First of a series on the Scalice revelations
THE Yellows’ martyr Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, Jr. was crucial in the founding and growth of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Aquino, until his arrest when martial law was declared in 1972, supported the CPP-NPA as one of his weapons to topple his arch-enemy Ferdinand Marcos.
This is among the many explosive conclusions and details of a 2017 PhD dissertation by Joseph Scalice at the University of California, Berkeley, entitled Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership: Martial Law and the Communist Parties of the Philippines, 1957-1974.
The 800-page thesis is replete with encyclopedic information not just on the old pro-Soviet Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) and Jose Ma. Sison’s pro-China Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Scalice reveals surprising details on political figures of that era that would shock the Yellows and the Reds.
Scalice appears to have spent years on his thesis, poring over nearly every written material on the insurgency as well as interviewing participants in the “revolutionary struggle” (or at least those willing to be interviewed). His native fluency in Tagalog (he spoke the language since he was five, he says in his CV) enabled him to read the mountain of papers in the so-called Radical Papers at the UP library, an archive of all materials on the revolutionary struggle.
It would be difficult to question Scalice’s objectivity in his conclusions on Aquino: He is married to the daughter of Herminio Aquino, Ninoy’s uncle who had been a political pillar of the Yellows in Tarlac. Herminio was even one of the people he dedicated his thesis to, writing “To Herminio Aquino, isang tunay na Ama kahit ako’y manugang lamang,” in honor of his kindness and boundless hospitality. Technically, Ninoy is the thesis writer’s nephew-in-law, isn’t he?
On the thesis’ page 378, Scalice shows how crucial Aquino’s role was in the founding of the CPP and the NPA:
“Aquino allowed [NPA head Kumander] Dante to move freely throughout his Hacienda Luisita, and Yap, on returning from a visit to China, had given Dante a copy of Mao’s Red Book.(RDT:Yap is the late congressman Jose Yap, Aquino’s close ally in Tarlac. Ironically perhaps, he was Cory Aquino’s peace negotiator with the CPP.)
“Dante provided Aquino with an armed base of popular opposition to Marcos. Connecting Dante with Jose Ma. Sison and the CPP presented Aquino the possibility of expanding his base of armed support to a national scale. In October 1968, Aquino and Sison met and discussed ‘how big a problem Marcos was,’ and Yap, Aquino and Rodolfo Salas [who would succeed Dante as NPA head] arranged a meeting between Sison and Dante.
“The meeting took place in late January 1969 in Dante’s hometown of Talimundoc, Capas. Aquino later reported to his friends that he personally drove Sison to this meeting. Among the crucial conditions which facilitated both the discussions between Sison and Dante from January to March 1969, as well as the founding of the CPP at the end of March, was the demilitarization of Tarlac from Nov. 7, 1968 to April 10, 1969.
“Dante and his men moved about in peace throughout the province, and Sison and his cohort traveled freely between Manila and Tarlac. The demilitarization, which effectively removed the massive military buildup of Task Force Lawin from the province, lasted precisely from the founding of the party to the establishment of the New People’s Army. The negotiated removal of the military was entirely the doing of Aquino and was referred to in the press as the ‘Ninoy Aquino peace plan’.”
“Scalice in page 392 would report an interesting detail: “Dante and (his deputy Rodolfo) Salas became political instructors in a party training school set up within the Voice of America radio relay station compound, housed on Aquino’s Hacienda Luisita. Dante’s men worked as security guards there and they gave Dante and Salas, dressed in blue security guard uniforms, access to the compound.”
Sison’s plan right after the NPA was founded in 1969 was to build the communist first base in Isabela in the thick of the Sierra Madre mountains. This was of course his attempt to replicate Mao’s famous Red base in Yan’an, where the Chinese communists built up its forces to eventually defeat the Kuomintang in China’s civil war.
In his thesis’ page 292, Scalice reports how Sison’s fledgling band of former Huks like Dante and student drop-outs from Manila’s universities managed to build a base of sorts in Isabela, where an obscure fishing port there would be used as a landing site for Chinese-made rifles in May 1972):
“Salas recounted that Faustino Dy, the mayor of Cauayan, Isabela, ‘was instrumental in enabling the NPA to develop a base in the province.’ Ninoy Aquino, Salas claimed, ‘introduced Dy to the NPA.. For some time Joma even stayed in Dy’s house. … He helped us a lot.’ Salas further reported that with the NPA’s help, Dy was elected governor of Isabela in 1971.
“Dy broke with the NPA with the declaration of martial law and allied with Marcos, thus securing his hold as governor for the next twenty years. The NPA was friendly not only with the local political elite of Isabela but with logging corporations as well, and Sison recounted that ‘in the forest region of Isabela, we did united front work with logging businessmen’.”
Aquino’s money (“from the coffers of his wife.” Scalice scoffed) as well as from anti-Marcos oligarchs such as the Lopezes — whose plea for a rate increase for their Meralco electric distribution utility Marcos denied — funded the CPP’s front organizations, including their huge 1970 rallies romanticized as the “First Quarter Storm,” Scalice pointed out.
The NPA was officially established in March 1969 in Capas, Tarlac by Dante and his eight lieutenants, along with Sison and four members of the CPP’s central committee. One of the eight was one Ruben Tuazon, known as Kumander Rubio and barrio captain of a town within the Cojuangcos’ Hacienda Luisita. According to Scalice, Tuazon was Aquino’s employee until his death right after martial law was declared.
Tuazon would be an intriguing protagonist in the CPP-Aquino saga. Scalice gave credence to an obscure and forgotten newspaper report in 1989 that it was Tuazon, then still a party central committee member, who tipped Aquino that the Liberal Party miting de avance on Aug. 21, 1971 would be bombed by CPP operatives and that he should delay his scheduled attendance in that rally.
Up to the last weeks before martial law ended his political career, Aquino was plotting with the CPP to seize power for himself, Scalice explains in pages 746 to 748 of his thesis:
“Aquino intended to seize power through an uprising led by the CPP in conjunction with a military coup and then immediately implement martial law. For this to succeed it was imperative that he have the support of Washington, and on September 12, Aquino held a private meeting with two political officers of the US Embassy.*
“Aquino first made clear that he supported military dictatorship regardless of who implemented it. He stated that ‘Marcos must take strong actions in the near future and these will include martial law. If the President follows this course, Aquino said that, ‘for the good of the country,’ he will support Marcos.’
Having established that Washington could rely on his support for martial law, Aquino then informed the Embassy political officers that he might in the near future attempt to seize power. ‘Aquino believes that the possibilities of his becoming head of government by legitimate means are quickly diminishing, and he is accordingly keeping open an option to lead an anti-Marcos revolution in alliance with the communists.’
“During the same meeting, Aquino informed the Embassy officers that he had recently held a secret meeting with Sison. Aquino and Sison discussed the possibility of forming a broad united front in opposition to the Marcos administration. Aquino said that he had been offered and had declined as being premature and unwarranted by the present situation, the position of leading a revolutionary government ‘in the hills’ in alliance with the CPP.
“In Aquino’s view, however, the internal security and socio-economic situation in the Philippines was rapidly deteriorating. He believed that President Marcos intended to stay in power indefinitely and that his own chances of becoming head of the government by legitimate means were slight. He thus may be willing at some point in the future to ally himself with the communists as the leader of a revolution, if he is convinced that this is the best way for him to realize his ultimate political ambition.
“Aquino’s failed bid for dictatorship is one of the gross miscalculations in Philippine political history; it proved so slight, so insubstantial, that most are unaware that it was even attempted.”
Are we sure we want our airport to be named after this man, and have his statues in prominent places as if he were a hero who opposed Marcos because of his democratic ideals?
*Scalice’s source here: “Airgram From the Embassy in the Philippines to the Department of State,” chap. Document 257 in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XX, Southeast Asia, 1969-1972 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 2006)