Kirk was already in late-twenties when he got into the mainstream of the so-called national democratic movement initiated by Jose Maria Sison. From the ranks of mass activists, he was elevated to candidate membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines and after a few months in that status became full-fledged party member. The chaos within the party resulting from the sudden declaration of martial law on September 22, 1972 saw him getting separated from his party unit, but he went on organizing among workers on a self-style basis in which he advocated a review of the Sison strategy of protracted peopleâ€™s war which he saw inappropriate to the concrete Philippine condition. Forced to surface from his underground revolutionary work, he pursued his writing craft and became successful at screenwriting, subsequently at film direction. Beginning 1977 when he won a best screenplay award in the Metro Manila Film Festival, old acquaintances in the revolutionary movement began gravitating around him, which would shortly siphon him back into the fight, so to speak. He found himself sitting with a group that called itself IL (for International Liaison) which the polio-stricken political officer heading it loved to call â€œthe most powerful commission in the Party central committee, next to the military commissionâ€. Eventually a former co-member in a party group in the workers sector led him to then sitting Chairman of the CPP, Rodolfo Salas alias Kumander Bilog, also the head of the Military Commission. After a while of performing tasks under the N2 (Intelligence) of the General Command of the New Peopleâ€™s Army, he was appointed head of the Special Intelligence Unit subordinate only to the General Command and directly responsible to it. He was in that position when the EDSA crisis erupted. The following are his recollections of those circumstances.
* * *
The days into February 1986 were a period of chaos among responsible cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines â€“ to be precise, of the lower-level cadres. Compartmentalization in the Party made it impossible for a member of a unit to know whatâ€™s going in the other units, much more in the higher organs. Party directives were disseminated through policy papers and the Party organ, Ang Bayan. Once these directives were passed down to the mass level, thatâ€™s when matters were discussed on a mass scale. The issue during that period was: Would the movement participate in the coming snap presidential election.
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Back in December, through much of the initiative of Jaime Cardinal Sin, the tandem of Corazon Aquino and Salvador P. Laurel was hastily formed to beat the deadline for filing certificate of candidacy. And the country, mainly in Metro Manila, was thrown into the frenzy of the political campaigns by both sides. In many aspects, rallies and demonstrations and teach-ins were reminiscent of the days immediately preceding the declaration of martial law in 1972. The demonizing of Marcos then had reached its flaming zenith.
But conspicuously absent from the crowd of Cory campaigners were the natdems (acronym for national democrats), those in the national democratic movement. Opposed to the natdems were the socdems (for social democrats), now carrying solo the banner of the Cory cry: â€œTama na. Sobra na. Palitan na. Alis dyan!â€ Of course, along with the new slogan was the ubiquitous trademark of the Marcos hate campaign: â€œMarcos Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!â€
Certainly the natdems were side by side with the socdems, but their cry was different: â€œBoycott! Boycott! Boycott!â€
It had been the position of the Party, as reached in a meeting of the KTKS (Komiteng Tagapagpagganap ng Komite Sentral), not to participate in the election, which it deemed another maneuver of the US to further entrench Marcos in power.
It is impossible to tell for someone outside the KTKS how each member of the committee voted on the issue. So it was difficult for me to determine who among them to express my view of the situation. Though the principle of democratic centralism, by which any member may express his views on any issue, was preached among party members, still one needed extreme caution in expressing his ideas lest he be branded anti-party, an offense punishable by death. But being head of a unit directly responsible to the General Command, I developed intimacy with GC leading elements, particularly Ka Jun (alias of Rolando Kintanar, NPA chief of staff). I believed with Ka Jun, I did not stand to be sanctioned for expressing an honest belief.
The snap election struck me as a grand US show. A US congressional observer team had been dispatched to the Philippines to monitor the conduct of the election. This was odd. The election was exclusively the countryâ€™s affair and no other country had business interfering in it. But the US was making sure it had business to do in the event.
Moreover, a large contingent of international media people had been mobilized to cover the election, something which to me was overkill. So Marcos was staking his position ahead of the expiration of his term, was that so big a deal as to warrant such a huge army of international media men? Either way the election would go, they could well cover it through the wires. But they chose to go get the big news, whatever which would come about, first-hand. Again, this was a US handiwork.
And on top of everything, the US Seventh Fleet was just offshore in Manila Bay. The fleet had been USâ€™s greatest arm-twisting instrument in the Asia Pacific. What did it have to do with the Philippine snap presidential election? There must be a war somehow which the US needed to confront just in case. Marcos by then had been, in a manner of saying, hobnobbing with Russia and China, something the US didnâ€™t like. From the time of the American aggression in the 1900s, the Philippines had always been an exclusive US enclave, but Marcos, with martial law, had been increasingly veering the country away from such exclusivity.
So I talked to Ka Jun during a break in his meeting with the General Staff and mustered enough guts to propose that we strike up an alliance with Marcos under the current circumstances. I said it was Marcos who the US was intending to get out of power through the snap election and so it was he who we should ally with inasmuch as we were anti-US imperialism.
At my proposal, Ka Jun spoke no words. He fixed a stare at me, a piercing stare that betrayed a deep inner thing in him, like some kind of soul searching done to accommodate my idea. Ka Charlie, intelligence head of the General Command, overheard the talk on striking up alliances in the crisis and butted in, â€œThatâ€™s a good idea.â€
â€œHe is proposing alliance with Marcos,â€ cut in Ka Jun, clarifying the issue.
â€œImpossible,â€ Ka Charlie snapped.
â€œMarcos is the one the US wants out,â€ I insisted.
â€œMarcos is still the US boy in this fight,â€ Ka Charlie insisted in turn, his voice stern but his lips lined with a grin that indicated he was more entertained than anything else by my idea.
I had hoped that if I could convince Ka Jun on my idea, then he could talk the KTKS into reversing the boycott policy to one of participation â€“ of course, participation in favor of Marcos. I was thinking of the Bolsheviks in 1917. They were together with the Mensheviks in toppling the czarist regime of Nicholas II. Instead of forming a government of their own as a result of the Czarâ€™s downfall, Lenin insisted in joining up with the Kerensky government that had been installed. Once entrenched in that government, the Bolsheviks arrested the entire Kerensky cabinet and with that proclaimed the famous: â€œAll power to the soviets.â€ Thus was born the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the fruit of a truly bloodless revolution.
What would have happened if Ka Jun had listened to my proposal, carried it to the KTKS, which would then have reversed the boycott policy to one of participation â€“ participation for Marcos? Surely it would have created furor and outrage, frustration and disillusionment among the great masses of the national democratic movement conditioned to yelling â€œMarcos Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!â€ This was admitted â€“ but for one single reason: that they believed Marcos was the US boy. If we explained that Cory was the new stooge being groomed in the whole exercise, that in fact the US had organized the international media coverage of the event, coupled with the Congressional monitoring team and the awesome firepower of the US Seventh Fleet, wouldnâ€™t the masses of the revolutionaries have understood that such a reversal was all for advancing the struggle against US imperialism?
In the 1930s, when the Chinese Communist Party had not quite grown big yet, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union convinced it to get absorbed within the Kuomintang Party of Chiang Kai-Sheik, which the Soviet party actually supported with military training, arms and logistical and technical support in the resistance against Japanese aggression. The CCP acquiesced and for a time took its command from the Kuomintang. And as history would eventually prove it, that decision was correct. At an appropriate time, the CCP broke away from the Kuomintang, took over Chinaâ€™s countryside and from there engaged the Kuomintang in one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, culminating in the CCP takeover of the entire China mainland, with the Kuomintang pushed back to the small province of Formosa, now Taiwan.
What would have happened if Ka Jun had listened to my proposal?
The question really no longer mattered at the time. It was too late in the day. As we say, donâ€™t change horses in midstream. Sun Tzu puts it in his own way: Donâ€™t engage an enemy while crossing a river. Everything in the US machination had been set to full throttle and there was no stopping the events from reaching their destined finale: the walk out by canvassers when the Comelec count was showing a Marcos win, the Namfrel showing the discrepancy between the Comelec count and its own which showed Cory winning, the Batasan proclamation of Marcos as winner, the Cory civil disobedience campaign, outrage by US Senator Lugar over what he termed as rampant disenfranchisement of up to 40% of the voters, and the pressure from US senators on Reagan to withdraw support from Marcos.
When Reagan sent Philip Habib to talk to both Marcos and Cory ostensibly to find a middle ground in their conflict, it was actually to ascertain who of the two deserved to be put in place, that is, for US interest. Cory refused to share power with Marcos, so went the reports. But no intimate contents of Habibâ€™s meeting with Cory would naturally find print in the press. Whatever, what was reported was that when Habib stood from the meeting, he told Cory she will win.
That was Friday, February 21. The following day, February 22, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile made big waves of his holing up in Camp Aquinaldo together with AFP Vice Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos and RAM leader Col. Gregorio Honasan, announcing his resignation from the Marcos administration â€“ a resignation that already the day before was carried in two US newspapers. And finally, with Cardinal Sin issuing the call for support from the populace for Enrile et al, the crowd poured into EDSA â€“ protecting the very implementers of martial law which they had despised for a decade and a half.
All of a sudden the Party and the national democratic movement which it led found themselves utterly left out in the cold. The boycott policy had left them floating in limbo. What rode on the Cory takeover were the socdems who, save for Edgar Jopson and quite a few others, never really got to reconcile with the revolution.
Now, does it still matter to ask if things would have turned out differently had Marcos decided to fire at the EDSA crowd?
At the time, I thought Marcos would. He had not been depicted as Hitler if he wasnâ€™t capable of gassing 6 million Jews. And Iâ€™d welcome it if he did. Marcos firing at the EDSA crowd would have a way of correcting the error of the boycott policy. It would surely enrage the populace and, as Cory told Habib, tear the nation in a widespread bloody confrontation.
As the vociferous firebrand Bal Pinguel of Kabataang Makabayan used to agitate his listeners in the 70s, no nation in history has ever developed without passing through a bloody revolution, citing the American Civil War, the Spanish Civil War and the Chinese Civil War, among others.
So even as my comrade Ka Dave and I were squeezing with the crowd some meters away from the Camp Aquinaldo gate, one being a lookout for the other, we were cautious about the possibility of a sudden rapid firing of armalites or bursts from grenade launchers.
A favorite quote from Mao Tse Tung crossed my mind: â€œA single spark can start a prairie fire.â€ This is it, I was urging Marcos to myself, â€œStrike the matchstick.â€
But that Saturday wore on with no one striking a matchstick save for cigarette vendors enjoying a heyday, as did others vending sago gulaman, balut, cheap sandwiches, what have you, selling to the multitudes. It was everything that, again, Mao Tse Tung wouldnâ€™t want a revolution to be: a picnic.
And so as I watched the news program that Monday evening, I suddenly found myself melting in the fire of streaming memories: the bravado of strikers at the Makabayan Publishing Corporation where they barricaded a strike-breaking truck with their bare bodies; the May Day Massacre in Congress in 1971 that killed union organizer Liza Balando and maimed countless others; the Caloocan Massacre that same year which peppered union leader Fred Tibar with bullets so terribly one slug got embedded in his thumb; the infamous Plaza Miranda bombing which killed an innocent girl cigarette vendor and two others and seriously injured the entire LP Senatorial ticket in the 1971 mid-term election â€“ save for one single lucky guy who just happened not to be there when the blasts took place, Ninoy Aquino.
In a video I would watch many years after, Cory declares, â€œAs we all know, Ninoy really wanted to be president. Everything was just planned for 1973.â€
But as we all know, too, for the presidency, 1973 never came to Ninoy. Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Seven years and seven months of military detention under the martial law regime, three years of sojourn in the United States for treatment of heart ailment, and come 1983, Ninoy made the greatest political magic of his life. Against the advice of Imelda Marcos, Ninoy came home from the United States. A slug fired by an assassin from a .45 pierced through his skull as he was being led by Avsecom soldiers down the stairs of the China Airlines that brought him into the Manila International Airport. He dropped dead on the tarmac.
The whole nation mourned. Millions brought Ninoy to his final resting place. Above all, Cory got inscrutably ingrained in the consciousness of multitudes who canâ€™t quite outgrow a yearning for gods and heroes. By 1985, the iconization of Cory was complete. She was ready to square off with Marcos.
So this was the realization I had upon viewing that news program on television. Cory was being sworn into office as President of the Republic of the Philippines.
How then could EDSA have blown up into a civil war when the events that led up to it had from the very beginning been crafted only to advance one manâ€™s magnificent obsession with the presidency! With the objective having been achieved, why push the conflict further.
Of course, Ninoy died not getting to that post. Precisely. He should know he could no longer get there. Having undergone triple heart bypass operation, he should be a terminal case. He should have only two choices left, come home dead or come home a hero. Thus did it happen that what Ninoy failed to do in more than two decades of political skirmish with Marcos, he did in one grand act. By getting himself killed, he performed the greatest sleight of hand that ever took place right under the noses of a sadly gullible nation.
Soon after Cory took over the presidency, among her first acts, aside from the return of Meralco and ABS-CBN to the Lopezes, was the release from detention of Jose Maria Sison and Bernabe Buscayno alias Kumander Dante.
Expectedly, Sison began flexing muscles again, so to speak. That is, continue his movement, this time aiming it against the Cory government. At which, Cory issued a reprimand for him not to try it on her.
â€œYou know what I mean,â€ she said.
Could Cory be referring to that day in 1968 when she served coffee to Ninoy and his guests, a professor from the Universsity of the Philippines and the leader of a breakaway group from the Hukbalahap, Jose Maria Sison and Bernabe Buscayno alias Kumander Dante? With the help of Tarlac Governor Apin Yap, Ninoy had brokered the meeting of the two for a purpose only they knew. At any rate, subsequent to that meeting came the establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26, 1968, later followed by the founding of the New Peopleâ€™s Army on March 29, 1969.
Accordingly as the Ninoy-Marcos rivalry intensified, so did the Sisonite national democratic movement. Before EDSA, the New Peopleâ€™s Army had grown to a size of 25,000 regulars, all in company formation. This on top of 500,000 militia spread across the archipelago plus a large army of armed propaganda units the exact number of which I could no longer recall. Suffice it to say that by conventional military reckoning of 1:10 (1 rebel to 10 government troops) as an ideal ratio for engaging the enemy in guerilla warfare, the NPA had come to a high ground. The Philippine armed forces at the time numbered some 150,000, and this number should require only 15,000 of the NPA to be at par with the ratio. In fact, the national situationer issued by the Party during the period already spoke of a so-called strategic counter offensive (SCO) substage at which actions may be launched for achieving strategic stalemate. This is the stage where there is a clear division of territories between the protagonists in the war, each respective armed forces exercising control over them, and people have taken sides in the conflict â€“ the stage of civil war. Once the strategic stalemate is reached, it becomes relatively easy for the rebellion to push on â€“ the strategic offensive â€“ and defeat the enemy.
In 1987, with Coryâ€™s government still a revolutionary one, hence unstable, I had another casual conversation with Ka Jun in which I suggested that the strategy of the rebellion should be to prevent the holding of the next presidential election. The reason I gave was that if the next president would be elected through a democratic process, it would consolidate the political power of the Philippine bourgeoisie thereby weakening the armed struggle, if not rendering it inutile altogether.
â€œWhen would be the next presidential election?â€ Ka Jun asked.
â€œ1992,â€ I replied.
â€œWe shall have won by then,â€ Ka Jun said quite confidently.
It exhilarated me no end.
But then came Sisonâ€™s Reaffirm in 1991. (Kumander Bilog had been captured by the government earlier and leadership of the Party passed on to Benito Tiamzon, a Sison loyalist implementing the latterâ€™s directives from the Netherlands. Ka Junâ€™s leadership of the New Peopleâ€™s Army was being contested by Buscayno.) In sum, Reaffirm subjected the boycott policy to severe criticism and proposed re-education for all those guilty of the error.
Particular emphasis was placed on what was regarded as military adventurism of Ka Jun, who was embarking on a strategy opposed to the protracted struggle program of Sison. Ka Junâ€™s program called for a Sandinista type of uprising that had proven successful in Panama. Groundwork for this strategy had already begun and at the time of EDSA was set to unfold. As I had been critical of the Sison line from the very start, seeing it as a shameless copy cat of the Mao Tse Tung strategy in China in the 1930s, Ka Junâ€™s line appealed to me as the more realistic, pragmatic, feasible strategy.
Now, in Party parlance, re-education simply means demotion for those guilty of the offense. Or worse yet, expulsion from the Party. Negative reaction to the Sison paper was widespread. Faced with the prospect of being meted punishment, many leading Party elements, including several who were members of the Party Central Committee and who had been critical of the overall Sison strategy of protracted struggle, chose to form their own factions, each faction having its own armed group and pursuing its own line of pushing the revolution.
Reaffirm smashed the Party into splinters. So did it the NPA, which broke up into guerilla units once again â€“ as in the beginning.
Though Ninoy did not make it to the presidency, his widow did. Itâ€™s all the same. No need to make use further of the rebellion for which Ninoy had brokered the first meeting of Sison and Buscayno in 1968. Time to tear that rebellion apart. How do you do it?
Reaffirm did the trick.
Popoy Lagman, former Secretary General of the CPP Manila-Rizal Regional Party Committee who organized the much dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) and wrote a number of books criticizing the Sison line of protracted struggle, was gunned down by two assassins inside the UP campus on February 7, 2001.
Next to fall was Ka Jun, Rolando Kintanar, shot and killed on January 23,2003 by reportedly 4 assassins while having meal at a restaurant in the Quezon City Circle. Gregorio Rosal, NPA head in Southern Luzon, owned up to the killing.
Arturo Tabara, Secretary General of the CPP Visayas Commission was assassinated in Quezon City in 2004.
Civil war, anyone?
Essayist, novelist, film writer and director