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Young revolutionaries share snippets of life in the hills

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By Desiree Caluza, VERA Files

Somewhere in the Cordillera--Here in the Cordillera in northern Luzon, Philippines, cicadas, birds, dragonflies and butterflies are the usual companions of young revolutionaries who call the hills their home.

In one makeshift kitchen made of bamboo and plastic mats, young revolutionaries (aged 18 to 31), sip brewed coffee as they watch one of their colleagues cook supper on the crackling fire on the dalikan (a stove composed of three stones). The menu for the night is boiled rice and binongor (a native dish which is cooked by boiling bamboo shoots, shells, banana heart, string beans and hot chili, or siling labuyo, and salt).

In the guerrilla zone of the Lejo Cawilan Command (LCC) of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Kalinga, there is no deafening sound of exchange of gunshots with the government soldiers on an ordinary day; only the sound of Ka Rodney’s “kulitong” (bamboo guitar) . On such a peaceful day, Ka Rodney usually plays his favorite Igorot love song “Nan Layad,” a song that speaks of longing for a loved one.

Ka Rodney, 27, has been a member of the underground movement since 2011. Passionate about music, he likes creating instruments out of bamboo. His “kulitong” is the first thing which he touches as he lays down his M203 rifle beside his bed, playing songs which he learned all by himself.

“What attracted me to join the revolutionary movement were the songs that I usually hear at cultural events I attended in Kalinga,” he recalls. “I love the songs that spoke about the plight of the masses, the poor and even the indigenous people. Revolutionary songs for me are timeless, because they speak about the reality of society like the oppression and injustices, and how to fight them. In the end, they speak about winning the war for the people.”

Ka Rodney belongs to a family of farmers in Kalinga. Coming from a poor family, he says he believes that joining the revolutionary movement is the long-term solution to end poverty and injustices for people like them.

The NPA is the armed group of the Communist Party of the Philippines which celebrated its 45th founding anniversary last December 26.

For Ka Drake, 31, it was a long search for a purpose in life until he found his way to the hills. He has been with the movement for 10 years, and is now the unit commander of the LCC.

“My father was a member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit, so it was clear to me back then that he was opposed to my plan to join the NPA. I went through so many things before I finally decided to join. I wanted to become an army [soldier], but the problem was my family had no resources to send me out of Kalinga. I studied a vocational course (driver/mechanic) for two years, and then I worked as a factory worker in Cavite for three years,” Ka Drake says.

“I grew up seeing NPAs around our village. So when I returned to my province, I decided to join. It was an easy decision for me, because growing up, I knew what the revolution was all about,” he adds.

Ka Drake says he has joined several combat operations and in one encounter with government troops in 2010, he was able to kill one soldier. “I never felt anything after that; I did not feel any sympathy because they are also merciless when they kill people like us. This is war. The only instance that makes me sad is when a member decides to leave the movement; it’s a big loss for us.”

Ka Des, 30, the only female among the LCC rebels, says she finds meaning in life by being in the movement. She was a college student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines when she decided to join the movement.

“I visited the guerrilla zones in Isabela and Cagayan; it was because of the visit that made me join. Guerrilla life is not about adventurism as our enemies would put it. It’s about serving the people. I have been part of the movement for 12 years and married to a combatant. The greatest fulfilment for me is when we are able to encourage people to join us and support the cause of the people... to support the revolution,” Ka Des says.

According to her, one of the inconveniences of being a female combatant is when she has her monthly period.

“At first, I was ashamed to tell my comrades about my period when I was still new in the group. Then I was told that there was nothing to be ashamed of [and that] there was a budget allotted for sanitary napkins. So I did not feel awkward anymore. It is in the movement where I saw the equal roles and places of men and women; women are never treated as inferior people here,” Ka Des reports.

Tipon Gil-Ayab, spokesperson of the LCC, notes that even in the hills, combatants live a normal life. Love, sex and relationship and even raising a family, are always discussed among the members.

“It’s part of the revolutionary life to talk about those [things] also. While we study the situation of the society in our own school, we talk about their (members’) situation also as we talk about combats, ideologies, and mass work, such as farming and fishing in areas where we have access,” Gil-Ayab points out.

In the camp, aside from guerrilla training, NPA members also watch films as part of their past time.

“We still find time for entertainment in this situation. We watch films but we choose the films that we watch. For example, if we are going to watch a film that features Jean Claude Van Damme, we have to explain to them (members) that we are watching the film to learn the combat techniques,” Ka Ambas explains.

“Developing a revolutionary attitude in these situations helps the revolutionary movement to move on,” he says.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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