‘Will we encounter some NPA?’

By: DLS Pineda - @inquirerdotnet - Inquirer.net | February 17,2021 - 10:04 AM

When I moved from Manila to Agusan del Norte in 2014, I began hosting tours for friends flying over. One of my objectives was to dispel the notion of Mindanao as the barren and war-torn wasteland the central government and popular media have long purported it to be.

Part of the agenda, of course, was also to have fun on these trips. I would take my friends to sites around Caraga, sometimes reaching Bukidnon and Davao, and once, Marawi. As we drove around, I would tell them stories of and from the places we would visit. These were stories I collected from my relatives, from my students, and sometimes from my own research and encounters with people when I’d go on climbs up the mountains. Every time I hosted these trips, we would consider safety and, without fail, the first question that would pop out was: “Will we encounter some NPA?”

A friend once told me that the trips I brought them to were not relaxing because Mindanao, in a way that was a priori, felt foreign to them and the stories I told always had some sad socioeconomic and political backgrounder. She suggested that I turn the tours into a business venture and call it “Nega-tours,” because I hardly sugarcoated details and would talk openly about local warlords, election violence, the rise and fall of the logging industry, the clearing of forests for palm oil, subdivisions, and rice fields, etc. I haven’t monetized these trips—I have no plans to—but I have kept the brand and memorized some cues on the road for when to tell this or that story. At the end of the day, the consolation of fresh seafood, drinks, and good conversation once we’ve settled down somewhere was, at least for me, so much more comforting. Truly, a safe and petty bourgeois preoccupation.

These 3- to 4-day trips would often end with promises to come back someday, and an inconclusive tinkering with the idea of a social enterprise. I’ve probably gone on more than two dozen trips with friends, however, and there hasn’t been the same two responses to the NPA question. It is a recurring theme, a discussion, perhaps, and even proof of Karl Marx’s “protracted class warfare.”

I have never met any member of the NPA in my six years in Agusan. I live outside Butuan City, and the only ones I have seen carrying guns are the police and the military. I am steeped enough in theory to fear the NPA only to the extent that I know I have one foot in the bourgeoisie, but I am also not afraid of them because I believe they are not terrorists.

In my conversations, too, with farmers, public school teachers stationed in faraway mountain places, and other rural folk, I couldn’t sense any fear of the NPA in them. At best, they said the rebels had “high ambitions and unreachable standards” and they were fighting a war that would outlive them. At worst, they said the NPA and the military were just playing a long game of charades, the left and the right wings being part of the same bird, with normal people caught in the crossfire. Rural folk knew better than to say the NPA were common criminals; they recognized that the NPA were just that—different.

But I can’t reconcile myself to the idea of the NPA’s existence as just a matter of a different perspective when theirs is a perspective I happen to agree with: that the rich have become too powerful and the poor can’t be anything else but consistently silenced and constantly oppressed; that there are private entities and foreigners pillaging our resources; and that disturbingly many of our government officials have become rich, abusive, and partial to the use of force. Perhaps, that’s why my “Nega-tours” made perfect sense to me, too.

I am afraid of getting caught in the crossfire or dying by the barrel of a gun. But it is also this fear that has made me understand why some Filipinos rebel and see the need to take up arms. There must always be a limit to living, a lawfulness or a clear demarcation for when it becomes excessive and a burden to others, if we hope to live with each other fairly. And these are lines that, in our country, the military primarily—essentially, a state-formed armed group—sets with finality. And with the Armed Forces of the Philippines largely stationed in Manila, its generals turned into all sorts of “czars” while their concerns in Mindanao remain far removed from local life, I’m not at all sure for whom and for whose ends they draw such lines.

DLS Pineda holds an undergraduate and a master’s degree in creative writing from UP Diliman. He is thankful for online booksellers, especially IG @bookendsbeginnings, from which he ordered John Berger’s “Hold Everything Dear.”

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