Special to the RW
WITH THE NEW PEOPLE'S ARMY IN THE PHILIPPINES:
REPORT FROM A GUERILLA FRONT
Conclusion: The Agrarian Revolution at the Grassroots: New Power
Revolutionary Worker #953, April 19, 1998
I was standing by a stream that ran by our campsite. Just a few yards away, Lino, a member of this unit of the New People's Army (NPA), was slashing bamboo. The arc of his bolo (a bolo is like a machete) was swift and sure. In no time, there was a pile of uniformly cut bamboo. Bamboo is a basic construction material in the countryside. Lino, the bamboo now in hand, shouted over to me, "We can build very quickly." Further up the stream from Lino, two other members of the unit were storing slabs of beef in faster running water. A cow had been donated to this NPA unit by a small landlord...one form that "revolutionary taxation" takes in the countryside.
Revolutionary Organization in the Barrios
I had been in the middle of a conversation with Frank. He is a leading comrade from this region and has been involved in the revolutionary struggle since his student days. In 1971 he went off to join the armed struggle in the countryside. He knows this region, its social conditions and terrain, like the palm of his hand.
I wanted to learn more about how the NPA organizes at the barrio (village) level, building revolutionary mass organizations and organs of people's political power. He explained "three basic principles" of mass work. "The organizing must be solid--all sectors must support the armed struggle. The organizing must be guided by a class approach--who are the poor and lower-middle peasants, who are the farmworkers. And the antifeudal struggle [against landlord-peasant exploitation] must be the key link in mass mobilization."
Frank talked about the kind of "step-by-step organizing" carried out by the NPA, and this is underground work, when it expands into new areas.
After entering a barrio, the NPA sets up a liaison group of advanced contacts in the barrio. This liaison group assists in making analysis and carrying out social investigation, and security and political tasks are given to it.
Here I will give a very rough sketch of what generally follows, and the situation is not exactly the same in every area. A barrio organizing group made up of politically advanced peasants eventually takes the place of the liaison group. It initiates economic activities, setting up mutual aid teams to help with production. Special organizing groups aimed at different sectors--various classes of peasants, farmworkers, non-agricultural workers, the women, the youth, and so forth--begin to get established. In these groups, people deepen their understanding of their particular form of exploitation and oppression, how the revolution seeks to solve their problems, and their role in and contribution to the revolution. The organized peasants assist the NPA in various ways--providing information about the enemy and giving material support.
A barrio organizing committee, with popular support and political authority, is now beginning to take root. At this point, as Frank described the process, the NPA can begin to implement land reform. A branch of the communist party is b uilt. Local self-defense forces are organized. Eventually, a kind of revolutionary village committee is established. Elected by village members or by representatives of mass organizations, it acts as an organ of popular political power. Subcommittees of the groups I am describing deal with education, production, health, culture, settling disputes among the people, and other concerns.
I had already learned about the policies of land reform [see Part 2 of this series--ed.], and I was getting a feel for how new popular forms of power come into being. But what about the social aspects of the agrarian revolution? How do the NPA and the mass organizations of peasants address the special needs and problems of women? How does the revolution deal with health issues in the countryside?
The Woman Question in the Countryside
"Women suffer from distinct forms of oppression stemming from patriarchy that has been aggravated and deepened by feudalism, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism. Women bear various forms of hardship, degradation, and discrimination, apart from the oppression and exploitation they suffer as part of society's work force.... Only by taking up the cause of the emancipation of women--motivating, encouraging, and supporting our women as they unshackle themselves from the bondage of the home, tradition, and current prejudices--can the revolution unleash the mighty force of women in the task of liberating our nation and society." I am quoting from a section of the program of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the underground united front of the revolution.
The semifeudal oppression of women is a continuing reality in the Philippine countryside. For example, there is still the situation where peasant debts to landlords might be paid off through the labor or servitude of daughters.
I had an extended discussion with Isabel, who has major leadership responsibility for this guerrilla front. She told me about some of the methods and experiences of the revolution in relation to the woman question.
When the NPA organizes in the barrio, a separate organization for women is created. They discuss the problems faced by women in society. A special "mass course" of study is given to the women. "We explain that women make up half the population and have an important role to play in the struggle. We explain that the problems of women are the problems of male domination and semicolonialism and semifeudalism. And we explain that women must join the struggle and join in production."
Isabel talked about the problems of patriarchy and the obstacles to women participating in the struggle: "The women discuss lack of decision-making in the household, dependency, and the woman only being in the house. The husband knows that these issues are being discussed, and the husbands and wives are encouraged to discuss this among themselves. The men also receive the special mass course given to women--so they can learn about women's role in the struggle."
Peasant life makes enormous demands on the family. And the current economic crisis in the Philippines puts even greater strains on daily life and survival. In the region I was visiting, it is customary for everyone in the household to work, including children starting at an early age. There is a traditional family division of labor--in terms of who does the planting, fetching water and firewood, feeding animals, cutting grass, cleaning. Women still bear the great portion of household and child-rearing responsibilities, although they also plant tuber crops and vegetables and help maintain the fields (in north Luzon, the women also plow). If a family has three children, usually only one of them can go to school past the sixth grade.
This is a situation that cannot, Isabel said, be radically transformed until after power is seized. But the peasant mass organizations and the NPA conduct campaigns in literacy and use of basic mathematics. And, as Isabel stated pointedly with regard to the family division of labor, "Men can also help cook." The NPA also encourages women to join the mutual aid teams.
What about relationship issues that husbands and wives might have, or physical abuse? Isabel responded, "These problems are discussed in the special organizing groups. But a woman might also ask the NPA to help out with a political or personal problem. An NPA fighter will talk with the couple, then the couple will discuss it more and make criticism. There will be supervision to see if there is improvement. If there is none, the process is repeated." Isabel made it clear that wife-beating must be dealt with firmly--it is an issue that is discussed in the organizing groups.
I was told that after completing the special mass courses, some of the women will go on to more advanced study involving Philippine Society and Revolution--the fundamental text of the struggle. From among the most politically advanced and conscious women, some may be invited to join the Communist Party and will take responsibility for helping manage the barrio organizing group and the subgroups below it.
Tess, a young NPA fighter who organizes among the peasant youth, told me about methods of political education. "We give lectures. We use outlines and notes, and sometimes we even use blackboards." NPA fighters are able to carry their teaching tools in their backpacks.
Health and the NPA Medics
I was told that next to the land question, health is the most basic problem the revolution must address. In this area, there are no organized government health services to speak of. Some "civic action" programs do get set up, especially when military operations are going on. The government does this to clean up its image and to control people.
Because of the hot sun and rain, there is a lot of tuberculosis in the region I was visiting. Malaria and gastrointestinal diseases are also common.
I was fascinated to learn that Luis, the officer-leader of this NPA squad, had also trained as an NPA medic. He provided some background: "We used to rely on allies in the towns and cities for medical work. But now the medical staff serving the fighters and the masses has grown and more peasants are getting trained."
There are several levels of medical training--from the basic to the more advanced (which includes some sophisticated surgical techniques). Luis said that training takes in acupuncture techniques and herbal therapies as well as elementary dental skills. The NPA medical infrastructure now has capabilities in pediatrics, obstetrics, prosthetics (artificial limbs), and even some microsurgery.
In the more consolidated guerrilla areas, NPA teams mobilize people in the barrios, and peasant women are often very active, to organize themselves for basic, preventive health care. They give training in hygiene and nutrition. These kinds of activities have succeeded, for instance, in lowering the incidence of malaria in some areas. But as the NPA fighters will be the first to tell you, so much more cries out to be done.
Internationalism and an Internationalist Goodbye
I had been in the guerrilla front for a week. In this short amount of time I had learned and experienced so much, and made close friends. Now, sadly, it was time to leave.
I was struck by the internationalist spirit of the comrades and fighters whom I met. They wanted me to learn from their struggle. But they also wanted to hear about and learn from the struggle in the United States. I remember asking Isabel if the peasants are taught about internationalism. A look of astonishment crossed her face: "But of course...the peasants must know it is an international war and that we must support the struggles of the people in other countries."
My last night at the camp became "solidarity night." We sat by the fire. We joked. We sang. Several members of the squad performed a medley of NPA songs, which we taped--"a gift to your comrades." My traveling companion told the story of the heroic stand of the Shining Path prisoners at the Frontón compound in Peru in 1986. We made farewell speeches. We sang the Internationale in English and Tagalog.
The next morning a small contingent of us began our journey out of the guerrilla front.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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