‘Revolution is hard… Who doesn’t want peace?’
December 26, 1994
Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Chit Estella
Somewhere in the Sierra Madre – Quickly and surely, young men not quite in their 20s make their way across rocks and twigs, up and down the mountain slopes, leading their lumbering visitors to a cluster of houses among the trees.
It is a windy day, the eve of an approaching storm in an unlikely season. Freshly washed clothes flap on the lines, older men and women attend to their chores, and dogs bark at the approaching strangers. There is nothing usual about this place.
Nothing except that it is considered by the Communist New People’s Army as part of its guerilla zone.
From one of the houses emerges a familiar figure: A very lightly built man with a cap and a pair of earphones attached to a Walkman radio on his waist.
The diminutive figure belongs to Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, former leader of the Melito Glor Command and now spokesman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm, the NPA.
He welcomes the visitors from Manila and invites them inside the house belonging to as masa.
Although the nearest village must be miles away from where he and his comrades are staying, it is Rosal who tells his guests the latest news: That President Ramos had just ordered the turnover of the Armed Forces’ counterinsurgency function to the Philippine National Police. That much he heard from his radio.
In the interview later, he says in Tagalog, “Psywar tactics. Just watch, they’ll come up with a yearend assessment and say their biggest achievement was the containment of the insurgency.”
“From the time of Marcos, the government has been saying it has defeated us. But they say this every year. Now they have another word for it: Strategically controlled. That’s how they say it.” Ka Roger says.
By transferring what used to be a military function to the police, the Ramos administration looks like it has achieved just that: Victory or something close to it.
But Ka Roger continues, “The transfer is shot with exceptions – Quezon, Samar, Cordilleras, Bicol, the Mindanao provinces. So what else is left to the PNP? Maybe Manila.”
Moreover, the President could order the AFP to reassume its counterinsurgency role in any area anytime, he says.
“The conditions for a revolution remain. There is a bankrupt system that needs to be changed. And we will not stop until this happens,” he says.
Ka Roger the revolutionary began the way most rebels did. The son of a tenant farmer, he longed to work in a factory where the pay was supposedly bigger than anything he could earn from tilling the land.
When a factory manufacturing mosquito nets was put up, his brother applied for work there. He was rejected. The owner said he needed a high school diploma.
Ka Roger’s parents then struggled to put the other boy through high school. When he graduated and applied for the factory job, he, too, was rejected. “Underheight daw,” he chuckles.
Standing at just about five feet then, Ka Roger, who gained an inch or two since that time – looked around him and saw some workers in that factory even smaller than him. What could have been the real reason?
Even in the search for other jobs, the landlord, it seemed, had the final say. It was on his word that the factory chose which workers to hire.
“My father, even if he was just a kasama, never followed anything that the landlord said. Hindi siya sipsip,” Ka Roger said.
He returned to farming. Even then, he still had other dreams. Like joining the navy – the US Navy. But if making kulambo was supposed to require a certain height, what more the navy?
It is not known if Ka Roger ever tried his luck with that other dream because by that time, something else was coming his way. Back in high school, he had become acquainted with student activists.
While farming, he would have an ear cocked to the transistor radio and hear revolutionary propaganda being aired. Even regular broadcasters were lambasting the government. Miles away from Manila, he would be stirred by reports of that tumultuous event, the First Quarter Storm.
“I dreamt of joining them, but I was busy farming. While I farmed, I kept hearing about them,” he said. But joining the activists was not easy for him. “I did not want to be formally recruited. I was anti-communist. Katoliko sarado, just like my mother,” he said.
While the rhetorics of revolution beguiled him, there were certain aspects that repelled him. “Their propaganda said there was no God. So I thought, these people must be anti-Christ,” he said.
Events would resolve his ambivalence. While not a formal member of the radical youth group Kabataang Makabayan, Ka Roger mingled with its members.
Before long, he hardly came home anymore. Time was spent in rallies, pickets, long marches. He became a full-time activist.
He worked as an organizer, his first assignment being the organization of workers in the same kulambo factory that turned him down. And then, a sugar central in Bantangas.
While going home one day, Ka Roger was arrested. Confident that there was no charge against him, he thought that he would be released. He was not.
I prison, he was able to get a first-hand look at the military that he once feared and admired.
“I learned about how corrupt the military organization was. It had no principle whatsoever. It was purely mercenary. And I began to think that if you were a decent person and you joined the military, you’ll soon end up as corrupt as the rest of them,” he said.
He saw how officers maltreated their subordinates and understood why the latter could easily be cruel toward their captives.
And yet, where was courage?
“People think soldiers are brave. They are not. They’d get drunk and beat up their prisoners. But when they’re sent to the mountains that are known to harbor NPAs, everyone starts looking for an anting-anting (amulet) to protect him,” he recalls.
Making anting-anting thus became a kind of amusement for him in prison. He’d pick up unusual-looking stones, inscribe prayers on them (“I learned so many prayers when I was a child.”) and give these away to soldiers.
They were afraid to die, I gave out so many anting-anting then,” he says.
Five months into detention, he escaped. He rejoined his comrades who said it was time for him to join the NPA.
The suggestion surprised him.
“They never talked to me about it before or asked if I wanted to be an NPA. They would talk about it among themselves, I would occasionally overhear them, but I never asked because it seemed like something that you kept as secret,” he said.
But with the declaration of Martial law in 1972, his arrest and subsequent escape, the door to the life of a guerilla was opened.
Would there have been Ka Roger if he was accepted in that factory or even in the navy?
“I would have been a Tagamolila. Not a Victor Corpuz ha?” he laughs in reference to Crispin Tagamolila an Army soldier who turned NPA and then died in battle.
Corpuz was the celebrated lieutenant of the Philippine Military Academy who raided the institution’s armory, joined the NPA, imparted his invaluable military knowledge to countless NPA military cadres, but eventually became disillusioned, and returned to the AFP.
Even, or perhaps especially, in the underground, members come and go.
“Revolution is hard,” Ka Roger says.
“But in think the time will come when those who left will rejoin the tide of revolution. No one really forgets what he has learned. There were problems, weaknesses. But who can forget the love of country, the need to change society? So long as a former comrade has not gone to the enemy, I think there will be a time we will see each other again.”
Does he ever see victory in his lifetime? In twentieth year in the communist movement, Ka Roger says, “Yes, I believe so.”
If Ka Roger can be understanding toward former comrades who have resumed life in the mainstream society, he is scathing in his criticisms of those who joined and now actively help the government.
Foremost among these elements, he believes, is the breakaway group that now has the Alex Boncayao Brigade as its military arm.
“They have demeaned themselves. Once, they were part of a revolutionary organization but now, they have become a small syndicate, a gun-for-hire team. They probably want to become the salvage team of the PACC,” he says.
He refers to recent reports that the ABB had gunned down Chief Insp. Jose Pring, a man accused by the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission of engaging in kidnapping and extortion.
While the ABB owned the killing, various quarters – including those in government – say the PACC could have also had a hand in it.
“The public can no longer tell the difference between a liquidation by the PACC and an operation by the ABB,” he says.
Asked if he believes there is now active collaboration between two groups, Ka Roger says, “Yes.”
He scoffs at the ABB’s widely publicized operations against policemen, saying it is a good way of getting into the newspapers, but not to the roots of the problems that spawned them.
He recalls a story that even show biz people have found their way in the ABB’s list. “They’ve put in Lolit Solis. I don’t know if Phillip (Salvador) is now in it, too,” Ka Roger says.
More worrisome, however, is the group’s potential for terrorism and extortion, he says.
“They can use it to sow fear, especially among politicians now that elections are near. And against businessmen, too,” Ka Roger says.
Despite the rising election fever, the communist organization predictably does not feel excited about the coming polls.
While the victories of persons other than traditional politicians may revived faith in many Filipinos, Ka Roger points to recent events that should disturb those who take recent elections seriously.
“Just look at these coalitions. Lakas-Laban, NPC-Laban, PRP-Lakas. Who can tell them apart now?” he says.
Turncoatism, the shame and bane of Philippine politics has evolved into something more brazes – wholesale party-switching.
“Not just one person or two change parties, but an entire organization goes to the other side. Ganoon na katindi, ganoon na kagarapal,” he says.
Groups that try to change the rules have so far reaped nothing but disappointment, Ka Roger says. He points to the major electoral reforms being sought by the Commission on Elections and the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa.
None was acted upon by Congress especially not the anti-dynasty bill. A Comelec proposal to stop the intervention of religious institutions in the elections was somehow twisted in favor of a bill that even allowed and strengthened the latter’s hold on voters.
“Elections give people hope. That is why politicians like to hold these often. But they don’t really change anything,” he says.
With a public clamor for peace dialogue so strong it could not be ignored either by the government or the NDF, the two sides decided to give the effort a try. Of late, however, efforts have bogged down.
He refers to lessons obtained in the first negotiation attempt during the Aquino administration which, he says, were learned at great cost by the leftist movement. The lull in the fighting gave government excellent opportunities to track down rebels and capture them when the talks collapsed.
Yet, Ka Roger says, “We are ready to talk any time with the government so long as there is a specific agenda.”
“Who doesn’t want peace?” he asks.
For now, however, the fight continues. Normal family lives are forgone, even on Christmas.
Christmas is usually spent in the guerilla zones where sympathizers among villagers welcome the NPA inside their homes for rice cakes, fish, and an occasional roasted pig.
Visiting their own families usually has to wait for another time.
“When you have accepted revolution and the hardship it brings, they become part of your life. What does victory of the revolution mean anyway? It means victory for all,” Ka Roger says.
The Chit Estella Reader acknowledges the Philippine Daily Inquirer as the source of the Ka Roger article written by Professor Chit Estella. Professor Roland Simbulan was allowed the reprinting of the article with the written permission of Philippine Daily Inquirer.