The online news portal of TV5
November 27, 2016
IN THE SIERRA MADRE – As news of the demise of Cuba’s iconic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro hugged the news headlines all over the world, somewhere in the bushy, leafy fastness of this great mountain range of Luzon, a local revolutionary rises to prominence.
Unlike his comrades who prefer stealth and anonymity, Jaime “Ka Diego” Padilla, 69, met journalists, face-to-face, for the first time as the new Spokesman of the New People’s Army, spearheading the Melito Glor Command (MGC).
In combat uniform and wearing a Mao cap, the bespectacled rebel leader spoke about his four decades as an activist and, later, on as a red fighter. He also touched on the on-going peace talks with the Duterte Administration; the Marcos dictatorship; the incumbent government; his views about revolutions worldwide, among many other issues that helped shed light on the communists’ longevity of the communist rebel movement in the country despite the military claim that it was already dwindling force.
Who Is Ka Diego?
Ka Diego is a product of student activism. The son of a jeepney driver-operator and a housewife, he joined a student organization that was critical about current issues. One of the group’s advocacies was the incessant rise in the prices of petroleum products, which, he knew, had a direct impact on his father’s livelihood.
In 1972, when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, he was forced to go underground as surveillance operations against activists intensified.
“Si Marcos ang number one recruiter para sa kilusan, nagpapapasalamat tayo sa kanya dahil itinulak niya tayo sa tamang landas (Marcos was the movement’s top recruiter),” he remarked with much irony.
“Ito ang nagtulak sa akin kung bakit ako nag-hukbo, kasi 1972 ako nag-full time, noong panahon na iyon, mahigpit ang pagtugis sa mga aktibista. Maraming nahuli at maraming nawawala, sa halip na mag-pasibo sa batas military, nagpasya kami na ituloy ang laban sa kanayunan (I went fulltime in 1972, as the pressure against activists intensified. Many were rounded up or disappeared. Instead of staying passive, we decided to carry on the fight, out in the countryside),” Ka Diego narrated.
Life in the guerilla zone
According to him, the countryside was his safest place of refuge.
“Ito ang pinakaligtas na lugar, naging santuaryo ng mga lumalaban sa gobyerno. Nasa aktibismo kami, sa Batangas, kami ang number one na tinututukan, under surveillance kami, may panganib na mahuli o mapatay noong panahon na ‘yun (Out here was the safest place; our sanctuary for fighting the government. In Batangas, we were constantly hounded, under surveillance. There was always the risk of getting arrested or killed during those time),” he added.
Ka Diego met the late Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, who served as spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA, in Batangas, where they organized a unit of rebels.
They organized more units as they moved along in Quezon Province and the Bicol region, gathering thousands of youth who rejected the dictatorship.
Ka Diego operated with a unit in Quezon and Bicol until 1979. He was then assigned to Mindoro and continued his organizing work there.
He said he was witness to how the revolutionary forces expanded and increased in numbers from small squads of only about a dozen people to battalion-size forces with the punch to mix it up with military formations.
For many years, Ka Diego and his wife, a fellow revolutionary, lived apart. Yet, they remained faithful to each other until his wife’s death. Their children lived in the care of relatives, all schooled with the support of the movement.
Thoughts about the Duterte administration
Now that he’s entering his twilight years, Ka Diego sees signs of parallelisms between Marcos and President Rodrigo Duterte.
He said it is important for Duterte to walk the talk.
“Ang aking pagkilala kay Duterte ay nasa pagitan ng progressive element lamang ito, sa kaibuturan ng kanyang katangian ay reaksyornaryo ito (I see he as only moderately progressive. Deep inside, he’s a reactionary),” he said.
On the surface, the President may be manifesting an anti-imperialist stance, but Ka Diego said that they await meaningful and definitive action from him.
“Salita pa lamang siya lagi. Wala pa siyang materyal na hakbangin kung papaano niya ipapakita sa sambayanang Pilipino ang anti-impeng standpoint (It’s all talk and little else, so far; he still has to flesh out his anti-imperialist stance).”
For example, he said, the revolutionary forces are awaiting the President’s abrogation of lopsided agreements with the United States, such as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
But, while being critical of the President, Ka Diego said he stands by the earlier pronouncement of the communist rebels that they would protect the chief executive against possible assassination by the US and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
“He can run to the NPA for his safety,” Ka Diego said.
Meanwhile, the revolutionary movement hopes that the peace negotiations will bear fruit, adding that the government must show signs of goodwill, such as the release of the political prisoners.
Ka Diego also took exception to the President’s statement that the NPA do not control a single village in the country. He said the President was a “fool” and “stupid” for believing that.
“Paano tatagal ang rebolusyonaryong hukbo ng 47 na taon kung walang sariling gobyernong ipinatutupad sa kasalukuyan (How can the movement sustain itself for 47 years otherwise)?” he asked.
“Kahangalan ang sinasabi ni Duterte (Impetuous words),” he added.
Ka Diego also warned the military against breaching its own cease fire declaration by launching attacks against the NPA rebels.
“Tayo ay nasa pagtitimpi, patuloy tayong nagtitimpi, pero ang pagtitimping iyan ay may katapusan (We are being patient, which has its limit),” he said.
“If Duterte doesn’t rein in the wayward operations against the NPA, we would be obliged to face up to the AFP, without turning our back on the peace talks. As we say: Talk, talk, talk, fight, fight, fight.”
Ka Diego said the ball is now in the hands of the Duterte administration to pursue peace with the rebels. He said all the aspects of the agreements, such as on human rights, socio-economic reforms, and political reforms must be adhered to convincingly, for them to lay down their arms.
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS BY BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON