A New People’s Army unit in the foothills of Mt. Apo honored Leoncio “Commander Parago” Pitao with a military parade and a 21-gun salute two days after the late rebel leader was cremated in Davao City last July 10.
A platoon belonging to the NPA’s Mt. Apo Operational Command performed the rare ceremony for its “shining red star” in front of hundreds of civilian supporters and people’s militia members.
Pitao was killed by soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division in Davao City’s Paquibato District last June 28. The NPA said he was being treated for a variety of ailments when he was mowed down by gunfire along with medic Vanessa “Ka Kyle” Limpag.
The ceremony followed an unprecedented public wake, tribute and funeral march in a major Filipino city for a rebel attended by an estimated ten thousand supporters and friends, including national and local political and business leaders.
Led by Communist Party of the Philippines, NPA and National Democratic Front of the Philippines colors, the rebel troopers marched in single file into a clearing and performed rifle drills before consecutively firing their rifles.
They proceeded to present arms before singing Ang Internasyunal, the universal anthem of communist parties all over the world.
The audience joined in the singing of the anthem.
The ceremony ended with shouts of “Long live Ka Parago!”, “Long live the Filipino people!”, “Long live the New People’s Army” and “Long live the Communist Party of the Philippines!”
The 21-gun salute is traditionally a cannonade for surrendering ships but has developed through the centuries into an honorifical ceremony reserved for royalty, heads of state, high government officials and heroes, especially during important events and funerals using both cannons and rifles.
There is no universal pattern in performing the gun salute and every armed force may devise their own style.
Several NPA units around the country performed an honor drill and gun salute for the late CPP spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal who died of natural causes in 2011.
“Ka Teo,” a veteran NPA fighter who once fought and worked with Pitao, described their fallen hero as an extraordinary leader who was a brilliant military tactician and inspiring revolutionary.
“The many military tactics that we use today to defeat the enemy were devised by Kumander Parago. His brilliance is proven by the fact that our casualties are always fewer than the number of our enemies killed and wounded in battle,” he said.
Teo said that Pitao’s influence was a major factor in his decision to become a full time NPA fighter in the 1980s.
“He did not convince us in so many words. His examples were enough for us to commit our lives to the revolution,” Teo said.
Ka Karen, a local Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan member, said they will never forget Pitao who they consider their hero.
“He inspired us to stand and fight for a society that is just to women, peasant and Lumad,” she said.
“Contrary to what the Armed Forces of the Philippines said, his death does not weaken our resolve to push the revolution forward. His death strengthens our determination to defeat the enemies of the people,” Karen said.
The NPA usually holds public parades during the CPP’s anniversary on December 26, but only when both the CPP and the Philippine government reciprocally declare ceasefires in observance of the Yuletide season. These parades do not include live fire salutes.
As a rebel guerrilla force, the NPA can only hold open celebrations, especially involving live gunfire, in areas where it enjoys strong support from the residents.
The NPA’s Mt. Apo Operational Command includes the First Pulang Bagani (Red Warrior) Battalion and other company-sized formations. Pitao was the most famous commander of this famed command known for conducting the most audacious operations in the rebel army’s history. (Video by Jola Diones-Mamangun, Earl Condeza/Davao Today and Raymund B. Villanueva.)