Red nun: Not just a communist ally

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COMMUNICATIONS Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy was wrong to have referred to Sister Mary John Mananzan as a “longtime ally” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

I suspect she is a ranking official of the Communist Party and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she is a member of its central committee. Of course, I don’t have access to the Communist Party’s “personnel files” or to military intelligence dossiers, but I’ve known her since the mid-1970s when she often visited us political prisoners at the military detention camp called “Ipil Youth Rehabilitation Center.”

Did she deny that she is a Communist Party member? No, certainly not. If she’s not a party cadre, her achievements in furthering the advance of the communist insurgency are more important than an official membership.

Just another one of those rallies: Sister Mary John Mananzan

One doesn’t get to be a founder and chairman of Gabriela — one of the most successful of the party’s front organizations — for 18 years, and be just its ally and not under its organizational discipline.

Gabriela is the “aboveground” organization of Makibaka, one of the National Democratic Front’s (NDF) major official organizations, each of which, other than the party itself — the “vanguard” — and its private army, the New People’s Army (NPA), represent Jose Maria Sison’s sectoral forces for his revolution: women, youth, workers and national minorities.

Past 80 years of age now and nearing her retirement years, I don’t think Sister Mary John liked the Movement Against Tyranny’s unsigned statement condemning Badoy for “red-tagging” her. I think she would relish being known as one of the most successful and effective cadres that advanced the communists’ “national democratic revolution.”

After all she was in the midst of the party’s political struggles at its critical moments: she headed Gabriela that she helped found in 1984; she was in the NDF’s frontlines in the 1986 EDSA revolution; and she has been of the most effective and credible communist propagandist.

Name any issue the CPP has worked on — the anti-Arroyo campaign; the removal of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Chief Justice Renato Corona; giving refuge to the alleged whistleblower, but convicted grafter Jun Lozada; and the demonization of President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war and his the Anti-Terrorism bill — and Sister Mary John will be one of the most quoted by media.

Recently she even pounced on the judge that convicted Maria Ressa for libel who studied at St. Scholastica’s, claiming she had not learned the values taught in her school.

Unless a president embraces the CPP, sister will always rant and go to the streets against the current administration and help the party advance each and every issue it espouses.

You’re not a real aktibista if you don’t know sister. She had turned St. Scholastica’s premises into an activists’ refuge and favorite venue for communist-led seminars. Unless she is abroad, which has become often, she hasn’t missed a single communist-led demonstration.

Sister has been with the movement ever since she had the communist equivalent of the conversion of Saul (St. Paul the Apostle) on the road to Tarsus (Damascus): the 1975 communist-led strike at La Tondeña, the first such union work stoppage during martial law that became the Reds’ mythicized event of the “proletarian” leadership in the revolution. The strike was violently suppressed and all the participants, who were all union members, fired. Many of them went on to join the NPA.

Of huge future advantage for the party at that time was the fact that Edgar Jopson, a “moderate” Atenean student leader joined the party in 1974, and, since he had been a labor lawyer, was assigned to run the party’s Manila-Rizal trade union movement. La Tondeña was his breakthrough in trying to have the party lead the workers’ movement.

What distinguished Jopson from other party union organizers was that, coming from the upper classes, he cleverly used his network and fame as former National Union of Students of the Philippines president to get the active support of students and clergy in Manila. Teacher-nuns at St. Scholastica’s and other Catholic schools in Manila brought food to the strikers, which, especially as it was located in Tondo, was their first exposure to the real world and to the violence of the class struggle, of cloistered nuns mostly coming from the upper classes.

“That was my baptism of fire,” she said in a glowing article on her and her life in a publication of her order, the Order of St. Benedict. It was Jopson, after La Tondeña the head of the party’s National Democratic Front, who tutored her on her new order, the Order of the Communist Party, and made her one of his most effective cadres in setting up Gabriela.

She related her experience: “We linked arms with the workers, but the police came and told the workers, ‘Get out or you will get hurt.’ But the workers did not go out, so the police went in and beat all the workers — but spared the sisters. How would you feel if you are standing and your two neighbors are beaten up — cold blooded? That was our experience!”

It is the same kind of sister’s La Tondeña conversion that radicalized many clerics and middle-class students during martial law, giving the party a huge corps of college-educated cadres, who were obviously much more intellectually equipped compared to the workers that the communist dogma said would lead the revolution.

The party has actually been artificially creating situations for La Tondeña-type of communist conversions to this day, inviting young student activists to the NPA’s guerrilla areas to see “Philippine reality” on the ground.

How could a Catholic nun, a believer in a God, be at the same time a member of the Communist Party, known to be an atheist organization that is a believer in Karl Marx? It would surprise many that, reflecting Sison’s astuteness, the Communist Party constitution says nothing about “God,” nor does it put atheism as a condition for membership.

Sister Mary John herself implied her explanation when she said in an article on her: “If something you find compatible becomes incompatible, you’re making artificial contradictions. That I am a nun and that I am the head of a militant women’s organization? Well I am! So, what’s the problem?”

It is personalities like Sister Mary John that have been the gems of the Communist Party. She is cheerful and very friendly, with a self-deprecating humor. She has served as president of St. Scholastica’s College, as prioress — or the highest ranking official — of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in the Manila Priory and as national chairman of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines. How much more credibility could a communist partisan have? Without partisans like Sister who act as the Party’s shield and vocal defenders, the communist insurgency would have long ended.

As head of a college, how many young minds has she — and through its teachers really compelled to comply with her framework — molded to view the government as always corrupt and anti-poor, an integral element of communist propaganda?

I know the Communist Party probably more than sister does, its crimes and ruthlessness, all justified in its theology of “revolutionary justice and necessity.”

I cannot fathom why she cannot see the horrors committed by the communists, the unnecessary deaths numbering in the tens of thousands since it was founded in 1968, its unceasing obstruction of Philippine development that could eradicate poverty. She is not as invested in the revolution as most of my old comrades still with the party are since she could very easily live her other ego as an accomplished Benedictine nun.

Three decades ago, I admired sister for her dedication to the revolution. But the world has changed since that time, exposing the organization and its people like Sison that espouses it, not only to be delusional in their refusal to see the world as it has changed, but as self-seeking as the capitalist elites they say need to be overthrown.

Claiming to serve the people yet help an organization commit horrors against Filipinos isn’t an artificial contradiction Sister Mary John can dismiss in a facetious manner.

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