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Davao City

Theatre of War, Theatre of the Masses

in Arts & Literature
by Iliya Makalipay

The speeches, songs, dances, music and poetry were woven like red and gold thread through the fabric of the 48 years of the people’s war.  They were almost seamless. The crowd alternately sighed, sobbed and chanted slogans as the cultural program progressed in the fully-packed gym, on the streets and on every empty space around.

“This is a ‘tactical offensive’,” was the slogan of the cultural workers who were tasked to prepare and perform for the 48th anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the Southern Mindanao region. ‘Tactical offensive’ or TO involves strength and flexibility, harmony and coordination, timing and rhythm. These are all within the discipline of the people’s army. These, too, are the same elements required of the cultural workers and artists involved in the cultural program for the Party’s big day.


Strength and flexibility

Assigned to prepare the anniversary program was a core staff of cultural workers who are now fighters from various units of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the region. The first task was to assemble the cast and crew.  With a month to implement their concept, the most accessible to them were the NPA medics who had earlier gathered for a regional medical training and later, medical missions to the villages. While a number of medics had a background in cultural work, the majority were new to the terrain of the stage. “That’s part of the NPA’s flexibility. You undergo medical training and you practice it through cultural performances,” said the director, Ka Alwin, in jest.

But, three weeks before the event, adjustments had to be made when the regional celebration became the centerpiece of the nationwide commemoration. With delegations from all over the country, the number of those attending the activity had tripled. The initial 20 performers would be dwarfed by the crowd’s number, the staff thought. Thus, they spared no effort to comb for performers in every NPA unit and artists’ organizations in the city and in the villages. In no time, they assembled 77 performers, 43 dancers/movers and 34 singers.

Members of the local Kabataang Makabayan (KM, Patriotic Youth) were mobilized. Other NPA members whom the core staff knew as singers and performers were pulled out of their units. City-based members of ARMAS (Artists and Writers of the People) and allies backed up the countryside (CS)-based cultural workers.

They also adjusted the stage design according to the available budget, materials and manpower. “We wanted fresh flowers for the hammer and sickle logo of the CPP. But we ended up with gold glitters and anahaw (palm) leaves,” Ka Led said in between laughs. “We had to make use of everything available in our surrounding and only bought the essentials, like the pieces of cloth.” But there was, on the day itself, a giant LED screen posted outside the gym to ensure nobody misses out anything that was happening on the stage.


Harmony and coordination

The rehearsals for the program, including five major production numbers, started on December 8, two weeks before the event. Aware of a tight schedule and a host of related tasks before them, the core staff emphasized the importance of collective work—something they are all used to. To hasten learning in between rehearsals, the performers were divided into teams where those who learned the choreography or voicing faster took care of those who needed help.

Urban-based artists, however, had to cope with the level of skills of their performers, rehearsal time, and style and methods of work.

The choirmaster who lives in the city, for example, had to ask her children to alternately train the CS-based choir on days she was not available. At times, Ka Tien, the political officer of the Pulang Bagani Brigade (PBB) of the NPA had to be dragged from his other tasks when no guitarist was available to accompany the choir’s practice.

A city-based choreographer had to adjust her original design and tailor her choreography to the movers who came mostly from the peasantry. “Their class origin defines the body movements they are familiar with. The choreography should fit their ways being sons and daughters of the peasantry and fighters in the people’s army.”

All through the gruelling two-week rehearsals, Ka Alwin and the other core staff members made sure the difference between the urban and CS-based cultural workers in terms of skills and content would not be manifested. “We have to achieve unison and break this idea that the urban-based are better in skills and the CS-based are better in content.” Expectedly, there were misunderstandings but, to safeguard the group’s cohesiveness, they practiced ‘Criticism and Self-Criticism’ (CSC), a Party principle of correcting wrong attitudes and style and methods of work. “No one shines individually, this is a collective endeavor,” said Ka Alwin.


Timing and rhythm

As D-day neared, most of the performers already had evident bruises and cuts from moving about on the rough wooden planks of the stage. Some of the choir members had lost their voices. But they all agreed to do their best even when their voices and movements falter.

And shine they did on the day the revolutionary movement honored the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Collectively, the movers and the choir performed as one and moved to the beat of the heart of the masses. Their voices and movements became the movement of the revolution, the masses, the people’s army and the Party.

The masses sang with the choir. They groaned as movers mirrored the hunger that preceded the Kidapawan massacre. They booed the “military” when it appeared onstage and rooted for the people’s army. They cheered when they saw “Uncle Sam” impaled on a bamboo pole. They hailed when finally, a golden cloth was rolled out and bared the hammer and sickle emblem of the Party.

Like in any tactical offensive, the performers got their energy from the masses. The cultural presentations ceased to be performances and became the lives of the masses. The masses saw their hunger, oppression and poverty and how the Party and the NPA empowered them and showed their collective strength.

Like in any other tactical offensive, the Party and the people’s army came out victorious and shared the triumph with the masses. It reached the masses, touched their emotions and sensibilities, and fired up their vim and vigor.


The crowd cheered and appreciated the performances—and the performers, specially— during the 48th anniversary celebration of the Party.  With delight, the masses in Brgy. Lumiad mentioned that the cultural program was a “grand production sa mga bayot (gays).” To a large extent it was! The core staff and crew, director and choreographers—and more than half of the performers—were gays who have been welcomed into the ranks of the NPA.


Beloved Warrior of the Masses

in Mainstream
by Pat Gambao

In life and in death, he remained an unfading inspiration to the entire revolutionary forces and the masses. His selfless commitment to serve the exploited and oppressed, his unflinching sacrifices and his relentless perseverance and valor bespeak of the communist spirit.  His significant contributions to the revolutionary movement and the people’s democratic revolution for national liberation and social transformation are etched in the hearts and minds of every fighter, every man and woman, every child in the areas where he left his imprint.

Commander Ka Parago had lived with the masses for decades, zealously serving them, protecting them and helping them with their problems. He loved the masses so much and he in turn was dearly loved by them.  For these, he has been revered.  Even children who barely had a glimpse of him when he was alive fondly call him tatay (father) to these days.

Leoncio “Commander Parago” Pitao joined the New People’s Army in 1978.  His mastery of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (MLM) principles was manifested in the excellence of his practice.  He held on to the correct political line as he built organs of political power and mass organizations. He led the pursuit for land reform while advancing the struggle.  He also developed close ties with the masses—the peasants, workers and indigenous people, as well as built relations with allies.  A brilliant strategist and tactician in guerrilla warfare, he led the First Pulang Bagani Company in the Southern Mindanao Region to many victorious offensives against the reactionary government’s military forces. Commander Parago was the most famous NPA commander of his time. The local reactionary forces dreaded and hated him.

Commander Parago was captured by enemy forces in 1999 but was released on recognizance in 2001, a confidence and goodwill measure for the resumption of the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).  Upon release, he went back to the countryside to continue with the struggle.

But the enemies never stopped to wreak vengeance on Ka Parago.  They abducted his daughter, Rebelyn, and ruthlessly killed her.  That great blow in his life almost broke him down.  For three days, the tough commander locked up himself in his shack, crying, not wanting to talk to anyone, refusing to take in any food, not so much from grief but from rage.  No one among his comrades dared to disturb him. So they turned to those they knew Ka Parago could not refuse—the masses in the community who became close to him. And it was them who convinced him to eat, calmed him down and brought him back to his senses; the masses he loved so much.  He had lived his life for them since his awakening to the wretchedness of their plight; for them he had pledged to die fighting.

For some time, Ka Parago had been sick with diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hepatitis and hypertension.  His comrades advised him to take a leave for medical treatment and rest outside the area of his command but he opted to stay and live with the masses.

On June 28, 2015, an enemy team raided Purok 9 of Barangay Panalum in the Paquibato District of Davao City where Parago was undergoing medical treatment. He was with NPA medic Vanessa Limpag, Ka Kyle.  The enemy immediately riddled Commander Parago with bullets upon sight of him.  Vanessa, who had raised her hand and made known she was a medic was also gunned down.  Ka Leoncio Pitao passed away at 57.

In contrast to the lenient and humane treatment that Commander Parago and his unit rendered to captured enemies and prisoners of war, he was summarily killed in stark violation of International Humanitarian Law (or the laws of war).

For some time, his men who had always hung on to his shoulders were disheartened and, like the enemy, entertained the thought that the revolution in that part of Mindanao would crumble.  But then, the legacy he had left behind—the education and training of so many revolutionaries who will carry and pass on the torch till victory of the Philippine revolution, the burning desire he sowed in the hearts of the masses to be freed from the bondage of exploitation and oppression, the life he lived, the communist virtues in his being—fired the revolution to even greater heights, delivering fatal blows to the enemies.

It was harvest time for the seeds that Commander Parago had sowed. The First Pulang Bagani Company has since become a full battalion.  His successors have become more determined to advance the revolution to victory. The grief for the loss of the beloved comrade and valiant hero has turned to revolutionary courage as a lasting tribute to his cherished memory.

CPP’s 48th Anniversary: The Masses’ Revolutionary Power at Work

in Mainstream
by Iliya Makalpay

Brgy. Lumiad, Paquibato District, Davao City— “Naa pa si Tatay, o! (Look, Father is still there!),” A child on board a passenger bus called out in Cebuano. “Tatay” was the slain New People’s Army (NPA) commander Leoncio “Ka Parago” Pitao, who was killed in a special military operation by the AFP on June 28, 2015 in one of the villages in Paquibato District where he was undergoing treatment by a woman NPA medic who was also killed.

It had been three days after the 48th anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on December 26, but Ka Parago’s standee remained atop a makeshift platform near the gymnasium. The huge photo was among the features of the celebration before which villagers and visitors, young and old, had their pictures taken. A giant hammer and sickle lantern was still mounted behind the standee. The huge lantern was lit up along with 48 sky lanterns to cap the December 26 event.

At the sight of Ka Parago’s standee, the bus passengers were transported back to the anniversary celebration and the weeks leading to it. Three days after the event, the stories told around sounded as fresh as they had been the morning after—where people on street corners, in sari-sari stores, at the front yard of houses huddled and shared anecdotes and laughter. They bantered at how they had to walk sideways to navigate through the huge crowd at the gathering. They laughed at how they panicked over preparing and distributing food to the crowd. They marvelled about the program and how their sons and daughters fared in the cultural numbers. They laughed at each other’s gaffes in performing their assigned tasks.

But all their faces beamed with pride.

The NPA members who marched in battalion-size formation during the anniversary celebration earned the public’s awe. The crowd—the almost 20,000 masses who came on foot, and in buses, jeepneys, cars and on motorbikes from all over Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon—was equally remarkable. Everyone was in high spirits in that all-inspiring moment—a spectacle never seen before.


Revolutionary mass movement

Call it a show of force, yes. But, the other lesser-known force behind that spectacular show were the members of the Party units and various allied organizations of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) who worked enthusiastically with the NPA members to prepare for the event. They comprised the revolutionary organs of political power in the district.

“It’s a first in our barrios and we were so nervous. We never thought we could pull it off,” said Ka Deling, a member of MAKIBAKA or the Free Movement of New Women, a revolutionary women’s mass organization allied with the NDFP. The MAKIBAKA members were among the almost 4,000 revolutionary masses from different barrios mobilized to take on different tasks for the celebration.

Many of those mobilized were assigned in the food committee. Food preparation needed more people compared to other tasks as thousands of visitors expected to attend must be fed breakfast, lunch and supper. About 700 men were assigned to cook the rice, said Ka Deling. Other MAKIBAKA members were assigned in the kitchen and food distribution. Packed lunches were distributed through the team leaders of each delegation from the different regions of Mindanao and from Luzon and the Visayas. (At midday on December 26, more food packs and roasted pigs came in as gifts from city, provincial and even national government officials.) “Cooking involved several villages, and the cooks brought their own pots and pans and other cooking utensils. They also brought their own firewood,” said Ka Jose, a member of the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid (National Association of Farmers), a founding member of the NDFP.

Others members of the revolutionary organizations were assigned to take care of transportation, mobilizing at least 40 drivers for the borrowed buses and motorcycles. A temporary clinic was set up manned by the barrio’s health committee and NPA medics. Another group of men and women were assigned to help in the construction of the stage and in decorating the covered court where the program was held. They, too, brought their own tools. Houses in the barangay, and even the barangay hall, were opened to visitors who chose to spend the night in the barrio, especially those from Visayas and Luzon.

Local Kabataang Makabayan members and city-based artists who were members of or mobilized by ARMAS (Artists and Writers of the People), another NDFP allied organization, worked with the NPA-based director, production manager and choreographers to mount the six major production numbers and oversee the day-long program. There was a group assigned to liaison with the media.

Two platoons of the Milisyang Bayan (MB, People’s Militia) beefed up the NPA security force to thwart any untoward action by the military during the celebration. Ka Deling recalled that four days before, members of the paramilitary group CAFGU put up a blockade on the road leading to the venue. But this was immediately dismantled by the people. On December 23, a group of policemen wanted to check whether the village is “drug-free”.  But the people only jeered at the policemen. Warning that the NPA forces are around, the masses told the policemen they could enter the village only if they left their weapons behind.

On the day of the celebration, no uniformed military or police was visible in the barrio. Instead, there were two NPA checkpoints installed on the main road leading to the venue “to ensure that only those invited could enter.”

The day after the event, the masses and a unit of the NPA cleaned up the whole village. In a matter of four hours, everything was back to its proper place—save for Ka Parago’s standee and the huge hammer-and-sickle lantern. “We did not expect the event would be this grand. But, kaya man diay (We made it), with the guidance of the comrades from the Party and the people’s army,” Ka Manding exultantly remarked.

Ka Tien, the political officer of the Pulang Bagani Battalion (PBB) and Ka Led, the event’s production manager, attributed the success of the celebration, specifically the masses’ active participation to the years of painstaking organizing and consolidation work in the district, initiated by the Party and the PBB led by Ka Parago. Both claimed they were “standing on Parago’s shoulders.”

Ka Jose, a long-time organizer in the district, acknowledged that he doubted for a moment the movement’s future after Ka Parago was slain. “But we realized there are many Ka Paragos in the Party and in the NPA. The years of hard work by comrades have paid off,” he said.

Soon after Ka Parago’s funeral march through Davao City to his final resting place, the masses and their revolutionary mass organizations were in fighting form again, mindful that many tasks lie ahead. “We have become more conscientious because we cannot fail our slain leader and the martyrs of the revolution,” Ka Jose stressed.


People’s war leads to JUST peace

The Davao City celebration was the center of the nationwide observance of the CPP 48th anniversary. CPP founding Chairperson and NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison  addressed the crowd through a video message. NDFP Negotiating Panel Senior Adviser Luis Jalandoni, panel member Coni Ledesma, NDFP peace consultants Concha Araneta, Porferio Tuna and Eduardo Genelsa, did not only lead the panel of program speakers, they also freely and happily mingled with the masses and the NPA fighters, indulging them with photo-op sessions.

Across the country, the deepening and widening strength and influence of the revolutionary movement was manifested in various guerrilla fronts. Tens of thousands of people and the NPA fighters raised the CPP flag and waved the banners of the NDFP and its allied revolutionary organization as a tribute to the Party’s leadership in the Philippine revolution.

While the masses voiced out their support for the peace negotiations, the 48th anniversary celebration was also an occasion for them to manifest their rage against the failed promises of the Duterte administration, specifically its failure to release all political prisoners through general amnesty. The masses had expressed their desire for the NPA to end its unilateral ceasefire in the face of the escalating attacks by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) against them and their communities.

At bottom, the celebration of the 48th anniversary of the CPP was a pledge to continue to raise the people’s war to greater heights towards achieving genuine and lasting peace over the long haul, while building up revolutionary gains that benefit the people. Across the country, the slogan “people’s war is for people’s peace” reverberated.


Victory for the masses

Many take up and vigorously echo the call. The sound of the numerous voices of the masses is indeed contagious, inspiring and invigorating.

“Daghan man diay ta, dili lang diay kami ang nakigbisog, (I realized there are many of us. We are not alone in this struggle),” said one resident of Bgy. Lumiad. The visitors and the host communities drew inspiration from each other to push forward the people’s war and face down enemy threats.

“Pagkakita nako sa mga tao, kit-an gyud nako na mudaug gyud ang rebolusyon. (When I saw the crowd, I knew the revolution would be victorious. No doubt the masses will triumph),” he gushed.

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