Editors Note: Guihulngan City is more than 100 kilometers north of this urban center via the northern coastal highway, several kilometers less through the Tourism Highway that cuts across Don Salvador Benedicto town.
It can also be reached through the southern Negros town of Isabela.
Several events have put Guihulngan in the spotlight recently. Among them the killing of the Sancelan couple – Mary Rose, a government physician and her husband, Edwin, December of last year.
Two Saturdays ago, a series of skirmishes also broke out in the hinterlands of Guihulngan, particularly in Trinidad where civilians were forced to temporarily leave their homes after soldiers under the 62nd Infantry Battalion clashed with an estimated 20 guerrillas of the NPA Front 1.
The following article is a narration of events based on past interviews and conversations of the reporter, who had extensively covered the underground movement in Negros island, Philippines since the early 1990s, with Party cadres, members, Red fighters, and mass sympathizers.
This is part of a series of reports that will focus on the armed insurgency in Negros island, home to barons of the sugar industry that had long been the backbone of the island’s economy
It is also crucial to revisit the armed conflict in an island that once had one of the biggest NPA armed strength in the country and as the insurgency drags on beyond half a century.
The author is a reporter who had covered the insurgency and its related economic and political issues.
He has also repeatedly been invited and had covered celebrations of the CPP’s Komite Rehiyonal Party anniversaries in Negros island during the 1990s.
During these events, former priest Frank Fernandez, then secretary of the provisional regional executive committee of the CPP would grant interviews to reporters.
These celebrations were mostly held deep in the mountains of Guihulngan City or other towns and cities in central and southern Negros.
In the 1990s, he was also one of a select few local journalists who covered the defection of retired Army Gen. Raymundo Jarque to the underground Left and, in the 2000s, a similar defection by police officer Joel Geollegue.
In 2004, this writer was the only Negros-based journalist included in the Armed Forces’ order of battle and was tagged as a member of the Communist Party allegedly codenamed Ka Miko.
Exiled Communist Party founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison described the Ikalawang Dakilang Pagwawasto (Second Great Rectification Movement) in so many interviews and statements as a remarkable achievement of what was then a 20ish old CPP.
A self-assessment that was both glowing in its praise of the achievements of the Party he founded and, as some of the cadres here who joined Joma once said, “saved” from “rejectionist traitors” who tried to sabotage the party and make it stray away from “the correct revolutionary path.”
To some in the “rejectionist” bloc, however, it was like a roundabout way of Joma praising himself by praising the CPP.
It was in 1992 when the panadlong (as the rectification was called in Negros) was in full swing that Guihulngan became both safe refuge and a center of gravity for a handful of guerrillas under the New People’s Army who remained loyal to the CPP.
While Joma was busy praising the Party’s achievement from self-exile in The Netherlands, Ka Lito (nom de guerre of a long dead guerrilla) was among the few NPA guerrillas making his way through the remaining forests of upland Guihulngan with a small yunit gerilya of about 20 armed men that provided armed protection to the then provisional regional executive committee.
The Probisyonal Komiteng Tagpatuman or PKT as it was called then was headed by Fernandez, a former priest, one of the members of the Negros clergy who rose to prominence and up the ranks of the underground CPP.
Another Negros priest who became important in the movement was Luis Jalandoni, scion of a prominent landed family in Silay City, the cultural capital of the province.
Guerrillas who remained with the NPA during what they called “critical” moments of the CPP sound almost romantic about Guihulngan that was then a town when the CPP split happened in the 1990s.
“Kon wala ang masa, patay gid ang Partido (The Party would have died without the masses),” Ka Eric, a veteran guerrilla who “deployed” with Fernandez to Negros from Manila once told this reporter.
Ka Eric was a former member of the Alex Boncayao Brigade, an elite urban strike force of the NPA under the Manila-Rizal Regional Party Committee.
What the military calls as “assassins,” murderers let loose by the CPP as part of its “extortion” operations.
He was killed in an NPA raid on a military detachment in the late 1990s.
Fernandez and his wife, Ka Ella, later identified by the Army as Cleofe Lagtapon, were among the ranking Party cadres sent to Negros to head the CPP after the 1990s split left it with no regional leadership and only a handful of Red fighters.
The entire regional leadership went with the Rebokusyunaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (RPMP), the party of the so-called rejectionists led by Filemon “Popoy” Lagman, erstwhile secretary of the Manila-Rizal CPP committee.
The bulk of the NPA, on the other hand, described then as almost a battallion or around 500 regular fighters with rifles, defected to the RPMP’s armed wing – the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) then headed by now Abang Lingkod partylist solon Stephen Paduano known then as Ka Carapali Lualhati.