Untold stories of the CPP’s ‘Big Bang’ | Inquirer Opinion
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Untold stories of the CPP’s ‘Big Bang’

Retired Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge Soliman Santos Jr. delivers a meticulously researched challenge to the official origins of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in his book “Tigaon 1969: Untold Stories of the CPP-NPA, KM, and SDK.” Santos forces the recognition of the critical role played by the “Tigaon Five,” student activists whose pioneering work in Bicol jumpstarted the party’s expansion. His work is an act of justice and a timely reminder—as a new generation of Filipino youth continues to find a cause in the country’s communist insurgency—of the value of revisiting history to illuminate the sacrifices and complexities of revolutionary movements.

Santos presents a richly detailed and multifaceted exploration of historical events often shrouded by ideological biases and individual omissions. His work is especially valuable as it comes at a time when many contemporary Filipino youth still find cause in the country’s communist insurgency, a painful reminder of a constellation of things awry in this nation. In a social media post, Santos reported with visible regret how last Feb. 23, Hannah Jay Cesista, who passed the 2022 Bar examinations, was killed in Bilar, Bohol, together with four fellow communist rebels, in what the military claims to be an encounter.

At its core, “Tigaon 1969” disputes the long-accepted historical record of how the CPP and New People’s Army (NPA) came to be. The party’s “Big Bang”—the 1969 founding events—officially includes the early expansion efforts in Negros Oriental. Santos, however, provides robust evidence suggesting an earlier expansion team—the “Tigaon Five”—laid essential foundations in Tigaon, Camarines Sur. This was an independent initiative that was continued even after being officially scuttled by the CPP. Santos details the long discussions and debates that transpired among CPP Politburo member Ibarra Tubianosa of Sorsogon, Francisco Portem of Albay, and three Tigaon natives—Marco Baduria, Nonito Zape, and David Brucelas—as they navigated the ideological, community organizing, as well as the armed struggle issues they faced during those heady days.

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Santos’ book raises questions about why this critical piece of history was erased. CPP founder Jose Maria Sison vehemently contested Santos’ account while he was alive. This omission, whether the product of simple forgetfulness or intentional, casts light on the internal power dynamics of the communist movement and how official histories can be shaped by those in power.

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The book’s appeal extends beyond those interested in the CPP’s origins. It’s a captivating story for anyone like me who lived inside the UP campus from 1968 to 1974 through the turbulent era of student activism and the subsequent martial law period. Familiar with the events and people Santos recounts, I was surprised by how little I knew about what was going on.

The CPP was the product of the painstaking recruitment, indoctrination, and mobilization of the youth. The main mechanism was the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), which, when it split and spawned the Samahan Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK), intensified the mobilization work as the two leftist youth organizations competed for the recruitable youth in universities. The story of this ideological youth ferment and contestation at the above ground plane of action paralleled the splits and transitions from the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas and the Hukbo ng Bayan to the CPP-NPA.

The fact that a work of this caliber was authored by a well-respected retired judge adds an unusual and compelling layer of authority and objectivity to its analysis. Santos served as judge (MCTC, MTC, RTC) from 2010 to 2022. He is an incredible exemplar of writing from an unassailable stance of objectivity and integrity, unafraid that, as a former member of the nat-dem movement, he will be pigeonholed and Red-tagged. He is well beyond that, the high level of probity he has demonstrated starting with his initial engagement with the peace process in the first GRP-NDFP nationwide ceasefire in 1986. He has co-edited many of these books with his wife, Paz Verdades M. Santos, now a retired literature professor at the Ateneo de Naga and the De La Salle University.

The history of the Philippines has been a history of conflicts and wars, and the least the martyrs and patriots expect is that we acknowledge the supreme sacrifices they offered for the sake of the nation, invariably leaving behind their families in deep pain.

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