“Bagama’t ako’y tumigil na sa [pagsali sa] NPA [New People’s Army] ay wala pa ring nagbago sa kasalukuyang lipunan and my principles stay the same…I don’t really believe na malaya ang [ating] kasalukuyang lipunan.”
[“Even though I disaffiliated from the NPA, nothing changes in the society and my principles stay the same… I don’t really believe that our society is truly free.”]
This was the statement of teacher-revolutionary Justine Kate Raca after she was forced to surrender to state forces.
Raca was involved in an encounter between the NPA and the Philippine Marines under the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Western Command last December 10 in Barangay Tinitian, Roxas City, Palawan. The armed encounter led to the death of an NPA member.
“Nagkaroon ng exchange of fire sa pagitan ng dalawang panig. Naghintay ako sa aking mga kasama kung nasaan sila, pero dahil hindi ko na sila nakikita at naririnig, wala akong choice kundi kumalas, dahil mag-isa na lang ako eh,” Raca explained about her surrender.
[“An exchange of fire happened between the two sides. I waited for my comrades, but since I cannot see nor hear them anymore, I did not have a choice but to disengage, because I was already alone.”]
In an interview with Raca by Palawan-based media outlet Radyo Brigada, she said that she would not have surrendered to the forces had she not been separated from her group.
“Dahil alam ko nga na hindi nila [state forces] iginagalang ang karapatan ng mga hors de combat, ang mga wala nang kakayanang lumaban, [and] given that situation na mag-isa ako at maraming marines na nag-ooperasyon sa bundok, kahit wala akong baril ay alam akong hindi ako mabubuhay kung ako’y makita nila,” she added.
[“Because I am aware that they do not respect the rights of hors de combats, or those who can no longer fight in a war, and given that situation that I was alone and a large number of Philippine Marines were operating in the mountains, I knew I would not make it alive had they seen me, even if they knew that I did not have a gun.”]
Prisoner of war
Raca remains in the custody of the 3rd Marine Brigade, but her whereabouts and current situation are still unknown after her voluntary submission to state forces.
In a statement released by human rights group Karapatan Southern Tagalog (ST), Raca is considered as a prisoner of war and an hors de combat as defined by the International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention. The authorities are then bound by the law to protect Raca and her rights.
Karapatan ST also stated that Raca must be released in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which was signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as a byproduct of the peace process aimed at ending the decades-long armed conflict through political negotiations.
Karapatan ST added that their lack of access to information on Raca’s situation violates Part IV Article IV Column 6 of CARHRIHL which states that, ”Sufficient information shall be made available concerning persons who have been deprived of their liberty. On humanitarian or other reasonable grounds, such persons deprived of liberty shall be considered for safe release.”
However, 3rd Marine Brigade Commander Col. Jimmy Larida insists that Raca signed a voluntary affidavit to be in their custody.
A teacher for the masses
In 2019, Raca served as an instructor in Palawan and later on found herself joining the NPA to also serve as a teacher. Raca was a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Education Major in English in UP Diliman.
As a teacher, Raca assisted children in understanding their modules. She shared that many students have expressed concerns about their current academic setup. Raca emphasized the importance of having a teacher in their place who will help students better understand their lessons, considering that the majority of the instructions written in the modules are in English.
She also noted that so long as the students get to learn through her, she sees no significant difference in teaching in an institution in urbanized areas.
“Hindi ba’t public din naman ito? Hindi nga lang school. Bagama’t ito’y walang sweldo, nagtuturo pa rin ako, at wala ako masyadong nakikitang pagkakaiba,” Raca stated.
[“Isn’t this public, too? Though this is not a school institution and there is no salary, I am still teaching. I don’t see much difference.”]
In fact, along with rifles and banners, a student’s module was retrieved by the military from Raca’s camp. Raca then requested that her student be protected from any potential threats and harassment from the military.
“Hiling ko lang ay wag sanang pahirapan ‘yung estudyante, gusto nya lang namang matuto. At walang teacher eh, ako lang ang meron s’ya. Wag na sanang pahirapan [pa] ang estudyante, kahit ang kaniyang pamilya.”
[“I hope that the state forces will not hurt the student since the latter just wanted to learn. There is no available teacher besides me. I hope that they will not hurt the student and their family.”]
Roots of resistance
Dating back to more than fifty years ago, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) was reestablished to fight imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat-capitalism. In their very essence, these three systems subject marginalized people under the oppression of the ruling class. They are identified as the core causes of the country’s crisis and the catalysts of issues that have adversely impacted the lives of many Filipinos.
In 1969, NPA was founded as the CPP’s armed wing, which then utilizes armed struggle against state forces. It is the “main weapon of the [CPP] in the seizure and consolidation of political power”. The NPA grew in number and strength during the Marcos dictatorship, demonstrating strong opposition to Marcos’ dictatorial rule.
Even before President Rodrigo Duterte took office, previous leaders had expressed their interest in abolishing the now-labeled “communist-terrorist” group, but failed to do so. Since its inception, the CPP-NPA has withstood a dictator and five presidents.
In an in-depth analysis of the armed struggle in the Philippines, Siân Herbert of the University of Birmingham identified the reasons and the driving forces for the country’s unresolved problem of armed conflict, majority of which can be traced back to the government’s negligence of the needs of its people and the vehement use of violence of state forces against unarmed civilians.
It is worth recalling the cases of Sonya and Frank Gregorio, who were shot dead by late police officer Jonel Nuezca. Sonya and her son were both unarmed. Another familiar case is that of Winston Ragos, who was a mentally-ill individual that was also shot dead by a cop. Contrary to the police’s insistence, Ragos’ mother claims that he was not carrying any firearms when he was killed.
While Filipinos continue to suffer from poverty, land dispossession, and marginalization, the state answers either with violence or persistent red-tagging.
What comes to mind is the case of urban poor group San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran, at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan, at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3). They have been at the forefront of red-tagging despite their legitimate fight for justifiable aid and proper housing.
During the Bloody Sunday massacre, then-SIKKAD-K3 president Michael Dasigao was among those who were killed, along with members Makmak Bacasno, Abner Esto, and Edward Esto.
The Bloody Sunday massacre left a total of nine progressives dead, all of whom were fighting for legitimate causes related to labor, socioeconomic justice, and even for the environment.
Meanwhile, peasants suffering from the country’s semi-feudal system have also been at the receiving end of harassment, such as the farmers from Hacienda Yulo. In addition, peasants from Quezon suffered amidst the intensified militarization in the province, with two copra farmers even killed last November.
(READ: More Hacienda Yulo homes ransacked, residents harassed by ‘hired goons’ as farmers hold ground against onslaughts; Residents, progressive groups oppose NPA allegations on slain Sampaloc farmers)
Herbert says that such cases of poverty, marginalization, and state violence are the major roots of armed conflict in the country. But despite armed struggle being caused by socioeconomic problems, the government’s approach to violent extremism has been primarily militaristic. According to Herbert, this very approach is one of the drivers of conflict.
The power of the democratic revolution
In an interview with the Perspective, CPP Chief Information Officer Marco Valbuena stated that other than taking up arms and engaging in revolutionary armed struggle, there is no other effective way for the oppressed masses to defeat the ruling class in monopolizing power.
Valbuena also explained that the majority of the NPA members came from the peasantry and minorities, and that they are motivated by their desire for social justice and national freedom. They have witnessed how the government failed to recognize the primary reasons why people opt to arm themselves. They have also beheld how the military forces have supported mining businesses, and large corporations involved in land-grabbing and logging concessionaires.
In relation to this, CPP founder Jose Maria Sison explained why armed conflict has not stopped.
“The CPP has analysed the history and current circumstances of the Filipino people. It has analysed the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of Philippine society and has identified the basic problems of the Filipino people such as imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism,” he said, addressing what remains baffling to the public about the roots of armed struggle.
Sison added that the only thing that can destroy the CPP is itself, “if it violates its correct revolutionary principles, commits grave errors, and fails to rectify them”.
Meanwhile, during the interview with Raca, she was asked what drew her to join the NPA in Palawan, considering that she was originally from Manila.
Her only response was to help the people.
She discussed that the main objective of the NPA is to serve and extend help to Filipinos, which she believes is something that the government has failed to achieve.
“Serbisyo sa mga mamamayan [ang ginagawa namin]. Napakaraming mamamayan ngayon ang hindi nabibigyan ng serbisyo ng gobyerno, at pinagbabawalan sa kabuhayan, pero ang NPA, dahil tunay [kaming] naglilingkod, iyon ang binibigay namin sa mga mamamayan, mga hindi naaabot ng serbisyo ng gobyerno.”
[“Rendering service is what we do for the masses. Many people today are not provided with government services and are prevented from making a living, but the NPA, because we truly serve, that is what we provide to people, we provide service to those who are not reached by government services.”]
Raca emphasized how difficult it was to live in an area where roads, electricity, medicine, and even drinking water were tough to obtain. But she looked past these challenges, claiming that they were part of the sacrifices that they had to make in order to ensure that the people they were serving received adequate assistance.
“Walang kalsada, walang kuryente, walang tubig, gubat talaga, [at] hindi sya madali. Lalo na dahil parang nahihiwalay ka sa lipunan. Hindi madali ang gamot, kapag nagkasakit, pero that’s part of the sacrifice ng isang rebolusyonaryo.”
[“There are no roads, no electricity, no water, the area is really forested and it is not easy. Especially when you feel disconnected from society. When you’re sick, medicines are hard to obtain but that is part of the sacrifice of a revolutionary.”]
In the hopes of fighting for the rights of the marginalized, Raca abandoned her life in the city to take up arms in the countryside.
Raca also paid tribute to her fallen comrades and gave them high homage for dedicating their lives for the people and the country.
“Bayani sila para sa’kin. Pinakamataas na pagpupugay na ang buhay nila ay inalay nila sa sambayanan [at] namatay silang lumalaban.”
[“They are heroes to me. I give them my highest respects for offering their lives to fight for the country.”] [P]