• Life In The New People's Army

    • Accounts from an international fighter, a retired veteran, and a lesbian about their service to the Philippine democratic revolution.

Currently I am a political officer in the New People's Army.

It is close to a several years now that I have left my homeland, to serve side by side with my comrades in the Protracted People's War. Unlike my comrades, I am from another country — I grew up abroad in the center of an imperialist country, never knew a word of Tagalog, but I was united in the shared struggle of workers, students, and discrimination that was shared by Filipinos. I hope my story can paint for all of those who will read this article a clear picture of the reality of working class families and immigrant families overseas. And also to reach readers in other countries as to why I joined the NPA, and this protracted people's war.

Before I came to the NPA, I was a working student. I worked to help pay for my education and also to help pay for my everyday needs like food and transportation. I didn't want to be a burden to my family so I studied hard and constantly struggled to find stable work. Being only a high school graduate, it was hard to find a job, where even for a simple job working in a restaurant, applicants with college degrees were preferred. Many times I felt demoralized and discouraged due to the instability of finding work, having low wages, and the high cost of living in my homeland. On top of that, because of my appearance, I often had been the target of discrimination by police and the wealthy. This had been an experience for me since I was young and all throughout high school. Even before college, when I was in high school I was angry and frustrated. I was sick and tired of the racism, the exploitation faced by my family members, friends, and the poor, and I wanted to do something about it. It was through this frustration and anger that I became an organizer.

As an organizer, I began to really learn and understand the experiences of the poor, and I saw the importance of an organized base — the importance of a mass movement and a revolutionary movement. There had been many protests, campaigns, and other forms of activism; however, people in my homeland struggled to unify under a solid political revolutionary line. There were efforts in the past to unite the people but they were destroyed by government campaigns targeting the mass movement. The leaders killed or arrested and the people forced to submission via neoliberal reforms. It was clear to me then that no amount of reforms can change the system as it was controlled by the rich and oligarchs via the system of capitalism. While portrayed as a democracy, it was really a dictatorship of the rich, in which we elected new leaders to tell us the same lies.

The policies passed only reinforced this reality. More and more the price of housing increased. The contractualization and disposability of workers worsened. The price of education climbed even higher forcing the poor to take lifelong debts just to study. The intervention of military troops abroad continued even under a "progressive" leader. Every year the power was concentrated more and more to the wealthy, and the basic human rights such as the right to study, for free healthcare and housing, was diminished for the poor. In such a system, I began to see the only solution was revolution.

It was at this point I became attracted to revolutionary writings. I learned that imperialism can only be destroyed at its weakest links, by destroying the power of the corporations at the source of their power — which was concentrated to the third world and in the areas where their power was most threatened, in areas where revolutionary movements are strong, where through corrupt governments, the privatization of natural resources to serve imperialist nations instead of the people was maintained. Therefore I began to study other revolutionary movements around the world, in South America, in Kurdistan, in India, but I was most inspired by the Philippine revolution. I was inspired by the Philippine revolution's solid political line, its victories against reformism and revisionism, which had already slowly began to infect other movements. I was inspired by its mass movement and its armed struggle. How even after so many years, the revolution maintained the aspirations of the poor for national liberation. I saw that by supporting the Philippine revolution, it can have impacts on the world — to inspire other countries that even in the 21st century, revolution is possible. That despite the strength of imperialist nations' militaries, nothing can stop a just war and a war based upon the aspirations of the people, that it would be one concrete step to contributing to the destruction of the worldwide system of exploitation and oppression. So I packed my bags and joined the New People's Army.

At first, life in the NPA was hard, I didn't know any Tagalog and I struggled in the jungle terrain. But I saw the examples of the comrades and it always inspired me, walking through typhoons, steep mountains, across wide rivers and ravines. It inspired me to keep going, to struggle through it, and the supporting hand of my ka-buddy was always there. As a political officer, I became close to my comrades and they became like a family that I didn't have. I was determined to never leave them behind.

Another source of inspiration was none other than the fighting spirit of the NPA, that nothing, no situation can get us down, no matter the hardships we face. I have served alongside mothers and fathers, fighting for the future of their children, the old, whom despite hardships weathered through some of the most difficult terrain and military situations and despite after fighting for over 30 or 40 years, some even experiencing being captured and tortured, never once gave up their dream of a free world. I have fought with the youth, whose burning aspirations flow through their service, people of all faiths, from every class sector, tribe, and parts of the country, men and women of the People's Democratic Republic that we are fighting to build.

After several years of my service, even with the introduction of new counter insurgency programs such as JCP Kapana­tagan, I have seen that in tough situations, the Red Fighters of the New People's Army only get tougher. With every new addition of the AFP's arsenal, the Red Fighters only get more creative and more determined to seize the time and bring revolution to victory. The Filipino people have shown, despite fighting for several hundred years, they are ready to fight until total victory, and fight any and all enemies of the people until they are free.

Additionally, seeing the true nature of the Philippines, the exploitation of workers in the cities and peasants in the countryside, and the rotten nature of the government, which deploys its own troops to harass those who fight for their rights and assassinate mass leaders, all for the interests of foreign corporations and the wealthy. It was even more clear to me the only solution is the burning of the old system and rebuilding a new one. The crimes of the government only further affirmed the decision I made to join the NPA, and to continue to fight. For me, as a human being, seeing the unjust conditions of the world, the unjust treatment of the people, I felt it was my duty to fight against those who oppress and exploit, it is my duty as a human to help the poor and hungry. Even after tactical offensives, this was clear — in our atrasan we would be welcomed and thanked by the people, hugged and embraced by the poor.

Since then I have never regretted my decision to join the NPA, to build the courage to stay, to dedicate my youth to fighting for the people. I can admit, there were many times when I missed my family deeply overseas, and times where I missed the comforts of my old life. But I always reflect: where would we be without an armed struggle, without a revolutionary movement? The people would only be more and more exploited and oppressed, to continue to have their aspirations denied to them, and their future robbed by the rich. Because of the conditons of this world, there are few options. Why not fight for the people? Why not fight for what's right? I couldn't live my life right, when my children one day ask me what did I do to help others. What would I answer? Would I be satisfied with that answer?

There is a dream that constantly visits me and inspires me, where people can live happy lives free from exploitation, where my family can be comfortable and where the poor can live in a society that puts their interests firsts before the greedy and wealthy. This is a dream that I had come to live for, this is a dream that I had come to fight for, and if necessary, a dream where I am willing to give my life to see it come true.

  • The Best Of My Life Was In The NPA

    • Ka Maria Nel
    • January 13, 2021
    • An open letter to the 5th CMO Battalion — Philippine Army and Task Force ELCAC — Northern Luzon and simultaneously a response to the invitation of Radyo Natin in Bontoc, Mt. Province to the CPP-NPA to join the Philippine Army on air.
    • Ka Maria Nel joined the NPA in the early 1990s and currently a member of the Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA) in Cordillera. The MAKIBAKA in Cordillera is a member-organization of the Cordillera People's Democratic Front.

I am a retired Red fighter of the NPA, among those you are offering to surrender. Unfortunately, I can not afford to renounce my loyalty to the revolution and to the masses we ardently serve. I thank the Radyo Natin (in Bontoc) for inviting us to join and discuss with you on air. But I am sorry we can't heed. With your (Anti) Terror Law, it is too risky to be lenient.

If you are sincerely eager to discuss with us, the appropriate venue must be at the peace talks, wherein our representatives of the CPP-NDF take the responsibility of formally talking with your representatives of the GRP so that the proposals for the essential socio-economic reforms that would eventually resolve the armed conflict between us, for just and lasting peace, would be agreed upon.

I was challenged to also publish my REVELATIONS as a (real) former member of the NPA, to belie those "revelations of former rebels" you hype which are entirely different to my experience for nearly three decades of serving as an NPA warrior.

I joined the NPA in my mid-20's, at the prime of my youth. And now, I am at the golden age of 50's. I refuse to retire as a Red fighter of the NPA, but my unit in the CPP-NPA had to send me off for other important tasks of the revolution. Until now, I can't get over leaving the Red Army, because I consider that the best of my life was spent here. Spending my youth in serving the people through the armed revolution, is the milestone in my life. For this, I consider my life fulfilled in the NPA, contrary to what you are vaunting as "revelations of former rebels" that their lives were "miserably spent and lost in the NPA." Opposite to what you are brandishing that we revolutionaries are misled, we have been enlightened and have trodden the right path towards freedom, democracy and prosperity of life for the Filipino people. I was born and raised in the dark period of US-Marcos fascist dictatorship. I was a student youth who was enlightened by the rottenness of the society at a time the Filipino people have kicked-out Marcos and was replaced by the Cory Aquino regime who pretended to be pro-people and pro-democracy. I dreamt of becoming a lawyer if not a professor, and was also obsessive of becoming an international war correspondent but I set aside these ambitions because I was roused of a greater service that I could render to my countrymen through direct and fulltime involvement in the revolution.

I was a consistent scholar since high school, yet I was not blinded by the state's "charity" for my stable education and the "surety" of my future, when the education and future of the Filipino youth are not stable and ensured in a commercialized and repressive system of education run by your negligent state. My father was an employee of the US Military Bases and yes, of a US-owned Benguet Mining company, too. But I was not duped by the US "benevolence" in providing for our family's living, when the Filipino people are deprived of adequate living in this backward and decrepit Philippine society long dominated by US imperialism. I wasn't yet an activist and there were "no NPAs deceiving me', but only through the subjects in my AB Political Science course, I appreciated socialism and communism that uphold the well-being of the poor and equal rights of all, and understood that capitalism and feudalism enrich only the capitalists and landlords by exploiting the workers and peasants. And as my study on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism deepened in my involvement in the revolution, I was further awakened that the Philippines is a waning semi-feudal and semi-colonial society that needs to be changed by waging a people's democratic armed revolution and installing a socialist society until exploitation is eliminated and equality of the human race is achieved in a communist world society. I wasn't yet an activist and there were "no NPAs inciting me," but my mind was raging and seeking for a venue where I could dispute the social discrimination and despotism I was clearly witnessing, from the school. As editor of our school publication and writer-contributor of the local periodicals, I poured on my dissent to the state negligence and repression of the youth and students, as well as the exploitation of the landlords to the peasants and the capitalist companies to the workers in our province. I organized student debates too, where I could express and assert my contention for the abrogation of the US Military Bases in the Philippines. In all debates, the NO to US Bases position prevailed, and was propagated in our province. Because of these, I was blacklisted and our school pub threatened to be closed. I was accused of creating "havoc" in our university and in our province. They should have expelled me, but because I was due on graduating, I was allowed to pursue my course but was put on stiff surveillance and harassment by the intelligence agents of the university, the ROTC, military, police and even the security agents of the reigning warlords of our province.

I realized that it was practically hard fighting alone, so I joined the youth and student movement that fights for democratic rights. All the more, I became determined in leading the legitimate struggle of the youth, peasants, fisherfolk, workers, and other poor people. All the more, I became bolder in exposing and in seeking justice for the masses' oppression, in the streets, on the radio and on the local papers. And all the more, I was hounded by the fascist government agents, in a vicious double-bladed tactic of direct intimidation and spy conversion by tempting me of scholarship and fat allowance. Failing on both tactics, they exposed me as "an NPA" and was cited as "persona-non-grata" in my town. Because my life was at risk, I rather decided to enlist to the NPA. I realized that in the open democratic mass movement, where my weapons were barely my voice and pen, I cannot fight evenly. Read: Nobody recruited me to the NPA, I volunteered to enlist.

With the NPA and peasants in the countrysides, I found my new home. In the NPA, I was all the more enlightened that the people's war is the ultimate means of achieving their democratic rights and that my fighting will was steeled even more. Aside from my voice and pen, I now have a gun as real weapon. The fight is now even. I am now free to expose the oppression of peasants by the landlords and merchant-usurers, to organize and lead them along the youth, women, workers and the middle class in the national democratic revolution. Even if you attack us, we just withdraw and position on the hills and we'll ambush you. The masses are our wide net of intelligence, as well as support. We don't need to extort, because the voluntary support of the masses is profuse. Because of the warm embrace the masses give us back, we can surmount all the adversities and challenges of life in the mountains away from our loved ones.

One day, when we chanced by a soldier who took vacation, he bragged that if they get short of supply on their operations, they would stew pebbles for their viand, as he challenged me, "and you, can you do that? (boiling pebbles for a viand)" I laughed as I retorted, "Why do you need to stew pebbles for your viand? We do not experience that because even if you are running after us, the masses run the stewed chicken after us. Why would we eat stewed pebbles?" He was awed, realizing that boiling pebbles for a meal is not a strength, rather an indication of lack of the masses' support to you.

If these scripted storylines of "gruelling life of the NPA" are the "revelations" of these "NPA surrenderees", I would not contest that, because life in the armed revolution is really that hard. When I joined the NPA, the comrades did not entice me of an easy life in the mountains, but rather forewarned me that life is arduous here, because this is a class war between the oppressed and the oppressors. I could have quit and just returned to my comfortable life downtown and pursue my ambitions, but as my world broadened in the countrysides, I was all the more enlightened that the greater number of the impoverished masses are here. It is here where I should instead serve as a lawyer and teacher of the masses. And yes, my ambition of becoming a war correspondent would be realized here after all, because I am actually in a war now! Truly, life of the NPA is full of sacrifices. But the issue is, for whom these sacrifices serve? That if the sacrifices serve for the liberation of the greater number of the oppressed class, you wouldn't mind hurdling the difficulties of life in a war. If you die, your death is worth dying for. The lesson I learned here is that, if the essence of serving the people is not profoundly ingrained in you, and if you are not deeply rooted to the oppressed class you are supposed to serve, you cannot withstand the sacrifices that are indispensable in a class war. Worst, if you surrender and make yourself an instrument of the enemy. Like the plant if not properly rooted, easily withers in heat and breaks in a typhoon.

Contrary to what you are highlighting as "revelations" of these "former rebel rape victims", that "women in the NPA serve as sex slaves of their comrades," it is in the NPA that I achieved the liberation, empowerment and respect of women oppressed in this macho-feudal society. I have experienced how the recognition and protection of the rights of women are institutionalized in the NPA, through its code of conduct and policies strictly implemented such as the Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points to Keep in Mind as well as The Policies on Relations and Family in the Communist Party of the Philippines. My mother who had gone sleepless since I went uphill anxiously assuming that my comrade men "could just do whatever they want of me in isolated NPA camps deep in the forests," was relieved after seeing for herself the discipline and proletarian camaraderie being practiced in our rank. Too impressed of what she experienced in the Red Army, she couldn't hold back exclaiming, "It's in the NPA where you could find the gentlest of the men afterall! (Well, aside from my father, she adjoined....) Probably, what you are referring to as rape cases and exploitation of women in the NPA were the cases of Conrado Balweg. Balweg who was found guilty by the revolutionary court to have exploited women in the NPA, was repudiated by the people and later on punished by the revolutionary government. Ironically, he was patronized by your government. By pounding on the dirty prop of "sex slavery in the NPA," you are desperately passing on your filth to the People's Army. Wherever you are destined to, your impudence to women are rampant, customary and common-knowledge, because that is institutionalized in your fascist army as an instrument of this ruling patriarchal-bourgeois-feudal state that endorses women oppression.

My uncle, a retired Philippine Army officer, who heeded to my invitation to see for himself what the NPA looks like, got teary-eyed, admitting that all the while, he thought that the NPA is a band of monkeys, and that, all the while, he couldn't accept that his niece whom he pampered that much joined this band of monkeys. And now, seeing through his very eyes that the NPA is a band of nice people, he got the biggest shock and disgrace in his life. By showcasing "revelations of former rebels," you are trying to illustrate a "grim image of the NPA" while creating a real-life shoddy image of your regime being seen and decried worldwide as champion of human rights abuses. You are callously flaunting fabricated "acts of terrorism of the NPA" while murdering and terrorizing tens of thousands of civilians in your savage anti-drug and counter-insurgency war and political repressions. By exhibiting a "bleak future they are leading in the revolution" you are desperately discouraging the youth to act for change, while denying them of a guaranteed future by holding on to neoliberal policies that continuously drop them out of school and leave them into the widening hollow of unemployment and poverty. You are desperately pulling the Filipino youth away from the NPA while maneuvering them into the AFP-PNP only to make them bloodthirsty triggermen of your extra-judicial killings and frontliners of your violent Oplan Kapayapaan.

When I joined the NPA, I guess the masses were testing me when they remarked, "Are you sure you are not misled? With your looks and wit, you could have even turned into an actress. You could have been a millionaire!" I answered, "No thanks, I'd rather be your penniless servant than a self-serving millionaire." The P20,000 or millions more you are offering if I surrender is a small amount that I could earn, should I preferred to be a millionaire if I turned into an actress, instead of the NPA, as what the masses have told. The P20,000 or millions more you are offering us should we surrender is not the amount of genuine land reform, national industrialization, sovereignty and self-determination, freedom and democracy of the Filipino people that we are fighting for. Even if you spend billions of pesos for our surrender, that cannot pay for the lives of the masses and comrades that you have extinguished in your brutal war of suppression. Justice must be rendered instead, by intensifying the people's war and toppling your tyrannical rule.

May you open your eyes and be enlightened of the nauseating corruption in your government while the people are reeling in this pandemic and now again in this spate of typhoons. May you open your eyes and be enlightened of the the glaring injustice to our suffering countrymen by continuously depleting health, social services and calamity funds, while wantonly beefing-up counter insurgency funds that are only squandered on senseless surrender baits and only devoured by your corrupt officials. May you open your eyes and be enlightened that the social prejudices and human rights abuses you are exacerbating in your futile ELCAC crusade only drives the people to seek justice by joining forces with the CPP-NPA-NDF and advancing the armed revolution even more.

Just pray that those lawmakers, simple activists, social critics and innocent civilians you are red-tagging and putting their lives at risk won't be driven away to the mountains like what was done to me and other more.

When asked what she considers her best experience as a member of the New People's Army, Ka Nica goofily shares about the time she danced with another girl in front of comrades and peasant masses. It is a big thing for her, she says, because it was the first time she felt visible not just as a Red fighter but as a lesbian in the people's army and revolutionary movement.

"It was always a custom in those parts that after mass work, the masses and the Red fighters would hold a cultural program. A courtship dance was one of the highlights of those events, and of course, it's traditionally a dance between a man and a woman. I almost fell off my seat when I heard my name being called on stage. As I sheepishly dragged my feet forward, the comrade who was the emcee said with some pride that I was a 'woman with the heart of a man.' And so another woman, a masa, was also called on stage to dance with me! I was thrilled!"

Up until then, Ka Nica says she had never been completely comfortable being an "out" lesbian in the NPA, although her pixie cut and butch demeanor almost always gave her away. "I was never really in the closet. I just didn't feel like bringing up my gender orientation in every conversation. But that afternoon, among the gathered masses and fellow Red fighters, I felt genuinely okay with expressing who I really was."

When dealing with the biases she has encountered as a lesbian before and even after joining the NPA, Ka Nica is quick to clarify that while there are still prejudices in the people's army, they are nowhere as traumatizing as the kind she dealt with in bourgeois society.

She observes that while most capitalist countries give token acceptance to LGBTQ in recognizing same-sex marriages, bourgeois societies in essence are homophobic and rife with all forms of biases. "They may have made concessions with regards to marriage, but capitalism continues to victimize LGBTQ people in the workplace and in low-income communities, or with the prevalence of hate crimes and police brutality. It doesn't make sense to uphold one of our basic rights but oppress and terrorize us in everything else."

Ka Nica believes that what sets the national democratic revolution apart from bourgeois society's token acceptance is not merely that the Communist Party of the Philippines allows same-sex marriage, but also that the Party and the movement genuinely strive to respect gender identity and sexual orientation as a principle in the course of waging the people's war. "It's the fact that there is an on-going struggle within the struggle, a cultural revolution, against all forms of biases and injustices, not just gender-based, that spells the difference," she asserts.

When shades of prejudices do come up, Ka Nica takes them in stride. "It's an opportunity to explain and disabuse comrades and the masses of their biases. It's not their fault that they have been bombarded by misrepresentations and clichésq in the mainstream media. Sometimes it's hard and the 'minority stress' gets to you, but that's what cultural revolution is about, right?" she says with a knowing smile.

Ka Nica also shares the usual misconception that being a butch lesbian like her is just a phase. "Or that I just haven't met the right man yet, and that I could still change. I patiently explain that Marxism teaches us that change is determined by internal laws. I believe that gender orientation is an internal precept of every human being that external conditions, such as "the right man," can do very little to change one's attraction to others."

"It's also a good thing that individual references in our languages are generally gender-neutral so there's no added stress about pronouns. I feel for members in the LGBTQ community in western countries, even in the urban centers in the Philippines, who struggle for visibility and acceptance because capitalist and bourgeois culture always presents added stress to their lives.

Now married with another woman Red fighter for almost three years, Ka Nica still remembers that long ago courtship dance with fondness. "Kinikilig pa rin ako," she says, laughing. It is during that moment and many others like it that she is proud she is a lesbian in the NPA and the revolutionary movement.