SOMEWHERE IN NORTHERN MINDANAO (MindaNews/29 July)—A plastic bottle of Isopropyl alcohol, ballpens and pencil, cellphone charger, food container, scissor, masking tape, an old issue of a newspaper, and dried wild grass flowers propped inside a rounded cardboard litter the desk of Ka Lima, a 33-year old female New People’s Army (NPA) cadre, as she prepares for another day at their guerrilla base.
Her two-by-three meter makeshift tent, or “posting” as they would call it, has frames made up of small tree branches. Ka Lima meticulously layered blue tarpaulins, sacks, and a nylon taffeta fabric with acrylic coating (the same material used in umbrellas) to drive out the cold.
“Tugnawonon man gud ko” (I get cold easily), she explains. Temperature at their camp can drop to as low as 15 degrees Celsius at times, so Ka Lima has to think of ways to keep herself warm.
Cozy is not the word that one would associate with an NPA camp but this is the feeling one gets upon entering Ka Lima’s tent. Despite their transient and always-on-guard lifestyle, Ka Lima exerted efforts to make her space homey. “Mahilig man gud ko mag kutikuti maong ingon ani ni” (I love to tinker with things that’s why my tent looks like this), Ka Lima says with a laugh.
Ka Lima is in charge of the company’s logistical and financial needs, and her tent also serves as her “office” where she makes reports, answers phone calls and talks with her fellow cadres on different concerns. A stretcher, made of sacks sewn together, both serves as her bed and chair. Small tree branches tied together with rattan forms her desk. The only touches of modernity perhaps, inside Ka Lima’s tent are the light bulb, cellphones, and a laptop.
After getting married in 2005, Ka Lima and her husband decided to join the NPA. She was 26 years old then. Founded in 1969, the New People’s Army is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). It is the longest-running revolution in Asia, waging a protracted “people’s war” from the countryside.
Ka Lima admits that it was very difficult at first. “Physical kayo ang mga kalisdanan—lakawan, kakapoy, bug-at imong dad-on…Pero madugay, maanad ra diay gihapon ka, ma develop ra imong mga muscles hangtud dili na ka kahibalo na bug-at na diay imong ginadala” (The challenges were very physical at first. You need to endure long walks, fatigue, and carry heavy loads. But you get used to it, until such time you can no longer feel that what you’re carrying is heavy) she says.
She also had to adjust to a new culture and a new environment. She was first deployed to a Lumad (indigenous peoples) area and by nature, Lumads are reluctant to mingle with people coming from the cities so Ka Lima exerted every effort to overcome this challenge. “Ang pakig-relasyon sa mga kaubang Lumad nay gintang. Kung mailhan nila daan na tagasyudad ka, PTB (petty bourgeoisie)ka, dili jud mawala na dunay gamay na gap pero sa dagan sa panahon, kinahanglan nimo i-cope up, kinahanglan nimo walaon (There is a gap on your relationship with fellow Lumad cadres at first especially when they know that you came from the city, that you belong to the petty bourgeoisie. But you need to adjust to this and work on eliminating this gap), Ka Lima says.
Adding to these challenges was Ka Lima’s longing for her family, who could not accept her decision then. “Ang acceptance dili dire-diretso…pero nakondisyon na sila daan sa aktibista pa ko nga diri gyud ko. Kanang makit-an bitaw nila ang consistency. Madugay, nadawat ra nila” (Their acceptance was not immediate although they are aware, since I have been an activist, that this is the path that I will eventually take. They saw my consistency. In time, they were able to accept my decision), she said.
Ka Lima added:“Naay mga panahon atong mga niaging tuig nga nakauli ko nakit-an nila na nipayat ko, simple na kaayo akong porma. Maluoy sila, kay dili baya ingon ana sa una tapos gina provide nila imong panginahanglan pero nakit-an nila na happy ka tapos tanang kalisdanan imong naagi-an imong gibarugan. Madugay, kumbinsi ra gihapon sila” (There had been times before when I was able to come home and see them. They saw that I have grown thin and lived a very simple life. They pity me because I didn’t look like that before. They used to provide me with everything. But they saw that I am happy and I stand for what I believe in despite the hardships. With that, they were able to accept my decision).
In 2007, Ka Lima gave birth to a son. But due to the nature of the life she has chosen, she had to leave him with relatives. She left him when he was only three months old.
“Lisud gyud kaayo. Kanang effort bitaw nimo nga kanang pugngan ang imong emosyon para makalayo ka sa iyaha labina kay mo smile nabaya nang three months. Mawili na kayo ka. Pero kay politics in command man lagi, kinahanglan nimo buhaton” (It was very difficult. I need to contain my emotions so that I’d have the strength to leave especially because at three months, a baby would already smile, and that makes me grow fonder of him. But since politics has to prevail, I need to leave him), Ka Lima said.
She gets to see his son or talk to him over the phone once in a while but the child has no idea that she is his mother. It was Ka Lima’s choice to keep it that way though. “Di naman kinahanglan na ipamugos nimo na ikaw ang inahan. Moabot ra man gyud ang panahon nga ilhon ka niya. Subay pud sa kasinatian sa ubang ginikanan” (You don’t need to force on him that you are his mother. Time will come that he will recognize you, based on the experience of other parents), Ka Lima explained.
She added: “Para sa ako, wala nay necessity nga ipamugos nimo nga ilhon ka. Para sa ako, bisan kinsa man makahatag ug motherly love sa iyaha. Sa among distansiya, magpakatotoo na lang gyud na dili nako siya ma hug, dili nako siya makit-an pirmi, ihatag na sa uban”(I don’t need to force on him that I am his mother. For me, anybody can give him motherly love. With our distance, I have already accepted that I cannot hug him and see him often. The love and care he needs can also be given by others).
Her son calls her “nanay” but he thought that “nanay” is similar to an aunt or older sister. “Dili man pud ko ma-hurt kay kabalo ko nga ingon ani gyud ang dangatan—pwede ko ilhon, pwede pud dili. Ang pinakamaayo kana rang amigohon ka niya, dayon mokatawa siya uban sa imoha kung mag joke ka sa iyaha” (I don’t get hurt because I know this is how things will turn out—he might recognize me, he might not. The best thing is when he befriends me and laughs whenever I crack a joke), Ka Lima said.
But Ka Lima admitted that she longs for her son, just like any mother would. “Pangita-on gihapon nako siya, labi na kung bag-o lang mi nagkita. Mingaw kayo na. Pero madugay, mahulipan ra man pud siya sa imong ka busy sa trabaho” (I do miss him especially after seeing him. I feel so sad. But in time, the sadness goes away especially when you are swamped with work), she said.
In 2009, when his son was only around two years old, Ka Lima’s husband was killed during an encounter. They were not together when it happened. She only saw him when they withdrew. She did not expect to lose him that night. “First time nako makakita ug tao nga nabugtu-an ug kinabuhi” (It was my first time to see someone die), she recalled.
For others, this tragic experience will most likely break their spirit but not hers. Instead, it strengthened her resolve to continue with the struggle and motivated her to be better at the tasks assigned to her.
Challenges to women in the revolutionary movement
In the guerilla movement, there is no strict delineation of tasks between men and women as they are tapped according to their strengths and expertise. But generally, women are involved in medical care, sanitation, education, and organizing.
“Depende siya sa imong kakayahan. Naay mga babae nga kaya nila mag sag-ob, kaya nila pang lalake. Depende man gud na sa iyang namat-an pud. Kung ang training niya sa ilang balay, mamugha ang mga babae, magsag-ob ug tubig, diri, wa man nato na ginapugngan kay ang pinakamaayo gyud, kung asa ka mas produktibo” (Your tasks depends on your capabilities, what you are used to, what makes you most productive. There are women who can do manly tasks such as fetching water and chopping wood. We don’t discourage that here), Ka Lima said.
But she admitted that it is more difficult for women to adjust to this kind of life than men as by nature, most women are used to light tasks. “Unang-una, ang babae, daan sa kultura sa gawas, pinakaulahi niyang buhaton ang pagsundalo. Dapat ang babae naa sa balay, ana man na kasagaran di ba? Kung wala siya sa balay, naa sa opisina. Anad kana ang imong trabaho gaan, unya diri sundalo ka—naa kay pusil nga bug-at, lakawan…” (In the culture that we have been used to, women are either at home or working in offices, doing light tasks. The last thing that she would do is to become a soldier. But here, women are soldiers–carrying heavy guns and enduring long walks).
Women in the guerilla movement also have to contend with the occasional patriarchal viewpoints and attitudes of some of their male comrades. “Dili pa gihapon mawala ang patriarchal na relasyon sa babae ug sa lalaki—na mas superior ang lalaki kaysa babae. Naa man tay polisiya sa pagrespeto sa kababayen-an pero usahay, imo pa gihapon masimhotan ang mga macho na panan-aw ngadto sa kababayen-an” (Here, we cannot completely eradicate the patriarchal relationship between men and women—that men are more superior than women. Though we have a strong policy on the respect for women’s rights, at times, you can still sense some macho stances against women), Ka Lima admitted.
But she explained that they do not magnify this issue since they understand that this is the culture that many of us have been used to.
Sometimes though, it is the women themselves who doubt and underestimate their capabilities especially when it comes to military duties. And when this happens, oftentimes, it is also their fellow women who encourage them and push them to continue.
While many would frown at the sacrifices women like Ka Lima has made and endured for the revolution, they completely understand these dissenting viewpoints. “Dili pa man gud nila ma appreciate na ang among pagpaningkamot diri para sa kinatibuk-an kay dili pa man nila mabati karon… wala sila sa base, dili nila makit-an ang kausaban” (They cannot see that our efforts here are for everyone since they cannot yet feel the changes. They do not belong to the poorest of the poor that’s why they cannot see the changes that are happening), Ka Lima said. (Ruby Thursday More/MindaNews)