Note from the Underground

Thirty four years ago this month, martial law was declared in our
homeland by then-President Ferdinand Marcos. That was an entire
generation and so many upheavals - political and personal - ago, yet
for those whose lives were severely affected by that radical change
in the social order, it was something like the assassinations of
Kennedy and Ninoy Aquino: we remember exactly where we were and how
we felt when it happened.

Memories dark and vivid come tumbling back now as one is confronted
with a strong sense of déjà vu when reading the almost daily reports
of activists or journalists being ambushed or shot to death in the
Philippines. Viewed alongside the declaration yet again of an "all
out war" against the insurgency, of the president releasing one
billion pesos to the military (presumably in real money, not the
accounting hocus-pocus that the current administration seems to be
called on often) for counter-insurgency, and the elevation of a Gen.
Jovito Palparan who pledged that he would wipe out all insurgents
within two years, one gets the feeling that history is being re-
lived, but this time in more unapologetically lethal terms. How many
more lives will be sacrificed on the altar of counter-insurgency or
revolution, one wonders.

The recent release of the third incarnation of Ben Pimentel’s award-
winning book on the revolutionary, Edgar Jopson, this time titled
U.G. An Underground Tale: The Journey of Edgar Jopson and the First
Quarter Storm Generation, starkly illustrates the painful reality
that murder is a convenient weapon that both the right (the
government and its military) and the left (the revolutionaries) use
with impunity against those who dare defy them.

The book is a page-turner, especially for those who knew or had
heard of Jopson, more popularly known as Edjop. He was the Ateneo
student leader, scion of an affluent family, who headed the moderate
National Union of Students during the First Quarter Storm of 1970
(the initial wave of massive anti-Marcos student demonstrations).
Edjop became radicalized eventually and he joined the Left
underground when martial law was declared. He was killed in Davao in
1982 when the military raided their safehouse. His widow Joy,
herself an underground operative then, writes for the first time in
this edition her story of that tragedy: "My own sense was [Edjop]
was shot while attempting to escape (as shown by his big wound on
the right thigh and the only wound seemed inflicted from afar), he
was taken alive, and finally killed at close range...And as if these
were not enough, he was also shot on each arm and leg. It was a
brutal death in the hands of the Marcos military."

What sets this edition apart from the previous ones, aside from
Joy’s heartbreaking personal recollections and the comprehensive
foreword by former Senator Jovito Salonga, is the new information
that Pimentel reveals. Real names of Edjop’s comrades are now used.
More significantly, the author boldly includes a discussion of two
of the Philippine Left’s biggest black marks: the assassination of
Rolly Kintanar, former head of the New People’s Army and Joy’s
second husband, and the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971.

Kintanar was a legendary guerrilla fighter who, after several stints
in prison (under Marcos and Cory Aquino) and serious tactical
differences with the leadership of the Communist Party, quit and
went aboveground and, with Joy, set up a security agency business.
Accused of various crimes against the revolution by his former
comrades, Kintanar managed to dodge the death sentence meted on him
by the Party leadership until his luck ran out. In broad daylight,
in a very public place, operatives of the rebel army that he helped
train and expand shot him dead. The NPA immediately claimed credit,
displaying to outsiders the cruel, vindictive side of a movement
that proclaims itself the champion of social justice.

The Plaza Miranda bombing (where grenades were lobbed during a
campaign rally of the Liberal Party senatorial candidates in 1971)
is a more volatile issue because, despite revelations by some former
insiders that the Communist Party did it, no official confirmation
was ever issued, not even internally. Thus, the responsibility for
it took the character of a rumor among the revolutionaries, a
shameful, despicable one that made many question the validity of the
cause they were fighting - and dying - for.

I asked Pimentel how these events shaped his book’s new version - a
version that had the active support of Joy who is unequivocal about
her intention to keep the memories of Edjop and Rolly alive - and he
explains thus: "Like many others, I was stunned by but remained
skeptical about the allegation that the UG (underground) was
responsible for the bombing. But through the years, it just became
clear that the accusation had to be taken seriously. I wouldn’t say
that it was the critical reason for rewriting the biography. But
certainly a movement that claims to be a democratic force may have
carried out such a vicious attack changes the context in which Edjop
joined the UG. Then I was surprised to find out that, as a high-
ranking UG leader, he actually found out and was troubled by the
allegation that the Party ordered the bombing."

With Kintanar’s assassination, the proverbial die was cast in
Pimentel’s and Joy’s minds. “It has become clear to me,” Pimentel
says, "that the history of the UG is actually composed of two
stories: one, an inspiring tale of courage and sacrifice, of young
idealistic Filipinos who saw a society reeling from poverty and
oppression, and who bravely joined the struggle to end the
suffering. The other, an ugly and terrifying story of violence and
viciousness, of hardened ideologues who would wage war at all cost,
even if it meant killing innocent people and plunging society into a
long conflict, senseless and cruel.

"Why did I decide to retell Edjop’s story? Because I want to help
preserve, highlight and celebrate the first storyline and, in my own
little way, help prevent it from being forgotten or overshadowed by
the darker, more violent narrative."

U.G., the book, is probably the best and most comprehensive account
yet of the heroism and tragedies of a flawed revolutionary movement
that became, in the minds of many, a romantic counterfoil to martial
law. It is a good reminder that we should never submit to power
achieved through the barrel of a gun, no matter which side it is
pointing at.


* From Filipinas Magazine, September 2006.

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