“Happiness is in the revolution,” Benito said, smiling. “I could not think of any other life. There is no other way. The revolution is not a burden, an obligation I perform with a heavy heart. It comes out naturally.”
By EMILY VITAL
MANILA – He came from a poor family so at a very young age, he had to do his share for the family’s upkeep. Benito Tiamzon learned shoemaking when he was still a boy. Her mother accepted job orders at home to augment the family’s income. His father was a tenant farmer in Cainta, Rizal.
Born on March 21, 1951, Benito grew up in Marikina. He and his eight siblings helped their parents make shoes with their bare hands. The fourth of eight children, Benito also helped his father work on the farm.
“We were always indebted,” Benito recalled. “We always looked forward to Saturdays, the day we received our pay for making shoes.”
A bright student, Benito went to the Rizal High School in Pasig. He became editor in chief of the student paper the Rizalian.
Impressed with his intelligence, his teachers pooled their money to pay for Benito’s school expenses so he could continue going to school. When he graduated in 1969, he was the class salutatorian.
He went to UP as a national state scholar and took up chemical engineering.
“I was just like any other ordinary student,” Benito said. He joined the Alpha Sigma Fraternity.
On January 26, 1970, Benito joined his first demonstration. At that time, he did not belong to any activist organization so he just tagged along because he felt the need to do so. He did not realize then that it would be a momentous day that would shape the country, as well as the life that he would choose.
“I just rode one of those buses parked in front of the AS steps and joined the indignation rally outside Congress where Marcos was delivering his SONA [State of the Nation] speech,” Benito recalled.
When evening came, the protesters chanted, “Malacanang! Malacanang!” Benito, still carrying all his books, which were heavy, went along. It was the first of a series of clashes between the protesters and the police, which came to be known as the First Quarter Storm of 1970. That was his baptism of fire.
His experience led to his political awakening. He attended discussion groups organized by the Nationalist Corps. Later, in 1971, he joined the Philippine Collegian. His brods (fraternity brothers) such as Victor Manarang and Antonio Tagamolila encouraged him to take the editorial exams. As a staff writer, he wrote stories about demonstrations and strikes of workers.
At that time, he was already a member of the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK). There were two competing yet both radical groups of students in the university: the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and the SDK.
Benito said that there was a proposal to merge the youth organizations but it was later discarded. “It was decided that it’s best to maintain the multiplicity,” he said, and credited such tactic to the rapid and aggressive expansion of organizations.
He added that the SDK then was viewed as a cadre organization but such error was repudiated in 1971 when the national democrats gained the leadership of the SDK.
At SDK, Benito joined the labor committee and became active in trade union work.
His involvement with trade union work and his natural affinity with the working class made him decide to devote his life to the movement. He left the university after his second year to do fulltime-organizing work in Marikina and Quezon City. He was involved in community-chapter building and organizing shoemakers. He felt at home organizing shoemakers as he was one himself as a child.
When martial law was imposed, Benito went underground but continued with his organizing activities, covering Metro Manila-Rizal. He was in charge of trade union organizing.
As activists, they had no allowance and were compelled to be resourceful to be able to perform their tasks. “We would go to Ka Bert Olalia, Ka Bel and members of the old Party [Communist Party of the Philippines],” he recalled.
Not only did they learn from the veteran union organizers, they also received support, Benito said. Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran would receive them in their home in Tondo, feed them and give them transportation money.
While working with existing trade union federations, they also formed their own.
Benito was eventually arrested and detained at the Ipil Rehabilitation Center at Fort Bonifacio in May 1973. “I was tortured for almost a month,” he said. His captors wanted to extract information. “They did not know me. I pretended to be a mere SDK applicant,” he added.
He was detained for 14 months. He believed he should have been released earlier if not for one incident. One morning, while he and the other political detainees were doing their exercise, one of them started humming the Internationale, the hymn of Communist parties. Agitated, they hummed in chorus. As punishment, two of their colleagues were made to sleep outside and some were transferred to the maximum-security prison. They held a hunger strike in protest.
A few months after he was released in 1974, he and his wife Wilma decided to go the countryside.
“The policy then was to focus on a few major islands first,” Benito said, referring to the revolutionary movement that was still at its early stage.
They were first assigned in Cebu. Benito organized among the workers of Atlas Mining in Toledo.
After a year, they went to Eastern Visayas. It was here where they learned the intricacies of the anti-feudal struggle and the national democratic revolution. “There were major breakthroughs in the conduct of social investigation, agrarian reform and mass organizing,” Benito said.
Benito said mass organizations flourished in the villages. It did not take long before the region became a stronghold of the underground revolutionary movement. The New People’s Army guerrillas successfully launched tactical offensives, delivering heavy blows to government troops.
Years later, Benito was assigned to lead the urban mass movement. At one point, he was in charge of Ang Bayan, the publication of the CPP, which was considered as part of the alternative press during martial law years.
His being a writer and editor is still evident to this day. When her wife Wilma asked for a copy of one of the publications given to them by visitors, Benito handed it to her, replete with editing marks. In some pages, Benito inserted sentences using a pencil. He told Wilma that many of articles were not as clear and as concise as they should be and but added that two of the pieces were written well.
After dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted, Benito did not see any reason to abandon the revolution. Knowing there has been no substantial change, he performed many other important tasks and has continued to embrace the cause that aims to end the poverty he knew since childhood.
(Nasa rebolusyon ang kaligayan) “Happiness is in the revolution,” Benito said, smiling. “I could not think of any other life. There is no other way. The revolution is not a burden, an obligation I perform with a heavy heart. It comes out naturally,” Benito said.
He said that difficulties and challenges are unavoidable but not insurmountable. “The masses provide us the strength,” he said.
During their inquest, while soldiers and policemen looked on, Benito exclaimed, “Tuloy ang laban!” (The fight continues.)