Understanding Alsa Masa

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By Jun Ledesma


Monday, March 24, 2014

FOLLOWING the series of attacks waged by the New People’s Army in Davao del Sur, which resulted in the death of several government soldiers and policemen and wounding of civilian rescue volunteers, local officials clamored for the revival of Alsa Masa. They were obviously referring to the uprising of the masses in the 1980’s in Davao City which overthrew the commies overnight. This is a grave distortion.

The mass uprising of the people against the CPP/NPA was succinctly dubbed “Alsa Masa”. Those who were born in late 1970s to the present will find it quite incredible that in the 1980s Davao City was practically ruled by the communists and its armed band - the New People’s Army. Davao City was known as the laboratory of communist insurgency.

Agdao, the bastion of the CPP/NPA, was known as Nicaragdao in obvious reference to Nicaragua, which in that decade, was in deep turmoil following the success of the radical leftist uprising against an oppressive and corrupt regime that resulted in summary killings.


In those times in Agdao alone, no less than 15 people were summarily executed daily. Do not even think that this was done by the Davao Death Squads or DDS like how the Human Rights Watch did, at the time when the Commission on Human Rights headed by then CHR Chairperson Leila De Lima was investigating Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for alleged extrajudicial killings. CHR and HRW included in their death statistics victims of those summarily executed in the 1980s. This was absolutely a whimsical stupidity to pin Duterte.

The killings in Agdao and elsewhere in the city were carried out by the “NPA Sparrows” when Digong was yet a lanky and simple city fiscal.

Back to the main subject: How the CPP/NPA easily “captured” the hearts and minds of the masses is in itself a case study. In those times, the reforms promised by the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos started to collapse.

The first two years of the dictatorial regime was received with enthusiasm but alongside the failing health of the dictator the rise of abuses of those in the military and insatiable greed of cronies. These resulted in disenchantments. On a personal note, I lost my job in RMN-IBC and then the centurions of the press, headed by Hans Menzi, clamped down on my weekly, the Davao Chronicle.

When the NPA penetrated the ghettos, they found a suffering people that soon became their mass base. The ideologues came first and quickly organized city partisans. The Sparrows came next and hunted abusive barangay leaders and criminals who lorded it in the squatters areas then.

Policemen and the military men were of course considered the Marcos enforcers of dictatorial rules and were prime targets for execution. Many of the social and economic elite in Davao left. The oppressed and hungry mass naturally welcomed the NPAs as savior. They exact quick justice. While these happen in the urban center, the CPP in the rural areas around Davao City organized several armed groups the called Fronts. They were sustained by tax collections derived from businessmen in the city who paid for their tenure and security. The show of force by way of unhampered and massive street demonstrations hinted the communists had taken over Davao City. They have turned red the streets. Davao was a virtual ghost town at sundown.

The rich families left Davao. Those who had no means stayed. Terror reigned. The CPP/NPA Fronts grew in number but the source of funds to support and sustain their operations dwindled. The tax collectors now turned to their mass base for two “tsupas” of rice and a can of sardine from each family. As if these were not enough, they raised it to a ganta of rice plus P50 each week. Scared that they will be dealt with capital punishment squatter families strived hard to produce the “aid” for the people’s revolution. The mass base was gripped in fear and hunger.

What broke the camel’s back was when three armed partisan assigned to collect taxes were rounded up by a team of Sparrows. People were herded in a square in Gotamco, which used to be a basketball ground then. There they witnessed the execution of three young partisans for failing to turnover their collection quota.

One of the three victims, named Lamorena, has several relatives and intimate friends in Agdao. He was a young man with dreams and hopes for his parents to be liberated from poverty. He believed that joining the revolution will be the key to realizing his dreams. He has relatives in the movement and it was easy for him to be drafted and as a young partisan and was assigned the task to collect revolutionary taxes. Unfortunately for him, the big taxpayers had abandoned the city and the poor communities barely had any more means.

His death triggered the shift. His kin, some of them leaders of armed partisans, distanced themselves from the Sparrows and the hardcore among the NPA. Quickly the spirit of mass uprising against the NPA spread like wildfire that engulfed Agdao, the ghettos in the stretch of Quezon Boulevard all the way to Punta Dumalag. The hunters became the hunted and they were dealt with the same gruesome style of execution.

That peoples’ uprising against the oppressive communist regime is called Alsa Masa.

In retrospect, some important aspects in the course of these events came into play before the liberation of Davao City from the hands of the Red regime.

A new Police General by the name of Dionisio Tangatue Jr. took over the helms of the PNP command. The Philippine Marines came with a persuasive Commander named Rodolfo Biazon. The former is masters in intelligence and counterpropaganda while the latter is a charismatic Marine commander. An iconic radio commentator Juan “Jun” Pala also played an important role with his anti-communist commentaries. His was the lone voice in the night when people were so afraid to step out of the doors of their homes. He was a spitfire that made a mark against the NPA. My suspicion was that he was fed the lines by his police sponsors and security by his friends in the Marines.

At the time when the NPA ideologues were preaching dialectic materialism among church members in Buhangin, Pala came out with “Christian soldiers for democracy.” When the numbers of policemen were dwindling and more Sparrows were fielded in the streets of Davao, he came out with “Contra Force.” Later, when the NPA armed partisans and Sparrows were fleeing and being hunted he coined the “Davao Death Squads”. Of course, there were no warm bodies in the so-called Christian soldiers, Contra Force and DDS. All were nothing but phantoms.

Alsa Masa was likewise coined by Pala but I am quite certain that the new PNP Recom had something to do with the terminologies.  Pala’s commentary was a verbal staccato that hit the NPAs right in the solar plexus and helped ignite the spirit of Alsa Masa that spread like wildfire. 

Mine is a brief on the events that transpired in Davao City to lend significance, meaning and perspective to what Alsa Masa is all about. This is to distinguish it from the Vigilante group or groups that were organized in Davao del Sur (Nakasaka). There was a small group organized by Pinky Aquino in the city. Some people called this vigilantes but its more for his own and his business security. These days you may call it “blue guards”.

Ergo, people like Jun Alcover of NAD party list is mouthing like mad to discredit Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte because of the latter’s stand on the issue. Alcover is simply and dangerously proceeding from ignorance. If Duterte was saying he is against the revival of Alsa Masa it is because he is responding to the suggestion of political leaders in Davao del Sur, some military and police authorities and kibitzers like Alcover who thought that the Alsa Masa of Davao City were vigilantes. It is not. It is a spontaneous uprising of the masses against the NPAs.

There are, of course, elements who took advantage of the term alsa masa and used this to promote petty enterprises. There are politicians who associate themselves with the masa to earn votes and would identify themselves with Alsa Masa. They are fake. Vigilantes are like those organized by fugitive general Jovito Palparan and those conceptualized by Alcover.

If Mayor Digong is against the organization of Vigilantes, it is because by insinuation, our PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are helpless and hopeless in their campaign against the armed insurgents and organized crime. Indeed why should we field civilians to face the perceived enemies of the state when you have the AFP to do that?

Government authorities and the CPP/NPA should absorb lessons from the past. Insurgency thrives in a condition where poverty and government indifference and abuses is most pervasive. But when the insurgent forces took control and become as indifferent and abusive than those they had supplanted then they will face the prospect of the peoples uprising – Alsa Masa.  You do not need a vigilante group to do that.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 25, 2014.


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