Many years later, as he faced an Army rifle squad, Romeo Nanta was to remember that distant afternoon when he and his comrades ambushed soldiers in the sitio of Bulod.
Bulod is a sub village of Carabalan. Not so long ago, on 21 August 2000, the New People’s Army ambushed a truck of Philippine Army soldiers slaughtering 17 of them.
Carabalan is a village that could have once been like the mythical Macondo of Gabo’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
It is a place, once thought of as deep in the mountains, that is cloaked in magical realism like the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Carabalan hogged the headlines recently as a series of armed skirmishes erupted recently across its sitios – from Sig-ang to Medel – all in less than a week.
Carabalan and other mountain villages of Himamaylan border the young city with its Oriental neighbors like Tayasan and Ayungon towns. Many of the villages in this city 60 kilometers south of the provincial capital, Bacolod, used to be lush forests cleared by a logging concession owned by the scion of a prominent political clan that held sway in the then town for decades until it became a city.
Those forests are long gone, one of the founts of wealth of this clan that fed off land and natural resources to become a an economic power and a political dynasty.
What remains of this concession are tree stumps, some wide enough to become tables that could seat up to 20 people, and the criscrossing logging roads that connect the remote sitios to the Oriental.
The names of some sub villages, like Through Cut and Spur 64 (if I recall it right) refer to the once vast logging operations.
But while the mountains of Carabalan brought wealth to some, it remained like a land trapped in time for many. Up until 2000, the road to Carabalan was largely impassable, similar to a macadam one but when dinosaurs still walked the earth.
It was on this kind of road that 17 government soldiers lost their lives when some 30 members of the New People’s Army ambushed them with rifle fire and grenades.
Days later, I (then a rights activist) was on the ground leading a team to “probe” reports of so- called human rights violation and to conduct a “fact-finding mission.”
The purposes were clear: to conduct propaganda and to bring in “help,” mainly food amd medicines, to “distressed civilians.”
It was during this “mission” that I was able to reach the interiors of Himamaylan, reaching as far as Sitio Anahaw where the indigenous people there had skin the color of glistening bronze.
That journey through Carabalan might have been made 20 years ago and lasted less than a week but it gave me a glimpse into the seeming isolation of a people who do not appear warlike but are mostly concerned with having to feed themselves and their families until, like Melquiades the Gypsy, the rebels come along and tell them that a brave new world is possible.
It is possible that, until recently, the rebels were the only sources of information from the outside world, information that is largely propaganda especially during the Marcos I Martial Law.
“Pyudalismo, imperyalismo, burukrata kapitalismo,” the local Communists “main enemies” have been drummed into the minds of upland folk by rebels, the standard propaganda line developed by Jose Maria Sison. This worn out line has endured half a century of changes only becsuse of Joma’s insistence that it remain even as glasnost and perestroika have prevailed in Russia, the Berlin Wall has fallen, and capitalism is succeeding in Vietnam not inspite of but because of socialism, as Slavoj Zizek says.
I have seen young rebels, both aboveground and underground, try to sound intellectual by reading off Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book or trying to explain Hegelian concepts to an upland farmer who never had the chance to go to school.
“Ganganga sila, Ka samtang ga agit prop ko ah (their mouths were agape, comrade, as I did agitation propaganda),” one activist, a high school drop out, told me after talking to a group of farmers in Bulod.
To him, the masa might have been impressed by his rhetoric but I told him perhaps they could not understand what he was saying. Then, as chief propaganda officer of an activist organization, I was aware that the main problem of any ideological organization is for their propagandists to fall for their propaganda line and be deluded into the belief that the masa will believe what they say because the line is “sharp.”
Even if it is said in total stupor.
The masa might have believed these half truths and lies. Goebbels, after all, said the key to making a lie true is the number of repetitions.
It is easy to forgive the masa if they believe what is being told to them. The mobster Al Capone once said “You can accomplish a lot more with a kind word and a gun than with only a kind word.”
In the case of the NPAs they have both.
(To be continued)