THE claim by an Army general that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has been recruiting students in the country’s universities to join it and its New People’s Army (NPA) is nothing new.
From the party’s establishment in 1968 by Jose Ma. Sison, the Maoist communists have always focused their propaganda and recruitment work in universities, to take advantage of students’ unique psychological make-up that makes them vulnerable to radicalization.
It was in fact Sison’s evil genius to focus his political work in colleges, and even high schools, in contrast to the old Soviet-influenced Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) that believed the Stalinist myth that it is the working class—the proletariat—that is the vanguard of the Revolution. Sison instead made it a part of Philippine Maoist dogma, pointing out in his Philippine Society and Revolution, the CPP bible: “The majority of party cadres and regular NPA fighters are as a matter of course from the youth. The mobilization of the youth ensures the continuous flow of successors in the revolutionary movement.”
Sison claimed that his theory was right when the student revolt erupted in 1970. The youth association he set up in 1964, the Kabataang Makabayan, even if not really big, was by then so organized and experienced in street protests that it led demonstrators to storm even Malacañang and battle with the police, which portrayed the image of a country in uprising.
Or perhaps Sison merely stumbled upon that focus on students, since his post in the old PKP was as head of its Youth and Students Bureau.
Since the 1960s to this day, the CPP’s core leadership has been students radicalized into Maoism.
Sison was a probationary English instructor at the University of the Philippines for a year, and when he couldn’t get a permanent post, moved to Lyceum University and taught there for three years; that is where he got his first recruits.
The core group of his new Maoist party that broke away from the PKP were mostly students of colleges a stone’s throw from the Lyceum, from the so-called University Belt in downtown Manila, disdained by the mostly rich students of the cleric-run schools like the Ateneo and La Salle as diploma mills where the lower and middle classes – and hicks from the provinces – get their college degrees.
Sison’s deputy Carlos del Rosario (killed in 1971 by the PKP) taught at the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines); his first general secretary Jose Luneta was Sison’s college buddy at UP; organizational department head Monico Atienza and education chief (and the first head of the Manila-Rizal Regional Committee) Hermenegildo Garcia were from Far Eastern University; his Youth and Students Bureau head Julius Fortuna was also a student at the UP; and Trade Union Bureau chief Noli Collantes (whom the party killed in 1971 when he left) was from the UST.
Nearly all of the famous party leaders, dead or alive, were recruited during their college days.
Although Bernabe Buscayno, aka Kumander Dante, the first commander of the NPA, was romanticized in the 1970s as a peasant guerrilla, he was first recruited into the PKP’s Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (popularly known as the Huks) when he was a student at the Holy Angel Academy in Angeles City, Pampanga. Dante’s successor Rodolfo Salas, aka Kumander Bilog and Sison’s successor as party chairman, and Nilo Tayag, who headed the Kabataang Makabayan, Sison’s first big mass organization, were also from the Holy Angel Academy.
The six top leaders of the party in this decade, who were released from prison by President Duterte last June to join the peace talks in Norway, were all college students when they joined the revolution: party chairman Benito Tiamzon with his wife, party secretary general Wilma Austria, Randall Echaniz, and Benjamin de Vera were from the UP, while the alleged organizational department head Adelberto Silva was from UST. Even the Ateneo produced top party leaders: the late Edgar Jopson, who was responsible for building up the National Democratic Front, and his successor in that work, Alan Jazmines.
That the leaders of an insurgency come from the petty-bourgeoisie, mainly the student sector, is of course not unique to the Philippines. All communist revolutions were mostly led by people radicalized at universities, including Lenin when he was at the Kazan Imperial University where he was expelled for joining anti-tsarist demonstrations, and Mao Zedong, who was radicalized when he worked as a librarian at Beijing University where the first Chinese Marxists taught.
The petty-bourgeoisie are the leaders of revolutionary movements. But the cannon fodder are the peasants, prodded to join them as the former students with their claim on knowledge do not just promise their liberation from poverty, but like Christian evangelists, convince them that it is their destiny —according to the Marxist laws of history—to be freed under the leadership of the proletarian vanguard, the Communist Party.
There are several factors that have made college students malleable to radicalization, based on the recent plethora of scholarly studies that have sought to understand why young Muslims who, even from well-off families become jihadis willing to kill themselves in bombs carried on their bodies.
It is in colleges that young people, who had never been interested in politics, are suddenly presented with an ideology that claim to explain with absolute certainty why society is as it is, why there is poverty. Communist recruiters present “Mao Zedong Thought” as some sort of secret knowledge banned by the elite and the West, but which will free humanity.
It is in colleges that youth from the lower- and middle-classes first meet people from the upper classes, to realize in the concrete how the rich live while they – and people from their class – live so unfairly in poverty. This has been especially so in the University of the Philippines where poor students for the first time in their life hobnob with the the super-rich. Imagine a poor scholar from Surigao counting each centavo to be able to commute to the Diliman campus, while his classmate complains to him daily that he found it so difficult to find parking for his Lexus. When I was at UP, we communist activists and most lower-class students congregated at the Abelardo Hall. The rich like the Alpha Phi Omega fratmen congregated in the canteen below the Arts and Sciences Building. On campus, the wide class divide was obvious.
One trick by communists to recruit students from the middle class has been to bring them to the poorest rural areas—the cadres called it their “mass immersion program”—where young men seeking a purpose in life are shocked at why there is so much poverty. “This can be solved only through a revolution,” his communist recruiter tells him. “You can stay here right now, if you want,” he tells the student..
Hell on earth
In my case, I was radicalized in 1969 when I joined a picket of workers on strike at a chocolate factory in Marikina. The police arrested me for illegal obstruction as soon as my thigh touched the bumper of a company truck trying to pass through the picket line. The Marikina jail was hell on earth, in which we couldn’t even find space to lie down to sleep, and where inmates every night were beaten up. Since we were from the Ateneo, where the rich send their children, we weren’t touched at all. Class follows one even in jail.
It is the same attraction to gangs and fraternities that attract those joining the Communist Party: a sense of belonging, so important to a young man caught up in the angst, and search for identity, so common among the youth. There is even a secret ritual for admission into the party, where its flag with a flaming-red hammer-and-sickle is displayed, and a bullet—usually for an Armalite—is given to him as a symbol of his commitment to the armed struggle.
The Communist Party is even more attractive than frats to some: It is a vanguard party, destined by the laws of history to rule the world and usher in a proletarian paradise on earth. You will even join the heroes of revolutions in the world, a Filipino Che Guevarra.
There is also the ego that pushes a young person to join the Revolution. From being just an ordinary student nobody pays attention to and realizing that he would probably spend the rest of his life as some lowly employee, a party cadre becomes the leader of men, a noble hero in his mind, and in the countryside having the power of life and death—in killing soldiers or executing a barangay leader who refuses to support the NPA.
Sison, who wrote very bad poetry, and who just plagiarized the works of the Indonesian communist leader D.N. Aidit, would have most probably spent his life as an obscure, unpublished university instructor, or a gofer for a politician. But he now relishes being the leader of the only ongoing Maoist insurgency on the planet, making him the only one to deserve to lead the elusive Fifth Communist Internationale. The titles of the collection of his articles and a book on him ooze with his ego: The Philippine Revolution: The Leader’s View and At Home in the World.
There is another factor why communists—as well as Muslim terrorist groups—focus on recruiting the youth. If you yourself, Reader, remember when you were young, the thought of death never crossed your mind, and you thought yourself immortal. Young fighters, especially the so-called children soldiers, in every kind of insurgency are known for their audacity and fierceness in battle, as if they cannot be hurt by bullets.
I shudder at the thought of a young NPA guerilla just out of college, after he is fatally shot in a battle with Army Rangers, realizing that he is really dying, and it’s not a computer game.
I weep for close friends who were killed in their 20s in firefights with the military or just the militia, for a cause proven to be illusory and even harmful to our nation.