‘Knowing the Enemy’

For the better part of the past year and a half I had been reading up on counter-insurgency. Work-in-progress is set during the spate of political killings under Gloria Arroyo in the 2000s, and things sort of clicked for me when I noticed a similar phrasing of a key idea in a leaked AFP PowerPoint presentation from 2005 and a 1962 book by officers of the government’s anti-Huk campaign in the 1950s.

First the book. Called Counter-Guerrilla Operations: The Philippine Experience, it was written by CIA operative Charles T.R. Bohannan and Magsaysay adviser Napoleon Valeriano (whose Nenita Unit of the Philippine Constabulary massacred entire villages thought to be sympathetic to the Huks then ‘stack corpses along the highways beneath warning placards’–sounds familiar?) (McCoy 375). Ostensibly it details how the army went about the task of defeating the Huks. Vapid, ahistorical stuff, more propaganda than anything and easily demolished by relevant scholarship. For instance some blather on strategically harnessing govt agencies like labor and agriculture whose jurisdiction ‘predispose’ people in the countryside toward guerrilla activity (B and V 60), but silent on how the ‘successes’ on the ground were mostly, if not all, due to sheer military might, precipitated by a formal decision by Washington in 1950 to ‘defend the Philippines’ knowing full well, and conceding, that this would not lead to any long-term social change (McCoy 376). What this effectively did then was ‘reinvigorate the coercive capacities of the Philippine state and its ruling oligarchy.’ Better the oppressive oligarchy than communism apparently.

Now the presentation. Part of a trove of materials identified as briefings and propaganda materials for the AFP, it was prepared by Arroyo’s Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security in the mid-2000s and leaked a few years into Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), the government’s official counter-insurgency strategy that had been linked to the wave of extrajudicial torture, disappearances, and killings of left-leaning peasants and activists (and whose name bears a resemblance to Operation Enduring Freedom, the US-led ‘war on terror’ in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks). Most notably, the presentation listed a number of progressive groups that the security sector considers ‘echelons of alliances’–or so-called front organizations–for the communist party. Aside from the usual suspects like Bayan and Gabriela and Migrante, included were entities like PCIJ, CBCP, and even the Salvation Army. Hermogenes Esperon, Arroyo’s then AFP chief of staff and now Duterte’s national security adviser, confirmed the provenance and claims of the presentation (Holden 387), essentially admitting that it’s part of the state’s counterinsurgency policy to ‘lump together a broad range of progressive church and media organizations and personalities .. [making] them fair game for both covert and overt military operations’ (San Juan 222).

A big chunk–nearly 30 of the 40 years–that separate these two documents were during the Cold War, the broader context w/ w/c we may apprehend such continuities and patterns. Valeriano, a protege of CIA operative and Magsaysay bestie Edward Lansdale, would go on to train the failed Bay of Pigs invasion force in Cuba. OBL is reminiscent of the US’s Phoenix Program in Vietnam, a de facto assassination bureau w/c targeted the Viet Cong ‘political infrastructure .. its presence among the people’ and between 1968 and 1972 killed more than 26,000 people who were deemed ‘legitimate targets’ (Andrade and Willbanks 20-2).

Recurring in the discussions of the just-signed Anti-Terror Law was the unwieldy word ‘terrorist,’ and fears about the ease w/ w/c it can be strategically brandished. Here another connection. Panfilo Lacson, one of the law’s principal authors, was the deputy of notorious Martial Law torturer Rolando Abadilla, whose elite anti-subversion squad Metrocom Intelligence Service Group, or MIGS, was ‘engaged in systemic human rights abuses,’ responsible for the torture of some 35,000 and the death of more than 3,000 others (McCoy 403). Again, the US turned a blind eye to these horrors, and even capacitated a key aspect of it, because on the line w/ Marcos’s allegiance was the US military bases agreement, and it was 1976, and Vietnam just reunited as a communist state and Mao just died. Again, better wanton human rights violation than communism.

But probably the most depressing Cold War material I’ve come across recently was Vincent Bevin’s The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World (2020). A keen, chilling account of the genocide of at least half a million Indonesian communists in the mid-1960s, facilitated by a ‘groundwork’ and entrenched system of American aid to and training of the country’s army and national police–sounds familiar? Half a million. To arrest a system that might possibly be just and egalitarian. Again, supposed democratic values sacrificed in the altar of anti-communism. Thus, alongside the sheer scale, systematic premeditation, and ‘modular’ quality of the violence on people, what guts me the most about such narratives is how it sullies the imagination (political, social) by brutally eliminating ‘alternative possibilities’ in terms of a collective self-definition, w/c for once-colonized peoples is already frayed and fractured to begin w/ (Bevin 459).

It is not a coincidence that certain words like ‘freedom’ and ‘terror’ and ‘enemy’ recur in this genealogy. At once simple enough to evoke a knee-jerk response but also capacious and flexible enough to be mangled toward an agenda. They also, as a neoliberal tactic, narratively conceal their historical baggage, the ‘ideological allegiances’ that they signal (Westad 3). The ‘enemy’ in the anti-Huk campaign included ‘Huk sympathizers’ and their ‘mass base.’ The ‘enemy’ in OBL included the CPP’s ‘political structure’ and ‘militant groups.’ And eliminate the enemy they did because naming someone as the enemy is all it needed. Enemies of what though? Magsaysay’s land reform law in 1955 ‘withered and died from want of implementation,’ leaving ‘the underlying social inequality .. unchanged’ (McCoy 383). Under Arroyo, the income of the top 1,000 corporations in the country rose more than threefold from P116.4 billion in 2001 to P416.7 billion in 2008, while real wages saw the smallest increase since Marcos at P5 (Africa).

That the Anti-Terror Law was railroaded at a time of unimaginable suffering for many Filipinos ought not to surprise. It follows a pattern. Systems can only hold off their contradictions for so long, and the reckoning is always punctual. And as it flails for dear life, its guardians resort to naming sprees: enemies, terrorists (gerilya, insurrectos, remontados, filibusteros, etc etc). Again the missing predicates. Enemies of what? Terrorists to whom? Hence the demystifying power of Sino ang terorista? or #PulisAngTerorista, of notions of state terrorism. The answer as usual in history.


Africa, Sonny. ‘Dark Legacies: The Economy Under Arroyo.’ Ibon, 2010.
Andrade, Dale and James Willbanks. ‘CORDS/Phoenix: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Vietnam for the Future.’ Military Review, vol. 86, no. 2, 2006, pp. 9-23.
Bevins, Vincent. The Jakarta Method. PublicAffairs, 2020.
Bohannan, Charles and Napoleon Valeriano. Counter-Guerrilla Operations: The Philippine Experience. Praeger, 1962.
Holden, William. ‘Ashes from the phoenix: state terrorism and the party-list groups in the Philippines.’ Contemporary Politics, vol. 15, no. 4, 2009, pp. 377-93.
McCoy, Alfred. Policing America’s Empire. U of Wisconsin P, 2009.
San Juan, Epifanio. US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines. Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.
Westad, Odd Arnie. The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of our Times. Cambridge UP, 2005.

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