DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 July) – In a scene reminiscent of the Martial Law years, at least 10,000 people from different parts of Mindanao came to pay their last respects Friday for slain New People’s Army (NPA) leader Leoncio Pitao, popularly known as Commander Parago Sandoval, as supporters held a funeral march before bringing his remains to a memorial park for cremation.
Former Bayan Muna party list representative Satur Ocampo described the funeral march as a testament to the outpouring of support and recognition of Pitao’s achievement as a revolutionary.
Ocampo, a National Democratic Front peace negotiator during the Cory Aquino administration, said Pitao’s funeral march was perhaps the biggest ever in the history of the communist movement in Mindanao.
An activist from the city told MindaNews the rebel leader’s funeral march was the biggest ever he had witnessed.
Now in his 60s, he added that he had seen several funeral marches for slain activists and rebels during Martial Law but not as big as the one for Pitao.
Pitao’s supporters started to arrive Thursday morning until late in the evening. Several buses were reportedly held in military checkpoints but they were later allowed to enter the city.
Aside from about 50 buses, over 30 trucks and dozens of light vehicles were used to haul the people from different parts of Mindanao.
Reports said Pitao was killed in an encounter with government troops in this city’s Paquibato District on June 28. Aside from Pitao, his medical aide identified as Kyle Limpag was also killed in the firefight.
But a statement from the NDF said Pitao and his aide were killed not in an encounter but in a raid.
Kon, a peasant leader from Bislig, Surigao del Sur, said at least 40 of them came to pay their last respects to Pitao.
He admitted to have met Pitao somewhere in Davao Oriental sometime in 1999. “I asked my contacts in the NPA to allow me to experience how they live in the mountains. That’s why I saw Parago there,” he said in Cebuano.
He said it was the first and last time he met Pitao.
“Now we came here to show our sympathy to our comrades and Parago’s family as a way of celebrating the life of an exceptional NPA as well as a people’s hero,” he said.
Earlier, Pitao’s supporters held a funeral caravan from the Almendras gymnasium to the gate of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) headquarters in Panacan.
While holding a short protest, they threw red dye into the posters displayed outside the camp. They then headed back to the Freedom Park and assembled for the funeral march to the Davao Memorial Park.
A peasant from Paquibato District who asked not to be named described Pitao’s death as a big loss to the masses not just in Paquibato but as well as in other areas where he had served.
He admitted that the entire community mourned when they learned that Pitao had been killed. “The people not only cried; their grief was indescribable.”
The peasant, in his 40s, said among the good deeds that the slain rebel had done was ending robbery in the community.
Biggest funeral in post-martial law era
Bayan Muna Rep. Karlos Zarate said Pitao’s funeral march was the biggest in the post-martial law era. “This is huge and as open as this even if he was an NPA commander.”
Pitao’s final wake was held in Almendras gymnasium for the public viewing and “luksang parangal” on Thursday night where at least 5,000 people attended.
During the martial law era, Zarate recalled that the biggest funeral march in the city was for Alexander Orcullo, a labor leader who was gunned down by paramilitary forces in 1984.
Raul Evasola, a maintenance crew at Davao Memorial Park, also believes that Orcullo’s was the biggest he had seen during Martial Law.
Evasola, in his 60s, said he has been working in the memorial park since 1971.
The funeral march jumped off at 1pm and arrived at the Davao Memorial Park at 2pm.
Pitao’s casket, draped with the hammer-and-sickle emblem of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was placed in an open 10-wheeler truck as 10 men clad in red shirts and wearing Mao’s caps stood around it.
People came out of business establishments and offices to catch a glimpse of the funeral march.
Pitao’s supporters chanted “Mabuhay ang NPA, Mabuhay ang Partido Komunista sa Pilipinas and Mabuhay si Ka Parago” on the way to the memorial park.
Student activists showered red confetti on the casket as it passed by the overpass along McArthur highway in Matina.
Before the cremation, many of the people from Paquibato district wept as they bade goodbye to Pitao, whom they consider as “a hero and defender of the poor and of the oppressed.”
“Many more Paragos will rise; thank you, thank you, thank you very much, comrade,” a woman in her 40s said while wiping the glass cover of Pitao’s coffin with her hand.
A man in his 50s also tapped the casket of Pitao saying: “We shall go on, we shall go on”
At 3:44 p.m., Pitao’s casket was moved to the cremation chamber, where only the immediate family members were allowed to enter.
Like Ka Roger
For Ocampo, the funeral march for Pitao was similar to the one for Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal.
Rosal, a former spokesperson of the CPP who was based in Southern Tagalog region died of cardiac arrest on June 22, 2011 at the age of 64.
“It was as huge as this. I could not say which had more participants, but the outpouring of support and recognition from the masses was the same” Ocampo told Mindanews.
The number of people who came to the funeral showed how close Pitao was to his people, the former NDF leader.
Ocampo described Pitao as one of the brilliant military tacticians in the history of the NPA. “Makikita nyo naman how he handled the prisoners of war, how he treated them humanely.” (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)