Friday, October 30, 2009

Fighting For A Damned Cause: The Misadventures Of A Former NPA Rebel

Gilbert Llandelar is a typical Filipino folk in the countryside. Reserved and respectful. He is not used to mingling with people.

Gilbert was born on 05 December 1982 in the sleepy town of Lupi, Camarines Sur. He was the third among the eight children raised by his poor parents. When he was still a young boy, his family had its most traumatic experience cutting a deep psychological wound in his young mind. His father sexually molested his younger sister. Feeling betrayed and shocked by the gruesome crime, his mother had his father arrested by the police. He was incarcerated ever since. Due to this incident, Gilbert became bitter and angry. He stopped studying when he was in Grade 3. His mother cannot sustain the big family, forcing her to send two of his siblings for adoption. To help his mother, he found himself working as a farm laborer. They survived day by day with his small earnings. Life was indeed very difficult during those years. There were times that he found himself crying in bed. He envied his classmates who were about to finish their elementary education. As a school dropout, he knew that he was facing a bleak future. He can barely write his name. He had a hard time reading. He was aware uneducated people have little chances at improving their economic status. Though he had always wanted to go back to school, he can’t do it. They can barely eat three times a day. Meanwhile, his mother suffered an unknown illness that made her very weak.
Through the years, he had always helped his mother to feed the family. He did not have any close friends. Somehow, he developed an inferiority complex. He felt like he was not at the same level with his classmates who finished school. However, he had developed a special friendship with a young girl named Lyn, whom he had worked with in the farm. They easily clicked and became close friends. She was the only person whom he can share a laugh with. He appreciated the fact that she understood his situation. She advised him on his problems. At times, she helped him with his financial difficulties when things turned out worse. It was not a surprise therefore when they became sweethearts after three years of friendship.
The communist insurgency in Camarines Sur was at its peak during his adulthood. He has heard about the adventures of his relatives who have joined the movement. Two of them are close to him. His brother, Rowell, joined the rebel group, following the footsteps of their maternal uncle who was one of the CPP-NPA’s field commanders. His uncle, Ka Omeng, later became the Front Secretary of Front Committee 74, a post that he is currently occupying.
It was Lyn who had always prevented him to join the rebel movement. She threatened to split with him if he insisted. Deep inside him, he had always yearned to experience the warrior stories narrated by his brother. In one instance, he stayed overnight in a secluded farmhouse to think deeply about his options - his beloved Lyn or his quest for adventures? He was deeply bothered by his conscience. He can feel the pain of leaving the apple of his eyes, his girlfriend. She was very good to him. It was only she who makes his life complete. Later, in the morning, he decided to be with his sweetheart. He can’t afford to leave her. He had thought about coming to her and propose marriage. He felt that his love for her was most important.
He soon found himself a married man when he was just nineteen years old. Life was so good for him as she and Lyn started a new life as a married couple. He had a simple dream; he merely wanted to raise a happy family. He wanted his children to go to school and have better lives than him.
As a farm laborer, he received a very small wage despite burning himself under the scorching heat of the sun the whole day. Every time he remembered that his father sold all their properties including their farm, he wept in despair. He despised him because of his irresponsibility. He was ashamed to be identified with him. One time, he questioned if there was God. He questioned Him for being so cruel to his family.
When his second son was born, he felt the hard times. He felt that he can’t sustain the family anymore. He can’t go to work when he was sick. He always remembered that they were supposed to be tilling their own land. He was not supposed to rely on the small income he earned from his farm master who hired him for a fee. He felt that he was enslaved by some farm owners. They owned large parcels of land while poor laborers like him only had the small lot where his bamboo hut was erected. It was only his wife who always comforted him. She came to the point of begging for food from her own family when they had nothing to eat. She never failed to give him motivation to live.
One day in April 2004, he received some visitors in his home. They were young and good looking. They were accompanied by one of his former classmates who was a regular member of the CPP-NPA. His visitors talked eloquently about social issues. They seemed to have all the answers to his problems. They talked about social equality. It was the first time that he heard about the so-called instant justice. He was told that with the heinous crime that his father committed, he could have been shot by the NPA rebels instantly. “Wow, I could have liked that!”, he told the young visitor. He was amazed by the intelligence of his visitors. He was told about the benefit of being in the CPP-NPA; he was told about land distribution for the poor peasants and farm labourers. “NPA members are given priority on land distribution.”, the lady visitor explained. “If you want to join us, we will issue you your firearm right away!”, the lady said. Deep inside, he felt like he became an important person. “Someone is now giving me an opportunity to save my family from the shackles of poverty.”, he said to himself. He now had the chance to become a warrior like his cousin! When his visitors left, he consulted his beloved wife about his plan to join the rebel movement. She refused to let him go. “Who will take care of us?”, she asked. He can’t answer her question. He bowed down as he offered no direct answer to his wife. “Please don’t leave us.”, his wife pleaded. “I can’t survive without you”, she added. He was confused that he was not able to sleep that night. He was thinking about the future. He can’t probably sustain his family with his present job. He didn’t not want to see them endure the same hardships that he experienced. How can he do it? He does not even have his own farm to till. He had always dreamed of working on his own farm and harvest the fruits of his labor.
After two days, he was approached by his recruiters when he was returning home from farmwork. “We will let you decide by now.”, the man who introduced himself as Ka Nestor said. He was thrilled. He can’t explain his feeling during that time. He was shown the caliber .45 pistol that was offered to be his personal gun. He was happy at the possibility of becoming like his favorite actor in the movies. He was glad that he can now become a hero in his community. He can already fight the enemies who are making the lives of poor people more miserable.
He vanished without a trace that very moment. He didn’t even care to inform his wife. He was brought to the hinterlands of Lupi where he was introduced to the life of a regular NPA fighter. There were about forty of them during that time. He was so proud to have joined the group. He enjoyed the thrill of the constant “hide and seek” with the Army soldiers.
He enjoyed his stay with the rebel group. He was so happy when he first received his M16 rifle. He was taught on the basic military skills including rifle marksmanship. He fired a few rounds in their training range somewhere in the remote barangay of Ragay municipality.
He realized that life as an NPA rebel was indeed full of thrills. They have had lots of encounters with the government forces. He was so proud for being commended by his commander for his heroic actions during an offensive action against PNP personnel somewhere in Cam Sur. He felt like a hero; he was so proud that he was applauded as a real warrior.
Life in the rebel movement was also full of adventures. They slept on hammocks and transferred from one place to another. There was no way that he can contact his family. He tried his very best to forget them. He wanted to be known as a dedicated cadre.
As time goes by, he learned much of the true character of the communist movement. He noticed that they don’t pray. He was born to a devout Catholic mother who taught him the Novena and the Holy Rosary. In contrast, his comrades taught him that there was no such thing as God. “He is just a man who fooled us all”, Ka Leon, his commander claimed. He can’t believe it. He nonetheless continued to pray in silence whenever he is alone.
One time, he was also sent to collect “revolutionary taxes” from a private contractor who constructed the road project in the town of Pamplona. He was given a big brown envelope full of cash. He was not allowed to open it. Returning back to their temporary camp, his commander received the money. He was thinking that Ka Leon might want to give some amount to all the members for their own families. Unfortunately, Ka Leon got them all. He felt that he was unfair to his comrades. He had heard from another comrade that Ka Leon was already a rich man. His children were studying in exclusive schools in Manila. He had a palatial home in the town. “Our commanders are educated people”, his close buddy said. “They are receiving big financial incentives because of their educational status”, he added. He can’t believe it. During recruitment, he was told that in communism, everyone will be equal. He was convinced that the country will become a classless society. He was told that there will be no more masters because everything will be owned by the state. As fighters, he was told to have the distinction of being given lands. He was promised that it will make them different from the rest of the people. Since then, he was beginning to question its truthfulness.
One day, he was allowed to go home. “Spend your vacation”, Ka Leon said. “Be with your family because the Army is now intensifying its operations against us”, he explained. So there he went to his home. His wife greeted him with a very tight hug. They both cried. However, he became frustrated when his two children refused to be embraced by him. They forgot him after his long absence. “I am your Papa!”, he told his son. His children hid behind their door. He is a complete stranger to them! He spent the night watching his children as they slept. He was wondering if indeed he was taking the correct path by then.
Returning to the boondocks with his comrades was becoming much more difficult this time. Due to his frequent visits, he now have four children. His mother-in-law had always disliked him for his “irresponsibility”. His in-laws were the ones taking care for his growing family. He was bothered by his conscience. In the past, he was blaming his father for his own irresponsibility. Now, he is also accused for the same negligent act he despised of.
When he was finally back with his comrades, his wife had constantly tried to look for him. She visited friends and relatives in remote barangays to ask for him. She left her phone number so that he can contact her.
One day, he was told about the attempts of his wife to locate him. He was hesitant to contact her. He knew that she wanted him to surrender to the Philippine Army. He was so scared about his life. He had heard about the summary executions implemented against alleged traitors of the communist movement. His buddy has told him about his plan to surrender too. Like him, he was too afraid to leave their group and return to the folds of the law.
When his fourth child was born, he managed to be with his wife. She was already pleading for his surrender. “I heard about the Social Integration Program of the government”, she said. “We can live a normal life together”, she added. The accounts about the lives of the former rebels were not new to him. Ka Leon had always reminded them about the targeted killings against the traitors. He became so scared. He was told that the publicized surrender of their former comrades were a hoax. “It is not true that there is livelihood program for the former NPA rebels. The fascist government of PGMA wanted us to be divided!”, he angrily narrated. Confused and undecided, he started communicating with his wife. She was persistent. She told him about his “contact” in the military who wanted to help him. She gave him the cellphone number of the military officer.
One day, he received a text message from the military officer. “I want to help you and your family. I understand your situation.”, the sender said. He was very afraid to reply. He didn’t know what to do. After about a week, he sent his reply. “I want to peacefully surrender. Please secure my family.”, he said. That was the start of his constant communication with his friend in the military. His family was already transferred to a secure place. Everything was provided to them. He was relieved of some of his woes. He provided the military authorities with all information that they needed. He had prevented the burning of the heavy equipment used in the construction of roads and bridges somewhere in Ragay town. In one instance, he himself cut the wire which would detonate the landmine that was designed to annihilate the whole convoy of military personnel. After that incident, he received a congratulatory message which read: “Thanks for saving the lives of our soldiers led by our CMO officer. You did a good job!”. He was so happy. He had saved someone’s life. He is considered a hero by his friend.
On April 21 of this year, Gilbert finally surrendered to the 31st Infantry Battalion. He cannot contain the happiness that he felt when he saw his whole family as they waited for him. His two youngest children were too innocent to comprehend what was happening around them. He was surprised to hear the unforgettable words uttered by his son, “Papa, tabi ka sa akin matulog mamaya? (Father, will you sleep beside me tonight?)". “Opo, di na kita iiwan anak (Yes, I won’t leave you anymore)", he replied as tears began rolling down his cheeks. He has already found real happiness that he was looking for. He regretted that he had wasted some years in his life, and also made his own family suffer, fighting for a damned cause.

*Five (5) months after Gilbert surrendered, he led military authorities to the site of CPP/NPA arms cache. He is also responsible for the surrender of some of his former comrades. Gilbert and his family is now enjoying the modest and honorable benefits of the government's “Balik-baril Program” and “Social Integration Program”.

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