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THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL: 10 things the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us

in Editorial/Gallery

A year has passed since the first Covid-19 case was publicized and the world, so they say, was never the same again. Living through a pandemic was far from everyone’s mind, not even in the wildest thoughts. Yet, it was also the pandemic that showed us the world and how it really is—oppressive and exploitative, and anti-poor. In the Philippines, it underscored and validated the legitimacy of, and the need for, the national democratic revolution in achieving a “new normal”, the future every Filipino deserves.

Highlighted during the people’s battle against the pandemic (and the disastrous impact of the series of calamities that hit the country) were two important aspects:

On the one hand, the pandemic bared to the core the decaying semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system that needs to be smashed and changed. It brought to fore the undeniable criminal negligence of the Duterte regime to respond to even the barest minimum needs of the people. To the regime, the pandemic was not a health crisis but a question of national security. At the same time, it showed the callous and fascist bureaucrats shamelessly displaying its insatiable hunger for power beyond 2022; while openly embracing the interests of the local elite and its imperialist masters.

The twisted narrative that there’s poverty because there is armed revolution dominated the regime’s narrative as it tried to cover up not only its accountability but also the crumbling oppressive and exploitative system it tried to prop up through force, lies, and deception. It branded the revolutionary movement and all its critics as “terrorists”, negating the legitimacy of the people’s struggle, whether armed or unarmed, against an exploitative and oppressive system brought about by the regime’s subservience to the dictates of its masters—the imperialists, the feudal lords, and the big business.

On the other hand, and more importantly, the pandemic demonstrated the Filipino people’s creative power, solidarity, and collective action to sustain each other while making the regime accountable for its criminal negligence and repression. It has shown the people’s strength that, when harnessed, is a potent force in advancing the people’s war to victory and in building the people’s democratic republic that truly represents the interests and welfare of the majority of poor Filipinos.

The semicolonial and semifeudal system, now controlled by the Duterte clique, is on its beam ends, here’s what the pandemic showed us:


Happiness is in the Revolution

in Mainstream


In truth, it was never what she expected.

After five years in the New People’s Army (NPA), Ka Nina, who was a youth activist, admitted a lot of her earlier perception of what a Red fighter is had changed.

For one, she thought Red fighters don’t know how to laugh, “Akala ko laging seryoso. Laging politika ang inilalabas ng bibig. Di marunong tumawa. Kaya laking gulat ko pagpasok ko dito sa sonang gerilya dito sa aming rehiyon (in Bicol) napakakwela pala ng mga kasama (I thought they were always serious, unsmiling, and talking only about politics. So I was surprised they were a cheery bunch when I came to the guerrilla zone here in Bicol),” she commented. They laugh at the littlest of things—when a dog that passes by, while practicing new songs, the pronouncements of Pres. Duterte. It must be “because we know we always face a life and death situation. That brings us closer and builds our rapport and camaraderie,” Ka Nina explained.

Ka Nina’s life in the NPA was far from the image she once held about the red fighters. Even as an activist she had no idea what kind of life they lived. Curiously, Ka Nina found her way into a guerrilla zone. And she stayed on. “Perhaps it was also because as a student activist, I saw the brutality of the state—in rallies, in picket lines,” she added.

Life with the masses

Half a decade in the people’s army, Ka Nina’s integration with the masses sustained her even as she misses her family and friends. “Mayaman kasi sa mass work ang Hukbo. ‘Yun ang isa sa pinakamahalagang salik kung paano namin napapangibabawan yung mga sakrispisyo, mga hirap, mga pisikal na pagod,” she narrated. Sharing stories with the masses erases their tiredness. “Kahit na wala ka pang kain buong araw. (Even if we haven’t eaten the whole day).”

We do a great deal of mass work. That must be one factor why we are able to overcome sacrifices, hardships and physical difficulties.

She was bursting with stories on her life with the masses. Asked to give a highlight, she begged, “pwede pong dalawa? (May I share two?).”

The first story she loved to tell and retell was when she was still new in the NPA. “Nag-ikot kami sa bahaging coastal area. Tapos yung masa doon talagang hirap sila sa pananim. Sabi nila, wala daw tumutubo doon sa lupa nila. Hirap din sila sa tubig tapos wala rin silang mga ipantatanim (As we went around the coastal community we saw the difficulties of the masses to grow plants. Nothing grows on the land. They have no fresh water and they don’t have anything to plant),” she related. Through the efforts of the comrades and the organized masses, they were able to solicit cassava cuttings and distributed these to the community members for planting. “They were so euphoric. They hugged us. That was great. It was satisfying to have done something for the masses,” Ka Nina exclaimed as she relived the moment.

The second story was when their unit had an encounter with the military. Two comrades fell, recalled Ka Nina. The masses went with them to retrieve the remains of the comrades. “It was a long walk, it was raining, and worse, we had to pass through enemy lines.” When the community members got to the place, they immediately tended to the remains of the comrades, like their own. “Bagamat malungkot ang pangalawang halimbawa na binigay ko, isa po ‘yun sa pinakamatingkad na karanasan ko kung gaano kamahal ng mga masa ang mga kasama, (The story may be sad but I just wanted to show how the masses love the comrades),” Ka Nina noted.

Collective life

Like the masses, Ka Nina’s collective carried her through hard times. “When you feel weary and weak because you miss your family, the collective is there to guide you, help you, listen to how you feel.” She said all their concerns are discussed in the collective. “Lahat ng bagay dito sa Hukbo—problema mo sa pagkain, sa pagdumi, kalungkutan— napag-uusapan, nabubutbot po yung mga ganun tapos nagagawan ng solusyon. (We discuss everything in the collective—food, poop, loneliness. We dissect and find solution to everything).”

It has also never been a problem that she is a woman. “Totoo na may pantay na pagtingin sa kababaihan dito sa loob ng rebong kilusan.

It is true. Women in the revolutionary movement are treated equally and fairly.

In her five years with the NPA, or even when she was still an activist, she claimed she has not experienced discrimination.

She admitted though that this is not true for all the masses they meet and so they have to reorient the masses on this. The same goes for the new recruits in the NPA. But the new recruits, Ka Nina said, immediately get it, citing “We are together 24/7, death is always upon us, we could encounter the enemy anytime” as possible reasons.

“Ang sabi nga ng mga kasama dapat laging maging handa, babae ka man o lalaki kasi di namimili ang punglo. Babae ka o lalaki, tatamaan ka niyan. Sa pagpapaputok ng baril, di mo kailangan macho ka o sobrang lakas mo. Babae ka o lalaki, o anuman ang kasarian mo, ang kailangan mo ay ang kapasyahang iputok ang baril. Kalabitin ang gatilyo. (A comrade said we should be prepared, always. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female because bullets don’t discriminate. One need not be macho or tough. Whether you are male, female, or whatever is the gender preference, the most important is the will to fire the gun., to pull the trigger.)”

A new generation of cadres

As the CPP and the NPA celebrate its 50th year, Ka Nina recognized the contributions of the revolutionary movement to Philippine society—from understanding its nature to instituting meaningful changes while advancing the people’s war. “In the last five decades we have proven we can rise above all challenges because what we are fighting for is just and right.”

She sees a bright future ahead with the kind of unity among the people’s army, the masses, and the Party members. There was obviously pride and elation as Ka Nina takes part in the celebration, “Masarap sa pakiramdam kasi umabot yung henerasyon namin sa ika-50 anibersaryo. Napakasarap sa pakiramdam. (I feel joyful because our generation is part of the 50th anniversary.)”

As the conversation closed, Ka Nina cracked her third highlight without a prompt: “Tapos, yung simple po na pagtawag nila lagi sa amin na kasama o Kas, o anak, ganyan po ang tawag nila sa amin. Samantalang dun sa kabila ay kaaway. Ang sarap sa pakiramdam. Talagang tama ‘tong ipinaglalaban natin.

When the masses call us comrade, or Kas [short for kasama, also comrade], or my child while they call the reactionaries as the enemy, that makes us feel good. We know that what we are fighting for is right.




*Quote from Benito Tiamzon on his June 2014 interview



From Telenovelas to the Real World of Armed Struggle

in Mainstream

A visual artist and film director finds himself in the rugged mountains of the Cordilleras and he’s loving it. “Dati teleserye lang, kathang-isip. Pero ngayon, ito ang totoong buhay (Before I was just into telenovelas, fiction. But now, this is for real. This is real life),” Ka Migo quipped.

He acknowledged he was never a serious activist as a young man. Although, as early as 1999, he was already a member of the Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth, a founding member organization of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines [NDFP]), it was only almost after a decade, in 2008, that he joined a formal collective. In between those years, he was studying and at the same time into “racket”, accepting various projects for a fee. There were few times though when he would join rallies to document the event “but not as an active participant”, he claimed.

Through a wide-angle lens

The disappearance of UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan and the testimony of the case’s witness Raymond Manalo, who was also a political prisoner who met the two in the detention center, was a turning point for this artist. He was, he recalled, stunned to learn that a “concentration camp” existed in our midst— where activists were brought and killed. “Civilian lang pero kapag napaghinalaan tinutuluyan na nila dun. ‘Yung kwento ni Manalo parang nasa Nazi concentration camp (The civilians once suspected were finished off in that place. Manalo’s story depicted that of a Nazi concentration camp.)”

While this artist firmly believes in the power of video to educate people, it was just that. It was only after he learned of the circumstances of the disappearance of the two students and how they were tortured and molested by the military that he seriously considered going into documentary films on social issues.

In 2009, a year after he took his basic Party course, he decided to join the New People’s Army (NPA). Having skills in film making, he expected it would be one of his tasks. But the NPA unit where he was assigned only learned about his artisty much later, which he said, worked in his favor.

No cuts, no edit

It was to his advantage that Ka Migo was able to immerse with the masses, do territorial work and participate in tactical offensives, “all the elements of the work in the countryside—armed struggle, base building and agrarian revolution.” The experience enriched him as a Party cadre and a red fighter.

While deep into the work in the countryside, Ka Migo realized that if only the public could see what the people’s army is actually doing then they would start to appreciate the importance of armed struggle—realistic telling moments that would definitely touch the hearts of the masses, the youth, and professionals in urban centers. “Ito yung katotohanan, na yung tao, dahil sa pagsasamantala, talagang lalaban yan, at ito yung isang itsura niya, yung armadong pakikibaka.”

This is the stark reality. Exploitation impels people to fight back through armed struggle.

Armed struggle it is. Life in the guerrilla zone affirms what Ka Migo studied in Party courses that armed struggle is the primary form of struggle. “My experience showed me how effective and important it is.”

He talked of the political power the NPA holds in the villages over the enemies of the people, which he quickly attributed to Comrade Mao Zedong’s adage, “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Erring companies, for example, operating within the guerrilla zone, would cower in fear or in respect. Wala ka pa ngang sinasabi, naka-Sir na agad yung mga guard (Even without saying a word, the guards are quick to address them, ‘Sir’).”

Comparing this to filmmaking, Ka Migo explained, “When doing a documentary, the camera is the main weapon to depict how people are exploited and oppressed. You may criticize and warn the perpetrators with your films but it remains their choice to take action. But if you have a gun, you can actually restrain the perpetrators and make them account for the wrongs they committed.”

But the combination of the two—the camera and the gun—is most powerful. “Kung ipinapakita mo ang ginagawa ng armadong pakikibaka, na totoo ito, na ito ang dapat nating gawin tapos makikita ang iba’t ibang scenario ng paglaban ng tao para ipagtanggol ang kanilang karapatan, mas powerful yun (When you are able to show that the armed struggle is real and we all should engage in this; and you show various scenes of how people fight back to defend their rights, this is most powerful.”)

Without saying it, Ka Migo finds himself in the same scene with an artist he met in the Cordilleras—Ka Libre, whose real name is Artus Talastas. He was a revolutionary martyr who was killed in 2014 in a firefight with the military. He was a red fighter, a commander of the NPA. He was also a painter and a musician. He is known in many villages because he gamely indulged those who wanted a sketch of themselves or their families. His songs, mostly in the form of saliddumay (local folk song), talked about the people’s struggles.

Composing the future

Ka Libre always told Ka Migo, “Nandito ang materyal sa paglahok sa digmang bayan. Makisalamuha ka sa magsasaka at manggagawa para ma-portray natin sila, yung kanilang pakikibaka, yung armadong pakikibaka ng malawak na masa, kung gaano ito kawasto at totoo at dapat na ginagawa ng nakararami.”

You get your material from your participation in the people’s war. Integrate with the peasants and workers so we can portray them,their struggles, the armed struggle of the broad masses of people and to show how just and true it is and that more people should engage in this.

In Ka Migo’s 10 years in the people’s army, he has cherished Ka Libre’s words. Paraphrasing him now, Ka Migo called on the artists and cultural workers, “Pumunta tayo sa sona, andito yung material para sa armadong pakikibaka, yung pinakamataas na antas. Heto sana yung gamitin nating inspirasyon ng kahit ano’ng sining natin (Come to the guerrilla zones, the material for and on the armed struggle is here, in its highest form. Let’s use this as our inspiration for our art).”

Know, learn, and muster inspiration from the life experiences of the masses, the people’s army and their lives together in the guerrilla zone to compose songs, paintings, poetry and literature. Ka Migo’s words ring true in the heart of every revolutionary artist. “Mas palapitin natin ang tagumpay (Let’s push forward to victory),” Ka Migo said as he uses his camera and his gun to serve the revolution.





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