Young Filipinos opposed to the US war on Iraq

Two Days in an NPA Camp

What the journalists who covered the joint CPP-CPDF press conference
saw were real human beings, real people who could have been their younger
brothers, their elder sisters, their classmatesnormal people who could
have been living normal lives were it not for abnormal circumstances
rooted in an abnormal society.

By Alexander Martin Remollino

Bulatlat.com

SOMEWHERE IN THE CORDILLERAS, northern Philippines – The image of a New
Peoples Army (NPA) guerrilla as usually portrayed in the movies is
that of a conscienceless, untidy, and trigger-happy outlaw with nothing in
mind except making trouble for the government. The Macapagal-Arroyo
government is trying all it can to reinforce that image, as it worked
mightily to have the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA,
together with CPP founding chair Jose Ma. Sison, tagged as
terrorists.

No doubt some of those in the media team that covered the press
conference of CPP spokesperson Gregorio Ka Roger Rosal and the Cordillera
Peoples Democratic Front (CPDF) last Jan. 7 somewhere in the Cordilleras
harbored such an image of NPA fighters before embarking on the long
trip to those hinterlands. The two-day stay in the NPA camp we visited for
the press conference apparently changed all that for them.

Steep routes

To reach the site of the press conference, the media team, had to walk
along very steep mountain routes that were at many points very
slippery. The advice to travel light which we received beforehand was very
wise, and by the looks of the TV cameramen who were with the media team, it
was obvious that they were having the hardest time.

We were divided into two groups before climbing up the NPA camp. The
camp had about five small tents deep inside a forest of pine trees. One
of the tents served as the kitchen, having a long table improvised from
pinewood and a fireplace. There were also two comfort rooms nearby,
complete with signs saying which was vacant and which was occupied.

At one point the group I was with was met by two persons, a man and a
woman, who would have looked like the ordinary college students we see
on the streets of Manila were it not for their M-16s and battle gear.
They shook our hands tightly, with warm smiles on their faces, and
volunteered to help us with our bulky bags and heavy equipment.

They were very helpful. They quickly extended helping hands whenever
someone was short of breath from the long trek; and when one of the
photographers who was with us accidentally had a fall while aiming for a
good shot.

Some of us were understandably short of breath when we reached the
camp. We didnt have to ask for water, as the NPA fighters who welcomed us
into the camp gladly offered it to us.

Thats the real mineral water, said a lady NPA fighter whose name I
unfortunately cannot recall right now, as I was having a drink. Fresh
from nature.

They were no less helpful when some of us had decided to take a rest. I
and two others were lying on a grass floor under a makeshift tent. A
lady NPA named Ka Sandy and another lady NPA, passing by our tent,
offered us plastic sheets to sleep on. So you wont be sleeping on grass,
Ka Sandy said.

Music in the mountain

There was only one guitar in the whole campyes, many of the young
guerrillas play the guitarbut there was a lot of music there.

We were greeted with a cultural presentation featuring an assortment of
songs about everyday NPA life in the local dialect. After that they
introduced themselves one by one to the tune of a tribal song, and
successfully coaxed us into doing the same.

All throughout the night and well into the next day, the music didnt
stop in the camp.

The NPAs were still at it well after the greetings and introductions
and even hours after supperwhich was a combination of rice, sinagkit
(sardines with chili peppers), and their own vegetable salad. They had a
vast arsenal of beautiful songs, and I must say this: most of them were
better singers than many of us in the media team, as would be shown
later on. Their singing played no small part in lulling the uninitiated
(to the hills, that is) among us to sleep.

The following morning, the joint press conference of Ka Roger and the
CPDF was opened with a cultural presentation.

Ka Roger himself, after the press conference, would give us his own
cultural presentation. The journalists who were able to attend his press
conference somewhere in Southern Luzon last year, remembering his duet
with radio commentator Benjie Liwanag, asked him to do another The
Impossible Dream. He turned it down, saying it was used up already, and
instead played the Awit ng Kainginero on his harmonica. My musical
talent is also for the revolution, he would say later.

Why they are there

We were able to have casual moments with many of the NPAsmoments that,
although light, were certainly not devoid of meaning. It was during
these casual moments that we would learn why they are there.

Nineteen-year-old Ka Victor said he joined the NPA because he wanted to
learn how to read and write. Literacy programs are part of the
grassroots work of the NPA.

The bespectacled Ka Maureen was one of those who offered help with
carrying our load on the long climb. A wire reporter commented that in
another life, she would probably be a teacher because she looks very much
like one.

But Im a teacher, Ka Maureen would reply with a smile. I teach in a
school for the people, I discuss the state of society with them.

One of them does dentistry work for the tribesfolk though she never
went to dentistry school.

As Ka Sandy, who could have been a doctor, said: NPAs are not just
fighters; they are also teachers, doctors, and what have you. We work hard
to provide the masses with services which the government should be
giving them.

Ka Sandy also said that it is the government which drives people like
her to take to the hills, by neglecting the people.

Humans, too

The typical movie image of the NPA guerrilla was nowhere to be found in
that camp somewhere in the Cordillera. Instead what the media team that
covered the joint CPP-CPDF press conference saw were real human beings,
real people who could have been their younger brothers, their elder
sisters, their classmatesnormal people who could have been living
normal lives were it not for abnormal circumstances rooted in an abnormal
society.

A TV cameraman I was able to talk with after our stay in the camp
agreed that visits like these make one see that the NPAs are not the
terrorists the government paints them to be. Bulatlat.com