It’s been years since I last felt that Christmas truly meant something beyond the usual get-togethers and the exchange of gifts and the mad rush to buy new clothes and clothes. If anything, Christmas has become somewhat sad for me, nevermind that I now have a daughter whom I could spoil and pamper during the season if I had the mind to ( I don’t).
Why is it sad? Because the holidays all the more throw into stark contrast the lives of the haves and the have-nots. The poverty of the poor and the wealth of the rich are all the more made glaringly obvious than usual, and everything even more painful to me when I see the children of the poor roam the streets, begging for alms, or warbling and lisping their way through songs with mangled lyrics in the hopes that they will receive a few coins in return.
They have no good food to look forward to. They will wear no new clothes or shoes. They will not be receiving toys from relatives, or from their parents. Their parents in the meantime are away somewhere trying to scrape enough money so they can at least eat on December 24 midnight, even if it’s only various scraps from hotel restaurants sold by the kilo in Divisoria.
I did not have the energy or the enthusiasm to put up a tree this year. I saw so many real Christmas trees in Bremen, Germany when we went there to see the Christmas Market, and all that beauty (twinkling lights, gorgeously bright and colorful ornaments, the clean scent of pine and the gentle feel of falling snow) in such an affluent country felt right. I didn’t feel guilty about enjoying myself. I looked at my daughter and saw how she actively looked around her, learning new things, tasting new food, experiencing new sensations, and I felt content.
But here, back home, where poverty and unemployment levels are so high they make you scream; and where so many do not even have money to two kilos of rice at a time much less ham, keso de bola or the ingredients for fruit salad, well, I can’t seem to muster Christmassy feelings.
Vendors in Baclaran loudly hawk their wares (plastic toys, knock-off brands of shoes, underwear, costume jewelry, cooking implements) and even as they laughed off their exhaustion with their fellows, one could still see their desperation to sell sell sell because more sales mean better than usual food on the table on the eve of December 25. Along Roxas Boulevard and within the vicinity of the Redemptorist Church, entire families live in make-shift shelters. The shelters can’t even be properly called that because they barely provide it: pieces of cardboard and advertising tarps tied together with twine and rusty wire form the low roof, while the floor is comprised of plastic and cotton sacks that used to contain rice and flour. For these families, December 25 is just another day for them and their children: to be spent in hunger, while they themselves remained dirty and smelly because there are no toilets or bathrooms.
I look through the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and there were feature articles on the gifts various celebrities and politicians are buying for themselves and for their families, and everything made me ill. They’re buying each other watches that cost P50,000;chocolates that come in Murano vases and have tag prices of at least P5,000; designer clothes and leather shoes whose combined prices would’ve fed an urban poor family for two, even four months as well as settled their electricity and water bills. They’re getting each other iPads and Galaxy tablets and various other gadgets and while they enjoy their new hardware, on tv there’s a report of how schoolchildren in Northern Luzon are grateful beyond tears because they received rainboots: their school has all but sunk under floodwater and for the last semester their feet have remained wet as they waded to and from their classroom.
Now I don’t have a problem with gifts, giving or receiving. Neither do I have an issue with buying clothes (I buy mine at ukay-ukay stores, though. Even in Holland I went to the second-hand shops). But there’s something…evil…about spending so much when so many, many others have so very little and so many, many others are dying because they don’t have money for hospital and medical care, proper nutrition, or adequate shelter.
It’s depressing, I tell you.
But there are reasons to be happy and grateful all the same. I am, after all, home. I traveled a total of 16 hours with my daughter from the Netherlands then Singapore, and it was a smooth and uneventful journey. We were most fortunate to have sat next to kind and generous people who didn’t mind having a toddler talk to them in gibberish for hours at a stretch until she fell asleep or got hungry. They helped me put on my daughter’s seatbelt straight when I, stressed out, couldn’t remember how to attach it to my own. They watched her for me when I needed to go to the lavatory, and they asked the flight crew for an extra pillow for her when she began nodding off in her seat. There are still kind people in the world – and I am very glad to have been reminded of this.
I am happy because my daughter now knows her daddy better, and I am happy because my husband is a good (albeit overly protective) father. I am happy because my mother’s health is secure, and because my sister is finding fulfillment in her work. I am happy because the friends I made in college are still my friends today. I am happy because the newer friends I have are intelligent, kind and compassionate people. and I am happy because I have highly interesting work for the coming year and I am excited at the prospect of writing about another individual deeply worthy of emulation and respect.
The following are interviews from a documentary made by a foreign film maker who was visiting The Netherlands. He had previously visited the Philippines, and apparently he learned much from the experience and he wanted to share everything with his own countrymen by making a documentary. I helped a little by editing the English version of the script and subtitles of the footage, and I thought I’d share a few excerpts. Suffice it to say that I also learned a lot from editing it.
Interviews with Guerrillas
Bojoy (22): “I have been a guerrilla for the last four years. I did not know anything about the revolution before. The comrades from the NPA came to our village and spoke with the people. They explained what it was they were fighting for, and taught us what exactly is was that caused our poverty and the great problems the Philippines faced that kept it from developing.
“But it was not just problems they spoke about: they also said that there were solutions. They mentioned the word ‘revolution’ many times, and it was then that I began to wonder what it was. I wanted to know why there people who were willing to give themselves to such a cause, and why they saw it so important that all Filipinos be part of it.
“It was then that I began to believe.
“I was 16 years old at that time and had attended high school. I quietly found answers to the questions in my mind. So, I started to imagine being a communist warrior. Of course I could not say that I had knowledge about revolution, ‘protracted people’s war’ and other heavy matters in the Philippines before I joined the NPA; but what I already knew, what I already believed was sufficient to help me make up my mind.
“In the NPA I learned what protracted people’s war means, and revolution.
“In the NPA I don’t see any gender inequality. Of course I can’t say that there isn’t completely any. For instance, some men would say “You are women, you cannot fight, you cannot use weapons.” But the Party discusses misconceptions like this with comrades and explain why this is wrong.
“Women in the NPA are always given opportunities to prove themselves. We sometimes carry the staffs faster than the male comrades, and sometimes we are quicker in using our weapons. Also, the health care comrades are women, and they are able to take care of all the injured, and at the same time fight in engagement areas.
“It does not mean that men don’t or can’t do this, but as women we also prove that we can fight as much as they can.
“I have also memories in my life as a guerrilla that I am unable to forget. I have had terrible experiences as well.
“One time, the military raided our camp, and as we retreated, several comrades were killed. I became depressed. I did not want to carry the gun anymore and I wanted to leave. I spoke to the comrades, and they did their best to help me, but I refused to listen to their advice and words of comfort. But we had to continue our work, so we went to a village to speak with the community residents there.
“In the village, three children and an old woman came and hugged me. They said “Don’t leave us, you are our hope. If you go, we wouldn’t know what to do and whom to trust.”
“I was shocked and I wept. It is not only because of them I cried, but also because I realized how selfish I was. I joined the NPA to help the revolution succeed, to help the people. I had already accepted that victory will not come without lives being lost, without the revolution having martyrs.
“I gave up all my plans to leave, and have since become stronger than I was before.”
Clara (22) (from the Manobo community)
“I am new here. I have been in NPA for only 17 months.
“What I like to share most with the masses are the things that I have learned in the NPA. It is exciting to be with masses and being with them encourages me to improve my work in the Movement more.
“I haven’t yet had the chance to see my family since I joined NPA. My family was against my joining the revolutionary struggle and they were influenced by state’s “the NPA are terrorists” black propaganda. I know they are mistaken, and I am happy I decided to become an NPA.
“When I was a school boy, my schoolmates made fun of me. They mocked my hair and skin. They always told me that I was different. I did not understand, but I felt that that they attacking me personally.
“Eventually I understood that it wasn’t a personal issue. All jokes were directed against my skin color, so it meant that they were actually making fun of my people.
“I never had any dream to go to university, or get a job to become rich. I graduated from high school and then I joined the struggle, and that has been the best and most meaningful decision of my life.
“I believe that women should unite against their common enemy: not men, but a system of exploitation that violates the rights of both women and men. I want all women in my country to join the struggle and fight for emancipation that only the revolution can give us. This is also a call to all women across the world. Women should know that their emancipation is in the revolution.”
Ka Andrea (Farmer) : “I did not immediately become an NPA when I first joined the struggle. I began by being a member of the youth organization in our village. I met my husband in the group’s activities. It was 1996 when I first knew him, but we did not become a couple then.
“We joined the NPA in 2003, and he sought permission from the Party so he could propose marriage to me. He proposed and I accepted. We participated in the Party’s marriage program.
“Comrades who want to marry are encouraged to be a part of a program wherein they learn what is expected from them as a couple in the revolution. We learn that our marriages are not ordinary because they are in the context of revolution, and we are more than husbands and wives but partners, comrades in the struggle.”
“There are collective discussions in the program where we help each other cope with any difficulties we encounter in our marriage and our family lives.
“Now we have a child, a one-year old boy. Of course, it is difficult to be far away from our son I miss him very much, but I struggle to overcome my emotion because the sacrifices we are making in the revolution are also for him, for his future.”
Maria Malaya : “I met Oris after I became a full-time activist. Oris was in the guerrilla front, I was in the white area. We have been working full-time in the rural areas since the 1980s. We have two children.
“When I first got pregnant, my biggest difficulty was where I would leave my children to be taken care of. My daughter was almost kidnapped by soldiers, but they failed when the person taking care of her screamed for help and the neighbors came to rescue them.
“Our son looks like his father and our daughter looks like me. Whenever there is a military operation, our children leave the village where they live.
Milan (21) : “ Our country is semi-colonized and semi-feudal, and Filipinos suffer great exploitation.
“I decided to join NPA to fight exploitation the same way the other comrades seek to do. I want a country where there is compassion and justice, where there is true freedom and national independence.”
“I know there are many obstacles in the path of true freedom, and many lives have been sacrificed and many more will be lost. But these difficulties are part and parcel of the struggle, and I understand this. I am not here to help bring freedom for my people.
“It often rains here in the mountains, and the paths can get very slippery. But I can’t imagine not being here, being part of the struggle. I can easily bear with these weather conditions, they are nothing compared to the greater challenges we will meet as we continue. The revolution entails many sacrifices, and coping with bad weather is a small thing. I am ready to make greater sacrifices, I am prepared to give my life for the revolution.”
Ka Bayani (23): “I belong to Mamanua minority, and as a minority group we face much hardship.
“I joined the revolution on behalf of my tribe. I want an end to the inhumane treatment we are often subjected to.
“ My people want an end to discrimination, and we want to be treated with respect and live with dignity. My people want to live harmoniously with other minorities, and with all Filipinos. I want an end to all the insults and name-calling we often suffer; because of our dark skin and our curly hair, we have been discriminated against. I’ve been called a monkey, ‘King-Kong.’ I’ve been beaten by bullies because of how I look.
“Minorities such as my tribe have been denied their rights to education and health services. I joined the revolution so I could help my people have access to both, and to more things that will enable them to live in dignity.
“There is only one way to achieve freedom for this country, and this is true revolution. I am happy here. It is first time that I have been regarded as a human being. Nobody insults and makes fun of me because of my appearance. I am treated as an equal by other comrades and I can express my opinions freely. This how I want my people to live and to be treated. There is no discrimination here, everyone is equal. Because there is no racial discrimination in the revolutionary struggle. We are all comrades.
Sydney (24) : “I have been in NPA for four years. I am assistant company commander.
“We closely and faithfully implement international humanitarian laws on the treatment of captives.
“First, we do a thorough background check on the captive. For instance, we find out whether he has perpetrated crimes against the people. If yes, what sort of crimes and where.
“If the captive is a soldier and he has no record of crimes against the people, we release him.
“If a captive has committed crimes, punishment is meted out, and the gravity is equal to the seriousness of the crime he committed. The punishment is equal to the crime, and it is done in response to the demands of the people for justice.
“Crimes against the people mean any and all action damaging to the welfare of the masses. The more serious crimes are when violence in inflicted against the people, if they have been subjected to torture or if people have been killed.
“Naturally, the perpetrators of such serious crimes are sentenced with capital punishment. We place them in handcuffs and they are detained in a secure place. We don’t handcuff them all day, such as when we are walking through the area, but we make sure that they can be easily secured if and when necessary.
“As I said before, we do a thorough background check and research on the captive. The findings are presented for deliberation to a committee that has been formed for this purpose. The members of the committee always meet the captives. The head of the committee seeks out the captive’s family, and communicate with them regarding the status of the captive. We send letters, or we call. This is most immediate especially in cases where the captive has been injured in an engagement area, and he surrendered.
“We also seek intervention from impartial parties. From instance, our unit launched an attack against the General Luna Police Station in Siargao Island on August, 2008. We sought to confiscate the weapons of the police. In the raid, two policemen were injured. We immediately gave them medical attention. We removed the bullet from one of the injured policemen, then we let them go. They thought we were kidding, and they didn’t believe us when we told them that they could leave.
“One of the comrades, our medic, said to them “We are not murderers”, and he explained to him why we attacked the station, The policemen listened, and began to understand why precisely the NPA conducts raids.
“These policemen changed their minds about the NPA because of how the NPA treated them when they were wounded, and this is what they told the media when news came out about the raid.
“In contrast, the enemy is not at all humane when it’s an NPA that has been injured. The enemy neither respects nor implements international humanitarian laws.
“My unit was in a gunfight, but we had to retreat. One of our comrades was caught behind enemy lines and we were unable to rescue him.
“Our comrade was alive when we last saw him—he did not die from his first injury, but we saw how that even though he was clearly wounded, the enemy did not stop shooting him with their M14s, even though he had already fallen to the ground.
“There are many other examples to prove the inhumanity of the enemy. They torture captives until they die. They vanish their captives without a trace, and their families never find their loved ones’ remains. They harass the families of captives. Soldiers rape women, and they have no compunction against using torture even against children. They once burned a mother and her son. They were members of a peasant organization that supported the NPA.
Ian (22): “Revolutionary culture must be strengthened and made popular to counteract bourgeois culture that distorts the truth about society and further corrupts it.
“This guitar is an instrument to do this. I want to help create revolutionary culture in the form of music for both the comrades and the masses.
“Sometimes I miss my family. Whenever I feel sad missing them, I play on my guitar. It helps me feel better. I have not seen my family since I became an NPA three years ago.
“Any comrade can visit their families after their first year in the NPA, that a rule. Afterwards, they can visit their families when necessary. I, however, have not had the chance to see my own family. If my brigade goes to the region where my loved ones live, I will find a way to see them.
“It is because of security reasons that I have stayed away from my family. I tried to visit them before, but there were enemy forces very close to the village where my family lived. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my family when I stay away from them; I am protecting them from being harassed by the military, or from worse treatment.
“I am in an active war, and as time goes on, the Party and the comrades have become more of my family than my blood kin. If I were not here, I would feel greatly incomplete. I often carry our army’s equipment, and I get so tired at the end of day. Despite the exhaustion, however, I am happy because my strength was used for the comrades, for the revolution.”