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THE TYRANT DENIES THE PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO JUST AND LASTING PEACE

in Countercurrent

 

by Leon Castro

Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) President Rodrigo Duterte announced last August 14 that he has terminated the peace process with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). It came weeks after he, his spokesperson, and his peace adviser separately declared again suspending the peace negotiations. There was a need, the GRP said, to review the achievements of the GRP-NDFP peace talks, including all agreements between both parties since 1992 when The Hagu e Joint Declaration was signed.

“I have terminated the talks with the Reds—with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), with Sison—because in the series of agreements before, even [during] the time of [GRP President Benigno] Aquino, they entered into so many things that they scattered the privileges and power which they wanted,” Duterte said in his usual rambling way. We summed it all and it would really appear that it was a coalition government [they wanted] and I said, “I cannot give you an inch of that even. I cannot give you what is not mine,” Duterte added.

Duterte went on to declare yet again that his government would instead resume the fight against the revolutionary movement. “We have suffered and—in numbers. And I think it would not be good [to continue with the peace process]. We will just have to continue fighting,” he added.

Duterte’s latest announcement of the termination of the peace process is actually nonnews, NDFP Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Maria Sison said. Sison explained it was not the first time Duterte terminated the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. The first time was actually in February 2017, as he again did on November 2017 with his Proclamation 360 that he followed with Proclamation 374 accusing the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist” organizations. Sison said Duterte’s proclamations had the malicious intent of making doubly sure that he had killed the peace negotiations.

Either Duterte was lying or ignorant of what he was saying. There had only been one formal round of talks throughout the Aquino regime and the agreements signed in The Oslo Joint Statement of February 2011 the reactionary government tried to abrogate with full malevolent intent. In addition, Prof. Sison had repeatedly denied the NDFP asked or wanted a coalition government with Duterte’s own murderous regime.

But beyond Duterte’s unfounded accusations that the NPA—and not his bloodthirsty military and police—is on a rampage in both rural and urban areas, the question of why is he bent on throwing away the substantial gains achieved by the peace negotiations with the NDFP begs to be asked. If he claims his regime is suffering from the attacks by the NPA, why would he think that to continue fighting with the revolutionary army is the best and only solution? If he still claims he is for peace and development, why can he not admit that agrarian reform and national industrialization—prospective agreements of which are already submitted to him by his own peace negotiators for approval—are tangible efforts to addressing the roots of the armed conflict?

TYRANT AND DICTATOR

GRP President Duterte has completely unmasked himself and his regime as a tyrant and dictator in the mold of Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Duterte made a complete turnaround from proclaiming himself as the country’s first “leftist” president to being the chief executive of a cabal that rules through terror, tyranny, and corruption. His Senate is presided by, like him, a misogynist. His Speaker of the House of Representatives—manouvered into place by his daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte—is herself a tyrant, cheat, plunderer and human rights violator of the worst kind. He has replaced the Supreme Court Chief Justice with one who has voted to bury Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Members of his own personal and official families are involved in smuggling, graft and corruption, and influence-peddling. They have lifestyles that could rival Imelda Marcos’s. Recently, investigative reports have shown that Christopher “Bong” Go has profited billions in government contracts as his most trusted assistant and operator.

The number of extrajudicial killing victims of Duterte’s drug war, mostly poor, has breached 20,000. The reign of terror remains unabated despite increasing opposition and condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Despite all these deaths, Duterte’s so-called war has only succeeded in allowing tons of illegal drugs into the country while bigtime drug lords, including presidential son and Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, remain at large or are being exonerated publicly by no less that Duterte himself.

Like his idols Marcos and Arroyo, Duterte is succeeding in running the country’s economy to the ground. From the get-go, Duterte’s anti-people Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) measure caused inflation rates that overtook so-called growth rates and hit 6.4 percent last August. While the Philippine Peso lingers at around P53 to P54 to the US dollar, hot money from the speculative market is leaving the country, making the Philippines one of the worst performing economies in the world. The country’s foreign debt has also increased dramatically under Duterte and has gone beyond P7 trillion. As a result of all these, oil prices and prices of basic commodities have drastically gone up and continued to do so, angering more and more Filipinos. Duterte’s approval rating has also consistently taken a dive since the start of the year, one that could no longer be fixed by his totally discredited propaganda machine.

Meanwhile, poverty alleviation measures promised by Duterte the presidential candidate and Duterte the newly-installed president were exposed to be nothing but hot air and lies. Labor contractualization remains the main mode of employment for workers while genuine agrarian reform is still a dream under his regime.

But are these developments really surprising, more so that no one among the NDFP-nominated progressives remained in Duterte’s Cabinet while the most reactionary disciples of neo-liberalization are still well-entrenched? Barely a year after progressives were rejected by the Commission on Appointments, corrupt practices have returned with a vengeance at the Department of Social Work and Development at the behest of corrupt politicians across the street at the House of Representatives. At the Department of Agrarian Reform, more and more agricultural lands are being handed to landlords and land grabbers. And more than a year after the National Anti-Poverty Commission has published a progressive anti-poverty roadmap, not a single recommendation is being implemented.

In the absence of honest to goodness pro-people policies and programs by the Duterte government, the NDFP-GRP peace process was among the very few avenues for genuine social change. Alas, Duterte is determined to deny the people their right to just and lasting peace.

NATIONAL INDUSTRIALIZATION AND AGRARIAN REFORM

Last June 16, the NDFP released backchannel documents it crafted with the GRP Negotiating Panel. The documents represented weeks of hard work not just by the NDFP and its consultants and resource persons but the GRP Negotiating Panel, advisers and staff, not to mention the Third Party Facilitator, The Royal Norwegian Government. These consisted of The Stand-Down Agreement; Guidelines and Procedures towards an Interim Peace Agreement, and the Resumption of Talks, with an attached timetable; The Initialled Interim Peace Agreement; and, The NDFP Proposed Draft of the Amnesty Proclamation, which was given to the GRP and the Third Party Facilitator. These documents were all ready for approval by both panels on the fifth round of formal talks last June 28. Four rounds of informal talks throughout April to June 2018 preceded the scheduled formal in June.

The “Stand Down Agreement”—a temporary cessation of hostilities—between the NDFP and the GRP, was in fact signed and approved by the chairpersons of the negotiating panels and witnessed by the Third Party Facilitator. It was due for announcement and implementation on June 21, a week before the formal talks.

The GRP-NDFP peace negotiation has been postponed, canceled, and terminated by Duterte several times. Duterte thinks nothing of the hard work by everyone involved in crafting agreements already hailed as real solutions to the worst evils of Philippine society: poverty, corruption, and subservience to foreign interests. Instead of signing the initialed drafts of agrarian reform and rural development, as well as national industrialization and economic development agreements, he listened to militarists in his regime—especially defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon, and interior and local government and interior secretary Eduardo Año—who were all bred during the last years of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and wantonly let loose upon the people during Gloria Arroyo’s own reign of terror. With bloodthirsty officials like these three as his most trusted hatchet men, is it surprising that Duterte’s way of addressing the roots of the armed conflict in this country is heightened fascism and terrorism?

The NDFP and all its allied revolutionary organizations, led by the CPP and the NPA, on the other hand, said they condemn how Duterte waylaid the peace process. While they are not intimidated by Duterte’s bluster and threats and are ready to continue defending the Filipino people, they have expressed willingness to resume peace negotiations with any reactionary government serious in negotiating basic reforms that address the roots of the armed conflict. The NDFP said it is hopeful that a genuine peace negotiation shall contribute to the liberation of the Filipino people from the bondage of poverty, neglect and plunder by foreign and local ruling elite.

Perhaps Duterte is not ready to admit the NDFP’s seriousness and sincerity in negotiating peace. Perhaps he was surprised when he was shown by his own negotiating panel that the NDFP has initialed national industrialization and economic development as well as agrarian reform and rural development draft agreements. Perhaps he himself was not ready to implement peace even when the NDFP publicly announced it is ready to sign a stand down agreement between the NPA and the AFP and PNP, even an interim peace agreement deal. Perhaps Duterte was not really sincere when he promised he would release all political prisoners. Whatever the case may be, his repeated pronouncements to terminate the negotiations defy logic if he really wanted peace.

The question begs to be asked and asked loudly, “Why is Duterte afraid of peace?”

But, then again, is peace possible with a tyrant?

An Afternoon with Ka Rio: Kabataang Makabayan, A People’s Warrior

in Mainstream
by the Liberation Staff

Family and school life. Aspirations and life in the struggle. An afternoon with Ka Rio in a guerrilla zone. Listen to this millennial who has defied the norms of a petrified society to bloom and become another hope of the motherland. (The interview was originally published in Filipino.)

Liberation (L): When did you become an activist?

Ka Rio (KR): I first got organized when I was a college sophomore in a local state university. That was at the height of the campaign against tuition fee increase. Dahil pabibo, e di join-join ako. (Because I wanted to be everywhere, I joined). You know, the typical adventurous youth. I gathered signatures for the petition against tuition fee increase. The petition helped the students pursue their fight. And we were able to stop the school’s plan. But I wasn’t consistent then. There were times when I did not join student activities. There was a gap.

But when I joined an environmental investigative mission in one of the provinces beset with a problem on mining, I got agitated. At first, the adventurous me joined because the area was by the seaside. But when I got there, I began to ask questions. Why are the people poor—the peasants, the fisherfolk—when we have these rich resources in the country? From then on there was no stopping. The following Christmas, I went to a community of indigenous people for gift-giving.

L: Were you already a KM (Kabataang Makabayan) member at that time?

KR: Not yet. (Laughter) I was an eternal KK (Kandidatong Kontak, candidate contact, a term used to those who are long-time activists but were not recruited into the KM). It took some more months before I became a KM member. But after I came in, no one could stop me. I joined RTR (room-to-room) recruitment and ED (educational discussions) with the students.
A month after I became a KM member, I attended study sessions in a guerrilla zone. I took up the MKLRP (Maikling Kurso sa Lipunan at Rebolusyong Pilipino, a condensed course on Philippine society and revolution).

L: How was your studies after you became an activist?

KR: I attended my classes. Then, the rest of the time, I was in other colleges talking to students, recruiting among them. I did my tasks in the movement simultaneous with my studies. Because I was guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM), I was able to do it. I applied these same principles to my studies, resulting in a much broader and sharper analysis of my school work.

I was a consistent college scholar. I did not pay tuition fees. My mother tolerated my activism because I did not neglect my studies. Even during exams, I continued with my activities outside the school. I went to different provinces. There were times I would ask my professors to excuse me from the exams because I needed to attend to other activities. Since I was a diligent student, they trusted me and granted me permission. I took the exams after the activities. At the time, I was also the president of an academic organization in our school.

L: What course did you take up?

KR: AB Psychology. Once, our academic organization sponsored a “pajama” party which coincided with KM’s study session. Since I was the president of the organization, I could not attend the ED. (Laughter.) I missed the opportunity.

L: Didn’t your teachers or classmates warn you from becoming an activist?

KR: There was a time when many students from our school joined the New People’s Army (NPA), so they assumed my organization was an activist organization and a recruiter for the red army. They did not tell me not to join but only cautioned me, ingat (keep safe) they said. OK!

L: You were a scholar. How did you balance your studies and your activism?

KR: I could set aside my studies every now and then and return to it after the activities. Activism did not keep me from studying. Or should I say my studies did not hinder my activism. Nothing can keep you from fighting if you have the will and commitment to serve the students and the masses.

In my fourth year, I became the chairperson of a university-wide organization. That required much of my time. It was also the time when we had to campaign again against tuition fee increase—explaining to students that the school’s budget should not burden them… chu chu… that it was the government’s responsibility. That! So we had another round of petition signing, recruitment, ED, RTR propaganda.

I was able to do all those while studying and working on my thesis and on my OJT (On-the-Job Training, a graduation requirement). My OJT was thrice a week but in between I still went to school for the campaign, recruitment, and ED. When I think about it, bongga lang (top-notch). Tumbling! Lagare (literally, a saw; a term used to describe one’s tight schedule and activities).

L: How did activism affect your studies?

KR: Before I became an activist, I was a careerist. My goal was to graduate with laude—cum laude. That! So, I had to maintain my high grades. I had to be a consistent college scholar.
When I became an activist, I got higher grades. I became a university scholar. So, activism is not a hindrance. Actually, it helps you broaden your understanding of things. And you become more intelligent in class, hahaha! It’s true! Because you are no longer confined in just the four walls of the classroom. I applied to my course the theories I learned from the movement, especially because my course is psychology—how society affects the thinking of a person. Eme! That!

L: You graduated cum laude, did your parents convince you to work?

KR: After graduation, I did not go home right away. I immediately reported for work in the movement. My mother asked me to come home for a graduation party but I begged off. My high school friends, some of whom also graduated with honors, also wanted a party. But, I only went home months later. The food reserved for me was already spoiled! (Laughter.)

L: What did you do after your graduation? Where did you go?

KR: I went to a community during the school vacation. When classes resumed, I went back to my school-based activities but I requested my collective not to deploy me in my alma mater because the dean and the professors knew me. Besides, I heard the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) comment that I did not deserve to graduate cum laude because I was an activist chuva chuva. That! Bitter! (Laughter.)

L: When did you join the people’s army? How did you prepare for it?

KR: I had spent two years with a youth organization before I went to the countryside. How I joined the NPA was a comedy. I went to a guerrilla zone only to “meet-and-greet” the people’s army. I was just a ‘joiner”. It wasn’t even for a TOD (tour-of-duty). But when I sat in the orientation on the NPA for the new KM members, I was most affected. So I stayed behind. (Laughter.)

We had an educational festival at the camp that time. One of my companions wanted to join the army. But because he was only 16, he was not qualified. I was touched that at 16 he was ready to join the army while it has never even dawned on me. And I was already 22! I felt ashamed of myself.

Then, there was this military cadre, a peasant, who had difficulty reading. On my way to my tent, I passed by him and he was reading aloud, slowly and in syllables “Da-pat pag-a-ra-lan (What need to be learned).” He was in his senior years. “Ano ba yan! (What’s this!)” Again, I was touched and told myself, “Stay here, teh! (teh is from the word “Ate” used to refer to an elder sister but has now become an expression used among peers). That was it! You see, this man was such a good military cadre yet he still wanted to read so he could study and hone his tactics in warfare to better serve the people. I told myself, “What are you doing, you’re a college graduate!” (Laughter.)

L: Was it in your plan to join the army?

KR: I didn’t plan to stay behind. It was my companion who was on TOD. I still wanted to study medicine. That was my dream. I had already borrowed a reviewer for the entrance exam in a medical school. My mother knew about it. I also told the people at the camp I wanted to be a doctor. “Then be a doctor here,” they told me. That made sense. Because around seven of 10 sick people in the countryside had not even seen a doctor before they died. It’s such an ordeal for the masses to travel long distance to see a doctor. Some of them die on the road.

I also realized that if I became a doctor I could only serve those who could afford it. So, I stayed for a month. But even before the month ended, I already said I wanted to be fulltime in the NPA. Aside from the “pressure” from comrades, hahaha, the eklavu of comrades that “gusto nga nating baguhin yung chuva chuva (“we want to change), it was my own

L: Joining the army is a difficult decision especially for someone like you. But it’s even more difficult to persist. How was your more than a year in the NPA?

KR: Actually, wait, where’s my English. Handkerchief, please! (Laughter.)

Well, I am now one year and three months in the army. Of course, life in the NPA is not always fun. It is coupled with sacrifice, loneliness, longing for family, and, yes, for the food out there. Char! (Laughter.) There should always be food in my bag. Even if I don’t eat them as long as I see them, it’s enough morale booster. It’s like go girl, you still have some food here! Hahaha!

The hardest part is not about the long treks but one’s morale. Mao has said courage stems from one’s consciousness. We have to feed our consciousness, raise our ideological level to overcome hardships. On our consciousness anchors our goal, our principles, our will to fight. I find my strength when I read documents like “I Engage” or the “Diary of Tuy” of Vietnam. You can actually do anything as long as you have the will.

L: How do you overcome the physical strain, especially for a woman like you?

KR: Of course, I am capable because… I am big, hahaha! The ascents are indeed back-breaking especially because I have a pack and an armalite. But the comrades will never leave you, they are always there to help. They even carry your backpack if they see you are having a hard time. They help you overcome your difficulties. That’s it!

As a woman, it’s a hassle during rainy season. Also it’s hard not to be able to take a bath. Menstrual period is another burden. But over time, you’ll get used to it. Before, I could not even put up a clothesline for my wet clothes. Like, 30 minutes would pass, my shoulder numbed, and I wasn’t done with the clothesline yet. After a month, I could easily pitch even my tent.

When I came here, I brought along some wipes (wet tissues, used to cleanse after defecating) for a month’s supply. But as days passed, and as the wipes were consumed, I slowly learned to use plant leaves as substitute. Now I know that banana leaves are the softest and the best.

L: How many women are there in your unit?

KR: Less than 10; two are married and one of them has a child. If we include the other units, there are 20 in all—an undersized platoon. We are a mix of petty bourgeois from the cities and local folk. Majority are from the youth sector.

L: What were your other trying moments?

KR: Perhaps the long walks. I am still adjusting to this, especially when it rains and we pass through muddy paths, where at times the mud is up to my knees. There were also times when we can’t turn on our flashlights because the enemy is around.

We had this two weeks of food shortage. We only had galyang (a rootcrop) for rice and another part of galyang for viand. We mashed them together. Even the salt was already wet. I asked myself, “What have I gotten myself into?” Then there was also a time when there was really no rice, no coffee, no sugar. There was really no food supply. The enemies blocked the entry of supplies that even the food of the masses were not allowed. In fact, the soldiers urged the masses to leave the barrios supposedly to prevent them from bringing food to us.

There was a time, too when we were not able to take a bath for 10 days. There were also instances when we were sweating the whole day, then it would rain. Yet, nobody left the army during those trying times.

L: Have you experienced actual battle? How did you feel?

KR: The time when we had nothing to eat, that was also my first experience with an actual firefight. I wasn’t nervous but the first shot stunned me. At first, we thought a bamboo tree just fell down. But, when we heard the volley of fires, we realized it was no longer just a bamboo tree falling down, hahaha! “Hindi na ‘to kawayan, kaaway na to! Hahaha! Laban na pala ‘yun. (This is no longer a bamboo tree, these are enemies! That was real firefight.)”

Initially, I did not know what to do. I just took my backpack and followed the command. I had a hard time getting to the top of the mountain because of my weight, and the heavy pack and rifle. Presence of mind is important. That’s that!

I’ll tell you something. It is about food again. (Laughter). That time, we only had two unripened bananas for breakfast. But, the two bananas sustained us to face our enemies in a firefight. Dalawang saging ka lang (You’re good for just two bananas)! Hahaha! Our two bananas equaled our enemies.

The battle itself was not that difficult. The retreat was more challenging because a helicopter kept hovering over us. We felt it could see us. As first timers our fear was being shot by a machine gun from above. I am energized just by remembering how we overcame those difficulties.

L: How about when loneliness sneaks in?

KR: I criticize myself for not sharing my problems. I just stay in my hammock, in my hut and stare blankly at anything. I do try hard to open up to comrades now because it’s hard to carry emotional baggages.

Totoo naman, di ba? Mas madaling maglakad na malaya ‘yung isip mo. Kahit nga ‘yung wala kang dala, kapag may mabigat kang iniisip, ang hirap maglakad, di ba? Mahirap makalayo, mahirap makarating sa gusto mong puntahan. (It’s true! It’s easier to move around when your mind is free from worries. When your mind is troubled, it’s difficult to walk even without a pack, to go far, to reach your destination.)

L: What experience is your happiest?

KR: When I witnessed the actual setting up of the people’s government — the election of officials, the charting of plans and the one-year program, and the way they govern the barrio. Recently, I got high with the anti-feudal campaign — how it was planned and how the dialogue between the farmers and the traders resulted in the lowering of loan interests. That’s it! This was the most successful anti-feudal campaign that the army had launched in recent years.

L: How did your parents react when you joined the NPA?

KR: I was home after my graduation, one month before I entered the guerrilla zone and decided to join the red army. After two months in the army, I requested to go home to formally tell my parents that I would go fulltime. The comrades did not allow me. Five months later, I wrote my parents that I had joined the NPA. No reply. (Laughter)

But they later sent word asking me to go home just to dispel people’s suspicion that I had joined the NPA. I told them not to mind them; people would eventually grow tired and lose interest in it.

L: Have they visited you here?

KR: Not yet. They are still afraid.

L: How about you? Have you visited them? What was their reaction?

KR: Recently, I went home with my buddy. My mother cried because I had lost weight. Tears of joy! (Laughter). My buddy told me my mother could not stop crying when they talked “because it is only now that Rio has lost weight.” My buddy kept on laughing.

When we went to market, my mother remarked, “Hala, mangongotong kayo.” (“Hala, you are going to extort.”) I replied, “Hala, is that how you raised me? Did I graduate just to extort? If I wanted to extort, I could have just landed a job. There are more to extort there.” (Laughter) She kept silent.

L: Didn’t they ever reprimand you? The usual thing parents tell their children: “I sent you to school…!”

KR: I never heard any of that. When I asked my father for some pizza, his reply was: “How much would it cost to put up a pizza store? Come home and just sell pizza.” (Laughter) Sell pizza! Haggard! My father knows that food is my weakness. (Laughter). When parents see how decisive and determined their children are in carrying out their work, they eventually support us.

L: How do they support you now?

KR: With food, of course! (Laughter). Once, I “begged” for some groceries. My mother sent me all that I listed down with a note that Papa was waiting for payment. (Laughter). I could not help laughing because now my father no longer asks when I would go home but when I would pay for the groceries. When I went home, my mother and my sister bought me things I needed. My sister even packed my things. Happy! Less worry!

L: How did you prepare them for that?

KR: I did nothing, because I wasn’t even prepared myself, hahaha! It was a surprise for all of us!

When I was not yet a KM member, activists would go to our house. They spent Christmas there. My mother asked me if they were activists and I said no. I truly did not know then if they were activists. I wasn’t aware of what an activist was.

L: Did you explain to them what you were doing?

KR: Yes. I told them about our community immersions, the mining, the semi-feudal exploitation, things like those. I told them my experiences in school. They understood of course because they, too, felt the hardships. They see corruption as a cause of poverty. They just need orientation on the correct line. I just need to inject the prime role of imperialism to help them complete their analysis.

L: Did you also share your experiences here in the guerrilla zone? What was their reaction?

KR: Yes. I sent them a letter but when comrades read the letter I was about to send, they said it was not a letter, “This is ED (short for Educational Discussion).”

My parents reaction? E di mayat! (Fine!) (Laughter) But of course, as parents their usual concern is safety. I told them about the land distribution we do. Papa retorted “but the enemies are hunting you.” I told him our enemies are those who deprived the farmers of land. My father just lapsed into silence and he simply said, “Take care.” They have truly accepted my being here.

L: Love life?

KR: None! (Laughter.)

Once, someone proposed a “program” (a process of courtship within the Party and NPA). I accepted the proposal to see how it will prosper. But, nothing happened. I do not want to enter yet into a relationship. I want to be better in what I do first. Hmm char! But of course, at my age… There was someone I liked. But, haayyy… he went down (left the revolutionary movement).

L: What are the most valuable things you receive from friends in the city?

KR: What’s this, questions in a slumbook? (Laughter). Letters make me happy. But, I am happier when food goes with the letters, hahaha! When there are people coming from another Front or from the city, I always hope, I always ask if there are letters for me. Of course, I miss my friends and comrades in the city.

L: What is your most cherished experience?

KR: Now, this one is really for a slumbook! (Laughter). Plenty, especially in the guerrilla zone.

Like, I told my mother not to worry about me because there are many mothers here who take care of me. You know, when the people’s army starts packing our things to leave a barrio, the masses are upset. They did not want us to leave. They wanted the army to stay. Of course, we could not stay in a place forever. We want to go on expanding the movement.

There was also that mother who, because I was single, wanted me to stay and be her daughter-in-law. Another suggested that when I get married, the wedding should be held in their barrio so they could attend. I just smiled when I heard these. Then, there were these simple things they gave voluntarily­—shampoo, soap, even a bag. It would be embarrassing not to accept these gifts from them.

We leave a mark among the masses because they feel the warmth in how we relate with them. You know, the masses need not work if the army were there. Somebody from the army cooks, another cleans. The comrades go on shifts in their tasks. That’s probably one of the reasons why the masses seem not to want the army to leave, hahaha!

“‘Yung kahit gaano kalayo at nakakapagod ‘yung lakaran, kapag sinalubong ka nila nang kasing init ng iaalok nilang kape, yun ang pinakamasarap” (The most gratifying, after a long and tedious hike, is the masses’ warm welcome, as warm as the coffee they offer).

L: Have you experienced any difficulty in dealing with the masses?

KR: In the expansion areas in another province, yes. We were also assigned there; just a team. Our task is to hold meetings in the villages and form a GP (Grupong Pang-organisa, organizing group). Because it is an expansion area, which had not been visited for decades by the NPA, it was exacting. But since we relentlessly pursued raising their consciousness and explaining the need for a GP, they finally agreed to form one. It seemed difficult to relate with the masses at the beginning. They were hesitant to put up the GP. But because they looked up to their elders, the most senior in the barrio, we invested on the latter by raising their awareness. So finally, they agreed to put up a GP.

They have issues on the prices of gabi (taro root) and ginger. Traders buy these from them at only Php 3.00 per kilo. Then there was also the issue of mining. We explained these issues to them as well as other issues on feudal exploitation.

L: What has changed now that you are with the people’s army?

KR: Now, this one is really for Miss Universe! Water, please! (Laughter).

Before, I was shy to face people. Perhaps, this is the breakthrough—I have overcome my shyness. I have also improved on how I deal with people. I can now easily relate with all kinds of people. My perspective broadened. Before, I was full of subjectivism and idealism. “E bakit ganito? Dapat ganito! (Why is it like this? It should be like this!)” I had a lot of “should be’s” and “why this?” without knowing how things happened. Now, I have become more discerning as I continue to broaden my understanding of things, especially because my tasks include ensuring the high morale of comrades, to help them solve their problems.

Pero syempre, ‘yung pinakaimportante du’n, ‘yung kapasyahan mo na kapag may gusto ka talagang gawin na pagpapaulad sa sarili mo, syempre ibukas mo ‘yung sarili mo sa pag-unlad. Tulungan mo ‘yung sarili mo para umunlad ka. Kaya ‘yung lahat ng gawain, kung gusto mong matutunan, ‘yun ‘yung dapat mong maging aktitud. ‘Yung gusto mo laging may matututunan. (But of course, the most important thing is your determination to become better, to be open to change, development, and help yourself grow. The right attitude is to learn the different tasks, to crave for new knowledge.)

An Empowered Peasantry

in Mainstream
by Priscilla de Guzman

“Kung malayo pa ang pupuntahan natin, mas malayo na rin naman ang pinanggalingan. Ituloy-tuloy na natin.”

—Ka Pidyong

“If the end of our struggle is still far away, where we started from is now much farther away. Let’s continue fighting.” —Ka Pidyong

Now 75 years old, Ka Pidyong couldn’t contain his laughter as he recalled the first time he met members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in their community, an upland barrio in Northern Luzon.

“There were seven of them,” he said in Filipino, grinning. “Only one had an armalite rifle, while the others had carbines, a shotgun, and a caliber .38 handgun— all teka-teka guns (teka literally means “wait” and refers to low-caliber guns). Of the last member of the team, he remembered vividly, “He had no gun, but carried a kaldero (a metal pot used to cook rice).”

“Three years later, they were already 16 and fully armed,” Ka Pidyong mused. “We were so happy. Our morale was high because 12 of them were recruited from our village.” Some of the original members had been redeployed elsewhere, he added, remarking enthusiastically, “They continued to grow, so did we.”

Decades after that first contact with the people’s army, the villagers have now established, painstakingly, their own organs of political power: the revolutionary mass organizations of peasants, women, and youth. A revolutionary council has also been elected and now governs their communities. In 2017, members of the mass organizations—representing the unity forged by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the NPA, and their allies—held their second elections in less than five years.

All these years, despite the continued military onslaughts and even during the Party’s brief period of disorientation, the organized masses did not waiver. Not even for a moment did they lose the faith that the revolution is their only hope, the future of their children, and of their children’s children.

Setting the revolutionary fire

Indeed, it has been a long, arduous, but victorious journey for those who blazed the revolutionary trail in this guerrilla zone—the first batch of peasant men and women who welcomed comrades from the CPP and NPA in 1971, when the twin revolutionary organizations were in the formative stage.

Peasant leader Ka Tonyo, 65, first met the NPA in 1971. “Na-recruit ako nung 1972, pagbalik nila sa sitio (But I was recruited only in 1972 when they returned to the village),” he told Liberation. As one of the leaders in the barrio, Ka Tonyo went with the NPA to the different mountain villages and those near the town center. They held meetings and talked to the masses. “We held education sessions and explained to them the ills of our society and the proposed long-term solution to our situation.” He said the people, aware of their own condition, readily agreed on the need to change the prevailing system and install their own government.

The peasants in this guerrilla zone are mostly landless, some tilling a hectare or two. The communities are nestled in a public land, where any moneyed individual can claim ownership over parts or all of it in blatant disregard of existing laws. All too often, the peasants had been victims of traders who preyed on them by selling farm inputs and implements that were overpriced and buying their farm produce at dirt-cheap prices. The government, too, attempted several times to evict the peasants and give way to so-called development projects, but did not succeed.

Ka Tonyo, along with woman leader Ka Gloria, and several others organized the peasants who would later comprise a chapter of the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka (PKM, National Association of Peasants), one of the founding affiliate organizations of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Although there were already a number of organized women, Makibaka (Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan) would be established in their community much later, Ka Gloria explained.

It was after a decade of organizing work initiated by the NPA and Ka Tonyo’s group that Ka Pidyong, a former barangay council member, was recruited in 1981. Ka Pidyong first learned of the NPA’s off and on presence in villages in the forest area surrounding their barrio in 1971. However, only in 1981 did he come into personal contact with them at the barrio center.

“What truly got me to realize was the fact that the Philippines is a rich country, yet only the foreigners and the local ruling elite benefit from these riches,” he said. The education session was followed by many more until, “ang dami ko nang alam (I learned so much)” Ka Pidyong said, beaming.

In between education sessions, Ka Tonyo, Ka Pidyong, Ka Gloria, and other PKM members continued house-to-house calls to explain to the masses what they had learned. They recruited members for the revolutionary mass organizations and the NPA. “Madami akong na-recruit, andito pa yung iba (I had a number of recruits. Some of them are actually still here),” Ka Tonyo proudly stated. Attending the anniversary celebrations of the CPP and the NPA was the most awaited activity by the masses—an occasion likened to a feast.

“There was always something new to do and to improve on,” said Ka Pidyong.

As the organizations expanded, they also thought of ways to tackle their revolutionary tasks more effectively, such as: how to give education to those who are not literate; how to maintain communal farms, form a militia unit in the barrios for their security, and how to efficiently support the various needs of the NPA— the latter task they took to heart most fervently. The welfare of the NPA fighters has always been at the forefront of the masses’ concerns. Even in times of calamities, when there was hardly anything to eat, the masses saw to it that there was food for the Red fighters.

On her part, Ka Gloria related, women were organized under the Makibaka, which took on other tasks for the revolutionary movement.

Makibaka members took the lead in taking care of the children of fulltime cadres and Red fighters. They looked after their schooling and overall welfare. The women, said Ka Gloria, likewise started the health and sanitation programs, which include production of herbal medicine.

The youth, she added, were organized under the Huwarang Bata (Model Youth), which initiated sports programs, among others. Ka Teody, one of the youngest leaders of the PKM, recalled that in those years, when members of the NPA came back from tactical offensives, the youth would welcome them with revolutionary songs.

Red power

Verily, today’s gains are a product of the revolutionary masses’ perseverance under the guidance of the Party and the NPA. “We have seen, however little, the difference between living under this rotten system and under the revolutionary government we are setting up.”

The revolutionary council has formalized the system of governance that was slowly established since the movement started and the masses had been organized, Ka Teody told Liberation.

Electing the new members of the revolutionary council last year was another level of consolidation achieved. “There were almost a hundred of us who attended the election, representing the various revolutionary mass organizations and party units in this guerrilla zone,” Ka Teody said. “It took us the whole day, from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.,” he explained, because “we had to go back to the orientation and tasks of the revolutionary council and the tasks and responsibilities of the officers.”

Also, they voted three times to ensure proportional representation in the council. “On the first round, we voted for eight representatives from the various mass organizations; on the second round, we elected seven representatives from the Party units, and on the last round, four representatives from the middle class in the barrio,” Ka Gloria elaborated in Ilokano. Each of the candidates, too, had to cite their individual strengths and weaknesses, thus enabling the electorate to weigh in how they could work collectively.

Through the decades, what has become undeniably visible is the people’s unity. “Where before we led our own lives without concern for each other’s welfare,” remarked Ka Gloria as she enumerated the benefits of such unity: “disputes among us are easily settled, including land disputes; the people are disciplined; the community is peaceful, there are no petty crimes.”
“The communities are drug free,” boasted Ka Tonyo.

More importantly, “we are able to thwart anti-people projects the government plans to establish here,” Ka Teody emphasized. “We now have a voice, we are no longer scared. With the NPA defending us, we can fight the oppressors,” he said.

Even the local government officials defer to the revolutionary mass organizations, he expounded. They refer cases they cannot settle to the latter organizations because the revolutionary justice system is “swift, fair, and free of charge.” Oftentimes, some local government officials would tell us, “mas kaya ninyo ‘yan (you can do it better).” (See also—story on justice system).

“There’s joy in our hearts because we are able to contribute to the resolution of the problems of the majority of the poor in our country.”

—Ka Gloria

Tempered by struggle

Leaders of the PKM identified two most trying moments they had experienced in their almost 50 years in struggle: the Party’s disorientation in the late1980’s until the early 1990’s and the intense militarization during the same period. But they held the fort, they said, never losing track of the revolution’s onward march, much more the will to push it to victory.

With pride, they recalled how they overcame the military presence and operations in their communities—aerial bombings, harassments, arrests, killings and other human rights violations. “Many were killed in the different villages,” Ka Tonyo pointed out. “But even in those difficult times, when we were almost surrounded by the enemy, we put in our hearts and in our minds where we stand—to serve the the Party and the masses.”

Ka Gloria related how, to some extent, they were able to overcome and to survive the military presence in the barrio center. “The AFP encamped at the barrio. They stayed for 14 years and in those 14 years, several organizing groups and revolutionary mass organizations were established in the communities surrounding the barrio.”

“There was fear but we were not intimidated.”

—Ka Tonyo

“No one was ever recruited into the AFP’s paramilitary unit. There were a few who almost agreed to be recruited but we persuaded them to back out,” said Ka Pidyong with a chuckle. Ka Pidyong was arrested by the military but, after his release, went into hiding several times after because of the continuing threats of re-arrest.

At the time, the NPA stayed away from the barrio center since their presence would cause unnecessary confrontation with the government forces that would affect the unarmed civilians.
But such restraint was no longer exercised during the Party’s disorientation, recalled Ka Tonyo.

“Matindi ‘yun, kawawa ang masa. Kung saang bundok kami naghahatid ng supplies, pagkain (The situation then turned intense, pitiful for the masses. We had to bring supplies, food into the remote mountainous areas where the NPA retreated after launching tactical offensives).” He was referring to the period when military adventurism seeped into the NPA ranks and mass work and agrarian reform tasks took a back seat to tactical offensives that were launched one after another.

Ka Pidyong was among those in the barrio who disapproved the swing to military adventurism, saying it was not time to show off the NPA’s military strength in their guerrilla zone. His memory of how the NPA had shifted its focus and the change in its attitude towards the masses was still fresh. “Yung mga kasama noon wala na, kapag pinupuna ayaw na (At that time the comrades didn’t want to accept criticisms).”

Sadly, Ka Pidyong was among those who were suspected as military agents within the movement during the anti-infiltration campaign. Although he had ill feelings then, now he shrugs off the whole experience. During the rectification period, the Party and NPA cadres and Red fighters humbly criticized themselves before the masses and members of the revolutionary organizations as they explained to them the rectification process.

“The elders in the community did not mince words in criticizing the Party and NPA members, which the latter wholeheartedly accepted,” added Ka Gloria.

“What is important is we have rectified the errors and we have now grown stronger.”

—Ka Teody

With the revolutionary government now in place, “we can chart our course and defend our gains,” he added.

One with the Party and the people’s army

A good number of the revolution’s trailblazers are now in their 70s, their faces lined with wrinkles and the hair on their heads turning grey or white and thinning. Still they stay in high revolutionary spirit. They have been in the movement for at least 47 years. Some of them were just about 12 years old when introduced to the movement.

“I am happy now. Despite my age and ailment, I am still able to help in whatever way I can,” Ka Pidyong remarked. He quickly added, “And, I’m energized to see young people, from our place, from other places, from the cities who come here and stay with us.”

It took several probing questions from Liberation on how these trailblazers felt about being the bearers of revolutionary power in their communities before they could answer. There was initial silence, a long silence. Tears welled in the eyes of some of them.

Clearing his throat, Ka Pidyong spoke up first. He firmly declared, “Without the Party and the NPA, we have nothing.”

Revolutionaries Not Terrorists

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