The tragedy of the Philippine Left


Captured Communist Party chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Austria, also a high-ranking cadre, are the embodiment of the Philippine left that was once a hope for the country, but has turned out to be a tragedy.

I knew the two, as they were members of the Communist Party’s eight-man Regional Committee for Metropolitan Manila and Rizal province that I headed in the early 1970s until our arrest and imprisonment in 1974.

Tiamzon headed our labor union operations, while Wilma headed a sub-regional organization covering Pasig and other Rizal eastern towns, and later on the regional committee’s “education bureau”—i.e., the unit in charge of educating the organization into Marxist worldview and strategy.

Benny and Wilma were exemplars of the core of the Left revolution (or attempted revolution) that emerged in the 1970s: lower and middle-class students just out of their teenaged years, disgusted over Philippine oligarchs and politics and the brazen social injustice of our country, and whose coming of age was in a period when the Left seemed on the verge of creating a new world.

Benny and Wilma were socially committed intellectuals. He was taking up political science while she took up sociology before they dropped out to become full-time activists.

It was Marcos’ martial law that drove thousands of students, including the best and the brightest, into the Communist Party. Those Marxist claims that the state was a violent instrument of the ruling class all of a sudden appeared at that time to be so true.

It would only be later that we—including Tiamzon—would learn that Party chairman Jose Sison in fact, and ironically, played a crucial role in the imposition of martial law: He ordered the Plaza Miranda bombing of Liberal Party leaders in August 1971. That created what Sison termed as another “revolutionary flow”, much needed when that which broke out in 1970 seemed to be dying out like some youthful fad.

That convinced Marcos about a year later to impose martial law which allowed him to remain in power beyond his second, and last term. The bombing gave him a good excuse that politics in the country had become too violent and anarchic that it needed strongman rule —as our neighbors in Southeast Asia had.

Benny didn’t come from a rich family, but he certainly wasn’t poor. His family either had a small business or a farm in Marikina. Wilma, thin as Mia Farrow at that time, I thought, was more well off, and lived in a middle-class neighborhood in Pasig. As is the story of many middle and upper class couples, they met as students at the University of the Philippines.


Benny and Wilma wandered into the Revolution through the Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK), which in the late 1960s consisted of mostly U.P. anti-establishment intellectuals, the Pinoy version of hippies, and even well-off bums claiming “existential angst” who got into Marxism since their idol Jean Paul Sartre had also embraced leftist politics. It was also a kind of imported fad. The “SDK” acronym alluded to the radical American SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), that rattled the US Establishment.

The SDK was totally different from the purportedly more militant Kabataang Makabayan. Sison organized the KM as the task given him as head of the youth bureau of the pro-USSR Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. That was before he broke away from it to embrace “Mao Tse Tung Thought” and establish his own Party—not coincidentally in 1969 when Sino-Soviet relations broke down.

After the massive student demonstrations of 1970, which became the political debut of Sison’s party, the KM would be the recruitment organization for the CPP, with wide-eyed teenagers gradually convinced that it was only US imperialist propaganda that made communism seem so bad. There wasn’t an Internet at that time to check those claims.

It was after the SDK leadership in 1970 became Party members and took orders from the Party’s Youth and Students Bureau that there was a mass recruitment of their full-time activists, including Benny and Wilma, into the communist ranks organization.

Most of us in the regional committee, including Benny and Wilma, were arrested in July 1974.

Benny and I had a falling out days after our arrest, which turned out to be a permanent one. A few days in the cramped cell in Camp Crame, I started doing some yoga exercises and even sat in the lotus position —to keep my wits. Benny made fun of it, and even comically assumed the lotus pose. I got mad, jumped from my second-level cot, shouted at him with so many “p’ words. In my rage, I can’t even remember now if I did hit him.

A silly, juvenile brawl? Precisely. We were in our early twenties, pretending to be Che Guevarras with one comrade even idolizing Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (“The Jackal”) so much that he named his son after the Venezuelan terrorist.

Idealistic, gullible

That was what our Party and the Revolution mostly consisted of: Young men just out of their teens, so idealistic that, after the ruling class is overthrown, we will create society without poor people, but so gullible we believed Albania led by Enver Hoxa was a Maoist paradise in Europe.

That was a lifetime ago, and many of the Maoist revolutionaries have taken different paths.

The dear leader Sison is in the Netherlands, together with National Democratic Front head Luis Jalandoni, enjoying the lifestyle of the most liberal country on earth. His right-hand man, Jose Luneta, reportedly for some queer reason lives in Germany, while his finance man is a Spanish citizen. I wanted an academic life, but had wandered into journalism. Some of the third-generation of revolutionaries—the likes of Teodoro Casino—are enjoying the perks and power of being a congressman.

Many of my comrades then, such as my close friend Ferdie Arceo, were killed in firefights with the military. Some couldn’t adjust to a normal life, becoming alcoholics until their cirrhosis killed them in some urban poor house. One of Sison’s closest operatives and propagandist lives now very comfortably in Canada, but still ranting against US imperialism.

Some are still high-ranking cadres, claiming to represent the masses, but who go home in the evening to their upper-middle class homes. Others have stayed on, and now are in their 60s, toothless because there are no communist dentists with them in the mountain guerilla zones, and with utterly no plans and finances for their twilight years on earth.

And after more than three decades, the Philippines continue to be poor. Social equity and injustice are still as prevalent, even worse today.

The cigarette vendor you see through your car window, the domestic help in your house, your gardener will never get out of their godforsaken class, and so will their children and their children’s children. Overseas work—our nation’s escape valve—isn’t available to them, as they haven’t even finished high school.

Although their efforts didn’t totally make theirs egalitarian societies, unarmed socialist, or just even just trade union movements in the US, Europe (especially Scandinavia), and Great Britain were successful in enacting laws to force capitalism to devote more of its output for the masses’ welfare.

If not for such leftist movements, there wouldn’t be such things as universal, free medical care and education, huge unemployment and retirement benefits, cheap mass transit systems, high taxation rates for the rich, in most advanced countries today.


There is the tragedy of the Left in the Philippines. What it tried to wipe out in our country, poverty and inequality, have become worse after three decades. The Left hadn’t changed that a bit.

The Left has even made us poorer: Why would both local and foreign businessmen do business in “communist-infested areas?

The best—or worst—example of this was the NPA’s kidnapping of Japanese Mitsui executive Nobuyuki Wakaoji in 1987.

That was the period during which Japanese capital—for various reasons such as the yen depreciation—invested abroad in such massive scale as never before seen. It was the flood of Japanese capital into Malaysia and Thailand that triggered their amazing economic growth in the 1980s and 90s. But at that time, because of the Wakaoji kidnapping, Japanese companies evaded the Philippines like there was a plague here.

People like Benny and Wilma devoted their lives for a cause they believed would end poverty and the cruel exploitation of man by man.  Now, Benny and Wilma aren’t charged with subversion, but for multiple murder and attempted murder,  very unfairly putting him in the category of the Ampatuans charged for the Maguindanao massacre. The Philippine ruling class even refuses to recognize their struggle, as all ruling classes all over the world and in history have branded revolutionaries as bandits — now terrorists .

The ruling class of the 1960s are richer now, included in listings of the world’s billionaires —and foreign businesses are raking it in here because the price of labor continues to go down, as it would in a poor society.

The tragedy of the Left is that of our country. and


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  1. Rafael Mejia Salonga, MD on

    Benito and Wilma Tiamson met in Rizal High School . We belong to Class’69. He was our salutatorian and she was our third honorable mention. They knew each other even before UP days.

  2. Tragedy Talaga para sa mag Pilipino
    Sa halip na magkaisa ang mga Pilipino
    Sa Komunismo nagkanya-kanya ang mga PIlipino
    Ngayon wala nang maipatupad na batas dahil may magrereklamo
    Sisirain ang kinabukasan ng taong ang gusto lang ay magserbisyo
    Walang nagtitiwala sa mga inilagay sa pwesto
    Dahil biniyaran lamang daw ang mga boto
    Iisa lamang naman sana ang dapat ilagay sa ulo
    Ang maging tunay na Pilipino na marangal at taas ang ulo
    Na di sinungaling at magnanakaw, bagkus ay may sipag, tiyaga at talino
    Na ang pag-angat sa buhay ay nakakamit sa pagiging tunay na Pilipino

  3. Sad story indeed. The only true lesson I can get here is that both the governments /society/conservatives on the Right as well as the CPP/NPA/Leftist on the Left have failed us. Both sides have had Mediocre Leaders at best as well as Deputies. We do not have a Lee Kwan Yew, also an ex-Communist, to lead us the way. We do not have a Mahatir, who uses draconian methods to steer his country to the right path. For example Malaysia now is rudderless as pitifully shown in MH370 fiasco. It was shown to the whole world how, inept, dumb and leaderless their country has been under Razak. Thailand is in the same boat with Puppet prime minister & defense minister Yingluck at its helm. And of course our very own son of the mini-gods who is visionless and petty himself, pulling down our country once more one step closer to the lowest level much worse than hell.

    Tama ka Ka Yul at Ka Anita, sipag at tyaga. Gamitin ang kukute hindi ego at malayo ang mararating ng ating bansa. Ilagay ang mga karapat-dapat sa tamang katungkulan. Hindi “Tuwid na daan” na walang silbing slogan lang kundi “Kung hindi ngayon kelan pa?”. Huwag po tayo maniwala masyado sa mirakulo. Ang isang taong walang silbing konsehal sa 12 taon ay biglang magmalas ng ihenyo at maging magaling na Presidente – hindi po . Ito ay nangyayari lang sa “Movies ng Hollywood”.

    I also believe we need to change our outlook of the world. Look at the Vietnamese Refugees in Palawan – They are not there anymore – they have succeeded against all odds to carve a new, decent and prosperous life in this poor country. If they who do not posses anything can survive and prosper why not us Filipinos in our very own country ? Why not?

    Iboto ang karapat dapat – gamitin ang kukute !

  4. I read an article written by Jun Alcover, who was a former combatant against the AFP, wherein he provided a very comprehensive look into the workings of this former group.

    He wrote, “It is disheartening to note that despite the continued atrocities, harassment, extortions, and skillful manipulation of the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen by the CPP-NPA-NDF, few of us consider them as a serious threat against our freedoms and democratic life. Lamentable is the fact that many have completely ignored the issue and concern because they incessantly refuse to accept the true state of our people and country.”

    After reading this, I never imagined that the communist movement has gained so much ground and that we should never be complacent if we really love freedom and our nation as we should.

  5. If the CPP/NPA targeted the corrupt politicians and the greedy businessmen for assassination, their revolution would have meaning to the nation. The war that they brought on the countryside dislocated a lot of the poor who they purport to represent that brought these people on a mass exodus to the cities away from their home-base which became battlegrounds for the NPA and the AFP.

  6. ideal path;
    government don’t make people rich
    but its the other way around
    people make government rich
    how? like this.
    you go to school study, finish school get a job like teacher doctor enginer ofw industrialist manufacturer all those who pay tax except those who’s job they get by election like sk chairman down to kagawad mayor down to konsial congressman down to representative governor down to board member senator and president.
    when those individual get rich government get rich too
    but those elected official get richer government get poorer

  7. Tama ka malaon ng patay ang mga taong yan pero their ideology are still alive dahil iyon ang mahalaga they are fighting for the right to live. Ang isang makabayan na tulad nila ay naghahangad ng kaayusan para sa lahat. Ang kanilang ipinaglalaban ay para sa mga bagong darating na mga henerasyon at hindi para sa kanilang pangsariling interest lamang na ang ugaling ito ay matatagpuan lang sa lipunan ng mga burgesya at capitalist society na walang hinangad kundi ang kanilang sariling kaligayahan. Wala tayong magagawa at hindi natin kayang harangin ang pagbabago ng lipunan dahil ito ay nagbabago tungo sa maunlad at masayang uri ng pamumuhay. Kung iyong aalamin nagmula tayo sa primtive society at umunlad tayo at naging slavery, feudalism, then at present we are in the capitalism society and next stage of society is the Socialism and the last is Communism which is the highest state society of mankind.

  8. Tayo ay magkakaroon lang ng totoong tunay na demokrasya sa ating bansa kung ang kapangyarihan ay nasa masang Pilipino. Mukhang malayo pa natin makakamit ang tunay na demokrasya kung ang kapangyarihan ay nasa kamay lang ng iilang tao. Kaya sadlak pa rin sa kahirapan ang marami nating mamayan dahil sa iilang tao lang ang nakikinabang sa sinasabing pagunlad ng ekonomiya. Sa ganitong sitwasyon, hindi natin masisi ang ilan sa atin na patuloy mahikayat na sumanib sa grupo ng ating lipunan upang ipaglaban ang kahirapan. May pagasa pa tayong umunlad kung mamarapatin natin pumili na maayos na liderato ng ating bansa magmula sa taas hanggang pababa gaya ng nararanasan ngayon ng mga bansang maunlad. ANG KAPANGYARIHAN AT KAKAYANAN AY DAPAT NASA GOBYERNO NG ATING BANSA NA TUNAY NA NAGLILINGKOD SA ATING MAMAMAYAN AT HINDI PARA SA KANILANG INTERES AT SA KAPAKANAN NG IILANG TAO LAMANG.

    • Mamulat sana ang mga iilang Pilipino na ang kahirapan ng nakararami sa atin ay hindi dahil sa walang tunay na Demokrasya sa ating bansa! Ito ay dahil sa KATAMARAN ng mga nakararaming Pilipino na maghanap ng trabaho para matamasa ang maayos na pamumuhay. Huwag sana nating sisihin ang ating gobyerno sa mga naglipanang mahirap sa ating lipunan sapagkat alam natin na ANG SIMULA NG PAGBABAGO AY NASA ATING MGA SARILI, NASA ATING MGA KAMAY! MGA KABABAYAN, MAGSIPAG AT MAGTRABAHO TAYO! DITO KA MANIWALA!

    • what you wrote was said four decades ago by the writer and his friends. They thought CPP-NPA-NDF was the solution, admittedly, after four decades and thousands of lives sacrificed, it wasn’t, and probably would never be. It is time for another approach, we can use that emotion of disgust to think, plan and try helpful endeavor, but first, no more support and comments for the CPP-NPA-NDF, it was never the answer and has proven to be one of the stumbling blocks of our nation

    • Tunay na demokrasya?? Ndi ba tau malaya na gawin ang ating gusto??? Ang problema ng pilipino ay katamaran kaya marami sa atin ay nag hihirap imbes na mag trabaho ay andyan nag lalasing at nag susugal…. Aminin natin maraming problema sa gobyerno… Pero na sa atin mamamayan ang kapangyarihan na baguhin ang ikot ng ating landas kng may tyaga may nilaga ika nga nila…. At isa pa mamulat dapat ang taong bayan kung sino ang ibinoboto nila… We choose the leaders of this country if we continue voting for the corrupt it is our own fault

    • I agree with yul. Wala na sa gobyerno ang problema. Nasa bawat mamamayang pilipino na ang sisi. Maraming tamad, maraming anak, walang disiplina, nabibili ang boto, nagbibenta ng prinsipyo, walang pagpapahalaga sa dangal. Kahit si jose rizal pa ang maging pangulo, walang mangyayari sa atin hanggat walang pagbabago sa sarili…

  9. In the U.S., the conservatives of the Republican Party went after the gains of the unions. Like conservatives everywhere, they don’t want to pay the working man or working woman for their work. Now, the American Poor is poorer than one generation ago.

    Doesn’t these people know communism is bankrupt and failed system? Even in many present so called communist countries, they have gone toward an economy that is diametrically opposed to communist ideology.
    The Communist System doesn’t allow for dissent. There is the ever watchful internal security forces that will root out “counter revolutionary forces”. In a speech, Chinese President and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping ideals are what a communist system insist on. From a confidential internal Chinese Communist Party Document dated July, 2012, says these are the dangers. According to Xi, they are:

    1.Western constitutional democracy
    2.Universal values of human rights
    3.Western conceptions of Media independence
    4.Civil society
    5.Pro-market neo-liberalism

    This is the type of system the deluded Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP)/ New People’s Army (NPA)/National Democratic Front (NDF) wants to take this country. The CPP/NPA/NDF don’t realize it, but they are in the cesspool. They are similar to those Spanish Officers that were trapped at the Church in Baler by Filipino Revolutionary Forces. They found out the truth that their world was dead and came to realize it. Now, these deluded people have to find out the world that started their world which had started this misguided and failed system is dead. LENIN , STALIN, MAO is DEAD!

    • WJGBalderama on

      I think you are confusing the actions of liberals to those of conservatives. The GOP did no such thing. I challenge you to prove your point.

    • Tama ka malaon ng patay ang mga taong yan pero their ideology are still alive dahil iyon ang mahalaga they are fighting for the right to live. Ang isang makabayan na tulad nila ay naghahangad ng kaayusan para sa lahat. Ang kanilang ipinaglalaban ay para sa mga bagong darating na mga henerasyon at hindi para sa kanilang pangsariling interest lamang na ang ugaling ito ay matatagpuan lang sa lipunan ng mga burgesya at capitalist society na walang hinangad kundi ang kanilang sariling kaligayahan. Wala tayong magagawa at hindi natin kayang harangin ang pagbabago ng lipunan dahil ito ay nagbabago tungo sa maunlad at masayang uri ng pamumuhay. Kung iyong aalamin nagmula tayo sa primtive society at umunlad tayo at naging slavery, feudalism, then at present we are in the capitalism society and next stage of society is the Socialism and the last is Communism which is the highest state society of mankind.

  10. Those who believe that their ideologies would bring out prosperity must be out of their minds. What brings prosperity to people is not ideology but perseverance and hard work. How examples of poor people who went on to better lives because of hard work and perseverance. It is nice to believe in ideas , in the long run it is your own personal determination that takes you where you want to be.

    • Hard work talaga huh! Filipinos are hard-working. What kind of opportunity does the government offer to its people? Call center? To get out of the country to work as OFW and send dollars back home?

  11. The CPP-NPA used to be an alternative glorious vehicle for the poor but idealistic youths of the 1970s to participate in nation-building along the egalitarian-atheistic-socialist philosophy. For the poor youths of the 1970s, to join the CPP-NPA movement was an intellectual decision to become future leaders of the nation to bring down the established oligarchic-capitalist government. Their idealism then led them to believe that the CPP can win the struggle with them emerging as the power center in establishing the future direction of the nation – along the Communist Model.

    One young man I personally knew then was Jorge (George) Madlos, then a college student at Central Mindanao University, Musuan, Bukidnon. His youthful dream led him to go underground on the day Martial Law was declared on September 21, 1972.

    I honestly believe that the foundation of the dreams of the Youths of 1970s – Communmism for the Nation – is DEAD! Except for Cuba, there is not a single purist communist nation any more! And Cuba is the LEAST desirable model for the Philippines. The CPP-NPA has become nothing more than a part-time EMPLOYER OF LAST RESORT of the desperate rural poor!


    • I agree with you instead of fighting for their cause using the barrel of the gun why not join the mainstream of our society. No more for the use of the barrel of the gun.

  12. Lutgarda Espiritu pendleton on

    Thank you Mr. Rigoberto Tiglao for this thought provoking article.I was a teenager in the 1970s having borne in 1958. I graduated at Lyceum in Journalism in 1980. From 1965 since I was 7 years old until the EDSA 1986 People Power all I knew was the Marcos administration in the Philippine political system. Two years later, I have decided I have to leave the Philippines and became one of the thousands of Filipino women in cross cultural marriages all over the world. My thought is at the time that our beloved homeland will still be the same it is just another brand of politics in disguise but the Philippines my beloved homeland will still be in the Third World. The leftist motivated alliance just like the NPA or the CCP seem to disappera in oblivion or is the principle thay are fighting for have also died in vain with the rest of our fellow countrymen and women who live below poverty line? I pray for our beloved homeland to get rid of the corruption and bribery from the top to the bottom.This is the only way the Philippines can level up with the rest of the First world country. It seems such an impossible dream.

  13. The tragedies of the Left and the Right are that both tried to impose foreign ideologies on the Filipinos which is why the country is where it is. With all the purported intellect of people who espouse revolutions, why not divert the discussion to the core of the problem – the establishment of an ideology for Filipinos?

  14. Isn’t it ironic that a former leftist so conveniently blames his for mer comrades as if he was totally detached from it?

    I guess it is very conveniently to point a blaming finger at the left he used to be not just a member but one of its leader and totally see their mistakes and yet failed or should I say conveniently left out his role? What a hypocrite failing to see the role of those who used to be idealist transforming into the people they used to despised or even more corrupt that their former enemy that hey now go to bed with enjoying every minute of it, hehehe.

    • puede ba tagalugin mo na lang at mahirap intindihin ang sinabi mo? Are we reading the same article here? I guess everyone is entitled to his own interpretation. Mr Tiglao in my interpretation does not point the finger to certain people. He is talking about the failure of an ideology. Please remember that during the marcos time, people wanted to be on the opposite side of the fence because of massive corruption, not to mention the fact that there was no freedom of speech. People, without understanding the opposite side, supported that ideology just to oppose marcos, until it was too late to realize that it was not exactly the right path to tread. Mr Tiglao is right, country did not go far from where it used to be. And this serves as a lesson to our youths, to mellow down on their impulsive nature, to think, discuss, and rationalized. With the help of the internet, so many paths will open up. I don’t despair, one day someone who has the guts to oppose the corrupt will gather the masses and put an end to the greed for power and money.

  15. Tragedy indeed Mr. Tiglao,”the more things change the more they remain the same”Most of the so called communists now in the Phils are nothing but a band of bandits who are out to put more people in the poverty pool.Even China is only communist in name,so all those communist in the Phils are like orphaned children with no one to guide & support them.

    • harleydavidson on

      i agree. vietnam is a perfect example. political system is still communism, but economically, they are very demoractic.

  16. Thank you Mr. Tiglao for being honest and at least coming from you that there are lapses in both the government and the movement. I am also from poor families and I’ve seen the youth movement during the 60’s and 70’s while I am in High school and later on as factory worker in Sucat. But you know what I work my butt out to get education and work myself through college and try to provide sort of financial help for my families (seven of us). And here I am with decent job, 3 meals a day, in the 50’s of my life.
    What I am trying to say, if the leaders and innovators of that movement are quick enough to fight for what their idealism is, they should be more open and also quick to channel their beliefs relevant to what is going on, maybe change tactics and ways that is in parallel with the time. This doesn’t mean you given up the idealism and nationalism that is in you. Maybe fight them in their game.

  17. The Cory regime restored the old oligarchy, Abnoy perpetuates it. The Phl is sadly in the dustbin of the Asian success story and will remain there as long as our poor remains hopeless.

  18. Jerrysal Mangaoang on

    If there is one that i do not fail to read are your articles sir Roberto. You have a grasp of practically all the insides of issues that comes out. While it would appear that you are defending PGMA, i had this unique feeling that you were real. Now I know where you came from during younger years and the more i cant wait for the next issue of mNila times with your articles. Roberto Tiglao for President! Count as Sir!!!

    • of course Sir Roberto is and will always be in defense of PGMA, he has his reasons, pero yong maging presidente? para sa akin huwag naman sana… sabagay with the way our current so called leaders are doing now kahit siguro aso/pusa/manok puede natin pangarapin na maging pinuno