The old and the young in the Philippine revolution

Mong Palatino

News about the 47th anniversary of the Communist Party highlighted the group’s statement about the growing strength of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao on one hand and Malacanang’s dismissal of the claim on the other. This is newsworthy but not really new. Supporters and critics of the armed Left can take their time debating the real numbers of the NPA. What is more interesting in the CPP statement is the discussion of age dynamics in the revolutionary movement.

It is public knowledge but not often emphasized that the CPP was founded by young people (Joma Sison was 29 years old in 1968). The CPP led the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship and pursued revolutionary war which continues up to the present. But understandably, it has divulged only little information about the state of its subjective forces.

Last December 26, the CPP revealed that its senior cadres are literally senior citizens.

“When the Party in the countryside is isolated from the urban areas for a long while, senior Party cadres of more than 60 years at the regional level become predominant.”

It added that “there are central, regional, provincial and guerrilla front Party leading organs whose members are of advanced age and frail health.”

There are several conclusions we can deduce from these statements: Apparently, some of the pioneers of the CPP are still leading the revolution. And some of the baby boomers who defied Martial Law continue to struggle for social transformation despite their old age and weak bodies. While many of these veteran revolutionaries (and hippies) have opted to join the legal mass movement after 1986, the CPP statement confirmed that there were those who stayed in the hills and guerrilla fronts. They belong to the generation whose historic legacy is their life-affirming decision to grow old within the fold of the revolutionary movement.

In view of the foregoing, our mental image of what an NPA combatant looks like must be enhanced by adding the figure of a sixtysomething lolo or lola guiding a team of activist millennials in the jungles of Caraga or Cordillera. This is the ragtag army of Maoist revolutionaries which couldn’t be defeated by the country’s reactionary military.

Another surprising revelation in the CPP statement is the idea of retirement in the movement.

“Senior cadres can opt to retire and, health permitting, be assigned as advisers to the committees to which they previously belonged. The Party must honor the comrades who retire and must provide them with sufficient security and health care.”

Perhaps there was no mention of retirement in the early documents of the CPP because most of the cadres and new recruits of the party during that time were only in their 20s and 30s. Today, it’s possible and practical to discuss retirement since the young CPP cadres of the 1970s are now senior party members who are already in their 60s and 70s battling arthritis and imperialism at the same time.

But how can this eminent revolutionaries retire from politics when they spent their whole lives thinking, dreaming, and winning the revolution?

What is remarkable in the CPP statement is its candid discussion of how the party leadership replenishes its ranks.

“(Party) organs can be rejuvenated by including more members who are young and in their early middle age. A healthy and vigorous combination of young, middle-aged and senior Party cadres must be maintained.”

It even specified an ideal “three-thirds composition of senior, middle-aged and young cadres” in establishing the leadership of its executive committees and staff organs.

It seems the CPP is readying itself for the gradual retirement of its aging cadres and the rise of a new generation of revolutionaries.

“The balance can be maintained by consistently promoting cadres to expand the number of committee members and increase the number of leading committees relative to the expansion of the Party and Party work.”

Interesting times await the CPP as its founding members either retire from revolutionary work (which is highly unlikely) or assume lesser but still crucial role in the underground movement. As they prepare to contemplate semi-retirement in a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society, these senior cadres could be spending more time thinking about the past, present, and future of the revolution which they began when they were young.

Perhaps there’s less reason to worry about the prospects of the revolution because unlike other political parties dominated by a single family or supreme leader, the CPP has a collective leadership which continually trains new cadres. By combining the old and the young in its leading organs, the CPP could be hoping to promote an exciting interplay of wisdom, energy, idealism, and creativity among its ranks.

No revolution has succeeded without the active participation and leadership of the youth. The Katipunan and the CPP were both founded by young revolutionaries. But today, the CPP is already 47 years old and its leaders include senior citizens. It’s an anomaly of history because the communist revolution is supposed to be dead already and old people can’t be possibly still waging war in the countryside.

But against all odds and the expectations of the reactionary elite and their apologists, the Philippine revolution is thriving and even resurgent. What is the secret to its longevity? Perhaps we can answer this question by posing another question: How can you defeat a revolution when you have young, middle-aged, and senior citizens joining forces in order to build a new world? (

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email:

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