There’s the Rub

Looking forward, looking back

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I remember reading a couple of books by Jose Ma. Sison in the early 1970s that told of why he and his group repudiated the Huks and formed the CPP-NPA in their place. The old party, Sison contended in a barbed tirade, committed the most egregious errors—it did not wage revolution in a “scientific” way—and consequently lost not just the battle but the war.

By the late 1950s, he said, the Huks were defeated. By the early 1960s, they were a lost cause, a ragtag band lacking leadership, inspiration, and (ideological) direction. By the middle 1960s, they had turned mercenary, most of their former armed units having become “renegade bandit cliques” renting their services to local politicians and/or preying on the villages themselves. That was so in particular in Central Luzon, where the Huks had pretty much operated—one of their “errors” was concentrating themselves in one place. In lieu of engaging the enemy, the Huks, or their remnants, engaged in robbing, cattle-rustling, and extorting.

The last thing they had become was revolutionary, the last thing they would be was victorious. You look back at this and you wonder if Sison is not describing the CPP-NPA today.

I remembered this after the NPA ambushed a convoy in Misamis Oriental that nearly took the life of Ruth de Lara Guingona, the mayor of Gingoog City. She is the wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and the mother of Sen. TG Guingona.

What happened apparently was that Mrs. Guingona and her group were driving home from a fiesta in a remote town where they had done some campaigning when they came upon a roadblock. The roadblock turned out to have been mounted by a group of NPAs who were collecting “revolutionary taxes” from candidates. The NPA says Mrs. Guingona’s group fired upon them first after refusing to stop. Mrs. Guingona’s group says they were fired upon after they tried to ram through the barricade. Mrs. Guingona was wounded, but is now out of danger. Her two security guards died in the hail of gunfire.

The NPA has apologized to the Guingona family, saying it was accidental. Which the Guingona family has refused to accept for good reason. At the very least, it is not unlike trying to excuse one’s inexcusable behavior at a gathering by saying, so sorry, but one was drunk: The justification is acceptable only if you accept the premise that one has every right to be drunk. The NPA’s justification is acceptable only if you accept that it has every right to mount checkpoints to collect from candidates. The NPA calls it tax, everybody else calls it extortion.

TG, of course, scoffs at the premise. This is a country, he says, that has only one government and one president. That is not the NPA.

At the very most, the Guingonas have lost two of their own, even if it is not Mrs. Guingona. And hugely ironically, they come from the poor, the very people the NPA want to liberate. They have names, too—Nestor and Bartolome Velasco, and it is a testament to their heroism that they carried out their tasks over and beyond the call of duty, literally defending their employer to the death. The NPA has said sorry to their families, too, and promised to indemnify them. But I very much doubt the Velascos will take any of the NPA’s money, such as it could be called the NPA’s.

Even more hugely ironically is that the NPA should harm, unintentionally or not, someone who is not unsympathetic to some of its beliefs. Teofisto Guingona it was who, as vice president and foreign secretary after Erap’s fall, tried to steer this country’s foreign policy along more independent lines. Or who at least tried to wean this country from its role as Tonto to America’s Lone Ranger. Understandably, he is unforgiving of the NPA. Perhaps in time, he might learn to forgive, he says. But not now, not yet.

But quite laudably, TG, despite being overwrought at what happened, goes on to look beyond it, or beyond retribution, and to crave something better. He wants peace. “It is only when we have a genuine peace agreement,” he says, “that we can move forward.”

Which brings me back to Sison’s depiction of the Huks, and how it comes back to haunt with its specter now hovering over the NPA. Arguably, the NPA hasn’t yet reached the pass the Huks did in the 1960s. Despite its fortunes having plunged after four-and-a-half decades—I don’t know if it isn’t the longest-lasting communist revolution now—it still retains a semblance of organization and discipline. But its increasing dependence on “revolutionary tax” or extortion to keep alive, the thing applying not just to politicians but also to business enterprises, notably the mining firms of Mindanao, must raise questions about its future. Certainly it must raise questions about whether it really has any other choice but to sue for peace.

When Sison made his comments then, the prospects were bright for a remaking or reimagining of a communist revolution. The world was afire, the romantic figure of Che Guevarra with his battle cry “Venceremos!” screaming out of chic T-shirts. Those days are long gone. The youth, specifically the students that marched down the streets and climbed up the hills after martial law, the one decisive addition to the new revolution that wasn’t in the old, are no longer there, as the late Popoy Lagman told me ages ago. The USSR has crumbled along with the Berlin Wall. And Plaza Miranda has been replaced by Facebook. The vision is gone, the idealism is gone, the future is gone. Certainly the remotest possibility of victory is gone. Only the possibility of more blood being shed is not. Uselessly, senselessly, tragically.

TG is right: Only with peace can we move forward. Only with peace can people forget.

And forgive.

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