Ka Arman: victim, fighter, martyr

Gawin na lang nila ang gusto nilang gawin sa akin tulad ng kanilang ginawa sa aking mga magulang. Hinding-hindi ako titigil sa paghahanap ng hustisya para sa aking pamilya at buong sambayanan.” – Arman Albarillo (1978 – 2012), human rights victim; New People’s Army fighter

Streetwise / Business World

I write this column with a heavy heart. The news of the killing of two good, selfless and brave men crowds out all other concerns and reduces them to the mundane. One never really gets used to it – whether it is another extrajudicial killing of a social activist or the death of a guerilla fighter – especially if your paths had crossed at some point in this arduous life’s journey.

Willem Geertman, a 67-year-old Dutch development worker who devoted his entire adult life to serving the poor peasants, indigenous peoples and urban poor in Central Luzon, in particular the farm workers in Hacienda Luisita and the Ata-Dumagat tribes in Aurora province, was killed last July 3, in broad daylight, in front of his office, by assassins suspected to be under the direction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as part of the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.

The circumstances of his assasination are still being investigated by an independent fact-finding mission since his family and co-workers cannot rely on the Philippine National Police to do a credible much less thorough job of it considering military men are implicated.

Arman Albarillo, a 34-year-old human rights victim who eventually became a tireless and fearless human rights defender then charismatic leader of the national democratic movement in Southern Tagalog, was felled by bullets in an encounter of his New People’s Army unit with AFP soldiers in San Andres, Quezon last June 30.

Ka Arman, as he is fondly called by his comrades, did not wait for an assasin’s bullet to get to him.

He had been listed in the AFP’s dreaded “order of battle”, a virtual hit list against those labelled by the government as “enemies of the state”. Military agents had also confronted him and tried but failed to intimidate him into laying low much more turning himself into a military asset.

After an arrest warrant was issued for him in 2008, together with 71 other leading activists in various mass organizations in Southern Tagalog, on trumped-up charges of murder and multiple murder filed by the AFP, he decided to join the New People’s Army and take his battle for justice to a qualitatively higher plane.

Why is it important to take more than just passing notice of the death of this young man, an ordinary son of peasant stock, who would likely have led a quiet, unobtrusive life in his native hometown of San Teodoro, Mindoro Oriental had not historical circumstances and perhaps fate, in a non-metaphysical sense, intervened.

It is precisely because Ka Arman died in the heat of battle, in an armed conflict, that the Philippine government has failed to stamp out militarily nor render politically irrelevant despite a series of bloody counterinsurgency programs designed in the mold of the US-directed anti-communist “dirty wars” in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
Ka Arman’s life and death is pathognomonic of what has ailed and still ails Philippine society and why the New People’s Army will continue to draw the youth of this land into its fold.

He was the son of Expedito Albarillo, a Bayan Muna (BM) municipal coordinator and a barangay councilor in San Teodoro, Oriental Mindoro and Manuela Albarillo, a Gabriela member. On April 8, 2002, Arman’s parents were killed by suspected elements of the 204th brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) then led by retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. Before this, Expedito was placed under the military’s order of battle in 1998, was jailed from 2000 to November 2001 based on a trumped-up charge of murder. They were among the first victims of extrajudicial killing under the Arroyo regime’s Oplan Bantay Laya, a counterinsurgency program that included physical elimination of targetted individuals suspected to be part of the “civilian infrastructure” buttressing the NPA in the rural and urban areas.

I first met him in 2005 when he testified, together with his youngest sister, at an International Tribunal held in Manila to hear mounting cases of human rights violations by the Arroyo regime. He had become transformed, like many others before him, into a dedicated fighter for human rights. I was struck by the way he turned his grief into courage, refusing to be cowed by the military’s direct and indirect threats against him and his other orphaned siblings.

Ka Arman then became Secretary General of BAYAN-Southern Tagalog effectively leading the alliance in rallying the people of the region to fight militarization and state terrorism, landlordism and landgrabbing, trade union and generalized political repression, other oppressive government policies and programs and US imperialist domination and military interventionism.

This is when I came to have more personal interactions with Ka Arman. I found him not only good at arousing, mobilizing and organizing the basic sectors of workers, peasants and urban poor, he also had the capacity to relate well to the middle forces – professionals, small landowners and small to medium scale businessmen – as well as local politicians who were in opposition to national government impositions and shenanigans. Once I chanced upon him having an animated discussion with a senator whose wife is a high-profile governor of a Southern Tagalog province.

In time, the protest movement in Southern Tagalog had become so vibrant and strong that the government decided to go after Ka Arman, together with 71 other major regional mass leaders at the time, utilizing false criminal charges, in a brazen attempt to cripple the movement in the region.

While the ST-72 as a group fought an uphill legal battle to clear their names, some of whom were arrested and died in prison or while on the run, Ka Arman made a fateful decision. He would not allow history to repeat itself and reduce him to become another hapless victim of state fascism.

To defend himself and, more importantly, to pursue his lofty vision of a liberated country and society, he decided to bear arms as a member of the NPA operating in the region he knew best.

While the legal democratic movement lost an articulate spokesperson and an indefatigable organizer in the person of Ka Arman, the armed revolutionary movement gained a highly-conscious guerilla fighter with a will tempered in the fire of political mass struggles and campaigns.

The current oppressive and exploitative system, now presided over by Mr. Benigno Aquino III, continues and escalates its senseless, bloody counterinsurgency campaigns in a futile attempt to suppress the people’s protest. Yet Oplan Bayanihan now, as did Oplan Bantay Laya and other Oplans before it, has only served to make the ground more fertile for resistance, both unarmed and armed, as many others step forward to pick up the cause of each fallen martyr, enlightened by their work and inspired by their example.

*Published in Business World
6-7 July 2012

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