ninoy’s politics: “The Filipino As Dissident”

In 1954 when I first established contact with Huk Supremo Luis M. Taruc, high government policymakers held as dogmatic truth that our insurgents were communist-led, if not all communists.

After my series of interviews with Taruc, I reported to President Magsaysay my basic findings: that the Huks led by Taruc were primarily agrarian reformers with valid grievances against landowners and government forces; that they were smarting from American discrimination in the recognition of guerrilla rights; that they were more socialists than “communists.” This report stirred a controversy. The President’s military advisers to a man denounced my report as “naive and totally erroneous.”

In my interviews with him, Taruc emphasized time and again that he was a socialist, a follower of the late Pedro Abad Santos, the founder of the Socialist Party of the Philippines. And as early as our first contact, I was deeply impressed by Mr. Taruc’s religious faith.

In all my dialogues with dissident field commanders in Luzon, I never met one who really understood the basic theories of Marx and/or Lenin, or its latest variant, the so-called Mao Tse-tung Thought. Most of them admitted having undergone some schooling in the underground “Stalin universities”during the fifties and sixties where Philippine revolutionary history and basic communist theories were the major fare. But few really went beyond mouthing the shopworn formulas, the cliches regarding the evils of “imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.”

This does not mean that there are no capable communist intellectuals in our country. There are, but they have not succeeded in truly educating their mass base beyond the routine slogans and catch-phrases.

The basic cry has remained the same: Land for the landless! And a litany of real and imagined grievances against landowners, the government, the military and the local police agencies, who in the Huk’s view invariably sided with the rich in any conflict with the poor.

The Magsaysay approach to the dissident problem was effective, because he instinctively understood the basic motivations of the insurgent. He offered land to the landless. And he committed his administration to this principle, which he himself enunciated: “Those who have less in life, should have more in law.”

When offered the opportunity to own land of their own, Huk rank and filers surrendered by the hundreds. Many were resetlled in EDCOR farms hacked out of the jungles by army engineers. These are now bustling communities.

In 1956, shortly after my election as mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac, one of my first efforts was to contact the Huk leaders operating in my jurisdiction. I went to them unarmed, unescorted.

With the consent of President Magsaysay, I told them of my plans for our town and outlined my policies. I promised them free movement within my jurisdiction, freedom to proselytize and win the barrio people to their cause peacefully. I even named a barrio contact man for every barrio whom they could go to should they have any complaints or message for me. The only condition I imposed was: No killing.

PC records will bear me out. During my twelve years as mayor of Concepcion, vice governor and governor of Tarlac, Huk/HMB killings were at their lowest levels. After I left office in 1967, HMB-NPA killings increased by more than 500% — an average of 100 killings yearly, from 1968 to 1972.

Presidents Magsaysay, Garcia and Macapagal knew of my policy of “coexistence.” I briefed every incoming PC Zone commander and his staff. I told them of my willingness to engage the dissidents in open political combat. I was confident that, in any open election, our people would opt for our system of government so long as the government officials were faithful to their trust. I never lost a single political contest in Tarlac. In fact, I broke my own electoral records.

As late as 1969, the revitalized CPP/NPA fought us head-on politically. Again PC records will show that in 1969, there were three congressional candidates for Tarlac’s second district: Atty. Tomas Matic for the NP; Rep. Jose V. Yap, the incumbent, for the LP; and Atty. Max Llorente for the CPP/NPA group. It is true Atty. Max Llorente gave our LP candidate a stiff fight in the towns of Capas, Bamban and Concepcion, where the CPP/NPA cadres were strongest. But in the final tally, he trailed miserably behind our LP candidate.

Once again, we proved the validity of our policy. In an open political combat, the communists could not win popular support.

But the rebels have their usefulness to some barrio residents. Some HMB/NPA bands waged unrelenting war against cattle rustlers in areas where local police forces were lax, were unresponsive or, worse, were in connivance with the criminals.

In several land and tenancy disputes, HMB/NPA commanders invariably sided with the poor exploited farmers and brought pressure on the landowners. In some extreme cases, landowners were liquidated, especially if they proved unrepentant and recalcitrant. Rebel justice was often swift and without cost to the litigants, thus winning the respect, if not the silent support, of the unlettered peasant.

It is almost axiomatic that where the government is weak and unresponsive, the rebels are invariably strong and popular. In situations like this, the rebels are indeed the people’s army.

To this day, I still believe the mass of our dissidents can be persuaded to return to the fold if the government adopts a liberal policy of attraction and resettlement; if the government pursues a genuine, progressive land reform program that will not only give land to the tillers but assistance to the farmers to free them from the clutches of usurers; if petty corruption at the lowest level is curbed; and if the government can bring modern technology to the farmer and provide him some protection from the vagaries of nature.

In 1961, under the sponsorship of NEC-US AID, I launched Operation Spread (Systematic Program for Rural Economic Assistance and Development) in Tarlac. In less than two years, rice yields increased by 30%. New grains, like sorghum and hybridcorn, were introduced to augment the feed grains for our infant livestock industry.

In the Senate, I tried to acquaint my colleagues with the dynamics and motivations of the insurgency movement in Central Luzon to give them a better perspective of the problem. I assisted Senator Salvador H. Laurel’s Committee on Justice in its in-depth study of the dissident problem. Its report has since become a major resource paper on Philippine insurgency.

In my speeches, both in and out of Congress, I advocated a more humane approach to the dissident problem. I denounced the use of para-military units, like the Monkees, who summarily executed barrio residents suspected of NPA links. My exposes brought me into a collision course with Mr. Marcos and his military subordinates.

In May 1966, barely five months in office, Mr. Marcos branded me a “Huk coddler and sympathizer” when I, as governor of Tarlac, denounced the massacre of farmers in Barrio Culatingan, Concepcion, Tarlac, by a group of Monkees led by a PC Ranger. It is indeed an ironical twist that while I stand today charged with communist subversion, Mr. Marcos is adopting some of my recommendations in 1966: a liberal program of amnesty for returning dissidents, resettlement and a vigorous land reform program.

In 1969-1970, I joined a majority Senate group that wanted Republic Act No. 1700, the “Anti-Subversion Act,” repealed because it had not only outlived its usefulness, it was a major stumblingblock to the normalization of diplomatic relations with the socialist countries, including the two communist super-powers.

During the Senate Committee on Finance deliberations on the budget, I consistently batted for increased capital expenditures and appropriations for social services while limiting the Armed Forces outlay to no more than 10% of the total national budget. We, the Liberals, never succeeded in our efforts to keep the AFP budget below the 10% target. Year after year, we were voted down by the sheer numbers of Mr. Marcos’ Nacionalistas, after months of debates and filibusters.

Before civic audiences, I warned our people that time was running out — that if we Filipinos did not reform our society peacefully, we would be reformed violently by a communist-led upheaval.

In various speeches and writings, I urged the abolition of special privileges. I denounced government corruption in many Senate speeches, and my exposes sparked numerous Senate Blue Ribbon investigations.

Many of our countrymen have been conditioned to automatically believe that the dissidents, be they HMBs or CPP/NPAs, are not only communists or communist-led, but are evil personified. I do not believe they are per se evil. Assuming they are evil, they are a necessary evil.

Were it not for the Huks, President Magsaysay would never have pushed through Congress the landmark Rice Tenancy Act, which provided for tenants’ security of tenure and the itemization of the division of produce. Known as the 70-30 Rice Law, that law for the first time gave the tenant the sole option to remain a tenant or become a lessee.

All our Presidents have pursued social reform programs in reaction to dissident unrest. Let us go down the list:

President Quezon proclaimed his “social justice” program as a direct result of the unrest spawned by the Anak Pawis, the Colorums, the Sakdalistas and other rebel groups during the twenties and the thirties.

Presidents Roxas and Quirino had ambivalent Huk policies. But they nevertheless pursued a liberal policy towards labor — and they expropriated the so-called friar lands and other feudal estates for re-distribution to their tenants.

President Garcia pushed for more liberal labor laws in addition to his Filipino First policy.

And when Macapagal, a son of Central Luzon, was elected President, the country witnessed the enactment of the first comprehensive Land Reform Code in the Philippines, seminal though it was. Congress passed it in 1963; but only after President Macapagal had called the reluctant Congress to several special sessions, wearying the landed interests in the Senate and the House until they gave in. This is the Land Reform Code now being implemented by Mr. Marcos.

Indeed, our wealthy Filipinos have yielded only under mounting social pressure — never of their own volition. Without the Sakdals, without the Huks, without the NPAs, our toiling people would still be serfs in a kasama or land tenancy system as feudal as in any feudal state.

The dissidents, I concede, have committed many acts of murder and depredation. Many have already paid for their crimes with their lives or with long prison terms. But it must be equally admitted that because of their unremitting struggle, our society and our people’s social conditions have improved.

When the muse of history writes the Filipino saga, free of bias and prejudice, I am sure the Filipino dissident will be given his rightful share of praise and gratitude in the struggle to free and improve the lot of the Filipino poor.

I have seen young rebels die in combat. Outnumbered, they stood their ground and went bravely to their death.

I have seen many of them wearing tattered clothes, hunted like wild animals in the mountains of Tarlac, sleeping on bare earth inside sugar cane plantations with nothing more than a small plastic sheet to shelter them from the elements, going without food for days. These young men endured all hardships without complaining.

They should have been in schools studying. Yet, without compensation, they left their homes and loved ones and engaged in a lonely struggle against overwhelming odds.
Many of these young rebels died unlamented and unsung!

Yes, there were times I marvelled at their simple idealism and unalloyed courage. In their own fashion, they were patriots!

But let us not forget: This Republic was founded by rebels and insurgents who were hunted down like mad dogs in their own time. My own granfather was one of those hunted men. Some of our greatest heroes — Frs. Gomez, Burgos and Zamora; Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio — were all executed for treason. Yesterday’s traitors are today’s heroes!

Who knows but that fifty years from now, a province, a huge military camp, a major national highway, will be named after young rebels who today are branded as traitors and shot on some God-forsaken mountain.

If I have gone out of my way to meet with insurgents, if I have given them shelter and medical aid when they came to me, bleeding and near death, it was because I was convinced these dissidents were freedom-fighters first — in their own light — and if they were communists at all, they were communists last.

One of the most moving parables of Jesus Christ is the story of the Good Samaritan who helped the injured Jew, the sworn enemy of his sect. Abandoned and ignored by his fellow Jews, the wounded man was saved by his own enemy. Jesus Christ gave mankind only one commandment: Love your God and your neighbor. And to Jesus, even your worst enemy is your neighbor.

I never wanted even our worst rebels to feel isolated from government. I wanted to give them the opportunity to air their grievances to a nationally elected Senator of the Republic who would make their voices and their demands heard in the Senate.

They might have been dissidents. But to me they were brother Filipinos who deserved the right to be heard. My intention was to prevent them from becoming hopelessly desperate — and to givethem a feeling of belonging. By lending them a hand and a sympathetic ear, I wanted to hold out to them the hope for a better future.

If this is treason, if this is subversion, I am ready to be punished.”

Testament from a Prison Cell (1984)