JULIUS Giron, the Communist Party of the Philippines’ fourth chairman in its 51 years of trying to overthrow by force the country’s democratic system, was killed March 13 in Baguio City, allegedly in a firefight with a team of military intelligence and police operatives.
That Giron, known in party inner circles as “KaNars,” was the CPP chairman and head of its New People’s Army (NPA) had been kept secret both by the Philippine military and the party; the former for some undisclosed reason while the latter hasn’t done so as its leadership has been in disarray. Members of the central committee have abandoned their safehouses, fearing that these may have been revealed in Giron’s computer files. They have been unable to meet or even communicate with each other; thus, there is no unit with the authority to announce its chairman has been killed.
Three months after Giron’s death, the CPP has been unable to designate even an acting chairman. There is no other obvious party leader with the stature to assume the post. This actually reflects the grave crisis in the party’s leadership, which is aging without a new younger core. In the 1970s, it was a party of angry young men with most of its central committee in their 20s or early 30s — founder Jose Maria Sison was just 31 then.
Now it’s a party of seniors; all of its 25-man central committee are septuagenarians or will be in a few years. Sison is 81 years old, as is an icon of the revolutionary movement who is now a Philippine Star columnist. The party members’ aging in fact has prodded it to set up its own home for the elderly, to take care of those wracked by diseases of the elderly.
The central committee statement on Giron’s death even strangely portrayed him as a sick old man: “He was nearly 70 years old, suffering from the infirmities of old age and had difficulty keeping his balance.” The statement claimed that killed with him was his “doctor Lourdes Tan Torres,” who was attending to him.
No second younger generation of communist leaders has emerged with the education and critical thinking at the level the communists of the 1970s, nor with the willingness to live a hard revolutionary life underground as in the case of its noisy party-list congressmen.
As is often the case in any organization, when no strong leader emerges, the party could be wracked by infighting, with factions demanding that their leader be the chairman.
After then chairman Benito Tiamzon was captured in March 2014, Giron, a veteran cadre since the 1970s, was immediately voted to occupy the post in an acting capacity. However, he managed to hold the risky party “congress” in 2016 — the second since the first such assembly in 1968 when it was founded by Sison — where he was formally elected as chairman of the central committee.
President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017 had released Tiamzon, his wife Wilma and several other top communist leaders as a goodwill gesture to jump-start peace talks with the communists. But the talks were terminated in November 2018, when the President became exasperated with the NPA’s continuing attacks against the military and police. Instead, he ordered an all-out campaign to wipe out the communists through Executive Order 70, directing the creation of a national task force to “end local communist armed conflict.”
Military intelligence sources, however, claimed that Tiamzon was blocked by the party leaders from reassuming the chairmanship, as he was suspected of pilfering a substantial amount of party funds that had been generated by its nongovernment organizations from donations here and abroad for victims of the Yolanda supertyphoon. This had come to light as Tiamzon and his wife’s files were accessed by Giron and his staff. Tiamzon had been put under “disciplinary action” although there has yet to be a definitive judgment by the party leadership on the accusation.
Because no party leader seems to have Giron’s stature and broad experience, military intelligence sources claim Tiamzon might still be able maneuver to reassume the chairmanship. This, however, could lead to a split in the party as there has been bitter rancor among some of its leaders for years against Tiamzon’s leadership, with not a few claiming that they had not been getting enough funds for their and their units’ upkeep.
The accusation gained traction because of the fact that Tiamzon’s wife Wilma Austria has been heading the party’s “National Finance Commission” that keeps its funds and allocates these. With Wilma arrested with her husband in 2014, Giron also took over that function, and even undertook an intense campaign to collect more money from businesses, the sources claim.
Mainstream media either had not reported Giron’s killing in Baguio City or missed the fact that he was the party chairman. The Manila Bulletin reported his death though, but described him as “chairman of the National Military Commission” of the CPP. The party constitution though specifies that it is the party chairman who concurrently heads that commission that directs the NPA.
The Communist Party in an unsigned statement on March 17 described Giron as “one of the stalwarts of the party’s central committee, its political bureau and executive committee, serving the party’s central organs over the past three decades.”
While it stopped short of describing him as the party chairman, its description of Giron practically confirmed him as such: “He played a key role in reconstituting the party’s leadership in 2014 and bringing together more than a hundred party cadres to hold the party’s 2nd congress in 2016. He was elected to the second central committee, the political bureau and as one of the key officers of the executive committee.”
Sison, whom Giron asked the central committee to designate “chairman emeritus” on March 18, issued a statement honoring him and detailing his “revolutionary” work since he joined the party in 1971. The last time he wrote such an effusive eulogy was for Monico Atienza, the party’s national organization department head, who died of heart failure in 2007 and whom the military suspects of organizing for Sison the Plaza Miranda bombing of the Liberal Party miting de avance in 1971.
Obviously irked that the party statement had not properly paid tribute to Giron and instead portrayed him as a sick old man, Sison said in his statement: “We can expect a more authoritative and informative declaration of the central committee of the CPP. I am confident that when a more comprehensive declaration is issued by the appropriate authority of the CPP the greatness of Comrade Julius as a revolutionary patriot and communist will be amplified.”
Giron is the party’s fourth chairman since its founding in 1968, all of them captured (or killed in Giron’s case) not in some guerrilla base in the boondocks but in the city with its comforts: Sison in a Parañaque City safehouse in 1977, Rodolfo Salas in 1987 at the Philippine General Hospital and Benito Tiamzon in 2014 in a Cebu suburb.