By Felise Vida P. Solano
I was listening to a lecture on the recruitment process of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Bulacan State University when something hit me: I was about to lose you.
My bosses in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for the Reservist and Retiree Affairs, OG9, Philippine Army have been traveling, answering invitations from colleges and universities all over the country to talk about national security. Included in the lecture are briefings on the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and the Recruitment Process of the CPP/NDF/NPA. Sometimes I am asked to go with them. Being a fresh graduate of University of the Philippines- Diliman, it’s amazing how I could be working with soldiers. On that day in Bulacan, I nearly broke down in front of them.
This advocacy of OG9 has been going on long before talk started about making the ROTC mandatory again. Since the National Service Training Program (NSTP) was implemented, ROTC graduates have dwindled in number. The need is not just for eradicating conflict, but more importantly for maintaining peace locally and nationally.
At Laguna State Polytechnic University, the number of ROTC cadets is astonishing. It made me realize that the ROTC could help crush the insurgency not only because it is a source of reservists but also because universities and colleges are the breeding grounds of rebels. The strong presence of ROTC repels the infiltration of rebels. This is what others have failed to see: to solve the problem, you cut the root.
According to Lola Agnes, a former armed NPA rebel, recruiters use Mao Zedong’s theory of the blank paper: write on the blank paper and it will always leave a mark, even if you erase it. The minds of the youth are usually open, trusting, naïve. The NPA exploits this by inciting anger among the students, manipulating negative situations that put them at a disadvantage. The goal is to agitate, anger the students. Why anger? Because anger makes people do incredible things, like running the length of Mendiola barefoot, attacking soldiers, and forsaking family and friends.
I understood what Lola Agnes was saying. Anger drove you to one of those lightning rallies in front of the Malacañang. You went home tired and bruised, but you said it was for the “taong bayan.”
According to Ka Tina, there are several reasons the NPA targets the young for recruitment. First, they can withstand the harsh conditions in the mountains. During armed encounters, they are more agile and less susceptible to arthritis that slows down the movement of their forces. Second, the new recruits are assigned to illegal operations so that it would be more difficult for them to go back to their old life. Third, the youth are the best messengers for armed social revolution.
I had the good fortune to join my bosses at the University of Northern Philippines in Vigan. While we were traveling at night, I noticed that there were more stars in the countryside than in the city. I remembered one of those nights when we would just talk until the conversation turned to the revolution you were so passionate about. I asked if you would really hold a gun, if you were ready to take a life to fight for what you believed in. You said that if you needed to, you would. I said I wished it would never happen.
The government is not perfect. I am not covering up for it. There’s nothing wrong about voicing your opinions, nothing wrong about activism at all. And yet it was Jose Maria Sison himself who said that although there were the forces of armed revolution, there were also the legal democratic fronts from which the CPP/NPA/NDF acquires its manpower. It starts with Araling Aktibista or ARAK and culminates when they receive their code names or Koda after swearing eternal rebellion.
This isn’t about condemning the front organizations. This is about staying in school and leaving the gun for your books. For years, I have listened to activists denounce the mistakes of the government. I didn’t become one of them, although I understood their sentiments, I saw the situation, and I felt the pain.
But now, I am listening to former rebels who have made it their mission to save as many students as they can from being recruited by the NPA. I wish I could save you from being like them, save you from feeling guilty, save you from paying debts counted in lives.
Lola Agnes was a gifted child. She was recruited at the age of 13, and spent 10 years in the mountains as “Ka Tina,” “Ka George” and “Ka Yolly,” the meanest armed Amazon to walk the mountains of Bicol. After her surrender, she went back to school and eventually became a teacher and a civilian employee of the Philippine Army.
Ka Angel is the eldest of three children, and a second year chemical engineering student in UP Diliman when she joined the NPA. She witnessed the murder of a pregnant fellow NPA. She surrendered to the Philippine Army and is now back in college.
Ka Marjorie is a Protestant pastor and father of eight children, who abandoned his pregnant wife to become a “true son to the nation.” He forgot that he had the responsibility of being a father first. He is now with the advocacy and fighting to keep his family above poverty.
They are lucky to be alive. I hope you will never find yourself in their shoes.
More than saving you, I want to save myself. In this situation, like all those families and friends of students who became rebels, I only want to make sure a loved one is safe. I don’t want to be one of those people who stopped living because a daughter, a sister, a friend disappeared. I don’t know what’s worse: not knowing where you were and what happened to you or just finding you dead in some lonely forest. I know better now, and if I didn’t tell you what I know, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
The revolution is fake, a façade, a smokescreen to hide where so-called “revolutionary taxes” are going, which is into the pockets of the “leaders” who are not different from the ones you so hate. At one time, the situation might have been different. But now, the ideology is no longer there. It is gone.
If we want change, we should start with ourselves and take care of our family and friends so that they, in turn, will cherish their loved ones. That would be a revolution—not through violence, but through peace.
I don’t expect you to believe me immediately. I know how difficult it is to talk to a person whose mind is closed. But I hope you will think about what I have written. It is my prayers that if I wake up one day and see you in the news, you will be the newscaster, and not the cold corpse somebody else is talking about.
*Felise Vida P. Solano, 21, works in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for the Reservist and Retiree Affairs, Philippine Army. This article was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 29, 2010