Is the military already acceding that the communist New People’s Army is the modern-day Katipunan? Because why would an army general tag Benito Tiamzon as NPA supremo when the government is adamantly insisting that the rebel group is neither revolutionary nor belligerent. In Philippine history, the only other notable supremo was Andres Bonifacio.
The Katipunan reference is apt since the NPA views its struggle as the continuation of the unfinished 1896 revolution. Then and now, the aim of the revolution is to end the brutal rule of the landowning elite. Those who are terrorized by the NPA specter should re-learn the meaning of Katipunan: it is the violence of the ruling system that provokes people to take up arms against the government. Injustice is the real violence in society and not the resistance of the weak and marginalized.
But reactionaries and their ideologues prefer to highlight and exaggerate the visible violent acts of the oppressed. Thus, Katipuneros were vilified as criminal thugs, bandits, tulisans, insurrectos. It took some years before Katipuneros were officially recognized by mainstream society as heroes and liberators.
Today, the NPA is accused of being a gangster army of extortionists and arsonists. (Oh how could they be so cruel for burning those mining equipment that bring so much good to our economy and environment!) But why has the NPA endured for half a century if it is a mere mobster squad in the boondocks? Perhaps the same reason why Dagohoy’s uprising lasted for 80 years; or recall the numerous peasant revolts such as the Tapar Rebellion (Panay), Basi Revolt (Ilocos), Tamblot Revolt (Bohol). Remember Palaris and Pule. The Sakdals, the Huks.
The NPA, like many guerilla groups in our history, has been struggling for genuine land reform. It is the rebel group’s fighting demand and the primary reason why it has thrived despite the nonstop offensives of the military. It has challenged every puppet president in Malacanang since 1969 because, well, every one of them had refused to end feudal bondage in the country. The protracted people’s war is caused mainly by the perpetual bogus land reform schemes concocted by spoiled hacienderos in power.
But for the military, the NPA is not an army of the poor but a communist terrorist organization. However, this official categorization is somewhat problematic. Because why would successive governments negotiate peace with terrorists? Why pursue peace talks with terrorists?
A few years ago, the late Ka Roger was asked in a radio interview about why the NPA has not assassinated all corrupt and despotic politicians of the country. Ka Roger quickly replied that it would be easy to kill all the unloved and notorious trapos but he clarified that the NPA is not an anarchist hit squad. He added that it is a revolutionary group which advocates the overthrow and overhaul of the old system rather than the liquidation of epals and garapals of local politics. Indeed, the removal of Marcos and Estrada courtesy of the phenomenal People Power didn’t lead to substantial change because the system remained largely intact.
Viewed from this perspective, the NPA ceases to look like a beastly killing machine as portrayed by the state. It has guns and ammo which are used exclusively in aid of revolution. The NPA soldier is no pistol shooting hobbyist. The NPA gun is not a toy but a weapon of the poor against their oppressors. Unlike the notorious death squads and private armies of politicians, the underground NPA admits responsibility if it has carried out a military operation. It can easily deny that it collects taxes if its agenda is profiteering but instead it prefers to publicly assert the taxation power of an existing revolutionary government. And what is unique about this armed group is its willingness to apologize and seek amends if it has committed a wrongdoing.
In other words, do not fear the NPA as long as it is guided by revolutionary politics. But be afraid of the kabarilan taliban in power which is quick to renounce violence but is silent as to why the so-called nonviolence advocates are obsessed in becoming gun experts.
The NPA is often blamed for stunting the growth of the local economy. Its critics argue that the country’s underdevelopment is caused by the communist insurgency. End the war so that progress will trickle down into the islands. But isn’t the reverse formulation more correct? End poverty and inequality to render war-mongering irrelevant.
The government of BS Aquino claims it offers a holistic approach to achieve peace in the country. Indeed, its peace program reeks of NGOspeak but essentially it is a rehash of previous anti-insurgency campaigns: Militarize the barrio, jail the dissident, kill the recalcitrant, and terrorize the sympathizers and civilians.
In conflict areas, deliver services through the Pamana cash transfer. But this program actually exposes the bankruptcy of the government. A remote barangay will receive aid only if it is mapped as a red stronghold. Pamana not only distorts the concept of social service and social justice; it also reveals the unwillingness of BS Aquino to address the roots of the armed conflict. Cash distribution is effective election tactic but it does not eliminate widespread poverty. Microgrants do not solve the fundamental problems of society. Reforms, especially the petty reforms anchored on anti-insurgency, can never be superior to the revolution as a genuine alternative.
As long as it exists, the NPA serves as a reminder that there is a radical and better way of doing politics. Why choose the Cojuangco-style land reform when the NPA has proven that free land distribution is possible? Why tolerate elite rule when the people can opt for democratic governance? Why accept the legalized hoarding of wealth by a tiny segment of the population when this can be subverted to make our economy more egalitarian?
If we think the NPA is unreasonably uncompromising in asserting its principles, what about the reactionary elite and their sense of entitlement? Those who are in power will never easily surrender their hegemony and they will use all the guns, goons, and gold at their disposal to preserve the eternal present.
Our task, therefore, is to hasten the birthing of the new and to push peripheral politics into the mainstream. We have many ideas on how to pursue the revolutionary path but can we at least recognize that in the past half-century there existed a political force whose commitment to social change has become the standard for all progressive groups. This political force is represented by the NPA which continues to fight for national liberation. More than being an icon of the Philippine revolution, the NPA is also our fighting chance to claim a new world and a new future.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org