WASHINGTON — Philippine Communists could be strong enough to fight the pro-American government of President Ferdinand E. Marcos to a "strategic stalemate" within three or four years and could possible topple the regime by the end of the decade, a top Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Describing the situation as urgent, Richard L. Armitage, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, called on a House subcommittee to approve a Reagan Administration request for sharply increased aid for the island nation, where the United States maintains two of its most important overseas military bases.
Armitage said the Communist New People's Army now has as many as 15,000 men in arms, up 20% to 50% over the last year, and could draw on a popular base of as many as 1 million sympathizers. He said the rebel group is fighting government forces in 63 of the country's 73 provinces, has agents in the 10 others and maintains either significant influence or control in at least one third of the country's barangays, a political unit roughly similar to a U.S. precinct.
Without "substantial military assistance," Armitage predicted, the Philippine armed forces "may become incapable of defeating the Communists."
Outlining a "worst case" scenario, Armitage said the insurgents could take control of the country "by the end of the decade" if nothing is done to improve the fighting capability of the Philippine military, demoralized by at least a decade of corruption, bad leadership and poor logistical support.