The Philippine military warns that communist guerrillas may increase attacks on mines and other business targets in reaction to recent combat losses. But some experts think the battle against the insurgency is far from over. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.
Philippine armed forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon says a military campaign against the communists is showing results. He says the military cut rebel numbers by about 300 and dismantled eight guerrilla bases in the first three months of the year.
The communist New People's Army is estimated to have about 5,000 troops and is active in 69 of the Philippines' 81 provinces. The NPA has been fighting the central government for five decades.
The military aims to crush the insurgency by 2010.
As the rebels feel the pressure, General Esperon warns, they will step up attacks on economic targets to generate funds and stop the loss of manpower. Since the beginning of the year at least three mines, two banana plantations and several telecommunications towers have been hit by communist rebels.
But independent analysts take a different view of the military campaign. Ramon Casiple, of Manila's Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, says the military gains against the insurgency are short-lived.
"I think the military offensive by the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] is taking a toll, particularly with regards to key leadership in the underground, the middle leaders, and of course fighters in the field," said Casiple. "But if we look at the history of the communist movement, these are losses that usually are not fatal."
"I mean over time there may be a weakening in one part, but as long as there is a fertile ground for new recruitments and training, their structure is still intact, and the issues are valid for the constituencies, then these are temporary gains," he added.
Casiple says there cannot be a military solution to a political problem. Large parts of the Philippines are controlled by semi-feudal landlords, and Casiple says the political system has failed to give power to the people. He argues that as long as there is no effective land reform and people are cut out of the system, the communist movement will not go away.
"The key issue is actually not poverty, but democracy," said Casiple. "The people are not identifying with the system because of the corruption, because of the way they have been disempowered. Peasants do not yet own the land and all that. Poverty is a consequence and of course feeds the whole thing. But the key problem there is political."
As for targeting mines and other businesses, Casiple says this is not a new tactic.
The government has promoted mining in recent years because of rich gold, copper, and other mineral deposits. Many of the mines are in the mountainous and forest areas that are traditionally NPA territory, so he says they are an obvious target.