off-duty ones and wealthy people that refused to succumb to blackmail and extortion. Politicians either cooperated with them or pay them an access fee to campaign in the barrios.

This assassination teams called SPARU (Special Partisan Unit) sent the message to our military, police and wealthy Filipinos and those who opposed the communists that they can be assassinated. But drastic measures were used by the police that the SPARU and the NPA suffered in this war of attrition.

The net effect of these random killings is fear. That is what the NPA is doing now because they cannot mobilize enough strength to challenge the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The sporadic armed encounters hew closely to this tactic of creating fear.

But the SPARU was eventually neutralized but its effectiveness in causing was recognized because last year even the Department of National Defense wanted to organize its own version of the assassination teams. Was this plan implemented? Or will the government give the NPA a tit for tat?

The military and the police also announced they will prevent the communists from recruiting in the schools. This is, to repeat, a good move but the way the army is doing it, they cannot beat the communist agitation and propaganda (agit-prop) technique that the communist used with great effect in the 1970s and 1980s. This tactic, used in schools, churches, labor unions, professional organizations, workplaces and slum areas was honed to perfection. The AFP knows this, but has it learned the lessons?

The communist ideology has been discredited. The military ought to wage an ideological campaign in schools and media and not resort to the communist counter-productive tactics of fear. The AFP can do better.