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Comrade vs comrade



“Their very first question to me when I was arrested was ‘When did [you] become a [spy]?’ When I said I was not [a spy], they hit me. When they asked the question again, I said no again, so they hit me again. This went on and on until my face felt thick and swollen.

“This was the mild part of the interrogation—for they ‘just’ slapped me repeatedly. But just when I thought it was over for the night, a burly jail guard punched me in the face and dislocated my jaw. My upper left jaw still feels weird, and occasionally hurts, up to this day.

“The second day was yet another day of torture, but this time my interrogator used a club. He hit me on the shin and on the head repeatedly until I almost said I killed Magellan. It was the standard mode of survival, as I learned from a co-detainee the night before—that is, to invent your story as a true deep-penetration agent, so that they would stop hurting you.

“Compared to the others, the physical torture I received was lighter…. The others had to endure far worse, for various forms of cruelty were developed. The standard methods were mauling, slapping, and the more imaginative ‘flag ceremony’ where the victim was made to stand with her wrists tied together while she was hoisted up from the ground. This can last a few hours to a few days.

“They also experimented with various combinations of physical and psychological terror tactics. A colleague was beaten up and hung on a tree. She was then made to watch how they beat up other victims. Then she was made to listen to the taped voices of her children. It was difficult to believe, but sexual abuse also happened to some victims.

Witness to an execution

“Even the act of execution was used to further terrorize the detainees, such as the one Ka Paulito narrated:

‘I was brought to the execution site together with a handful of other detainees. At that time, my senses were almost deadened by the torture I had received. I could barely feel anything anymore. But what I saw brought me new shock and completely erased any hope I had that all this would turn out all right in the end.

‘One of our companions was brought in front of us. They then turned him around while we waited in suspense. Next thing we knew, the back of his head was hit with a large wooden club. He fell down, then shouted: “Wala akong kasalanan, mga kasama (Comrades, I’m innocent)!” He repeated this line incessantly, as if in a chant. He was groggy but was still able to stand up. Again, he was hit on the same spot but he remained standing. With the third blow on his head, his skull cracked open, and he lay dead on the ground.

‘I wasn’t able to utter a single word after that. It would have been more bearable a sight if they shot him or even stabbed him, but this was such a gruesome spectacle. At that point, all my defenses broke down and I decided to spin whatever story I could think of.’”

This may seem like a tale by a survivor from the killing fields of Cambodia. Or like one of those chilling accounts of persecution of Jews by the Nazis. The story, however, happened not in Pol Pot’s Kampuchea or Hitler’s Germany, but in the mountain fastness held by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Quezon province 14 years ago.

The perpetrators: cadres and fighters of the CPP-NPA.

The victims: cadres and fighters of the CPP-NPA who were suspected of being government spies.

“[It is] something that had been kept in silence and had only been talked about in whispers,” said Robert Francis Garcia, who told the story last month at a symposium titled “Left Purges: Implications to Human Rights,” sponsored by the Netherlands Embassy in Manila.

“It is a subject that had to wait for more than a decade before people can face up to it and, hopefully, do something about,” he said.

Garcia, a student-activist-turned-NPA-guerrilla, has detailed his bitter experiences at the hands of his former comrades in a book, To Suffer Thy Comrades: How the Revolution Decimated its Own, explaining the brutality of comrade torturing comrade from a psychological viewpoint.

Campaign of terror

CPP documents reveal that a series of campaigns was launched by the revolutionary party in the 1980s to “flush out suspected deep-penetration agents of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines]” in various revolutionary underground organizations. It began with operation Kadena de Amor in the Quezon-Bikol Zone in 1982. Three years later, in 1985, the Mindanao Commission launched Kampanyang Ahos (ahos, derived from Spanish, is a Visayan term for garlic, which is believed to repel snakes). Then in 1987, the Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee mounted Operation Missing Link, or OPML. A year later, Operation Olympia was launched to ferret out suspected government spies in Metro Manila-based national party organs like the United Front Commission.

There are no exact figures on casualties, but former Communist Party leaders say that several thousands were intensely interrogated and tortured and more than a thousand were summarily executed. Estimates of deaths in Kampanyang Ahos alone range from a low of 400 to a high of 900. Less than a dozen were said to have died in Kadena de Amor.

Garcia, who now leads a group of survivors and families and friends of victims of the “anti-infiltration” campaigns called PATH (Peace Advocates for Truth, Justice and Healing), says that at least 121 people fell victim to the OPML—66 were executed and 55 survived.

“It reached very threatening proportions, almost killing the movement at one point,” said Paco Arguelles, a former member of the CPP’s Political Bureau (Politburo), in an article published in a human-rights journal.

Siege mentality

Political activists like Boni Ilagan, who did a research on these purges, say that the Politburo had traced these “fatal errors…to panic, a siege mentality, grave subjectivism and unbridled suspicion, violation of the rights of the suspects, wrong views and methods of investigation and prosecution, and carelessness in the investigation and weighing of facts and circumstances.”

“The incredible belief that an extensive enemy infiltration network was already entrenched in the underground became solidified,” Ilagan told participants in the Netherlands-sponsored symposium.

Quoting CPP policy documents, he explained: “The belief finally turned into hysteria when the arrests, torture, confessions, and subjectivist judgment led to an ever-widening scale and ever-rising level, fueled each other, eroded mutual trust, ran over the integrity and the organizational processes of the Party and shook entire organizations of the Party.”

Torture was extensively used, he said, on the assumption that the victims were enemy spies—a situation where the suspects were presumed guilty even if the suspicions usually stood on the flimsiest ground.

“To stop the torture, they [the victims] made ‘confessions’ that incriminated themselves, as well as others,” Ilagan said.

Arguelles noted that the CPP, from its beginnings, had faced and dealt with the problem of military infiltration in its ranks. “This had always been expected, and well demonstrated in practice, as one of government’s major instruments in its counterinsurgency efforts.”

Even in these early years, however, Arguelles observed, “disturbing trends already appeared.”

“The use of physical and mental torture, the heavy weight given to confessions extracted under duress and rendering judgments on the basis of circumstantial evidence were fairly common procedures in dealing with suspected spies,” he said. “The death penalty was usually meted out.”

Culture of intolerance

Garcia believes there are two major reasons why his former comrades committed such acts of inhumanity. One was what he calls the psychology of violence. “One of my most alarming realizations…was that even the most upright, decent, and normal people can be compelled to commit atrocious things if they are convinced of its correctness. Somehow, during the purge, the act of chaining, hurting, and killing their fellow comrades seemed to be the most natural thing to do.”

Another reason, he said, was what Garcia calls the “CPP-NPA culture of intolerance.”

“[The CPP-NPA] does not recognize other beliefs but its own. This intolerance becomes especially vicious when they finally treat you as their enemy.”

For many of the victims and their families, it’s not enough for them to know why the CPP-NPA committed these atrocious acts. What concerns them more is for the CPP-NPA to give a full accounting of what really happened during the series of anti-infiltration campaigns.

In fact, PATH has presented two urgent appeals to the CPP-NPA.

One is to locate the remains of those who were executed. “Most of our comrades who were killed during the purges were pushed into mass graves—these, in different parts of the country. They all deserve a decent burial,” PATH said in a statement.

Their second demand is for the CPP-NPA to inform the families of those who died. “Many families of those who perished in the purges are still unaware, to this day, of what happened to their loved ones. They deserve to know now, and there is absolutely no reason to delay this. We believe a full disclosure of what happened is called for, and not just pieces of information that the CPP-NPA feels politically expedient to release at the moment.”

Ilagan said that the CPP had already done this. “The Party [had] humbly sought out their families in order to conduct self-criticism, explain what occurred and the underlying context, ask for their forgiveness and understanding, give some form of compensatory damages and encourage their continued support for the revolution,” he said, quoting some CPP documents.

He added, however, that “to date, not all the families of the victims have been reached.”

This, he said, is not due to any devious design to keep the tragic events a secret but to many other reasons like “the scarcity of information about the families’ whereabouts.”

In fact, Ilagan said “the Central Committee of the CPP declared that the violation of the rights and the victimization of Party cadres and members and NPA fighters during Kampanyang Ahos…were serious crimes against the Party and the revolution and imposed appropriate heavy sanctions.”

The CPP, however, granted “amnesty to those with grave accountabilities.”

“As a condition [for amnesty], they were to make thoroughgoing rectification, earnestly ask forgiveness from the victims, and make an all-out effort to repair the damage suffered by individuals, families, and the organization,” Ilagan quoted the CPP as saying.

As for the OPML, the CPP documents said that “all leading comrades who had individual accountabilities concerning the OPML anti-infiltration hysteria were meted [out] various levels of disciplinary action, the highest being expulsion from the Party.”

Light punishment

Lawyer Milabel Cristobal believes that the disciplinary action meted out by the Party to its erring members was not enough. “Masyadong magaan (too light),” she said.

Under Philippine laws, crimes of this magnitude are punishable by death, or at least life imprisonment.

But there lies the catch: the CPP considers itself a belligerent force with its own system of justice. To whom or to what system of law should the accounting be made?

Garcia believes that the accounting should be made “primarily to the victims who died and who survived.” Under what system, he said, they “still need to work on.” Definitely, he said, it is not the CPP’s system of justice because “it is flawed.”

PATH is thinking of an independent mechanism like a truth commission, although setting it up involves a long process.

“If the CPP-NPA is truly sincere in admitting its errors, it must now undertake all necessary measures to facilitate the location of these burial sites and to return the remains to their respective families,” PATH said.

Will the CPP respond to this call?  -Newsbreak


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