“More women from different sectors of society are joining the armed struggle because of worsening exploitation #MMKWomenInArms (1).” Up on Twitter, this is just one of the several tweets on women and the armed struggle in the Philippines by the Philippine Revolution Web Central (PRWC). Since President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) labeled the communist forces in the Philippines “terrorist” during the last quarter of 2017, tweets on the increasing number of citizens coming from different backgrounds joining the New People’s Army (NPA) and the significant role it plays in remote communities would be one of the themes in PRWC’s tweets.
In June of this year, TIME magazine’s recap of most influential people on the internet includes Filipino women who spearheaded the #BabaeAko (I Am Woman) Movement. This online action is being led by artist Mae “Juana Change” Paner, former Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary and Martial Law survivor, Professor Judy Taguiwalo, and journalist Inday Espina Varona, among others. #BabaeAko pushes back against PRRD’s misogyny.
During his campaign, PRRD shocked and angered many when he quipped that “he should have been first” referring to an Australian lay minister who was raped, and whom he in the same statement described as beautiful. In the middle of Martial Law and intense fighting in Marawi, PRRD assured the military that he would take responsibility for the consequences of Martial Law, including the rape of women by soldiers. Earlier this year, PRRD ordered his men to shoot female members of the NPA in the vagina to render them “useless.” More recently, in a public engagement in South Korea, PRRD demanded a Filipina overseas worker to kiss him on the lips. Duterte’s men ridiculously explained away these sexist and misogynist acts as jokes which are part and parcel of Philippine culture.
Filipino culture in the hands of the ruling elite sounds more like a noun rather than a verb: a static or permanent characteristic instead of a dynamic process. Those in power are likely to depict culture as a set of prescriptions to maintain the status quo. The rest of us who do not have a stake in using culture to legitimize conditions of oppression and exploitation have more freedom to mediate culture in terms of its changing dynamics— the forces behind its powerful hold on people and its organizing myths within the context of social struggles. In other words, culture in the hands of those who want to change the world can be wielded as a form of truth-telling.
What follows is a documentation of a dimension of Philippine culture that is rarely tackled by mainstream media. Yet it is an aspect of Filipino life that is very well known among ordinary folk who live in poor communities. PRWC’s tweet about various sectors of Filipina joining the armed revolution can be substantiated by a set of collated materials written by and on martyred women of the communist NPA of the Second Rectification Movement (1992-present). This is the generation that succeeds the first when the NPA was founded on March 29, 1969.
In many ways, the re-establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in 1968 was hastened and fortified by the urgencies of Martial Law. Martyred NPAs of that generation are considered as heroes to this day. However, those who would join and eventually die in the armed revolution after the ouster of the dictator in 1986 seem to no longer occupy the same social recognition accorded to NPAs of the preceding generation.
Let me hazard an explanation.
The Cory fever (woman president who replaced Marcos after the 1986 People Power) informed the mainstream discourse of democratic space: No need for mass base building, agrarian revolution and revolutionary self-defense through armed struggle. Yet amidst this counter-revolutionary fever emerged great young women who left the comforts petit bourgeois existence to join the NPA. This, even if the 90s atmosphere turned the necessity of the anti-imperialist struggle toward socialism a difficult politics to explain to fellow students, and much harder to professors who were preaching about “democratic space.” It meant to highlight and almost absolutize the triumph of a functional democracy and so-called economic growth through the trickle down promise of globalization.
This testimony focuses on Mary, Recca, Tin and Tanya who went to the University of the Philippines-Diliman. As activists and eventually as part of the revolutionary NPA, these women forged their identities by fighting across lines of interlocking oppressions. This account cannot give justice to their work. Rather, my goal is to talk about how revolution looks like in the lives of these revolutionary women. In the light of one of the well known campaign hashtag online, #BabaeAko and the current red tagging and subsequent violent attacks on progressive unions and organizations, this modest contribution aims to provide some leads on an important question about the legacy of revolutionary women: how they, who are no longer here, continue to inform the ways we do revolution.
The struggle for national liberation toward socialism
Classic images of the class struggle are invasions, wars, brutal killings, torching, lynching, all that shock and gore. Yet conditions in the Philippines after the very dark days of Martial Law under Marcos are not far removed from horrifying scenes of colonial massacres, CIA-instigated killings of peasants, military hamletting of villages, and all that has made the Filipino working poor a tortured, traumatized, hungry and a fighting people.
In his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Jean Paul Sartre names the circumtances which shape the lives of a colonized/native people as nervous conditions. The wretched of the earth is dispossessed and made to understand only one kind of language—violence.
Under nervous conditions, the tendency for the oppressed to approach oppression as a “miraculous remedy” looms like a curse. For it is in the interest of the oppressor to reduce the colonized/native into a helpless subject who embraces the colonizer for as violence and inhuman treatment have become unbearable. The purpose of violence is to alienate the colonized/native from her/his very own and collective sense of self-determination. Sartre observes a process at once psychological and structural: the colonized/native “desists from the culture he has been forced to despise.”
The opposite of the colonizer’s projected outcome is revolutionary people’s war. It insists upon a collective sense of self-determination as the only remedy for a system that immiserates the lives of the majority.
At this point, let me offer a few words on the struggle for national liberation toward socialism in the Philippines waged by the CPP-NPA-NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines).
The Philippines remains to be a semi-feudal semi-colony of the United States. The goal of nationalism and democracy is to defeat the hold of imperialism through the parallel strengths of an urban mass movement and an underground revolutionary movement led by the peasant-worker alliance. This two-stage revolution consists in the national democratic revolution’s struggle for land redistribution and national industrialization toward socialism.
The armed revolutionary Left or the NPA is guided by the CPP. It is an army that engages with peasant communities as an expanding mass base. The goal of expansion necessitates mobility as the NPA shifts from forest or mountain encampments. Its spread across the archipelago typically contains platoon-size formations which cover two to three municipalities relative to the terrain. Unbeknownst to many, the NPA organizes peasant communities around activities that provide welfare and basic rights from health to education, from cultural and socioeconomic projects to collective labor arrangements as well as mediation in cases of conflict among community members. NPA leaders claim that the work of the revolutionary guerilla is 90 percent mass work and 10 percent military work (2).
Social Reproduction and Revolutionary Labor
In her illuminating introduction to the book “Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression (2017), ” Tithi Bhattacharya prepares the readers for an engagement with the question of separate spheres and their historical forms of appearance. The two spheres of production, the economic and the social. The economic sphere is understood as the workplace where workers produce total wealth. The social sphere is understood as the end of the work day or the home where workers regenerate “and hence the reproduction of the workforce.” “If, as we propose,’ Bhattacharya argues, “the spatial separation between production… and reproduction is a historical form of appearance, then the labor that is dispensed in both spheres must also be theorized integratively (2017:49).” 
This compelling problematization offered by Social Reproduction Theory (SRT) that is grounded on labor as a basic human activity rather than just an economic concept, as when labor is reduced to mere human capital in bourgeois economics, allows us to think about the potentials of labor that does not produce surplus value— and this is social reproduction, a form of labor that is reproductive of capitalism. But what if this labor that does not produce surplus value is revolutionary labor? Here I propose to read revolution as labor in the era of capitalist time, making this very moment a time for revolution. But what does that labor which takes place in spaces of armed revolution in the Global South, particularly in the national democratic revolution toward socialism look like? Genuine recognition of revolution entails a concrete consideration of the human condition. One aspect of the human condition is how people live and die as revolutionaries.
Women of the NPA (3)
Let me begin with Lorena Barros, NPA red fighter who did not live long enough to be part of the Second Great Rectification Movement of the CPP-NPA-NDF. She was an Anthropology major in the University of the Philippines Diliman and joined the underground movement during the Marcos dictatorship and played a key role in the establishment of the dynamic and robust revolutionary organization of Filipino women. Her contributions make way for rectification and the reaffirmation of the national democratic revolution toward socialism.
Lorrie: “The new woman, the new Filipina, is first and foremost a militant. The new Filipina is one who can stay whole nights with striking workers, learning from them the social realities which her bourgeois education has kept from her. She is a woman who has discovered the exalting realm of responsibility, a woman fully engaged in the making of history. No longer is she a woman-for-marriage, but more and more a woman-for-action.”
This is exactly the choice that Mary made in her late teens. She was studying Journalism at UP Diliman until she decided to join the people’s protracted war. Mary was a guerilla and a poet.
In her poem “Kawayan” or “Bamboo,” Mary tackles the resilience of bamboos that populate the biodiversity of the countryside and red zones to the guerilla. The poem is descriptive of the tediousness of revolutionary struggle likened to the tediousness of agrarian production.
This experience speaks to the reaffirmation of the CPP-NPA-NDF’s basic principles of going back to the basics: the process of politicization and organization of the poorest farmers in the countryside toward a self-conscious, self-governing organs of political power which possess the capacity to, at the minimum, end usurious practices, increase the prices of their produce, lower the cost of the production of rice and corn; and at the maximum, take back what is theirs: the land that they till. When Mary describes the guerilla’s participation in the cycles of food production such as the planting of seeds that will eventually make fields of green, she also refers to a coming home to where every guerilla belongs, a home where people take back the means of production.
Her poem on the occasion of the formal wedding ceremonies in a guerilla zone, “Kasal,” Mary addresses her comrade and husband as she traces the history that brings them together: a union that was chosen for them by the people in struggle. She points to a love that was borne out of class war. She likens their love to a pearl (referring to the nation, the pearl of the orient) that is borne out of a race that is at once oppressed and free, such that every action, such as this wedding ceremony, “is a child of commitment, each word is a seed of a liberating truth. Hold fast to the dream of the human race to break the chains of class oppression. And ceaselessly dream of attaining the humanity of the people of the world.”
Recently, a reference to Mary was made in a social media platform with this caption:
“Happy All Soul’s Day Mama. Some things:
you weren’t that much older than me when this picture was taken. you were really the only person I ever visit during all soul’s, and I barely even know you. i still feel like I barely even know you, all the time. you were robbed of your life and I was robbed of a chance to ever get to know you. I still don’t know where your diary is. i don’t think I’ll ever get to see it. you sacrificed so much to protect many people; not just your family and friends but the masses. the “everyone else.” revolution, at times, seems too alien a concept to me. i am slowly trying to understand: sometimes, it is simple, like breathing; at times i doubt and i wonder if you ever felt the same in your life. i miss you so much, but i don’t know you, and i never will. thank you for my life.”
The last of the many comments to this post reads: “You will get to know her through your own work for the people…She will always be with us, in our struggles and our victories. Remember to always carry her in your heart because we always do.”
Recca was an excellent student all throughout her school life from kindergarten to college. She is remembered by her classmates from the College of Engineering of UP-Diliman as the best mathematician in their batch. As an NPA guerilla trained in Mechanical Engineering, Recca led a two-year project in one of the remote barrios of the Cordilleras in Northern Luzon to create a system of hyrdaulics in order to provide electricity to this community that had never known electricity until their collective project was finished. It is in this region where the first American military base was built. Camp John Hay was a luxurious residential and office area for the generals that administered the US colonial period in the Philippines.
Recca wrote tremendous letters to her friends (5), comrades, and family while she was in the red zone, now in book form. Among them are the following:
”As Sir Gelacio Guillermo, a great writer said, “It will be so much the worse for us if we believe that life cannot be changed.”
And because of this, I don’t think my life has gone to waste. In fact, I’m making this life worth living for all the people who are important and give importance to me. I’m thinking, this is actually my dream since I was a kid. To live my life with passion. And I’m glad that I’m doing OK. Sure, this is not a stable and peaceful life. But who has a stable and peaceful life, really?
Be angry and love.
(Recca Noelle Monte, “Mula kay Nena”)”
“Boycott SM (a chain of malls owned by one of the biggest compradors, Henry Sy
“84% of the workers of SM are women and they daily undergo various forms of harassment. For example, they are required to put on make up and use stockings everyday which they have to pay for from their low salaries. … Going to the toilet is prohibited unless you have a pass. They are on their feet the whole day as sitting down is not allowed. Worse, everyday they suffer from various sexual molestation as they are searched coming in and going out of the mall. ”
(Recca Noelle Monte, “Boycott SM)
“I truly pity our country. It is totally Third World. In many of the villages that I have visited, land is cultivated by the farmers using only their feet. Even simple technology such as the plow and carabao are non-existent. In this age of robotics and high-technology, this is still the method used by our peasants. And there are myriads of cases where ancestral lands are confiscated by the government and declared as part of the public domain. There is already a historic neglect of basic social services (the few existing schools there employ the multi-grade system, most barrios do not have health clinics, and there are very few to no basic facilities at all for water and electricity), yet they take away their source of livelihood!”
(Recca Noelle Monte, “Mula kay Nena”)
Christine Puche is from the Department of Journalism of the University of the Philippines-Diliman. When she was killed in a massacre (not an encounter) with seven other comrades, Tin was a staff of the Public Information Bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in Southern Luzon that is producing revolutionary newspaper, revolutionary radio program, revolutionary multimedia. Her professor, a distinguished left journalist describes the journalism that Tin propagated during her days outside of the University as a “different kind of journalism (6).”
In the mid-90s, the split within the communist movement was also felt in the conduct of political organizations in the University. A comrade challenged her about the heated national debate on whether to reaffirm or reject the revolutionary line of struggle. This comrade was questioning the necessity of sacrifice in the era of so-called democratic space. Tanya retorts: “The revolution is not a dinner party,” and walks away.
Tanya is a Visual Arts major from the College of Fine arts. In her diary that she kept during her days in the red zone, she wrote: “Yet what I saw was a different kind of fire. It is the kind that cannot be extinguished by water. Because water is water, and love is not just fire.”
At Tanya’s memorial, one of her friends shared that the last time she saw Tanya was when her friend was on her way to Mendiola for a rally. Please be careful, she told Tanya as the latter was about to board a jeepney. She shared how Tanya replied with a plan for passing, and I quote: “She told me what she wanted as her epitaph…But so sorry, I cannot remember what it was.”
In lieu of this failing memory, a very tender moment, I must say, let me share a few notes which I have already written on what we may learn from full time revolutionary labor:
For someone who is gainfully employed yet shares a communist view of the world, the non-commodity nature of revolutionary labor is arguably one of the most unsettling and humbling achievement in the history of human relations so far. It is an unspoken principle mediating between and among revolutionaries and their families, friends, and a whole society that normalizes the sale and exploitation of human labor.
The non-commodity nature of labor is a situation that defines the lives of revolutionaries who work full time for the struggle for national liberation toward socialism. It poses a challenge to our expectations from full time revolutionaries and provides a better understanding of revolutionary capacities, which include but are not limited to the following:***
1) the revolutionary’s capacity to surmount difficulties;
2) the collective ability of revolutionaries to adapt to their position as producer of enabling conditions for people to contribute to significant change in the deeper texture of Philippine economy and politics;
3) their capacity to expand and consolidate democratic interest groups into a mass movement whose bid for change are both structural and redistributive;
4) the ability to offer something concrete for big dreams like democracy to come to life without reducing the same into personal liberty and a minimized opportunity to enjoy hints of social welfare;
5) the capacity to win the confidence and love of the people whom full time revolutionaries serve.
Social Reproduction Theory’s demand to reflect on labor that does not produce surplus value yet is reproductive of capital opens up a space for an understanding of another kind of labor that does not produce surplus value for the accumulation of capital, and this is the non-commoditized labor of revolutionary guerillas, the same kind of labor that consciously refuses capitalist instrutmentalization.
Sarah Raymundo teaches at the University of the Philippine Diliman-Center for International Studies. She is the Chairperson of the Philippines-Venezuela Bolivarian Friendship Association. She also chairs the International Committee of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). She is also the External Vice Chair of the Philippine Anti-Imperialist Studies (PAIS) and a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.
An earlier version of this article was presented at the Social Reproduction Theory: Feminism for the 99% Panel of the Left Forum 2018 John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, June 3, 2018. I wish to recognize our panel Chair, Hester Eisenstein for her determination to make our panel happen and for insisting on a topic that will feature the lives of filipino women. I am deeply grateful to Hester, as well as to the rest of our panel, Lise Vogel, Kate Doyle Griffiths and Tithi Bhattacharya—scholar-activists whose contributions to Social Reproduction Theory, international solidarity, and the urgent task of changing the world in revolutionary ways are indispensable and inspiring, to say the very least. I wish to thank the most reliable and passionate group of Filipino-American scholar-activists I have ever worked with, whether here or abroad, dear comrades, Joi Barrios-LeBlanc, Michael Viola and Valerie Francisco who initiated a conference panel for the Association for Asian American Studies 2018 in San Francisco in March 2018, which compelled me to pursue preliminary research on women NPAs.
(1)The hashtag was prompted by a featured story of women in arms in the context of agrarian unrest in a popular Philippine anthology series “Maalaala Mo Kaya” aka Memories (or literally, Would you remember).
(2) Uncounted Lives: Children, Women and Conflict Situation in the Philippines: a Needs Assessment of Children and Women Affected by Armed Conflict. 2007. UNICEF and Ibon Foundation.
(3) Bhattacharya, T. 2017. Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression.
London: Pluto Press
(4) All quotes/attributions are from publicly available documents such as books and online platforms. The unevenness of the references for each featured woman red fighter is largely due to availability of public documents
(5) Taguiwalo, J. 2015. Recca: From Diliman to the Cordilleras. Philippines: Southern Voices.
(7) from the article “Full time and all the way” notes on the book More Than A Red Warrior, 2015. https://www.bulatlat.com/2015/12/14/full-time-and-all-the-way/