Out of the shadows

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SO THIS is what the leaders of the longest Maoist insurgency in the world look like, I thought to myself as I stared at the pictures of the couple who seemed well into their retirement years. At first glance, they looked ordinary to me, except for the stern faces and clenched fists trying to rise above the restraining cuffs.

I have never heard of the Tiamzon couple till now though I am sure they have been studied, dissected, and discussed in smoke-filled damp military offices. And this veil of secrecy, part and parcel, I believe, of life in underground is also what provides fodder for all the loose talk going around.

From out of the woodwork is a slew of opinions regarding the recent arrest of the CPP’s supposed chairperson and secretary-general. The views come from a range of extremes with a loud majority calling for something short of a public quartering so as to make them answer for their alleged crimes. What is palpable is the great social interest the capture has generated and a lot of these are misinformed, done in bad faith, or pure propaganda from the right.


It is only news when the rebels launch a brave military offensive. But one wonders what is it that they do for the most part of the year?

There is a book entitled Uncounted Lives: Women and Children in Armed Conflict in the Philippines which documents a UNICEF-funded research undertaken in 2005. I had my own opinions and misconceptions about the so-called communist movement before but the book disabuses me of some of these. For the curious, it provides an intimate look into the whys of how the CPP has managed to wage the longest sustained armed insurgency anywhere in the world.

For one, communities which were part of the research areas did not regard the rebels as fugitives or bandits. The insurgency has taken root for almost three generations already thus the rebel group has sutured themselves into the fabric of community life in these areas. They have functioning political structures that provide important social services like education, health, and justice system. They have even evolved their own culture and arts rooted in nationalism which is distinctly different from the showtime culture in the more affluent urban centers.

The idea that rebels are constantly cooped up in guerilla camps plotting their next attack is something that is also untenable according to what the interviews in the book reveal. They have to take care of the interest of the communities for their very own survival. Thus, they engage in economic production to feed themselves, provide social services, as well as ensure that they do not violate the sensibilities of the community. In some areas, the aspiration of children is to become red fighters when they reach the mandatory age of 18 which reveal the in-roads that the 45-year insurgency has achieved in areas where they have influence according to the book.

For sheer longevity alone, the rebels have made themselves indistinguishable from the masses they serve, in my view. Which also speak about the unchanging root causes that fuel the armed struggle.

This has led some to observe the existence of two governments in this country. One, of course, is the official government of the Philippine Republic with its Armed Forces, and the other are the shadow governments established by the rebels in areas that they have “emancipated.”

This principle of belligerency, that the insurgency is actually a war between two separate governments, is a thorny issue in the peace talks, but it can actually provide an alternative take on the recent arrest of the Tiamzon couple.

Mainstream public opinion views their arrest from the vantage point of GRP laws and jurisprudence. But for 45 years, the CPP has established their own mode of governance in areas they have control. Considering that both GRP and NDFP, the negotiating arm of the CPP, are enagaged in peace talks, the arrest of the leaders can be considered an act of usurpation or if you will, annexation- something that the JASIG agreement was supposed to prevent to no avail.

Part of the interest in seeing the Tiamzon couple is that for the most part of the 45-year-old insurgency, their leaders have never assumed a public persona except for their spokespersons. There has been no need to until now because they have preferred to be faceless and nameless.

But as their two weather-beaten faces are revealed before the public eye with their capture, I am also sure two new faces disappear stealthily into the shadows.

(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 25, 2014.


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