New evidence of rebel weakness in the Philippines suggests that President Corazon Aquino's regime may be better at fighting the Communists than most observers—including Philippine officials—once thought.
Since 1969, the New People's Army (NPA) has waged a war of terror, intimidation, and attrition against the Philippine army. Officials had estimated the NPA to be about 25,000 men, with 16,000 well armed. But recent raids on three Manila safe houses uncovered evidence that there may be only about 7,600 armed fighters.
The implications are murky. If the NPA is so small, some ask, why hasn't Aquino's 150,000-man army eradicated it? Others contend that the number of well-armed fighters does not reflect the NPA's true political strength.
But the obvious conclusion may be most accurate: Aquino is beating the insurgency. Students are actually studying, not rioting. Strikes are rare. And a modest boom in economic activity and optimism has won over the middle class.
Against this backdrop, the standard NPA tactic of killing and bombing the establishment may prove counterproductive. It is designed, after all, to identify the Communists with anti-establishment feelings, thereby broadening their support. But the establishment is popular. If Aquino continues her reforms while maintaining military pressure on NPA infiltrators, the Philippines could become the Third World's model for how to combat Communist tyranny without becoming its mirror image.