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Monday, April 22, 2024

New book traces rebel army’s start in Bicol

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The military believes only by wiping out the remnants of the Maoist rebels can the government attain ‘total victory’

If the Armed Forces of the Philippines is to be believed, it has already broken the back of communist insurgency that has been raging mainly in the countryside for the past 55 years, and can now claim to have achieved “strategic victory.”

Recent news reports quote the AFP as saying there are no more than 1,500 NPA fighters spread out in only a handful of so-called “guerrilla zones.”

These are described as areas where several companies of armed rebels are able to engage government forces in hostilities.

The military believes only by wiping out the remnants of the Maoist rebels can the government attain “total victory.”

At its height in the 1980s, the NPA, according to the military, could count on as many as 25,000 fighters.

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But that figure could not have been based on the reality on the ground as the NPA could have launched battalion-size tactical offensives then against military forces and encampments, which never took place, as far as we know.

Now, if the NPA has really been reduced to a pale shadow of its former strength and now on the run in different directions, why is it that there have been news reports of encounters between government forces and the rebels in various places in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in recent months?

If this indicates anything, it’s not likely that the NPA could be wiped out by year-end.

At any rate, we leave that matter to security analysts who might have a better view of the actual situation on the ground.

Our concern here is how the armed rebellion actually started in December 1968, when the Communist Party of the Philippines was established, and later, on March 29, 1969, when it organized the New People’s Army as its military arm.

For this purpose, we refer to a newly published book that traces what we might call the baby steps of the fledgling insurgent army to recruit members to the revolutionary cause.

The book, “Tigaon 1969: Untold Stories of the CPP-NPA, KM and SDK” was written by retired RTC Naga City Judge Soliman M. Santos, Jr. and published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press.

The well-researched book draws from the stories told to the author by the only remaining member of the five-man expansion team that immersed themselves in rural Tigaon, Camarines Sur in the second half of 1969 to organize the masses for armed struggle.

All five were members of the radical youth group, Kabataang Makabayan, that the martial law decree issued by then president Ferdinand E. Marcos in September 1972 identified as one of the two militant groups—the other one is the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan—that were steeped in Maoist ideology and wanted to bring down the government through violent street demonstrations.

The author relied on recollections of past events by relatives of the other four that documented the hardships they faced in spreading the theory and practice of ‘people’s war’ in Bicol.

The book also deals at length with the twists and turns in the legal protest movement in Metro Manila and other urban centers leading to what’s called the First Quarter Storm of 1970 that saw frequent street clashes between radical activists and anti-riot squads.

Universite de Montreal Professor Dominique Caouette, who wrote the book’s foreword, explains the value of Santos’ work thus: “History is nothing fixed but evolving and contested.

“This is particularly true when it comes to revolutions whether victorious, defeated or confronted with internal and external contestations.

“Oftentimes, officialized narratives tend to stall and fix time and events in nothing but imaginary linearity. Soliman ‘Sol’ Santos, a participant himself, a keen long-time observer, and now a genuine and unassuming historian challenges such linearity by offering a densely researched and reflexive opus on one situated fragment of the Philippine contemporary revolutionary movement…”

Further on, Caoutte concludes: “Combining mixed methodologies, interviews with key protagonists, archival research, mobilizing existing scholarly research, email correspondence, and even actual visits to key sites,

“Sol Santos seams an elaborate quilt that offers a vue d’ensemble that opens, that invites reflexivity on the complexities and limits of historiography…Keeping history unfinished, contentious, alive and humane, as Sol Santos does in his book, is an invitation to actively look back to see better what is coming up ahead.”


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