In 2010 I wrote an essay, “Knowing Ninoy Aquino,” which I hoped to publish into a book but not having enough funds for the undertaking, I succeeded only in publishing it in my blog KAMAO.
In that essay, I detailed my own involvement in the revolutionary movement called the National Democratic Revolution, from my organizing of a labor union in Makabayan Publishing Corporation, owned by J. Amado Araneta, grandfather of now presidential aspirant Mar Roxas; to my deeper integration into the revolution, first as staff member of the education department of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Party Group in the Katipunan ng mga Samahan ng mga Manggawa (KASAMA). Then, after being elevated to full-fledge membership in the Party, as head of that department onward to my assertion of overall leadership of the group when upon the declaration of martial law, the Group Gensec ended up in military hands.
In all these capacities, I ran through the gamut of varied revolutionary tasks, organizing unions, conducting education among workers, from the abattoir in Vitas, Tondo, to ladies garment factories in Valenzuela, from textile mills in Pasig all the way to the sacadas in Tarlac.
Propaganda had already been my cup of tea, and in the revolutionary movement I used it to the hilt in the trimedia, particularly promoting the revolutionary strike movement, envisaged to bring about the final collapse of the enemy’s political power in the cities.
My first ever feel of a grenade was in that rally one rainy afternoon at the corner of T. M. Kalaw and Roxas Boulevard, directed at the US embassy just a hundred meters away. I did not know that it would be my baptism of fire.
Under the command of Manila Police Chief Col. Robert Barbers, the police had blocked our advance at the intersection, and our march toward the embassy came to a standstill.
While the lead agitators were taunting the police and mouthing anti-US imperialist tirades, Ka Estrel sidled up to me and in a stealthy manner slung on my shoulder a soft, innocent-looking bag made of cloth (backpacks were not yet in vogue at the time), then whispered: “Ganyan ang ginamit sa Plaza Miranda. Pagbunot ng pin, ibato mo agad. Four seconds sasabog yan. (That’s the same kind used in Plaza Miranda. After pulling out the pin, throw it at once. In four seconds it will explode.)” And with that, Ka Estrel made herself scant. Shortly after, those at the front line succeeded in intimidating the policemen, who started charging. Those assigned with pillboxes exploded their weapons at the police onrush.
That was supposed to be my cue to explode my own fireworks.
I thought I passed my test in terms of quick-decision making. At the last minute I decided not to throw the grenade but kept it in the bag, lugging it as I rushed along with the retreating rallyists. Realizing that the pursuing policemen were gaining in on us unavoidably, I dived into the foot of the Rizal Monument in which, it turned out, police pursuit was taboo. At the eye-signal from one of the Marine soldiers guarding the monument for me to stay put there, I crouched even lower behind the concrete railing as the policemen rushed by.
Col. Barbers and the policemen who got hit only with the non-fatal pillbox shrapnels should owe me a debt of gratitude for not having been blasted by the explosive I had in my bag. And to the Marines guards, thank you whoever you are and wherever you are for not telling me to the pursuing policemen. Had they done so, I would have exploded the grenade just the same then and there and thereby gone down in history as the guy who blasted Rizal the second time around. But since I had made it a habit not to carry any identifying papers in the performance of my tasks, nobody would have found any identifying mark among the shattered pieces of my flesh and nobody would ever have known whodunit.
Thus did I flunk the baptism of fire
Now, more than four decades after that incident, I still feel goose pimples creeping all over my body every time I think of what would have happened had I thrown that grenade. I would imagine the mangled bodies of those in Plaza Miranda that evening of August 21, 1971 and I would ask myself endlessly if I could have lived with the memory of it all afterward. And the answer would be: No, never mind if I failed the test, failed to have risen to that supreme rank of a red fighter to which every activist at the time was aspiring. Serving the people does not mean blind obedience to an order done in a manner no different from the military dictum that we used to see inscribed at the gates of Camp Aguinaldo: “Ours is not to reason why/Ours is but to do or die.” For if this, too, were our doctrine, how distinguish us then from the fascism that we were supposed to fight in Marcos?
In his book Art of War Sun Tzu speaks of three ways in which “a sovereign can bring misfortune upon his army.” One such way is, Sun Tzu says, “By commanding an army to advance or retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey…”
Antagonism within CPP
Martial Law was declared, throwing our unit in disarray, rocked further by an endemic antagonism in the party structure whereby regional leadership clashed with that of the national workers’ sector, with the former tightly toeing the Jose Maria Sison “mass line” of establishing a broad alliance with all “progressive” sectors that included capitalists, the bottom line being opposition to the Marcos dictatorship; and the latter closely adhering to the proletarian revolutionary line which it argued to be the correct “party line.” My individual criticism of the Sison strategy as well as of his Mao Tse Tung copy-cat analysis of Philippine society must have reached all the way to the “sovereign” so that when the directive for the unit to retreat to the countryside was made, it was not meant to include me.
Years later – after I successfully sneaked back into mainstream entertainment writing onward to writing and directing films – I would hear of Ka Estrel getting killed in Cebu in an encounter with government forces. This, along with stories about other elements from our unit meeting with the same fate in Central Luzon, in Bicol and in the Cordilleras, fate that would most likely have befallen me as well had I passed the test Ka Estrel, in all good faith, led me to.
And now, looking back at how the movement got splintered, with the people’s army reduced to guerilla unit formations in contrast to the exhilarating size of 25,000 regulars in company formations on the eve of EDSA 1, I can’t help raising the question: Have those deaths of comrades been worth it? God – I gasped unmindful of any implication the ejaculation connoted – what about those who would have met with their own gruesome demise had I, in one moment of insanity, thrown my own assigned grenade?
For a time, I kept the grenade in a relative’s apartment together with a stockpile of the five volumes of Mao Tse Tung’s writings, which were in my custody as ED (Education Department) head of the national party group in the workers’ trade union sector. After a time, I surrendered it to the HO (higher organ): I wouldn’t be a good grenade exploder.
Only then was I told by Ka Willy, head of the National Trade Union Bureau to whom I turned over the explosive, as a matter of side talk, that the grenade came from Ninoy.
Now, how can I possibly just sit by watching while the very poison I gulped in all naivete in my youth is once again being fed by the Yellow Cult into multitudes of the current young. I swallowed that poison in the pure belief it was the way to achieve workers’ liberation. But the turning point would come.
That was August 21, 1971. The grand miting de avance of the Liberal Party that evening was blasted, resulting in deaths and injuries to more than a hundred. As expected, the instant blame was put on Marcos. But that got me squirming terribly inside. Marcos might be a despot, but he was an intelligent man, oh, much too intelligent to commit the stupidity of bombing his opponent’s political rally. He should know it would be blamed on him and he would not do it.
On the other hand, was it too smart of Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. to be the only LP senatorial candidate who was safely away at the time of the explosions? It seemed to smack of genius, doing evil and then have it blamed on his enemy. But, as Andres Bonifacio said it, nobody escapes history. Over time, events would unfold to prove Ninoy’s crime.
End of Part 2. Part 3 will come out next Saturday.