I wonder why Gen. Esperon continues to serve in key positions of the defense establishment, when for around two decades now (except during the Benigno Aquino period), he has proved himself utterly incompetent having fared poorly at the helm of the government’s militarist counterinsurgency drive. He has been a continuing failure since the Arroyo regime with his annual unfulfilled predictions of “crushing the NPA.”
Earlier this week, Gen. Esperon again demonstrated his lack of merit as a military leader when he gave his assessment of the Duterte regime’s counterinsurgency drive which he leads as a key officer of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
On the basis of his wild imagination that the NPA is “tired of fighting”, Gen. Esperon claimed, for the nth time, that the NPA will be finished, this time, by July 2022 or before the end of Duterte’s term. If the NPA were tired of fighting, why do NPA units continue to mount tactical offensives across the country? Why does the NPA continue to punish the fascists behind the massacres and extrajudicial killings? Why does the NPA continue to deal deadly blows against the armed agents of the Duterte tyrannical regime? In fact, since the start of 2021, the NPA has succeeded in extirpating almost two companies (148) of Duterte’s men in at least 160 armed encounters.
It seems Gen. Esperon and the AFP suffer from acute dyscalculia as manifested by his rapidly changing claims of supposed numbers of NPA fighters. Last June, he claimed that NPA fighters rose to 4,000, several hundred more than the estimate of 3,700 last December 2020. A few days ago, he makes a new claim that there are now only 3,500 NPA fighters.
Based on Gen. Esperon’s advise, Duterte falsely declared in his state of the nation address that 17,000 members of the NPA have surrendered since 2016. Five days later, Gen. Esperon further magnified the lie by claiming that 18,344 have surrendered.
How is it possible that the number of NPA “surrenderees” is five to six times more than the claimed number of NPA fighters? The answer is simple: it is not possible. Of course, in the course of war, there are some who surrender or take leave. But their numbers comprise only a minuscule percentage of the military’s claimed number of “surrenderees”
In reality, majority of those Gen. Esperon claims as NPA “surrenderees” are unarmed people who were either coerced or duped by the AFP to “cooperate.” Most of them are organized peasants and minority people whose villages and communities were subjected to non-stop harassment by military units in the guise of “peace and development.” Most of the time, these people have been active in their resistance against land grabbing and entry of mining operations.
Gen. Esperon’s claim that counterinsurgency under the NTF-ELCAC is no longer “military-centric” is immediately belied by the faces of military generals who dominate the NTF-ELCAC. These generals order around the various agencies of government and local government units to take part in counterinsurgency in the name of its “whole-of-government approach,” under pain of themselves being accused of “supporting terrorism.”
Gen. Esperon boasts of the NTF-ELCAC’s ₱16.4 billion Barangay Development Program (BDP), claiming that the construction of 1-kilometer roads and other infrastructure projects will “deradicalize” the communities. Why roads and not land? Even as president, Duterte himself repeatedly said that to draw away the peasant masses’ support for the NPA, you must distribute land. The simple fact is, road projects are the most prevalent of corruption-ridden projects across the Philippines, where politicians and local contractors pocket millions of pesos from roads constructed with substandard materials, below specification and which often end up incomplete.
The peasant masses demand land, not roads. Roads will not change their lives fundamentally. What if there are roads if landlords will just continue to exploit and oppress them by taking away their harvest as payment of rent? What if there are roads if capitalist merchants or middle-men will just continue to pull down farm gate prices and take away their income? What if there are roads if the peasant masses will remain dependent on loan sharks who oppress them with high interest rates.
The NTF-ELCAC’s BDP is military pork barrel. The billions of pesos are being used to exert undue influence on local politicians to get them to bow to the dictates of military officers and align with the agenda of the AFP. Having the biggest pork barrel, the NTF-ELCAC/AFP will surely play a major role in the 2022 elections.
As long as the demand of the peasant masses for genuine land reform remains unfulfilled, as long as the right to self-determination of minority masses are trampled upon by mining companies and land grabbers, as long as the people’s aspirations for national freedom and social justice remain unfulfilled, the Red fighters of the NPA will never tire of waging people’s war to defend the oppressed and exploited masses and fight for national and social liberation.