SAN AGUSTIN, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/27 December) – The crowd of supporters chanted “peace” as the speaker standing on a makeshift stage asked if the National Democratic Front (NDF) should seek a political settlement with the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III to end Asia’s longest running communist-led armed struggle.
“Peace with justice!” retorted the speaker, Jorge Madlos aka “Ka Oris”, Mindanao spokesperson of the NDF, in the peace forum Sunday organized for hundreds of their supporters.
The forum, held in a rice-farming village in this town coincided with the 42nd anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
“This is the first. We will try to ask the people what they want and try to bring these issues to the negotiating table,” Madlos told MindaNews.
He said these issues are important to ending an insurgency stoked by a decades-old agrarian unrest, poverty and corruption.
After several years, Asia’s most resilient communist insurgency is again talking peace in a bid to end a war that has left 120,000 combatants and civilians killed in the last four decades.
The chairs of the peace panels of the government and the NDF, the CPP’s political arm, met in Hong Kong in early December and will meet again for informal talks in January 2011 in preparation for the formal talks in February.
The rebels abandoned the peace talks in 2004, accusing the administration of former President Gloria Arroyo of instigating the United States and the European Union to place the communist movement in their lists of terrorist organizations.
But if Sunday’s event indicated something other than the avowed willingness of the NDF to again talk peace, it is that the New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the CPP never seems to run out of young recruits to ensure its continued presence, if not control, of portions of rural villages in the country.
Around 50 of those young guerrillas performed a cultural presentation on the stage decorated with a huge drawing of a red hammer and sickle, which symbolizes worker-peasant alliance.
One of them, Alvin Luque, walked about in muddy rubber boots as he performed chores during the day-long activity.
A former teacher, Luque decided to join the rebels two years ago to escape a string of cases filed against him by the government.
“It was hard at first. I have to give up many of the things I used to readily have in the city,” he said.
But after two years, Luque said he has gotten used to the life of a guerrilla, fighting the insects more than soldiers in the jungle and trying to organize more support for the movement.
“People here are more real. Even those whom I do not know approached me to give me comfort if they knew I have a problem,” he said.
Nearby, a young rebel with an M16 rifle slung on his tiny shoulder embraced his mother whom he had not seen since joining the NPA a year ago.
“Mom, don’t worry, I’m alive,” he assured his mother as he embraced her. Both of them cried unabashedly.
Madlos said they had changed their policy a bit and decided to allow the relatives of their cadres to stay during the Christmas ceasefire period.
“I am happy to see these young guerrillas. They will ensure that the revolution will go on,” he said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)