THE New People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is behind innumerable instances of atrocities and human rights violations. Pushed to the corner by inequities and state-sanctioned terrorism, it has, over the years, evolved to become a terrorist itself. But let no one forget the genesis of the madness of terror in the Philippine context: a government that rapes and robs and kills started it.
Growing up in a small town in Eastern Samar, I was 14 when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. I would know years later as a college student that in a string of justifications for Proclamation 1081 (placing the country under martial law, later affirmed by Proclamation 1102, aka Na Onse Na, Na-Uto Pa), the last straw was the ambush of then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. But after supporting an uprising that history would tentatively tag as a peaceful people power revolt, ending 20 years of Marcos’ rule (14 years of which were under a dictatorship), he himself publicly admitted that the ambush was fake.
Like many enablers of the Marcos dictatorship, Enrile, who was also chief implementer of martial law, acquired behest business deals that propelled his net worth to levels that only the super-rich could match. The press during his heyday used “Henry Lee” as a moniker for him, obviously to put him in the same group as the moneyed few that are known by their monosyllabic surnames.
His logging concessions in Samar and Northern Mindanao raped the environment. Although his logging companies generated employment for local residents while they were in operation, the long-term adverse impact of the denudation they brought about was beyond quantification. It robbed people who were dependent on natural resource bases for their livelihood (riverine systems in the area, for example, were dead for decades), long after Enrile has counted his money.
Commercial loggers often partner with large-scale mining companies, because instead of building two access roads, they can manage with one. They save significant amounts of money in logistics. That’s how rapists in tandem completely flatten the earth of its natural wealth, and so how the hope for a better future within the surrounding communities goes down with them.
Sometime in the 1990s in Homonhon Island, also in Eastern Samar, a forest fire razed hectares upon hectares of hardwood species to the ground. Whether intended or not, the disaster cleared the ground that made it easier for the mining company to dig at will, and for its howlers to snake through from atop the mountains and down to the island coast where barges were docked for loading.
But as it happens, rape victims would later find courage to resist. Left-leaning members of the clergy led communities in protesting the assault of their environment by big business. Soon the NPA found Samar as a fertile ground for fomenting unrest.
As armed clashes erupted here and there, people–including non-combatants — experienced untold suffering at the hands of the military. People had to commit to their memories the military formula: for every slain government trooper, 10 rebels or suspected supporters had to perish. In reality, counting casualties was hardly part of the hunter’s protocol. Entire villages were set aflame, entire families linked to red-tagged individuals were abducted, tortured and killed. As can be seen in a video documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6vw6rFaabA&t=215s) produced by the Commission on Human Rights, some victims were even cannibalized. In 1982, 30-year-old Bobby de la Paz, a brilliant physician who sacrificed a lucrative medical practice in Manila to offer his services to the poor in the countryside, was assassinated in his clinic in Catabalogan, Samar. He was suspected of attending to rebels who got injured in encounters with the military.
In the beginning, people had no, if at all, issues with the NPA. Like movie fans who watched “The King” took the cudgels for the bullied and the oppressed, they watched with approval as NPA rebels took down cattle rustlers and a variety of notorious criminals.
As years passed, however, NPA rebels have become notorious criminals and killers themselves. Law enforcers, many of them worthy of their badge, were being added regularly to their victims’ list for a motive as scant as collecting ordnance. Even noncombatants and comrades suspected of double-cross could be targets of deadly reprisals. Probably the most publicized case was that of labor leaders Eddie Federico and Ernie Gonzalez who, in 1990, were assassinated by CPP partisans right inside a school campus.
In 2001, after consultations with officials of a municipal government (also in Samar) for which I consulted for facilitating the conduct of its Comprehensive Land Use Plan, I went to an upland barangay without anyone accompanying me. As I prepared to spend the night at the punong barangay’s house, I was surprised at finding myself being interrogated by three NPA partisans. (I could see they had arms concealed in some kind of sling bag.) I told them I was in that barangay to work for a municipal government project. They told me they knew about it, again to my surprise. Turned out, from the way they framed their questions, they needed to make sure I was not using the project as a cover for spying.
In 2004, while working for a poverty-reduction project of the national government, I as part of a coordinating team, also immersed in remote barangay. One day, a punong barangay shared with us a handwritten note demanding a share from the budget of the small infrastructure project which we had facilitated for that barangay. The punong barangay said the NPA handcarried the message to her.
While one hopes that one day the communist rebellion is finally defeated, it does not necessarily mean the threats to the status quo will also end. For as long as the government is perceived to continue raping the environment, robbing the constituents of social justice and their basic rights, losing public funds to corruption, and killing its people without the benefit of judicial process, rebellion in another form, or another name, will ache to come to life.