Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Home Field Notes Of rotors and rebels

Of rotors and rebels

SOMEWHERE IN NEGROS ISLAND (1996, around 8:30, morning) The sound of helicopter rotors slicing through the air was dull at first, like a pakang (wooden club used in laundry) hitting wet denim.

Whump. Whump. Whump.

Then it became sharper. And faster.

Shugshugshugshug.

Ka Lito cocked his ear. “Ilikoptir,” he said. “Ang linabhan!”

We jumped out of the bamboo benches of the makeshift schoolhouse, and ran to a nearby clothesline just beside a steep drop to the river. It was at least a hundred feet down.

ARMED. The author as a young reporter in the 90s holding an AR 15 assault rifle takes a souvenir shot with an NPA Red fighter. | Photo taker unknown
ARMED. The author as a young reporter in the 90s holding an AR 15 assault rifle takes a souvenir shot with an NPA Red fighter. | Photo taker unknown

“That would be a lot of screaming before I die,” I thought as I snatched my half-dried laundry.

I took all the whites first.

“Those look like semaphore flags from above,” Ka Maoring, the highest-ranking guerrilla officer said as we ran, semi-crouched, back to the schoolhouse.

ON ASSIGNMENT. The author in a hacienda in Murcia town, 2013. | Photo by Ed Lingao whump
ON ASSIGNMENT. The author in a hacienda in Murcia town, 2013. | Photo by Ed Lingao

Maoring made hand signals to another guerilla in the sentry post – not really a post but more of a sniper’s hide in the cogon field high up from where we where. Three guerrillas, two armed with Armalite rifles, locally assembled by Elisco Tools, another with a WW II Browning. Soon, a stocky guerrilla, the one with the Browning, made his way down, nimble, fast, like he was just playing hopscotch.

He did not even break a sweat.

“A column of Army soldiers have been seen near the river two sitios away,” he told Maoring. More or less that was five kilometers away, half a platoon of soldiers were on our asses.

A shot taken by the author of Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore where he attended a journalism fellowship in 2012. | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles whump
A shot taken by the author of Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore where he attended a journalism fellowship in 2012. | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

The Sentro De Grabidad Yunit Gerilya (SGYG) is the main guerrilla formation of the NPA in the island.

It is the core of the armed wing of the CPP. Most of its members are hardened fighters, veterans, experienced combatants selected from guerrilla fronts. At the time, however, the CPP in Negros was reeling from a split four years ago that left it with only an undersized platoon of armed guerrillas led by Bebren Gordoncillo alias Ka Dandan.

SONA 2015. The author with Mindanao journalist Cong Corrales and Ed Lingao outside the Batasan Complex covering the last SONA of President Benigno C. Aquino III.
SONA 2015. The author with Mindanao journalist Cong Corrales and Ed Lingao outside the Batasan Complex covering the last SONA of President Benigno C. Aquino III.

We were nestled between two hills, camped beside a river that was to provide water, and a quick escape but it also provided a way for riverine operations of soldiers who could stealthily make their way into the camp, and kill us.

I was on assignment, covering the defection of then general Raymundo Jarque to his erstwhile enemies.

There was also a pasinsin nga pagtuon, a thorough review of the fundamentals of the “rebolusyon.” About 50 cadres were gathered – some in their 20s, others in their 50s. But most were old. The instructors’ pool was composed mostly of Martial Law era cadres, one of them a woman, then in her 40s, fair-skinned. Pretty. She comes from a family of agalon may duta (landlords) in one town in the province.

ON THE FIELD. The writer with fellow journalist Ed Lingao on assignment doing a story on political clans of Negros. Both arw former multimedia directors of the PCIJ. | Photo by Nathan Abrio.
ON THE FIELD. The writer with fellow journalist Ed Lingao on assignment doing a story on political clans of Negros. Both are former multimedia directors of the PCIJ. | Photo by Nathan Abrio

Yesterday, she did a review of the forms of struggle, or stragel as one other old cadre called it, being led by the party. The first was armed struggle, then mass movement, then the other forms, campaign for release of political prisoners, and the peace talks. There was no talk of parliamentary struggle yet.

I was brooding over these concepts when a voice interrupted.

“Naglumbos na, Ka (It has passed over us, comrade),” Lito said as we went out of the schoolhouse.

The sound of chopping rotors was fading.

I lit a cigarette.

Poooot!

“Orit na,” Ka Lito said as he motioned with his head to the south where the Maricalum Mining Corporation was located. That was a horn blowing to signal the end of a workshift, he said.

We were at the area once codenamed Emporium, a stronghold of the CPP in the 80s.

In the distance, I could still hear the faint sound of the chopper.

Whump. Whump. Whump.

Julius D. Mariveles
Julius D. Mariveles
An amateur cook who has a mean version of humba, the author has recently tried to make mole negra, the Mexican sauce he learned by watching shows of master chef Rick Bayless. A journalist since 19, he has worked in the newsrooms of radio, local papers, and Manila-based news organizations. A stroke survivor, he now serves as executive editor of DNX.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Just read this one! Reminded me of those coverages I did in the mountains too. I enjoyed the visual storytelling but “nabitin” ko though! More of these stories please. Make it a bit longer. 😉

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