Alfred Guanlao Simbulan (April 18, 1955 – September 17, 2016)
Ka Arman is Alfred Guanlao Simbulan in legal life. But I would not want to detach from his person the connotation of “Ka” in his nom de guerre, which connotation is, a high level of commitment for the liberation of the working class.
Born to a cultured family, his early schooling was a veritable itinerary of travel, from the Holy Family Academy and the St. Theresa’s in Baguio City, to the Campbell Primary School and Turner Primary School in Canberra, Australia, and back to the Philippines at the Marist Elementary School in Marikina City where he eventually graduated and proceeded to pursue his high school studies too.
Ka Arman was among the first batch of students at the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of the Philippines-Manila Extension when martial law was declared in September 1972. Given his intellectual upbringing, he was one who could never be given to tyranny, and it went without saying that he would form part of the underground struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, albeit in his characteristic quiet way. Meek in mien, he would not engage in bravura as would many a grandstanding activist who did their Marxist acts for show, but deep in thinking, his was an extremely incisive mind that could cut you up into shreds to reveal the roots of your pretenses. This quality about him would, in the course of his integration into the mainstream of the proletarian revolutionary struggle, cut him best for intelligence work.
He finished his college studies in due time, graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Arts, Major in History, then went on to pursue post-graduate studies in Public Administration, but he no longer got his masters done. The intensifying proletarian revolution for the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship beckoned and subjected him to the supreme test: Was he to serve himself or was he to serve the revolution? He got out of college and went deep into the mass struggle. How deep is not the subject of this piece at this point.
It took our friend Taba from far away United States to first get us informed that Ka Arman had passed away last Saturday from heart attack. His better half Nymia must have taken time collecting herself from the grief wrought by his passing so that she could not go texting everybody about the sad occasion all at the same time. As Nymia revealed during the viewing at the St. Peter’s Chapel the other day, Ka Arman first had heart attack at age 22 after they got married in 1977. That was followed by another one, in 2006, resulting in an angioplasty operation. The operation extended Ka Arman’s life by ten years more, though Nymia attributes the extension to the fact that that was after Ka Arman had retired from public service (he served as a member of the legislative staff of Congressman Bonifacio Gillego and as Chief of Staff of Juan Miguel Zubiri for three terms of the now-senator’s tenure as congressman).
Now, how do I word my own sorrow on Ka Arman’s demise? We’ve shared a life of struggle for attaining the dream of socialism and communism in the Philippines so vast, so varied, so manifold that it would be injustice even to just try fitting his revolutionary accomplishments into the oh, so constricted space of one column.
Ka Arman was a quiet, soft-spoken, utterly self-effacing man. This makes it doubly difficult to picture his revolutionary exploits in the eyes of a nation so lamentably hooked on media hype and a non-ceasing fetish for idolatry of false gods and fake heroes.
And yet, Ka Arman, by all reckoning, was a hero in thoughts, words and deeds.
I first met Ka Arman in 1985 when he was brought to my Antipolo farm by Kumander Bilog (Rodolfo Salas), then the Chairman both of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the Party’s Military Commission. He was a small fellow, with slim physique and an unassuming mien that would make you think he was just the Chairman’s valet. Actually, as things would turn out, he was head of, I was told “the N2” of the General Staff of the New People’s Army (NPA). By the strict compartmentalization policy in the Party, I had steeped myself in the habit of not inquiring about things in the Party and in the Army that I should not know about, and as to what “N2” meant, I did not ask about. Anyway, as things would turn out again, having been introduced to me by no less than the top leader of the revolution, like good old soldiers, I took Ka Arman hook, line and sinker, so to speak, and when he got me scouting for well-placed personalities to compose a special intelligence unit of the NPA General Command, I knew I was in the right track.
Thus came about the SIU (Special Intelligence Unit), a top confidential group, directly responsible and known only to the NPA General Command. Its task was to carry out a number of components of the Rolando Kintanar (NPA Chief)-advocated Nicaragua type of seizing political power mainly through city insurrection. This approach was a radical breach of the Jose Maria Sison line of protracted struggle, which called for surrounding the city from the countryside in a never-ending circular motion, like a wheel gone haywire. As we all know, RK (Kintanar) was gunned down in 2003 in an assassination to which, through his spokesman Ka Roger, Sison owned up. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Promptly obeying Ka Arman’s order, I got a friend, Ka Dave, quite well placed in the media, agreeing to be a member of SIU. A Central Luzon entrepreneur, Ka Jake, recommended by Antonio Cabardo, NPA General Command Intelligence Chief, was the third member, and the completion, of the SIU formation.
Only after a long period of building confidence between us did I come to know Ka Arman’s legal status. He was a son of Dr. Dante Simbulan, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines). This knowledge sort of built up in me sentimental camaraderie with Ka Arman. In 1972, a May Day Revolutionary Committee was formed to conduct a workers rally for the celebration of Labor Day. The rally was to send notice to Marcos that he was up against militant opposition from the workers sector — with massive backing by youth and students, peasants, middle forces, and national bourgeoisie — if he went ahead with declaring martial law. MASAKA leader Felixberto Olalia was Chairman of the Committee, I was General Secretary, being national Secretary of the Katipunan ng mga Samahan ng mga Manggagawa (KASAMA). And Committee Vice Chairman was Ka Arman’s father, Dr. Dante Simbulan.
Ka Arman, therefore, had a way of strengthening a camaraderie begun in struggle more than a decade ago at the time. That set the tone for a long lasting fraternal relationship between us. In due time, I got him ninong (godfather) of my youngest child Ogie, and when Ogie got married in 2013, Ka Arman was ninong again. Can you beat that? From infancy of my youngest up to that infant’s building of his own family, Ka Arman continued to stand as his godfather.
How friendship can truly last.
Of course, that, let alone the great proletarian spirit that was the true binding force between us. That spirit would account for the success of many a revolutionary operation he planned and got us, the SIU, and an elite squad of the N3 executing.
One operation successfully raised money the value of which Ka Arman placed at “enough to fund the Army.” At the time, the NPA already stood at 25,000 regulars (in my recent visit with Bilog, he corrected it to 23,000), 500,000 armed militia and an undetermined number of armed propaganda units.
That fund-raising accomplished, SIU proceeded to carry out the task of casing the Batasang Pambansa as a main component for the grand push to power grab. Sticking to the policy of compartmentalization, Ka Arman never went into telling us details of the power grab plan. SIU exposure to the plan was limited to doing a miniature of the Batasan building for providing to combatants whose stations prior to actual operations were the countryside, more specifically, NPA mountain camps. Ka Arman’s specific instruction was to make the Batasan miniature sufferable by the elements, i.e. rain, and the wear and tear from transport in vehicles, and on foot in rugged terrain. From these specifications, SIU did not find cardboard suited as material for the miniature; best would be wood. And so SIU elements whose expertise, in the case of Ka Dave and myself, was pounding computer keyboard, and in the case of Ka Jake, cash registers, ended up doing a job that should be a specialty of seasoned carpenters. We could not delegate the work to any other lest we leaked information on a plan so delicate as to hang on the balance the life of the nation.
Finally, after so many nights of working, the miniature was ready for presentation to the approving authority, who else but Jose Maria Sison, who, however, was in prison at the time together with Bernabe Buscayno, aka Kumander Dante. So who I presented the miniature to was Juliet Delima, cousin of currently controversy-beleaguered Senator Leila, and wife of Sison.
I thought it was a great deal, me presenting SIU work to the virtual Dowager of the practically dead Philippine Communist Sovereign, brought to my Antipolo bamboo-and-nipa house by Cabardo. Very soon in the presentation, however, I realized the lady was hohumming (a word coined here in the tradition of Noynoying, which the computer would redmark for being incorrect.) Sleeping, in other words. Under the circumstances, what else could I do but abbreviate my performance? That done, Juliet snapped off her nap, rose from her seat in a manner of the prima donna Ishmael Bernal walking out on Mother Lily as a snub for her late arrival at their lunch date.
Carbardo, flashing his wide, ever taunting smile, said curtly, “Paano?”
Juliet continued her regal gait down the stairs of the attic where I did the presentation, similarly curtly replying, “Tingnan natin.”
Ka Arman’s narrative on what took place as a consequence of this episode would make for the Philippines’ greatest what-might-have-been.