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EXCERPTS from Gregg Jones’ ‘Red Revolution’:
The secret of Plaza Miranda might have died with Danny Cordero in the Isabela jungle if not for the troubled consciences of a few young party officials privy to the truth. Some of the CPP’s politburo members were horrified by the carnage at Plaza Miranda.
They were supposed to be fighting a people’s war against fascist landlords and greedy imperialists, not against liberal politicians. Indeed, the party was secretly working with the Liberal Party to undermine Marcos.
How, these CPP officials agonized, could such an attack on civilians — on allies — be justified? Silently, some of the communist leaders nursed serious qualms about the bombing. It was not until some months later that one of the politburo members got up the courage to discuss the subject with Sison.
In a meeting of the executive committee, Hermenigildo García 4th asked the CPP leader to admit that the Plaza Miranda attack had been a mistake. Sison vehemently defended the bombing and refused to accept any suggestions that it had been an error. García stubbornly insisted that Sison was wrong, the bombing was wrong, and they all should admit it. Rarely had any of the young party officials questioned Sison, and on the potentially devastating topic of Plaza Miranda, the Communist Party chairman was adamant: There was no mistake. Rather than force a showdown with their mentor, the others swallowed their misgivings about Plaza Miranda. The subject was laid to rest, never again to be formally resurrected within the party. Although the brief official debate died in the secret executive committee session, Plaza Miranda continued to haunt a few communist officials who knew of party culpability. Most bore the truth in troubled silence. Only one was ever moved to act.
The cadre who was the CPP Manila regional secretary at the time finally resigned from the party in the mid-1970s because of his disapproval of the bombing.* In a tactical sense, the Plaza Miranda bombing proved to be a brilliant tactical move by the Communist Party. Two days after the attack, Marcos responded with the repression that CPP leaders had anticipated. Citing a national emergency provoked by “communist subversives,” Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus and began arresting radical student and labor activists. Playing the “red scare” card further, Marcos announced the discovery of a communist “master plan” to burn Manila and assassinate government officials and private citizens.
Once again, Marcos warned that he might have to declare martial law. The escalation of ruling class contradictions predicted by Sison also came to pass. A day after suspending the writ of habeas corpus, Marcos publicly accused Benigno Aquino Jr. and five other Liberal Party leaders of having links with the New People’s Army. He cited “overwhelming” evidence of Aquino’s involvement with the communists, including supplying arms, ammunition and food to Huk and NPA forces. Marcos and his supporters even suggested that Aquino had prior knowledge of the communist plot, which purportedly explained Aquino’s absence from the Plaza Miranda stage at the moment the grenades were thrown. A year later, after months of bitter wrangling with Aquino and other political opponents, Marcos made good on his martial law threats, and the Plaza Miranda incident seemed to recede into the mist of the nation’s deepest mysteries. After Marcos fled into exile in February 1986, there were calls to reopen the Plaza Miranda investigation. But an unsolved 15-year-old bombing was scarcely a priority for a revolutionary government beset by crises, and the case remained in the archives until fall 1986.
Then, overnight, the incident became entangled in President Corazon Aquino’s worsening feud with Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and his military supporters. In early November 1986, as rumors of an impending military coup swirled, Enrile’s armed forces protégés leaked to the press copies of a letter by Victor Corpus, who had been captured by the government in 1976 and released from prison by Aquino earlier in 1986. In the letter, written to a movie scriptwriter preparing a film on his life, Corpus blamed the Plaza Miranda bombing on the communists, and said he was present when Sison and other CPP leaders had planned the attack.
On November 8, Corpus held a press conference to confirm the authenticity of the letter and publicly alleged that the CPP had carried out the bombing. Corpus’ revelations seemed only to further complicate the mystery. After all, Corpus appeared to have a motive for smearing the communists. Recently released from 10 years in prison and out of work, he wanted to rejoin the armed forces. Two days before he told his story about Plaza Miranda, Corpus was reaccepted into the military as an active reserve officer at the rank of lieutenant colonel — three ranks above the one he held before defecting to the rebels.
Without supporting evidence from any of the past and present CPP principals who knew the truth about the Plaza Miranda plot, Corpus’ disclosures fell on unsympathetic ears. The timing could not have been worse, coming amid the slow-motion power play Enrile and his military allies had set in motion. The coup plotters were hoping to manipulate Corpus’ knowledge of Plaza Miranda to benefit their campaign to cripple President Aquino. By revealing communist responsibility for the bombing, the right-wing plotters hoped to whip up support for a military move against suspected leftists and even against the government. A re-examination of Plaza Miranda would lead to new questions about whether Benigno Aquino had prior knowledge of the bombing. The military conspirators were betting that new questions about Aquino’s under-the-table dealings with the communists would undermine his widow.
From the perspective of the majority of Filipinos who supported the president in her battle with the military, however, to embrace Corpus’ allegations would have been to side with Aquino’s enemies in her hour of need. Furthermore, many Filipinos simply wanted to believe that Marcos was responsible for Plaza Miranda. It was far easier to cope with the staggering national ills by blaming Marcos for everything bad that had happened in the past 20 years
Despite the rather indifferent public reaction to the new light shed on the Plaza Miranda bombing, Corpus’ allegations rattled a skeleton that had hung quietly in the Communist Party’s closet for 15 years. Reaction was swift. Sison, on a lecture tour abroad after having been released from prison by President Aquino, issued a statement denouncing Corpus as a liar and vehemently denying his former comrade’s charges. Aboveground leftist leaders and organizations sympathetic to the revolution dismissed the Plaza Miranda allegations as a right-wing-inspired canard.
In the underground, CPP cadres suggested that Corpus was mentally unstable after 10 years in prison. Had the Plaza Miranda bombing not occurred, would Marcos have suspended the writ of habeas corpus or declared martial law? The answer is, in all likelihood, yes to both. Marcos was already scheming for ways to prolong his rule. He had floated the idea of martial law several times before Plaza Miranda and would undoubtedly have found another justification to impose it. Without the communist rebellion, however, Marcos might have found the public less acquiescent.
As one former party veteran remarked, “Marcos needed the communists, and the communists needed Marcos.” To this day, Plaza Miranda remains a troubling topic for older CPP veterans, some of whom entered the movement because of the government repression that followed the bombing and some of whom simply disagreed with the bombing on moral or ideological grounds. It is a topic rarely broached. Another CPP official who had prior knowledge of the plan to bomb Plaza Miranda told me he suffered from nightmares about the incident. I asked another former top Communist Party official why Plaza Miranda had so traumatized party members. “Because we viewed the Liberal Party as our allies. They were against Marcos, and we were against Marcos,” he replied, his voice rising. “And because of the treachery involved.” Even the generation of Filipinos in their thirties who drifted in and out of the movement in the 1970s, many of whom now count themselves as liberals and progressives independent of the CPP, are uneasy when Plaza Miranda is resurrected. “People have blocked it out of their minds,” one former party activist said. “They don’t want to believe that the party could do such a thing.”
*This party cadre was this columnist. Jones in a footnote to this wrote: “The party official alluded to the Plaza Miranda bombing in his resignation letter. The official’s resignation was first described to the author during a May 17, 1988, interview with a former CPP central committee member who read the resignation letter. In January 1989, the former Manila party secretary confirmed his resignation in a conversation with the author.
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