THE photos posted on Facebook of University of the Philippines student Rona Manalo, smiling on the left and then as a corpse, killed in a firefight with Marines last September 3 in Palawan, are heart-wrenching. There have been many like her in recent years, such as Recca Noelle Monte, a UP engineering student also killed in battle on Sept. 4, 2014, with Army troopers in some forgotten mountain in Abra.
The bell could have tolled for me. I was their age when I was recruited to the Communist Party and sent to Samar to organize what would have been some of the first New People’s Army (NPA) units. I am grateful to my sensitive stomach for living this long: I couldn’t stand the diet of coconut meat and bugas-mais staple and asked to be deployed to Manila.
That was a lifetime ago. In this day and age, why would these teenagers — with fruitful, happy lives in front of them — choose to die for a political movement that has incontrovertibly failed after 52 years of trying and after tens of thousands of innocent lives sacrificed in the altar of “the god that failed?”
That in fact is the title of a book made up of six essays written by four former true believers of communism way back in 1949, which powerfully explained why they abandoned the communist movement.
One of the essayists, Arthur Koestler, wrote a more scathing earlier condemnation of communism in his 1940 book Darkness at Noon.
I read the book in a solitary cell we called bartolina at a high-security political prison euphemistically called Youth Rehabilitation Center in Fort Bonifacio during martial law. The book made me realize that the ruthlessness of the Bolsheviks depicted by Koestler, their justification for it as “revolutionary justice” was not much different from that of their Filipino counterparts who could undertake such a despicable act —and blame it on Marcos, just to trigger “revolutionary flow” — as the Plaza Miranda bombing of Aug. 21, 1971 — 12 years before another historic event occurred on the same date, Ninoy Aquino’s assassination.
For chrissake, that was 47 years ago, and the world has changed so much. So many things have indisputably proven as clear as day that the Leninist-Maoist dream turned out to be a nightmare.
The first communist beacon that was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had imploded three decades ago, and all its former states have junked Marxism-Leninism. China is no longer Maoist, but a single-party system government by a nationalist corp.
Long gone are the icons whose lives we were reliving as if in some movie like Che Guevarra, Commander Gonzalo of the Peruvian Shining Path, and, yes, Commander Dante. Dante’s successors, the legendary Romy Kintanar of Mindanao and the fiery Popoy Lagman, were killed by the Communist Party itself. In the 1970s we were comrades of the Viet Cong and thought that its victory in 1975 foreshadowed that of the NPA.
That was long, long ago. So why on earth would these young, idealist students still be fooled by and give up their lives for the god that failed? “She was intelligent, or else she would not have been admitted to the UP,” Rona’s uncle sadly remarked.
The biggest culprit of course is Jose Ma. Sison, the architect of the Plaza Miranda bombing, who has lived comfortably in one of the richest nations on earth for the past 34 years. It is Sison who has managed to continuously churn out the propaganda — over two dozen books, never mind if these were basically plagiarisms of the Indonesian communist ideologue D.N. Aidit — that have been so expertly done that they have fooled young people for five decades.
As guilty as Sison and his gang though, are the Red or Pink cowards, and armchair revolutionaries who have been directly or indirectly the recruiters of Rona and Recca to be sacrificed to the failed god.
These are the Marxist-Leninists and Maoists who see themselves as revolutionaries yet either have been afraid to risk their lives fighting in the mountains, couldn’t leave their mostly middle-class lives, or had tired of the hard life of an NPA officer.
Many drifted to the academe — still the UP or the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, which had been Sison’s original recruiting grounds — to disseminate the party’s propaganda and the cultural milieu to eventually brainwash young idealists like Rona and Recca. One venue for them also are the nongovernment organizations, devoted to this or that sector or issue, with being a party-list representative as their dream.
For instance, few at the UP know that my “commissar” at the party, the late Monico Atienza, was a top Politburo member, third in the hierarchy, after Sison and the general secretary, the late Jose Luneta. Although he was no longer in the party loop, Atienza was an instructor at UP’s Pilipino Department, still espousing Marxism-Leninism.
A former top NPA commander was a full professor and headed one UP academic center. He was chairman of UP’s mass media college, had been one of Sison’s early comrades and a founder of Sison’s first mass organization, the Kabataang Makabayan. No wonder we’ve had so many young anti-government media people.
How could UP not maintain a culture that joining being a communist or an NPA is being ‘”progressive” and nationalist when Francisco Nemenzo, Sison’s close comrade in the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, had been UP Visayas chancellor, Arts and Sciences College dean, and finally president of the entire UP system. Dodong’s fondness for cognac is matched only by his undying belief in Marxism.
One example in the “legal struggle” was a cadre whom we at the Manila-Rizal party committee had ordered deployed to Samar right after martial law, following the Politburo’s orders to leave only a skeletal force in urban areas and deploy most of our organization to fill the ranks of the NPA.
That cadre begged off, claiming she had asthma or couldn’t leave her parents. She rose through the ranks of Bayan Muna to become its chairman for many years, while living an upper-middle-class life in a gated subdivision since her husband was a capitalist, and even had a summer home in the south. This communist ironically even has a column in the country’s paper devoted to capitalist endeavors. Especially as she was comely, she no doubt inspired many young women like Rona and Recca to join the revolution and get killed there.
An activist and political prisoner in the early 1970s (although I don’t know if he was a party member), multi-awarded writer Jose Dalisay spent his working life as a professor at the UP, the head of the English department, and UP’s vice president for public affairs when he retired in 2019.
In a speech that mainly blasted police allegations that the NPA was recruiting gullible students of the UP into its ranks, Dalisay articulated the thinking of these academics who help fool young people into Joma’s death march:
“Is UP a recruiting ground for rebels? The only sane and honest way of answering this is to say of course it is; it always is. It’s no big secret that rebellion and resistance are coded into UP’s DNA, because we have always encouraged critical thinking, which in turn encourages an attitude of dissidence, of anti-authoritarianism, of rejection of the status quo.”
Strip Dalisay’s statements of its wordsmith, and he is telling young minds of the UP: “If you want to join the NPA, that’s great and very laudable. It’s your destiny if you are a real UP student. “
How do you think that kind of rhetoric would affect the decision of youths at a period in their lives when they are still seeking for meaning, the Ronas and Reccas of UP?
Unfortunately, there are no academics and organizations in the UP now bold enough to tell the students there: “You will die in that useless, ruthless movement. Maoism has been dead decades ago.”
And then just as worse as these are the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rappler and the late ABS-CBN Corp., which continue to romanticize the NPA. That is another story.
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