Second of 3 parts
EXCERPTS from Gregg Jones’ ‘Red Revolution’:
In mid-August 1971, CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) central committee member Reuben Guevarra arrived in Manila for discussions with party officials. Guevarra was a member of the CPP’s powerful military commission and was the political officer in charge of the northern Luzon region, which included the Isabela guerrilla front.
At dusk on August 21, central committee member Manuel Collantes picked up Guevarra and drove him to a communist safe house in a comfortable middle-class subdivision of Parañaque, a Manila suburb. Guevarra was greeted by Sison, politburo member Hermenigildo Garcia, and another politburo member who headed the party’s organizational department.
Sison talked in general terms about something significant that was about to happen. “We are going to execute a delicate plan that will intensify the split between the ruling class to the point that they are going to kill each other,” he explained to Guevarra. When Sison finished speaking, one of his politburo colleagues took over. “Those people who will execute the plan will be assigned in your place [in Isabela]. You must take care of them ideologically and politically.”
The politburo member closed with a warning for Guevarra: The Plaza Miranda plot was not to be discussed under any circumstances with anybody else in the party, even with other central committee members. If anyone were found to have divulged details of the secret plan, he or she would be punished most severely. Minutes after the meeting in the Parañaque safe house broke up, Danny Cordero and two accomplices carried out the “delicate operation,” throwing at least three grenades at the Plaza Miranda stage filled with Liberal Party officials.
Guevarra awoke the next morning to find newspapers filled with gory photographs and accounts of the previous evening’s bloody bombing, but he was not particularly troubled. Although the bombing was bloody and violent, the party’s political line called for the seizure of political power through armed struggle. The Plaza Miranda attack was merely an extension of the armed struggle in the countryside, Guevarra reasoned.
After breakfast, Guevarra boarded a bus for Isabela and made his way to the NPA’s headquarters camp in the Sierra Madre foothills. Immediately after the bombing, Cordero disappeared from his district in the northern Manila suburbs. Three days later, he turned up in an NPA camp in Isabela. Cordero, his two accomplices in the Plaza Miranda bombing — Cecil Apostol and a party activist named Danny — and a few other NPA recruits were assigned to military training under Corpus. Despite strict orders never to speak of Plaza Miranda, occasionally Cordero and the two accomplices alluded to their role in the attack. “It became common knowledge among the small group I was training that Cordero and the other two were the ones who did Plaza Miranda,” Corpus told me.
In mid-1972, NPA forces in northern Luzon were ordered to assemble in the Sierra Madre foothills to prepare for the arrival of an arms shipment from China. When the NPA units set out for the rendezvous in the northern mountains, Cordero was left in charge of a small contingent of guerrillas remaining behind to continue political work in the villages of southern Isabela. Unaware of the arms shipment already en route, Cordero began criticizing the order to pool NPA forces, which he thought was an overreaction to government military offensives.
He became outspoken in his condemnation of Isabela party officials and even floated the idea of deposing them. Cordero bragged that he had the confidence of the highest party leaders and to prove it told some of his colleagues about his role in the Plaza Miranda bombing. He even demonstrated how he had tossed the grenade at the platform filled with Liberal Party officials.
Word of Cordero’s insubordination quickly reached Reuben Guevarra. Guevarra was concerned about Cordero’s rebellious talk, but he was far more disturbed by Cordero’s disclosures about Plaza Miranda. He recalled the instructions he had been given during his briefing on the delicate operation: Anyone who spoke of Plaza Miranda was to be dealt with most severely. Guevarra immediately convened a military tribunal and drafted a list of charges against Cordero.
Leading the bill of indictment was the accusation that Cordero had been inciting his command to rebel against the CPP leadership and that he had sabotaged the Karagatan operation. Most importantly, Cordero was slandering the party by claiming responsibility for the Plaza Miranda bombing. The trial got under way in the Isabela forest near the town of San Mariano in early July.
Ariel Almendral, at the time a political cadre assigned with the NPA, had been appointed to defend Cordero. Realizing he was fighting for his life, Cordero argued passionately in his defense. He swore that he had not been lying when he said he had bombed the Liberal Party rally under orders from high party officials. Of the tribunal members, only Guevarra knew that Cordero was telling the truth. Guevarra took no chances, packing the tribunal with his loyalists. Cordero’s guilt was easily agreed upon, but the tribunal deadlocked when it tried to fix punishment. Four members argued that Cordero should be executed. Four urged a lesser punishment.
Guevarra held the tie-breaking vote. During a recess, Guevarra gathered the tribunal members and made his case: Cordero was dangerous to the revolution, a rebel who had broken the party’s sacred principles of iron discipline and democratic centralism; his execution would be for the good of the revolution. Guevarra’s lobbying swayed one of the members to change his mind, and the tribunal voted 6-3 (including Guevarra’s vote in favor of death) to execute Cordero. In a gesture of party solidarity, a juror who had opposed the death sentence, Elizabeth Principe, volunteered to carry out the execution. Cordero was led deeper into the forest. When they stopped, Principe pressed the muzzle of a.38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver to Cordero’s head and pulled the trigger.
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