BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
He was involved in the armed struggle from 1961 until his arrest in 1987. He still considers himself a revolutionary, arguing that armed struggle is necessary to effect meaningful change in the country. Now 72, he narrates the beginnings of what the government now regards as the biggest threat to the country’s security – the New People’s Army – and how it almost destroyed itself through its anti-infiltration drive called Kampanyang AHOS.
CAPAS, Tarlac – Seventy-two year old Juanito Rivera points to a four-by-four cemented tunnel just beside a hog house in the middle of a palay (rice) farm in Barangay (village) Sta. Rita, this town, 110 km. north of Manila.
“Ito yung isa sa mga tunnel namin nuon,” (This was one of our tunnels before) the old man, known to many as Ka Juaning, said. According to old stories here, the earliest teams of the New People’s Army (NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines or CPP) guerillas dug tunnels in this village. The latter was the birthplace of the CPP and NPA some 37 years ago.
Ka Juaning confirmed this. “Dito namin tinatago ang mga dokumento at yung projector na pinapanooran namin ng sine. Ito rin ang opisina ni Joma,” (This is where we hide the documents and the projector we use for watching films. This is also the office of Joma.) he said, referring to Jose Maria Sison, CPP founding chair and one of the NPA’s founding members. Sison is now chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and is seeking political asylum in The Netherlands.
When the NPA was established on March 29, 1969, Ka Juaning, also a founding member, said that they only had 60 regular fighters and 35 firearms, nine of which were high-powered rifles. The NPA was formed by the CPP three months after its own re-establishment on Dec. 26, 1968.
Ka Juaning said that he represented the ranks of the peasantry among the founding members of the CPP’s Central Committee. He said that most of the founding members were classified as petty bourgeoisie intellectuals or from the academe led by Sison.
Ka Juaning’s experience as an old-time guerilla fighter dates back in 1961 when he became a peasant organizer of the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB, Liberating Army of the People). He said that he became a full-time fighter for the HMB in April 1968 after being arrested and detained seven times at the police headquarters in Camp Macabulos, Tarlac. “Marami kasing operasyon noon ang HMB at ako ang napagsususpetsahan kasi kilala ako sa lugar,” (The HMB had many operations before and I am the one suspected since I am known in the place.) he said.
One of five children, Ka Juaning traces his roots in Bacolor, Pampanga where he stayed with his family until he was eight years old. He said that they were forced to go to Sta. Rita, Tarlac during the Japanese occupation in 1942 when food became scarce in Pampanga. As schools closed down during the war, Ka Juaning and his brood only learned from a katon (a community teacher who thought Catechism and Kapampangan, this town’s native tongue).
Ka Juaning said that the townsfolk were used to the “50-50” sharing scheme between landlord and tenant at the time of the NPA’s founding. Under this scheme, the landowner and the tenant equally share the harvest, but the tenant shoulders the cost of labor and production. This scheme therefore favors the landlord and has resulted in bloody disputes, Ka Juaning said. As an example, he said that a landowner’s katiwala (overseer) was killed by the HMB and a big tract of land was left uncultivated for some three years.
“Noong mayroon nang NPA, namagitan kami at napagkasunduan ng panginoong may-lupa at mga kasama na tatrabahuin muli ang lupa pero sa hatiang 75-25. Ang 75% ng ani ay pupunta sa kasama at 25% ang pupunta sa may-ari ng lupa,” (When the NPA was established, we intervened and the landlord and tenants agreed that the sharing scheme will be 75-25. Seventy-five percent of the harvest will go to the tenants while 25 percent will go to the landowner.) he said. “Gumanda ang buhay ng mga magsasaka mula noon sa tulong ng hukbo.” (Life became better for the farmers since then with the help of the army.)
The new sharing scheme promoted by the NPA was soon adopted in many villages in the province. The NPA became known as an army for the poor peasants and gained respect and popularity, he said.
“Ang mga katuparan ng rebolusyonaryong agraryo ay nagpapatunay na may mga tagumpay na ang rebolusyon at ang masa,” (The fulfillment of agrarian revolution proves that there are already gains of the revolution and the masses.) he said.
At the early stages of waging guerilla warfare, Ka Juaning said that he handled some major operations of the NPA when he became head of the Military Commission in 1976. This was a position he inherited from Bernabe Buscayno, also known as Kumander Dante, when the latter was arrested on August 26, 1976. Sison was arrested three months earlier.
Ka Juaning said that he supervised the team that raided the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Baguio where they brought along during their retreat Victor Corpuz and Crispin Tagamolila, the first military officers to defect to the NPA in 1971. He also had vivid memories of three sea expeditions involving arms and ammunitions donated by the People’s Republic of China then under the leadership of Mao Zedong.
The first voyage was named Operation Plan Karagatan (Oplan Karagatan; “karagatan” is Filipino term for “seas”) in 1971 where around 70 individuals were tapped for the operation. They had about 40 sacks of rice “para hindi sila magutom sa paglalayag,” (so that they will not go hungry during the voyage) said Ka Juaning. “Maliit lang yung barko, halos palubog-lubog na. Habang tumatakbo, may naglilimas ng tubig sa loob ng barko para hindi ito lumubog.” (The boat was just small, and it was almost sinking. While traveling, there are comrades who removed water on the boat so that it would not sink.)
Karagatan carried some 1,200 M14 rifles and 8,000 rounds of ammunition, Ka Juaning said, but only 200 rifles made it to shore.
The rest, he said, sank with the ship. They deliberately sank the ship because they were traced by the military. “Hindi nila alam kung saan sila dadaong. Tapos dumating na yung jet (ng militar) kaya minortar na nila yung barko para lumubog,” (They did not know where to dock. Then the military’s jet arrived so they had to destroy the boat through mortar shells so that it would sink.) he said.
The next two shipping expeditions with the same intent never made it back to Philippine shores. “Na-stranded sila sa China. Yung ibang tao nakabalik dito, yung iba dun na nakapangasawa,” (They were stranded in China. Some were able to return, some got married there.) he said.
The arrest and detention of Sison and Buscayno, the top two CPP leaders, in 1976 did not demoralize them, Ka Juaning said as he recalled how they were able to recruit red fighters and expanded to different regions. In 1979, the CPP has fully recovered from the loss of the two key leaders, said Ka Juaning.
A big number of young people, mostly students from Manila, went into full-time guerilla work in the countryside when then President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. Ka Juaning said, however, that the biggest wave of recruitment into the NPA happened in 1983 when Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. was assassinated.
But the strength of the NPA drastically dropped, Ka Juaning said, when it implemented an anti-infiltration drive called Kampanyang Ahos (ahos is Visayan term for garlic) in the 1980s. He personally saw how suspected infiltrators were tortured in Bicol where he was transferred in the latter part of 1980s.
Ka Juaning disagreed with the killing and torture of comrades. “Ang ibig n’yo sabihin mas higit pang mahusay na mag-organisa ang kaaway kaysa sa atin? Ibig sabihin, tatlong taon na sa atin, tayo ang nagpalaki, nag-organisa, tayo ang nagrekrut, sa isang saglit lang makukumbinsi ng kalaban? Napaka-imposible,” (Do you mean that the enemy is much better than us in organizing? I mean a comrade has been with us for three years, we raised, organized, recruited him or her and in just an instant he or she can be convinced by the enemy? Very impossible.)
“Napakahirap ang pumatay ng kasama. Hangga’t hindi nakagawa ng pinsala at nagkautang ng dugo, hindi mo maituturing na kalaban,” (It is very hard to kill a comrade. As long as he or she has not done any damage and incurred any blood debt, you cannot consider him or her an enemy.) he added.
This, among others, led Ka Juaning to request that he be brought back to the Central Luzon region in 1986. But to his disappointment, he said that the deep penetration agent (DPA) hysteria also affected the region. “Mas grabe ginawa nila rito. Humukay sila ng malalim, parang tunnel, tapos doon nilalagay ang mga tao. Isang platoon, mga 30 katao naroon sa ilalim. Hindi ko sinasabi na walang impiltrador pero yung dami na yun hindi ko pinaniniwalaan.” (What they did here was worse. They dug a deep hole, similar to a tunnel, and they put there the people. It was one platoon, about 30 people who were there in the hole. I am not saying that there were no infiltrators but the sheer number of them is not believable.)
He pointed out that the practice was against the principles of the NPA that has no provisions for torture.
The CPP had publicly recognized the error and corrected them with what it called the Second Great Rectification Movement in 1992. In documents published on the Internet, the CPP said that the anti-DPA hysteria inflicted greater damage on the ranks of the revolutionary movement than actual battles with government troops.
In 1987, Ka Juaning, suffering from lung ailment, was arrested in Sta. Rita while in transit for medical treatment in Manila.
He was detained in Camp Crame without charge for seven months until he was transferred to Camp Olivas in Pampanga where he spent almost three years in jail on charges of subversion. He was freed on Aug. 30, 1991, a day after his 57th birthday.
For health reasons, Ka Juaning decided to go back to his home in Sta. Rita where he now lives with his wife. He now tends his family’s four-hectare farm, located on the same spot where the first squad of NPA guerillas put up its first headquarters in this town.
Although living a more quiet life today, Ka Juaning still considers himself a revolutionary. He believes that armed struggle is as relevant today as it was 37 years ago. “Walang matagumpay na pagbabago kung walang armadong pakikibaka,” (There is no victorious change without armed struggle.) he said. (Bulatlat.com)