How communists captured Church clergy and schools

THIS is the fourth of a series publishing articles from a rather remarkable blog by Roberto (“Beto”) Reyes narrating his experience in the communist movement.  We owe this patriot – and skillful writer – for providing us with rich material for future historians to source for this crucial part of our history.

In this part, Reyes details how the Communist Party organizers used worldviews and language that are not Maoist to recruit clergy and active laymen of the Catholic Church into their fronts, to later easily draft them – after experiencing ‘state violence’ —  to join the party’s armed struggle.  This part also narrates the party’s modus operandi, as it were, in convincing even the religious to join their atheist organization, which continues to this day.

Reyes’ blog:

“Although the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) plans for expanding in the student sector emphasized penetrating existing religious youth groups, it did try, through National Democratic Front-Youth and Students Sector (NDF-YS), to utilize its church assets to set up its own youth organizing unit.

Formed in early 1976, the group was called ‘Committee for the Conscientization of Youth’ (CCY). The mission of the CCY, as decided in its first meetings, was to raise the critical awareness of, or ‘conscientize’ youth in schools and communities. It would do so by conducting ‘conscientization seminars.’ 

Anakpawis behind them, of course. (Photo: United Methodist Church News Service)

Also called ‘structural analysis’ seminars, these discussions were designed to raise the youth’s social awareness, and discreetly push them to organize their ranks against martial law. They also served to softly introduce the participants to Marxism, the easier for CPP operatives to pluck them out for recruitment. Advanced seminars made use of Antonio Gramsci’s*ideas. 

The term conscientization was articulated by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire’s pedagogy, especially its class analysis, is Marxist. Freire’s Marxism is best gleaned in his idea of developing critical consciousness (conscientização), which encompasses not only understanding social and political contradictions, but also willful action to resolve these contradictions. Freire’s framework evolved from his experience in adult literacy work among Brazilian sugarcane workers in 1962.  

These early CCY meetings were attended by a CPP cadre, two CPP contacts who were in the administration of an exclusive girls’ school in Manila**, a CPP female cadre in the religious sector, and an Irish Columban priest who was also a CPP contact.

It was the CPP cadre who initiated the meetings. His original idea was the formation of an inter-university alliance. The meetings were held in the secure confines of the exclusive school. Sometimes the group met at the old Asian Social Institute (ASI) building on Leon Guinto St. in Manila. 

Christians for National Liberation

At that time, many persons in the Philippine religious sector had already been radicalized by martial law. These militant priests, nuns, pastors, and seminarians were members of the CPP controlled underground organization called ‘Christians for National Liberation’ (CNL). The latter was formed in an emotional ceremony on Feb. 17, 1972, in front of a Gomburza monument in Manila. [The CNL was organized mainly and led by then Society of the Divine Word priest Edicio de la Torre, who was captured in 1974 and spent nine years in prison.]

Many of these Filipino religious were educators, social action directors, community organizers, or otherwise had jobs which exposed them to widespread poverty or brazen human rights violations. In the course of their respective vocations, they were introduced to Left theory via Peruvian Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez’s book Theology of Liberation. They accepted Marxism when they made contact with CPP cadres in the few years leading up to martial law.

When they formed the CNL in 1972, many of them were already CPP members. The CNL sent many of its members and mass supporters to attend the last protest rally before martial law was announced, held on Sept. 21, 1972, in Plaza Miranda. These religious activists became the mainstays of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), which was at the forefront of the legal opposition to martial law.

To be able to operate openly under martial law, some CNL members used legally acceptable terms to popularize Marxist analysis, and the term ‘conscientization’ was one of the more useful ones.

Another popular term was ‘Basic Christian Communities Organizing.’ NDF-YS, in its effort to broaden the student movement, decided that getting the participation of these radical church people was a viable option. NDF-YS scouted for religious activists who had natural ties to students, like being school administrators and teachers. They had the perfect legal cover and thus ideal members of CCY.

CCY Founding

These early CCY meetings tackled the problem of how to camouflage CPP youth organizing seminars under a religious cover. One of the CPP contacts, who was a nun, suggested the catchword ‘conscientization,’ which was then rapidly spreading among Filipino religious radicals.

The other CPP contact, a comely young woman who was in charge of the exclusive school’s student affairs department, suggested the creation of a pool of educators which would conduct youth conscientization seminars when on call.

The core activity of the CCY, she proposed, was to conduct conscientization seminars, with its secondary job being the setting up of CCY chapters all over the Philippines. After a few more meetings, the group agreed on the orientation, activities, and name of the proposed group. The CPP cadre must have been the one who suggested the name CCY.

The exclusive girls’ school was selected as the CCY’s temporary headquarters. 

Once CCY was finalized, the CPP cadre made contact with NDF-YS, which eventually took CCY under its wing, in behalf of the CPP. It was then arranged for one member of NDF-YS to become a member of CCY.  [The ‘exclusive girls’ school was St. Scholastica’s College in Manila. – RDT]

Structural analysis

The standard CCY conscientization seminar was called a ‘structural analysis’ seminar. In the radical religious circles of the time, the euphemism was the accepted way of cloaking Marxist analysis.

Each seminar was attended by about 20 to 30 students at a given time. These students were considered by CCY as having ‘low social consciousness,’ but open to ‘social awareness raising.’ They were prospective activists or even potential CPP cadres and members. After the CCY group leaves the seminar’s venue, it was envisioned, local CPP organizers would befriend and organize them, for eventual integration into the movement.  

The facilitator usually gave an initial lecture on the three main structures of Philippine society, namely the economic, political, and cultural systems. Sometimes a fourth system was included, which was the religious system. After this lecture, the facilitator breaks up the group into workshops, with each workshop being assigned to discuss a specific system.

Each workshop was instructed to list down as many random facts as possible about the Philippines that they deem would fall under the system assigned to them. Those assigned to the political system, for example, would list down martial law, the armed forces, habeas corpus, ‘salvaging,’ the Supreme Court, barangays, and so on. 

Those assigned to the economic system would list down things like the Laurel-Langley trade agreement, high prices of food, foreign investments, and so on. Lastly, those assigned to the cultural and/or the religious system would list down the Catholic Church, Cardinal Sin, the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, the mass media, Thrilla in Manila, and so on.

Marxist analysis

The workshops were then told to write their output with marking pens on large pieces of Manila paper and report these to the entire seminar group. The workshop reports were taped to a wall or to a blackboard for everyone to see. The reporters often read the reports with much enthusiasm. After the workshop reports, it was the turn of the facilitator to ‘interpret’ the data.

It is at this point that he/she injects Marxist analysis into the seminar. He/she weaves the abundant data into a summation that mirrors the CPP analysis of the Philippine situation, and the courses of action the CPP prescribes. It takes considerable skill to do this, as the facilitator has to be careful with the words he/she uses, or he/she endangers the security of the whole group.

The facilitator tells the group that the economic system is the ‘determinant’ system which influences the other systems. However, he/she points out that meaningful change for social justice happens in the political system and this needs collective action by the people. The cultural system, on the other hand, is where a change in consciousness happens, which leads to or inspires the collective action desired.

Gramsci

Sometimes, when the CCY facilitator reckoned it was safe enough, he/she injected Antonio Gramsci’s critique of the cultural system. For some reason, Gramsci, an Italian communist leader, was very acceptable to Filipino religious radicals at the time. Likewise, Gramsci’s name was deemed by many religious to be safe enough to use openly, as it was unfamiliar to the authorities, and not associated with the CPP.

Gramsci’s ‘cultural hegemony’ theory was very useful in telling the participants how the dominant classes used the cultural system to justify the local and national status quo. The CCY facilitator also used Gramsci’s theory of ‘organic intellectuals’ in encouraging the participants that they can become intellectuals even without going through formal schooling. 

All told, the skillfull CCY facilitator, by using non-activist terminology and a host of other subterfuges, subtly introduced the participants to the analysis, political program, and calls to action of the CPP.

The ‘conscientized’? (Photo: Pulitzer Center)

In March 1976, CCY, using the CPP underground network, was a able to hold a well-attended, two-day Metro Manila-wide inter-university conference. It was held at the AMSRP’s Sisters Formation Institute (SFI) in San Juan, Metro Manila, with Sr. Mary John Mananzan OSB giving the keynote address.

More than 120 student leaders from different universities in the region attended. History will look to this conference as the first Left-organized student conference under martial law. The first student congress under martial law was not organized by the Left — it was initiated by the government’s Department of Education and Culture (DEC) on Dec. 26-29, 1975, in Baguio City.

The conference predictably issued resolutions against martial law, and in favor of student rights and welfare. The main demands were the restoration of student councils and press freedom for student publications. This is not to say, however, that the deliberations were smooth sailing for the CCY.

Most of those who attended were mustered by the CPP SGYS through its underground facilities. However, since the conference was announced openly, quite a few non-CPP contacts or ‘walk-in’ participants registered, paid the conference fee, and participated in the sessions. Many of these new contacts were not anti-Left, and so were soon on good terms with the CCY, and supported the conference resolutions.

The CCY also published a militant newsletter titled Conscientizer. CCY designated one of its contacts in the exclusive girls school, a philosophy professor, as the newsletter’s editor. It came out in mid-1977. Out of the normal, CCY decided that the paper be militant in tone, as it was supporting a sudden upsurge of student anger. 

Subversive

Conscientizer managed to come out only three times though, due to CCY’s limited means. Five thousand copies were printed of every issue that managed to come out, and openly distributed in the University Belt. CCY had a hard time looking for a printing house that would accept the Conscientizer, as the contents were patently subversive.

All three issues were devoted to heralding the wave of class boycotts that hit the University Belt and South of Pasig areas in that period. The class boycotts were sparked by tuition fee increases, and at its peak spread like wildfire. The anger lasted a whole semester and garnered for the CPP many members and mass supporters. The boycott campaign was coordinated by MR’s SGYS, with the CCY giving propaganda support through Conscientizer.

After more than two years of operations, CCY folded up in early 1978, when NDF-YS abandoned the concept. NDF-YS concentrated instead on using existing youth groups in the Catholic and Protestant sectors. It was decided that this method was more cost-effective. The existing youth groups already had seminar teams of their own, had ready-made logistics like headquarters, equipment and staff, and had more reliable funding.

CCY succeeded in getting substantial funding from two foreign funding agencies. One avid CCY benefactor was a prominent Australia-based Catholic funding agency. However, more than 50 percent of the funds were appropriated or ‘centralized’ by the CPP.

During its existence, CCY managed to conduct conscientization seminars in several places in Luzon and the Visayas. Many of those who participated in these seminars were turned over by the CCY to the local activist network. Quite a few later became active CPP members or natdem activists.”

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