During the final years of the Martial Law era in the Philippines, massive dissatisfaction with President Marcos’s brutal dictatorship prompted thousands of idealistic young Filipinos to align themselves with the Philippines’ various rebel fronts. Most joined up with the leftist revolutionaries of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA), and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Known collectively as “the Movement,” these outlaw organizations were, by the mid-‘80s, increasing in strength from month to month, and drawing ever closer to their ultimate goal: the overthrow of the Marcos regime, along with the entire capitalistic governmental system of the Republic of the Philippines.
But even as the Movement’s vision of a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist reordering of the state seemed drawing near its realization, some knot in the skein seemed to come undone. The psychological strain of decades of constant secrecy – with the ever-present fear of butchery at the hands of the police and military, had taken its toll on the underground leadership. They gave way to anti-infiltrator paranoia, and the Movement began to devour its children.
The purges took place in secret locations and under a veil of silence, and for this reason they remain little understood by anyone who was not an anti-Marcos communist agitator in those years. As it happens, PBCI partner Jun Aparece was an agitator. The purges changed the course of his activist career and left wounds in his heart, as in the hearts of all who survived those bloody years of suspicion and betrayal. We have written previously about Jun’s lifetime of political activism and his insights into Filipino history, grassroots organizing, and the campaign for just peace in Mindanao – all subjects of special interest to us at PBCI. Now we continue Jun’s story where our first installment left off, with the sudden closure of the Iligan labor center where Jun had been organizing strikes for the United Workers of Lanao.
It was 1985, at the height of the purges. “There were cut ties,” he tells us, “because the purge was very strong.” Jun and his fellow activists in the labor center found themselves cast adrift by the revolution when their lines of communication with the CPP were severed. Other young revolutionaries were faring much worse. “Many of my contemporaries who were serious activists – who were serious revolutionaries – were brought to kangaroo court trial by the CPP, and they were thought to be influenced by the military, police. ‘Deep Penetrating Agents.’ They were executed.”
The phenomenon of mass infiltration by government-trained Deep Penetrating Agents (DPAs) into the ranks of the Movement was essentially a figment of the CPP leadership’s imaginations. Some of Jun’s former comrades have closely examined the records and evidence, and “if there were DPAs, maybe one or two. Most of those who were victimized were innocent.” But the Movement’s context did not lend itself to sober judgment or due process. “We were an underground movement, so our security depended on one another. Those in the top leadership of the Movement said there were DPAs. They were afraid for their own security.” Vigilance against infiltrators was one of the basic revolutionary principles that the Movement imparted to its young recruits. “In the Movement we had the Dictum of Constant Mistrust. … You’re a comrade. I’m close to you. But we sleep together with the other eye open.” In such an environment, suspicion swiftly became certainty, condemnation, and execution.
Jun believes that his friend and mentor Marcel Roxas fell victim to the DPA mania. Marcel was a brilliant student from the University of the Philippines (UP) and a gifted organizer. He joined the Movement almost a decade ahead of Jun, making him a respected elder in what was essentially a youth revolution. At Mindanao State University Iligan, Marcel helped organize the campus chapter of the outlawed Kabataan Makabayan communist youth organization, into which Jun was inducted, and it was Marcel who recommended Jun for the posting at the Iligan labor center. At the height of Martial Law, Marcel worked to revive the student councils and newspapers of Mindanao’s college campuses, which the dictator had banned.Then he disappeared.
Jun and his companions did their best to piece together the story of Marcel’s last day. It seems that he was travelling by bus from Davao City to his home in Iligan when, somewhere around Butuan City, he vanished without a trace. “Our theory was that he was intercepted by the NPA, and he was suspected of being a DPA. But his dead body was not recovered.”
Like the biographies of so many young Filipino campaigners, Marcel’s ends in silence, an unfilled blank, with no last words, no note to his family, no body. And there is no way of calculating what the future of the Philippines lost with the destruction of so many activists, idealists, and campaigners whose careers were just beginning. Many who joined the Movement during Martial Law did so not out of devotion to Marx and Lenin, but because the leftists seemed to offer the best hope of ousting the dictator and rescuing the beleaguered Filipino people. Today the campaign for peace and equality in Mindanao is filled with former revolutionaries, now working to reform societal systems from within rather than overthrowing them, but still driven by the same love of country which impelled their activities in the 80’s.
But for every Jun Aparece campaigning for peace in Mindanao with organizations like All Out Peace, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, and PBCI, there is a Marcel Roxas, who cannot join in the campaign, and whose absence the cause can little afford. This tragic realization reminds PBCI why we categorically reject armed struggle as a means to achieve justice or societal reform. In the Movement’s example we see how even the most nobly motivated endeavor will destroy itself and cause untold misery when it once decides that individual lives can be sacrificed for the good of the nation. Of course, national governments are as liable to this error as rebel movements. So as we consider the “anti-terrorist” and “security” operations of our national governments, we remember that “anti-DPA” began with the desire for security, and it ended by severely damaging the Movement’s reputation and effectiveness, and killing people whom the Philippines dearly needs today.