For the longest time the military has bombarded the public with the propaganda that it is Joma Sison who is leading and controlling the Philippine revolution from his base in Western Europe. This reasoning was accepted without question by many anti-Left intellectuals and they used it to malign natdem activists for allegedly being part of a movement whose leadership is not directly engaged in the daily struggles of the masses. This oft-repeated lie and line would later on become the standard filler in news reports about Joma and the local communist movement.
Nobody noticed it but on March 22, 2014, this malicious tirade was instantly discredited when the military arrested Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria and accused the senior citizen couple of being the top cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. Then, the media suddenly stopped describing Joma as chairman of the CPP and casually reported that the politburo headed by the Tiamzons is firmly established in the country.
Another propaganda peddled by the anti-communists is the supposed grandiose lifestyle of communist leaders. They insinuate that grassroots cadres are being exploited by corrupt senior leaders of the party. Again, this was disproved by the outing of the Tiamzons who were arrested in a provincial farm resort. Apparently, some puppies and kittens were found in the safe house of the ‘luxurious’ couple. Compare the circumstances of their arrest with the Euro generals; compare too their lifestyle with the pabaon and rolex generals. The Tiamzons reminded us that communists are leading the revolution sans luxury cars, mansions, and overrated expensive trappings.
Their arrest made the elderly Tiamzons the new icons of the revolution. Many are curious to know more about the leaders of a movement accused of committing terrorism and crimes against humanity. Never mind that the accusers are the Armed Forces whose terrible deeds during Martial Law are already established through a law signed by BS Aquino; and the United States government, which is the world’s leading expert on how to wage different wars of aggression.
According to the military, the Tiamzons were among the students radicalized during the Marcos years. This point is significant because it confirmed that the communist leadership is dominated by young people who fought the dictator. For many, it is comforting to learn that the communist party is headed by Martial Law activists who struggled hard to restore our democracy. It adds to the credibility of the revolutionary movement while contradicting the stereotype of a group obsessed with spreading senseless violence in the country.
If it is true that the Tiamzons assumed leadership in the 1990s, it means the couple allowed others to represent the party in public. The names Ka Roger, Oris, Parago, Frank, and of course Joma are familiar to the public, but not Benito or Wilma. Political leaders choosing to be anonymous are rare these days. But the CPP is unique since most its core leaders prefer to operate silently. This is a feat considering that the CPP is a major political force with varying influence across the archipelago.
If it is true that Benito is the supremo of the NPA, then he must be regarded as a great military strategist. A guerilla warrior since the 1970s, it is safe to assume that he is one of those responsible for building the NPA as a fighting force despite the aggressive attempts of numerous governments to defeat it. In other words, the guerilla general was able to outwit successive military generals, all of whom were trained by the prestigious Philippine Military Academy.
If it is true that the Tiamzons and Sisons are always disagreeing on political tactics as claimed by the military, then the anti-Left bashers are wrong in their presumptuous assertion that debates are nonexistent in the ‘dogmatic’ party. The intention of those who write about the alleged feud of Tiamzon and Sison is to sow intrigue; although some are simply guilty of irresponsible journalism. But what they unintentionally did was to contradict the formulaic criticism of reactionary commentators about the supposed absence of democratic debates in the party.
The Tiamzons are accused of carrying firearms such as a Colt .45 pistol, a Norinco 9mm pistol, a Kimber 9mm pistol, and Smith and Wesson .357 revolvers. For those who believe that it is only the state which has the exclusive right to use guns, then the Tiamzons must appear to be too violent for them. But the Tiamzons are not terrorists; they are revolutionary leaders fighting with the poor against the terroristic acts of despotic landlords, mining moguls, and warlords. There is no intention to romanticize or glamorize their work but we can’t deny that they are part of the resistance movement, most especially in the countryside. Even the nonviolence advocate Ronald Llamas, the political adviser of Aquino, has to carry AK-47 and M-16 rifles in his car as protection against perceived threats to his life. Let the Tiamzons argue their case but it is too naïve to dismiss them as terrorists simply because they organized and taught the masses to fight for their rights.
Immediately after the Tiamzon arrest was made public, the military boasted that it inflicted a severe blow to the communist movement. Then it asked NPA soldiers to surrender since their leaders have already bee captured. This is standard propaganda spiel. But it misreads the orientation of the communist movement, a party made stronger in the last half-century by collective leadership. It is quite unrealistic (and wishful thinking too) to expect the disintegration of a mass movement on the basis that the military was able to capture some high-ranking cadres of the party. Has the military forgotten already the communist surge in the 1970s and 1980s, which was achieved even when Joma Sison was under solitary confinement? Or perhaps the military statement reflects a failure of analysis to properly distinguish the behavior of mainstream parties and revolutionary parties. We have overemphasized the role played by great individuals in shaping the course of history that made us overlook the continuing relevance of political movements whose primary method and goal involves the collective and massive mobilization of the masses.
What can young people learn from the life story of the Tiamzons? That serving the people or the idea of bringing back something to the community has no age restrictions. That there is a better way of growing old in public service, the Tiamzon way, rather than pursuing the glorious but unprincipled career of reactionary politicians like Enrile. That the communist philosophy is not something to be defeated even if the president and his crony ilk do not understand it or are threatened by it. That yes, communists are also animal lovers.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org