September 26, 2013

The poet is a guerilla

The guerrilla is like a poet
Keen to the rustle of leaves
The break of twigs
The ripples of the river
The smell of fire
And the ashes of departure. – Jose Maria Sison, 1968

Sari and Kiri Dalena’s ground-breaking film, “The Guerilla is a Poet”, takes its inspiration from Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Founding Chairman Jose Maria “Ka Joma” Sison’s well-known poem “The Guerilla is Like a Poet”.   As Prof. Sison points out in the film, the poem was the fruit of his imagination, having been written even before he and Bernabe “Ka Dante” Buscayno founded the New People’s Army (NPA) in March 1969. 

The film's depiction of revolution in the Philippine setting and life in the revolution is in the same way described, but in a figurative manner, in Prof. Sison’s prescient poem wherein the guerilla fighter at the forefront of “the people’s war” is likened to the poet writing on the same theme and both, in so doing, creatively giving life to “the people’s epic” of revolution. 

The poem itself is a testament to the human element -- the "humanity" -- in waging a people’s war.   Objectively speaking, war, even one with a just cause, can be dehumanizing.    Thus the usual portrayal of the guerilla is that of a hardened person inured to his harsh surroundings, incapable of emotions and of the appreciation of the finer things in life such as art and poetry.   Prof. Sison’s poem departs from and negates this depiction.

Underlying the entire film showing the life and times of Filipino revolutionaries, particularly Joma, Juliet “Ka Julie” de Lima, and Dante et al, is their being human.   The film not only shatters the stereotypic “G & D” (grim-and-determined) image of activists and revolutionaries but also discloses their humanity as the basis for their "iron will", i.e. their preparedness and capacity to endure hardships and sacrifices.

The film does so on many levels:  (1) the revolutionaries are depicted as human with the same needs and concerns and even foibles as ordinary human beings; (2) they have a deep love for humanity most especially the most exploited and oppressed; (3) they strive to overcome their own human limitations and frailties and commit to fight for radical changes in society; (4) they do not lose their humanity, i.e. their love and concern for others, but rather enrich and fully develop it in the course of struggle.  While engaging in revolutionary struggle they consciously and unconsciously become better human beings just as a poet hones his craft as he continues to engage life and to mirror it in his writing.

It is certainly a measure of the quality of the acting that this message was imparted to the audience in a most natural and convincing manner.

The film is also the biopic of the Philippines’ foremost revolutionary leader, Jose Maria Sison and rightly so.  Ka Joma personifies the modern-day Philippine revolution that is the inheritor of the unfinished revolution of Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan.  His life story incorporates and reflects all of the major events, the twists and turns as well as the ebbs and flows of the revolutionary movement.  And yes, Prof. Sison, the prize-winning poet, was also a guerilla in his younger years, before his capture in 1977.

The film masterfully combines the dramatization of events, interviews with the key real-life actors on the historical stage - Joma himself, Julie and Dante - and haunting music of the iconic revolutionary songs of the late 60s and 70s.  The former depicts the history of the revolution and highlights its landmarks: Sison’s development as an activist, a trade union leader and a revolutionary theoretician; Sison’s interactions with Senator Benigno Aquino; the founding of the CPP;  Sison’s meeting with Buscayno and the founding of the NPA; the Plaza Miranda bombing  and Marcos’ declaration of martial law; workers, students and former soldiers joining the underground resistance; the painstaking work of organizing the peasants in the countryside and expanding and strengthening the NPA; setbacks with the arrest, torture, and killing of CPP cadres and NPA commanders; the Sison couple’s capture (including the account of the Dictator Marcos’ dialogue with Sison before the latter is subjected to interrogation, torture and prolonged solitary confinement). 

The film ends with the couple’s exile in The Netherlands where they continue to actively engage in the revolutionary struggle in the Philippines through their writings and interviews, the on-and-off GPH-NDFP peace negotiations and international solidarity work.

The film’s format -- acting by seasoned as well as neophyte actors interspersed with narration by the real Joma, Julie and Dante – is so efficacious, one without the other would have been inadequate and less compelling.

Joma Sison is the principal storyteller weaving his own recollections of historical events, highlighting their significance and giving his insights.  In the beginning of the film, Joma is shown humming a tune as the car wends its way through the streets of Utrecht.  At some point he sings an unfamiliar song of the pioneering national democratic youth mass organization he founded in 1974, the Kabataang Makabayan (KM). Then he concludes emphatically that without these revolutionary songs, the expansion of the movement would not have been as rapid, for who would memorize long political speeches while everyone can learn to sing a revolutionary song.

The narrations by the real Joma now 74 show him to be full of banter, cheerful, making light of torture, brimming with optimism.  Those who knew and worked with the younger Joma would attest to the fact that this is the same 29-year old Joma who led the reestablishment of the party that was needed to lead the revolution, with seemingly boundless imagination, enthusiasm, energy, passion and zest for revolution.

"The Guerrilla is a Poet" captures and builds on the essence of the poem's verse - the blending of the human subjective factor with the objective natural and social environment; thus the guerilla is "well versed on the law of motion, master of myriad images".  This is the key to how the guerilla army - small, weak and initially inferior to the enemy, survives, gains strength, and gradually weakens the enemy by waging a people's war based on a concrete analysis of concrete conditions, "moving with the green brown multitude, in bush burning with red flowers..."

Mao Tse Tung, in his treatise expounding on how the Chinese people could overcome the militarily superior Japanese aggressors through a protracted people's war, similarly used poetic language in describing how in his  endeavor to win a war  “… a military strategist cannot overstep the limitations imposed by the material conditions; within these limitations, however, he can and must strive for victory. The stage of action for a military strategist is built upon objective material conditions, but on that stage, he can direct the performance of many a drama, full of sound and color, power and grandeur.”

“The Guerilla is a Poet” is truly successful in giving the audience a glimpse of the drama, sound and color, power and grandeur of the launching and early years of the “the people’s epic, the people’s war.” #

Published in Business World
27 September 2013

September 20, 2013


The humanitarian crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of civilians in Zamboanga City in the wake of the eruption of hostilities between armed Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces under Chairman Nur Misuari and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) looms as a dark and ominous cloud, a portent of what the people of Mindanao are bound to suffer regardless of the outcome of the ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

For the road towards a just and lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao remains convoluted and strewn with obstacles and pitfalls despite rosy pronouncements by the GPH and MILF.  What emerges is the truism that the stilling of guns per se do not make for an enduring, much less a just peace; especially if it merely signifies pacification and cooptation, not a genuine resolution of the underlying socio-economic and political roots of armed conflict and social unrest.

It is not as though the MNLF had pulled a complete surprise. Mr. Misuari has long been fulminating and complaining about the MNLF being left out in the current GPH-MILF negotiations to establish a new Bangsamoro autonomous region in practically the same territory carved out as a result of the 1976 and 1996 GRP-MNLF peace agreements.

In fact the government had even accused Misuari of having conspired with the Sultan of Sulu early this year, in instigating the entry of armed men (said to be mainly MNLF fighters) into the disputed territory of Sabah in order to assert the Sultanate’s historical claim and thereby throw  a monkey wrench into the GPH-MILF peace negotiations being brokered by Malaysia (which currently exercises de facto sovereignty over Sabah).

With the apparent GPH snub of the MNLF while continuing to plod through the crafting and signing of the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement annexes, Misuari last August 12 made good his threat to declare an independent Bangsamoro Republik (which he first did forty years ago). The Zamboanga City push is evidently an attempt to show that the declaration was no bluff.

What is not clear at this point is whether the declaration of independence was indeed a signal for the renewal of armed struggle, or a mere tactic to call the attention of the Aquino government and the MNLF’s foreign backers in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) that the MNLF is not a spent force.

The bad news for Misuari and the MNLF, and in all likelihood for the Bangsamoro people as a whole, is that both the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement and the 2012 GPH-MILF Framework Agreement are irretrievably and irreversibly caught in the ambit of the Philippine Republic's constitutional and legal processes.

This, said the late Hashim Salamat (who was then MNLF Vice-Chair and Chair of the MNLF Negotiating Panel), would certainly solve the problems of the Philippine government but not of the Bangsamoro.

Objecting to and rejecting the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, Salamat first set up his own Kotawato Faction within the MNLF but eventually broke away and founded the MILF.  The MILF then continued the armed struggle for the Moro people’s right to self-determination until it entered into peace negotiations and a general cessation of hostilities with the GPH under the Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino III administrations.  These ceasefires have nonetheless been marked on many occasions by armed skirmishes, major battles and even full-blown war.

Ironically, it is now Misuari and the MNLF rejecting the GPH-MILF peace agreement, declaring independence, and fighting a shooting war with the GPH forces to make its point.

Of course, Mr. Misuari has credibility problems, whether he and his MNLF faction indeed have the interests of the Moro people at heart or are merely angling to better position themselves in light of the political re-arrangement and reapportioning of resources under the new Bangsamoro authority being given the finishing touches by the GPH and MILF.

More than simply Mr. Misuari’s reported malgovernance, the failure of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) can be traced to Mr. Misuari’s key error in the 1976 and 1996 GHP-MNLF peace agreements.   The MNLF gave up the struggle for self-determination and settled for pseudo-autonomy in a much-reduced territory, under the auspices and control of an essentially elite, anti-people and anti-Moro state.  It was a political swindle engineered by the Ramos government that the MNLF swallowed hook, line and sinker.  In time the MNLF leadership’s cooptation and degeneration became complete with the elite feudal clans seen jockeying for position in every ARMM election.

Mr. Misuari must first come clean as to how he regards the GPH-MNLF peace agreements, whether he acknowledges their fatal infirmities.  His current pronouncements lack integrity and substance when he says his main problem is the alleged scuttling of the GPH-MNLF peace agreements.  This lends credence to the widely held perception that he merely wants his share of the pie that will be the outcome of the GPH-MILF peace settlement.  Independent observers wryly observe that Mr. Misuari has already had his turn to corner a major share of that pie.

Peace advocates have been calling on both sides for an immediate ceasefire to put a stop to further bloodshed and destruction of property, to mitigate the sufferings of the civilian population and to give a chance for peaceful negotiations but this appeal has become mired in early partisan politicking involving the Vice-President and declared 2016 presidential candidate, Jejomar Binay, and the President’s Liberal Party candidate, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.

Meanwhile the Aquino government is holding fast to a purely military solution to the Zamboanga stand-off with the MNLF.  Despite continuous government propaganda uncritically reported by mainstream media that the civilians caught in the crossfire or being used as “human shields” by the MNLF have been rescued by state forces and that the remnants of the MNLF hold-outs are being cornered, captured or killed, the crisis does not appear to be nearing an end any time soon.

Like a festering wound, the deep-seated problems of the Moro people will persist and provide the objective basis for the continuation of both armed and unarmed struggles no matter each ruling regime’s attempt at pacification and cooptation. #

Published in Business World
20-21 September 2013

September 05, 2013

Hacienda Luisita – “Daang baluktot”

The saga of the more than half a century of struggle by the farm workers of the vast Hacienda Luisita to own and benefit from  the piece of land they have been tilling has been shaped and, to a significant extent decided, by the political fortunes of its owners, the big landlord clan of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. 

Historically, it is when the political figures in the clan are in the Opposition - Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. versus the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, followed by then former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino versus President Gloria Arroyo - that the farm workers have seen some real advance in government decisions pertaining to their demand for land. 

On the other hand, it is when the Cojuangco-Aquinos are in control of the reins of government - Mrs. Cojuangco-Aquino became president in 1986 after the uprising that toppled Marcos and her son, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, became president in 2010 at the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s non-extendible term of office - that the land-owning clan has been able to frustrate, forestall and even torpedo decisions favorable to the farm workers.

Let us recall that in 1989, Hacienda Luisita owners availed of the “stock distribution option” (SDO) allowed in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) passed during Mrs. Aquino’s administration.  Instead of distributing the agricultural lands of HL Incorporated to the tillers, certificates of stock were given to them to signify that they had become “owners” of HLI entitling them to the profits the corporation would declare.  (HLI never did but rather claimed continuing losses.) In return the farm workers were allowed to continue living and working on the land; their “man days” of toil on the hacienda, paid on the cheap, confirmed their legal claims of “ownership”.

But the exploitation and intense hardship brought about by the SDO swindle spurred the farm workers to organize,  By December 2003, more than 5000 of them under Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) petitioned the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to junk the SDO and for the land to be distributed to them. In November 2004, the farm workers staged a strike together with mill workers of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (the sugar mill in the hacienda also owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos). On November 16 the strike was violently dispersed by the military, the police and the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ private army resulting in the killing of seven peasants and the wounding and arrests of hundreds of strikers and their supporters.

In December 2005 the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) under the direction of the Arroyo regime junked the SDO in HLI and ruled that the lands should be placed under CARP.

In April 2012, the Supreme Court, then presided over by Chief Justice Corona (a midnight appointee of Mrs. Arroyo) issued a final and executory resolution in the case Hacienda Luisita Incorporated versus PARC, et al. to revoke the SDO and for DAR to distribute 4,335 hectares of land plus those that it would find to be agricultural in use to 6,296 qualified farm worker beneficiaries (FWBs)*.

What followed after the initial shouts of rejoicing and guarded expectations of social justice finally coming to roost in Hacienda Luisita is a sharp reminder that legal victories can be quickly twisted and reversed by realpolitik; that is, the reality that the scion of the powerful Cojuangco-Aquino clan is now President of the country. 

Utilizing levers at his disposal (not to mention the pork barrel funds of Congress) Mr. Aquino managed to have his political adversary, CJ Corona, impeached and replaced with his own appointee, CJ Sereno.  In so doing he has secured the court of last resort for whatever legal maneuvers the HLI management deem necessary to blunt and subvert the Corona SC decision.

At the same time Mr. Aquino, through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), has set up the FWBs for another great swindle despite the “final” SC ruling.  In what constitutes blatant as well as sly maneuvering through DAR-HLI collusion, hundreds of hectares of high-value tracts of land have been excluded from distribution based on a questionable survey by FF Cruz, a private contractor hired by DAR, behind the backs and sans participation of the FWBs. 

The DAR system of raffling out the particular parcels of land to individual FWBs was instituted despite the representations made by the FWBs’ organizations asking that collective CLOAs be issued to facilitate the collective farming and further development of adjoining lots.  This is in light of the highly productive “bungkalan” campaign undertaken by the farm workers from 2005 onwards to get the utmost benefit from the lands still undistributed.

Through the raffle system, parcels of land were not assigned in accord with what the farm workers were already actually tilling; many FWBs got lots quite distant from their home lots such that they would be incurring unnecessary and burdensome costs to be able to work on their assigned farm lots. 

This irrational system pits FWBs against each other and further undermines their unity and cooperation as they embark on making their farm lots productive and able to bring much-needed income for their families.  Furthermore, the outcome favors the “block farming” arrangement that the HLI wants and the DAR abets; that is, for individual FWBs to agree that their 6,600 square meters of farm lot be aggregated with adjacent lots for sugar cane planting.  “Block farming” ensures that the hacienda will continue to be a sugar plantation feeding raw materials to the highly profitable sugar mill owned by HLI.

To top it all, DAR is forcing FWBs to sign, under pain of disqualification, an Affidavit of Purchase and Farmer’s Undertaking (APFU). The AFPU states that the FWB will buy their assigned parcel of land from DAR and agrees to pay yearly amortization thereon for the next 30 years.  

The DAR, as the AMBALA anticipated, has already valued the lands to be distributed at a much higher P70,000 per hectare (not the estimated P40,000 per hectare in 1989 when the SDO was implemented as ordered by the Corona SC).  Land Bank is reported to have already paid HLI an initial amount of P286,930,000.00 for the 4,099 hectares. 

What this means is that the peasant families who have already paid for the land several times over with their blood, sweat and tears are being entrapped into paying forced amortizations, this time to the government.  DAR is invoking the bogus land reform law extended five years ago as the basis for this unconscionable demand on the FWBs. 

In sum, the Cojuangco-Aquinos stand to regain -- or rather, retain -- Hacienda Luisita, on top of bagging a hefty profit from the whole sham distribution scheme as the destitute farmers are expected to default on their amortizations.

This is land reform at its hypocritical worst under a landlord President trumpeting his “matuwid na daan”. #

*A qualified FWB is one who has worked in the hacienda since 1989 when the SDO was adopted and is therefore entitled to receive a parcel of land had land distribution been actually carried out.

Published in Business World
6-7 September 2013