(I wrote the following piece published December 10, 2010 when I was still with the Philippine Daily Inquirer. With President Duterte’s declaration that he has ended peace talks with, and will wipe out, the communist insurgents, this column published seven years ago, seems to be more relevant today. The book described here is reportedly on its third printing, and is available at local book stores and as an e-book at Amazon.com.)
DR. MARIO Miclat’s “Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions: A Novel” (Manila: Anvil Publishing, 2010) reveals in rich detail many of the covert factors that contributed to the growth of one of our country’s biggest problems—the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The “18 mansions” of the title refer to the buildings in a secret compound in Beijing where the Chinese Communist Party in the 1960s and 1970s housed delegations of communist parties all over the world to facilitate its clandestine aid to their insurgencies.
Mansion No. 7 housed the living quarters and offices in Beijing of the delegation from the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founded and led by Jose Ma. Sison, aka Amado Guerrero.
Miclat was a member of the CPP delegation who, with his family, lived and worked in that mansion starting in 1971. He returned to the Philippines in 1986, totally disillusioned with the party, which he says was a monster he “helped create, yet which devoured” him. He has since become an academic with a PhD and is at present dean of the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines.
Miclat’s is not a fictional novel, but a personal and political memoir of his nearly two decades as one of Sison’s earliest recruits, even living for two years in the leader’s “underground” house as his editor and translator, and then as a cadre in the party cell in Beijing. Many of the persons in the book are identified by their real names, others are thinly veiled, while a few are named only by their aliases, probably in order for Miclat to write more freely or to spare these persons from embarrassment.
For instance, “Herz” was one of Sison’s key operatives, who supervised the party’s youth organizations in the crucial years of the early 1970s, the era of student power that led thousands of idealistic teenagers to communism, wrecked lives and, for many, death in some lopsided firefight.
Herz now lives a very comfortable bourgeois life in Canada, even as his Filipino community newspaper continues to rant against the Philippine government and paint the country black.
Herz’s superior, “Goldie,” who recruited Miclat to the party and who, he claims, ordered the killing of a suspected, but unlikely, military agent was Monico Atienza, head of the party’s organization department during that period. After being comatose for months, Atienza died in 2007 after many years of living alone, despondent and destitute, on a meager UP assistant instructor’s salary.
Sison, a womanizer
Secrets’ secrets range from the personal to the political. For instance, the book claims that despite the rigors of running a revolution, Sison had the time to womanize, go on dates to nightclubs, and bear an illegitimate daughter.
In a scene straight out of a soap opera, Miclat and New People’s Army chief “Kumander Dante” (Bernabe Buscayno) were shocked to see Sison’s wife pound “at the leader’s back with her fists even as she cried about her husband’s indiscretion.”
This might seem trivial today—after all, we had a President who boasted of his womanizing. But womanizing has been a capital offense in the “revolution” for dogmatic and practical reasons, punishable by death, or assignment to hazardous guerrilla frontlines. After witnessing that conjugal spat, Dante “cried like a little boy,” and between sobs asked Sison rhetorically: “How many good comrades have we condemned to die because of sexual opportunism?” I hope Dante will e-mail me to confirm or deny if this really happened.
What is not secret at all to those who have studied the insurgency, but which Miclat provides more details of, is that the Chinese government provided funds and arms to the CPP at its crucial embryonic stage. (A similar account was published in this newspaper on March 25, 2005 by Ricardo Malay, who headed the CPP cell later.) A courier was even arrested in 1974 by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for carrying undeclared $75,000 intended for the CPP as she was exiting from Canada where she got the funds from the Chinese Embassy there.
As regards arms shipments, Deng Xiaoping himself was so incensed over his Filipino comrades’ incompetence. The first shipment on the MV Karagatan in 1971 was easily intercepted by the military and most of the 1,200 smuggled M14 rifles were thrown overboard. In 1974, the MV Andrea, also financed by the Chinese, didn’t even reach the Philippines as it ran aground on a sandbar, which was not unexpected as it was captained by a seasick-prone student activist who just got a crash course on seafaring.
Plaza Miranda bombing
The most earth-shaking secret in this book involves the bombing of the Liberal Party rally at Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971, the most crucial man-made event that formed the contours of our history since it happened.
Miclat asserts with total certitude that it was Sison’s plot, and that he learned of this days after the bombing. He quotes Sison as saying before the attack: “We will force Marcos to declare martial law… People will rise up in arms when he finally shows his fascist face.” Two ranking comrades in Beijing knew of the attack beforehand. Miclat quotes “Peter,” one of Sison’s closest operatives, as telling him in October 1971: “Ninoy Aquino did not go to Plaza Miranda on the night of the bombing. Kumander Pusa phoned him.”
That it was Sison’s project has already been claimed by credible figures, such as the late Sen. Jovito Salonga and journalist Gregg Jones in his book Red Revolution. For Miclat, however, the attack seems to have left a deep wound in his heart. Before leaving for China two weeks before the bombing, he says he was asked to keep two grenades, which he was later convinced were the ones used in the carnage.
He could have dedicated his book to so many other people close to him. Instead he dedicates it “To an unidentified boy whose life was cut short by a terrorist bomb in Plaza Miranda, August 21, 1971.”
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