For the most part of the past three decades at the time, I had been undergoing a kind of catharsis, a cleansing of my perceptions of Ninoy, from blind idolatry as was that which seized the youth of the early ‘70s to vociferous questioning of his character and intentions right after the Plaza Miranda bombing. In fact, the Plaza Miranda carnage was the turning point in my private ordeal of, on the one hand – persevering in the proletarian revolutionary struggle and yet forever questioning the validity of the protracted Jose Maria Sison-led people’s war of which the workers strike movement was proclaimed to be part and parcel – and on the other hand, clinging on to that revolutionary struggle, knowing fully well that it had its beginnings in Hacienda Luisita with Ninoy Aquino, who else, as principal sponsor. After Ninoy had gathered Jose Maria Sison and Bernabe Buscayno together in 1968 came the re-establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26 that year, and the New People’s Army on March 9, 1969. (The latter date, by the way, was spoken of as a laughing matter in the recent reunion of one-time communist revolutionaries at the home of Juaning Rivera, where according to the senior rebels, the NPA was formed earlier than the CPP was established.)
Coming upon the minutes of the Senate hearing on the Plaza Miranda, I felt undergoing the ultimate cleansing of revolutionary spirits. In the hearing came up incontrovertible testimonies that Jose Maria Sison, with whom Duterte now is on the verge of concluding a peace deal, was the mastermind of it all. And whenever and wherever, in the revolutionary movement, Sison is, can Ninoy be far behind? Ninoy was right there at the start of the CPP and the NPA establishment; Ninoy shared prison quarters with Sison and Dante during their long period of incarceration from 1977 to 1981, when Ninoy flew for heart treatment to the United States. And Ninoy, though dead by the time of the EDSA Cory revolt, could still be applying pressure on Cory to release old-time co-conspirators. Indeed, Sison, together with Dante, was among the first to be freed by Cory.
The Senate inquiry minutes remove all doubt that Ninoy, together with Sison, masterminded the Plaza Miranda bombing.
But for my private concern, the minutes bared what could be my life’s most rueful what-might-have-been. According to Guevarra, the guy who fetched him in a car for bringing to Sison was one Manuel Collantes, to wit:
THE CHAIRMAN: Saan ‘yang apartment (UG house to which Guevarra was brought) na ‘yan?
MR. GUEVARRA: SA BF Homes Paranaque po ito. Nag-usap ho kami siguro mga wala pang alas 4:30 ng hapon.
THE CHAIRMAN: Kayo lang dalawa?
MR. GUEVARRA: Nuong bago po — hindi po, kasi nuong nag-usap kami, tatlo kami, si Jose Maria Sison, ako at iyong isang Ka Erning na kasama namin.
Pero po sa bahay na ‘yon, ang nanduruon mga kasapi ng Komite Sentral, nanduruon din si Herminigildo Garcia IV at saka si Manuel Collantes. Si Manuel Collantes po ang sumundo sa akin sa kinalalagyang UG house nuon, inihatid naman ako doon sa kinalalagyan nila Sison at ang sumalubong sa amin sa ibaba sa Apartmentay si Hermenigildo Garcia.
Now, who was the Manuel Collantes referred to in the minutes? He was a member of the known Collantes clan of Forbes Park and Batangas, who was a namesake of his famous uncle, once Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1984 and former Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Manuel Collantes.
A brilliant student at the University of Sto. Tomas in those days, as Pete Lacaba puts in a book, “Nights of Terror and Days of Discontent,” he got immersed in the mainstream of the national democratic struggle, rose to the ranks of leadership of the revolution, ending at the helm of the National Trade Union Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines – the same Banero who took me in a car ride on the way to his destination that fateful August 21, 1971. Reading the minutes afforded visions of me changing the gruesome course of history. Had I dared enough to sidestep Party compartmentalization, I could have insisted in riding with Bane all the way to his pick-up of Ruben Guevarra, to his bringing Guevarra to Sison for instructions on what to do about the blasting of the LP political rally in Plaza Miranda when night fell.
Had I gone with Bane all the way to that rendezvous with Sison, I could have made use of my native sleuthing expertise (which RK would put to good use much later in the lead-up to the Marcos downfall in 1986) by which thereby to frustrate what by nightfall would make part of the country’s most horrible history. When subsequently I was assigned to blast the police in a rally at the US Embassy after that incident and I didn’t, what horrifying tragedy similar to Plaza Miranda August 21, 1971 did I prevent from taking place? I will never know – nor will any other revolutionary for that matter outside of the Sison-Ninoy terror clique.
As the Senate hearing minutes would attest to, nobody, just nobody but they. According to Guevarra in his testimony, his final instructions from Sison, contained in a letter given to him a day after the Plaza Miranda Bombing were, and I quote: “Ang nakasulat po ganito: ‘Alam mo na ang nangyari kagabi, ilan lamang ang nakakaalam nito at ito’y hindi na dapat pang malaman ng ibang pinuno maging ibang kagawad ng Komite Sentral. Ang sinumang maglabas ng impormasyon na ito, ay may pinakamatapat ay may pinakamabigat na kaparusahan.’ Ganoon po ang nilalaman ng sulat.
The botched MV Karagatan arms shipment incident in the period preceding the declaration of Martial Law in 1972 gave rise to mutiny charges against Danny Cordero, who at the time was already heading a unit of the NPA in the Isabela district. Cordero was alleged to have disobeyed orders for the immediate transport of the shipped arms to the interiors of Isabela, resulting in government discovery and confiscation of much of the arms shipment. Cordero was tried for the offense and found guilty and sentenced to die by execution.
In a desperate effort to save his life, Cordero declared that he was loyal to the Party and had done a great mission for it so that he didn’t deserve to be executed. Guevarra, chairman of the NPA tribunal that tried the case, ordered Cordero to reveal what mission he was talking about, and Cordero declared that he was one of three Party operatives who bombed Plaza Miranda that August 21, 1971. Cordero was executed just the same.
In 1983, a student was walking to school at the University of Sto Tomas when he was gunned down. Upon investigation by the police, his identification was established to be Manuel Collantes. So Bane, I told myself as I read the story on the front page of a broad sheet, had gone back to the folds of the law and must meet with fate similar to those who would come after him.
In retrospect, I recalled the last May Day rally held by the national democratic movement prior to the declaration of Martial Law. The mass action was conducted by the May Day Revolutionary Committee, of which MASAKA head Felixberto Olalia was the chairman, Dr. Dante Simbulan the vice chairman, and I was the secretary general. For the event, Bane had assigned people to guard my back, evidently conscious that secretaries general of revolutionary organizations are the ones that do the works. My specific task in the event was to incite the throngs in attendance to crash through the Metrocom troopers guarding the gates of Malacanang Palace. After Ka Peter San Pedro, KASAMA President, finished his speech was my turn to make the signal fire, and the elite combat partisans of the National Trade Union Bureau were ready with grenades for blasting at the phalanx of soldiers providing wall of resistance. All that it would take was my signal for pandemonium to break loose and send the crowd crashing through to the President’s palace.
But as in the US Embassy rally where I refused to blast the grenade, in the May Day demonstration right at the gates of Malacañang something told me to hold the signal. Because of that, the level of revolutionary fervor among the crowd died instantly, and the people walked home from the most orderly and peaceful May Day protest rally in recent memory.
Whatever was planned to take place just fizzled out.
Did I do wrong, then?
Bane wore his characteristic cool, boyish smile when we met after that May Day incident. His eyes, however, shot a piercing gaze that told me how disappointed he was with my performance. His was an understandable appraisal of what I did, given the pragmatic requirement at the time of sowing chaos and discontent against a hated Marcos dictatorship.
But given now the uniform fate that befell genuine servants of the people who were sacrificed at the altar of selfish bourgeois interests – from Cordero to Bane, further down the revolutionary decline, to the Kintanars, the Tabaras and the Lagmans – I am pretty confident I did what was right to be done. The revolution was meant to progress not for advancing proletarian aims but for achieving political power for that very class that oppresses and exploits the proletariat. No truer proof of this assertion is there than what the Cojuangco-Aquino clan has been continuously doing to the farmers of Hacienda Luisita until today.
Remembering now this, the 45th anniversary of the Plaza Miranda Bombing, I take satisfaction from the fact that I learned early on that the revolution was being misguided and that it is no sin to disobey orders by a wrong revolutionary sovereign. Those that appear to be my failures in the revolutionary career are really measures of success at my having prevented a grimmer turn of events that, perhaps, we cannot even regret any longer by now.