By SEGUNDO MATALINO
The news arrived as a hard blow. I thought the only advantage of these difficult times is that we would evolve nerves of steel with the extrajudicial killings and deaths due to the pandemic. But it has been a few dark days of ennui, of listlessness, and what I would later understand as unexpressed sadness and anger.
Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos is dead and they have killed him! Revolutionaries die, yes. More honorably in the battlefield amongst the bosom of the masses they served. But we can never get used to the unjust violence of the State and their gloating over the movement’s immeasurable loss!
The reverie and anger brought me back to one balmy evening in the forests of Agusan almost two decades ago undertaking field research. For the first time in my life, I met the legend and his kind. It was a two-hour habal-habal ride from the staging area where we stayed for a week before given the go-signal to enter the huge New People’s Army (NPA) camp. Alighting from the repurposed single motorcycle wobbly and dazed from the trip, I was met by the armed security detail of the NPA guarding the entrance to the encampment. I thought to myself “so this is the people’s army,” and I remember feeling a dizzying pride and gratitude for having the privilege to be there first hand.
When the armed NPA guards reached out for a firm handshake, it meant more than a warm welcome for me but a kind of coming home. “I am amongst my people, finally!” a thought that followed the first. I was at the Centro de Gravedad of the people’s war in the southern island where I was born – a major frontier to my people’s movement of liberation and my heart swelled with pride. For someone who has wallowed in years of alienated postmodern existence afforded by my university education, it was a moment of unequivocal certainty that would guide me even later in life. There are such places carved out by the people’s war where our comrades are slowly but surely building a new world amongst the most oppressed and exploited! Here they were learning in a huge albeit makeshift auditorium the need to protect the class perspective from the ideological attack of the enemy, even as squads of NPA fighters defend the possibility of this revolutionary activity in various security posts many kilometers away. It was the tireless commitment of the likes of Ka Oris over the decades that made these spaces possible.
I remember that trip as life-changing because more than the research data that was gathered, I managed to resolve many of my own personal questions regarding the movement in a conversation with Ka Oris himself that night while in his makeshift tent with his partner Maria Malaya. I was curious about the internal purges of the movement in the 80s, a point that many in the University and the Diliman republic cited as the greatest criticism against the National Democratic movement. In a cynical Foucauldian and postmodern twist to the Marxist conviction of a revolution, many have given up on this necessity in favor of the pessimistic conclusion that “the revolution devours its own children.”
Ka Oris and Maria Malaya expressed to me that in Mindanao, they have taken concrete steps to indemnify the victims as recognition of the organizational culpability of the movement. But the greatest counter-argument to the critique of those who have turned their backs against the movement, were the victims of the same purges who managed to survive and continued to soldier on while holding more firmly the revolutionary principles made weak by the purges. In a poignant re-telling : how do we make sense of those who died with raised fists extolling the need for revolutionary struggle even as they suffered in the hands of comrades? How about those who nearly were victimized but understood that the revolutionary path, despite its stormy twists and turns, is the only path for the masses? By committing to the revolutionary struggle for the next decades through the reaffirm movement, the persistence of the National Democratic movement is the strongest counterargument to the cynicism of the few.
I went down from the mountains with a clearer view of the disposition of forces in this debate. I was finally able to separate the charlatans from the true revolutionaries. I have found my people indeed in that trip to the mountains of Agusan decades ago.
And the life of Ka Oris, a lifetime of service to the revolutionary struggle where he sparkled as one of its brightest red stars, is the loudest testimony to this shared cause. I met him at a time when he was frail and weak, since he had been suffering from a debilitating illness for several years by that time. And it was the stuff of lore how he always survived military raids despite his health condition. There are stories of how adjacent facilities were raided and not where he was convalescing in a series of cloak and dagger moments.
I also remember Ka Oris telling me that evening, and it was such privileged information that remembering it now brings chills, that his trick whenever he needs to go down from his lair for his much needed and regular medical check-up, was merely to shave his beard. He would not be recognized in the checkpoints this way, he said with a chuckle. In his public appearances, he always sported a beard and wore a cap.
The trick seemed to have worked for decades since it was only on the evening of October 29, 2021 that the military finally caught up with his ingenuity. While on the way to his regular check up with a female medic on a single motorcycle, he was ambushed by the military operatives according to the NDF. Pictures show the face of Ka Oris clean-shaven. It was perhaps Ka Oris final taunting gesture to his class enemies – 73-years old and weak, “Why only now?”
Ka Oris will live on through stories like this and many more. He will be remembered and honored by the National Democratic movement that is sure to spawn many more like him in the years to come. His name will be uttered in reverence in secret lairs and encampments all over Mindanao who will mourn his death one day but will embolden them to win more skirmishes and battles for the liberation of the Filipino people!