Saturday, September 1, 2012

Once upon a red star

Through the years the Chinese secret service has constantly kept a keen eye on the Philippines, being strategically located in the South China Sea, long considered by China as a Chinese. Control early Philippine operations was handled directly from Yan'an, Mao Zedong's stronghold and revolutionary base in mountainous Shanxi province in the north of China. Established in October 1935 as the final objective of Mao's 12,500-kilometer Long March, Yan'an was the seat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

As early as January 1930, Mao asserted, “a spark can set fire to a whole plain.” That plain was the whole of Asia, including the Philippines, and since then the CPC was tediously providing the spark or tending the fires that had started spontaneously in the region. Spearheading the conflagration was the Department of Special Affairs, the Tewu , first led by Zhou Enlai, and later by Kang Sheng, the highly efficient and dreaded Chinese master spy; and the Philippines became a special zone in the Red Chinese international intelligence and espionage activities. In intelligence nothing is a coincidence. And, as in choosing Yan’an as their jump-off base in China, the Chinese secret service chose Central Luzon as the focal point of their Philippine efforts, because of its striking distance to the Philippine center-of-gravity, which is the capital city of Manila (the hub of government and its military and security services); while at the same time affording good battle terrain and effective lines of retreat and re-grouping in the vast cane fields and farmlands in the area, and quick access to sanctuary in the foothills and mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre. As an added incentive to this foreign intrusion at the time, Marxist principles found fertile ground in Central Luzon because of the poverty of the peasant farmers due to the prevailing land tenancy system. As a result, a good number of the personalities who came under the influence of the foreign-based communist drive came from Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, and a few from Nueva Ecija. It was mostly during the fight against the Ferdinand Marcos regime that the communist united front drive took on a more nationwide character because of the widening anger at the Marcos government by the intelligentsia and middle forces. Also in the late 1960s, this communist Central Luzon base came under the shadow of the constructed North Luzon Expressway, the first expressway in Southeast Asia, which more and more became a psychological intrusion into their area of operation.

The original Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) was established on November 7, 1930, the anniversary of the Russian communist October Revolution. The founders of the PKP-1930 came from the Partido Obrero and the Progressive Workers’ Party of the 1920s. On October 26, 1932, the PKP was banned by the Philippine Supreme Court, causing it to go underground. In late 1932, a legal Marxist party, the Socialist Party, was created. In 1935, the PKP was accepted into the Comintern (Communist International). In 1938, the Socialist Party merged into the PKP.

During World War II, the PKP joined the fight against the Japanese occupation. Under orders from the Comintern, the PKP launched its armed force with Luis Taruc (from San Luis, Pampanga) as its military chief. The force was initially called People’s Liberation Army, but the name dictated by the Chinese adviser to the PKP prevailed during the war, Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (The People’s Anti-Japanese Army), in order to conform to Mao’s policy of a broad alliance against Japan. Thus, the force became famous as the Huks (or Hukbalahap).

The influence of the Chinese secret service in the Philippine communist movement was felt strongly. The Philippine party accepted the presence of the Chinese in the main organs of leadership. These Chinese advisers wielded great influence in the formulation of the PKP’s policies and plans. Early on, there were three Chinese in the Central Committee, led by Co Keng Sheng who also belonged to the supreme body, the Politburo. This Chinese trio reported directly to Yan’an and put into effect methods of action learned from the Moscow Comintern. In May 1942, Kang Sheng sent Colonel Ong Viet as military adviser to the Philippines. Under his guidance, the PKP set up a political and military training school in the mountains of Arayat in Pampanga. Other Chinese experts soon arrived to serve as guerrilla instructors. Translated military texts of Mao and Zhu De, as well as Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China, were used for classroom instructions. Meanwhile, armed attacks against the Japanese troops led to Japanese reprisals against the villages; this was a guerrilla tactic aimed at gaining popular support against the invaders. And in March 1943, under heavy pressure from Japanese counter-operations in the Arayat areas, a major internal crisis in the PKP resulted in the elimination of its leader Vicente Lava (from Bulacan), who was blamed for the military defeat. A mini-secretariat took the place of Lava, and this was headed by another sent agent, “Comrade C”, the Chinese adviser and eyes and ears of Yan’an.

After the war, in 1946, the PKP participated in the presidential elections within the Democratic Alliance. In 1948, the PKP began an armed struggle against the government, changing the name of its military arm to Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB), or People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In early 1950’s, the HMB had about 10,000 “soldiers”. In October 1950, the entire secretariat of the Central Committee of the PKP was arrested by Philippine authorities, including its General Secretary Jose Lava (from Bulacan, brother of Vicente and Jesus). By end of 1954, the armed struggle was effectively over. But subsequently another guerrilla force known as Bagong Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan, or Army ng Bayan under Pedro Taruc and Kumander Sumulong (Faustino del Mundo from Pampanga) was created. But this force engaged mostly in major criminal extortion and protection activities in the areas around Clark air base because of the thriving business environment there.

Also in the 1950’s, there were marked successes in the Tewu penetration of government, media and civil organizations. The CPC’s clandestine bureau in the Philippines, this time already directed from Beijing, operated via satellite organizations such as the Philippine Committee of Overseas Chinese or the Philippine branch of the CPC. This bureau’s general secretary, Chanh Shan, worked in close contact with the local communist leadership and with the HMB. But intelligence operations conducted against a major target is always not enough. Moles must be either sent in from the mother spy agency (“sent agents” or “sleepers”) or key personalities already in place must be tediously studied and subsequently recruited (“turned agents” or “agents in place”) in order to carry out the much higher objectives of espionage. In true secret service fashion, the Tewu began recruiting secret agents within Philippine society. The attached book excerpt gives an idea of a mole operation.

Pedro de la Peña was an intelligence agent of the Army G2 (army assistant chief of staff for intelligence). He successfully burrowed himself into the friendship and confidence of defence and armed forces officials by helping them financially when they needed it. Publicly, de la Peña was seen as fiercely anti-communist. But he was secretly working for the Tewu. His friend Antonio Chua Cruz, millionaire-owner of the anti-Huk and anti-Soviet newspaper, Free Asia, was also employed by the Tewu. In intelligence, nothing is what it seems. These two were unmasked in 1952 when Philippine authorities arrested William Pomeroy and Celia Mariano Pomeroy (from Rizal). Pomeroy was an ex-U.S. air force, a journalist and later a student at the University of the Philippines. In the U.S., William joined the Young Communist League in 1937, and the Communist Party U.S.A. in 1938. In U.P., he met and married Celia who herself had joined the PKP in 1941, becoming a member of the PKP Central Committee. Seized from the couple were documents and detailed notes on the recruitment and running of Pedro de la Peña and Antonio Chua Cruz. This espionage ring had been successfully supplying the Tewu with crucial intelligence on the Philippine government, military and business community. William and Celia were also known as “Bob” and “Rene”, a couple who were guerrilla instructors at a “Stalin university” attended by HMB members in the mountains of the Sierra Madre.

In 1964, Jose Maria Sison (from Cabugao, Ilocos Sur) co-founded the Kabataan Makabayan (KM)
with Nilo S. Tayag (from Pampanga). On December 26, 1968, coinciding with the 75th birthday of Mao Zedong, Joma Sison re-formed and chaired the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines. He re-organized the CPP and added elements of Maoism to its philosophy. Thus, after the failure of the Moscow-leaning Lava brothers, the Philippine communist movement regained strength and resumed united front building and activities under the sphere of influence of the Communist Party of China. On March 29, 1969, the New People’s Army (NPA) was organized by the CPP. Incorporating remnants of the HMB forces, the NPA began military operations under the leadership of Bernabe Buscayno (a.k.a. Kumander Dante from Capas, Tarlac) who was the former HMB commander.

At around this era, a young politician of Central Luzon had begun to make his presence felt. Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. was a very young war correspondent covering the Korean War for The Manila Times, for which he received a presidential award for journalism. Also in the early 1950s he became a close adviser to secretary of defence Ramon Magsaysay. Later on, President Magsaysay sent him as personal emissary to Luis Taruc, leader of the HMB which led to Taruc’s unconditional surrender. He became mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac from December 30, 1955 to December 30, 1959; vice governor of Tarlac from December 30, 1959 to December 30, 1961; governor of Tarlac from December 30, 1961 to December 30, 1967; and senator of the Republic from December 30, 1967 to September 23, 1972. In 1966, he became the secretary general of the Liberal Party. On October 11, 1954, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. married Maria Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco whose family owned and operated Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Pampanga.

In late 1968 and early 1969, General Emilio Zerrudo, First Philippine Constabulary Zone commanding general, reported government encounters with communist guerrilla forces in the cane fields of Tarlac. Notably, Zerrudo was surprised at the more advanced M16 rifles wielded by the communist guerrillas as compared to the government arms of older M1 carbines, Garands, Thompson submachineguns and BAR automatic rifles. In fact, PC Generals Zerrudo and Vicente Raval had to borrow M16 rifles from the Americans in Clark Air Base, Pampanga in order to equal the guerrilla firepower. Gen. Zerrudo also noted that when overwhelmed by superior government numbers, the guerrillas retreated into and disappeared in the vast cane fields of Hacienda Luisita, where it was being talked about that wounded communist fighters received medical care.

Sometime in mid-1972, Joma Sison, as head of the CPP, in joint special operations with the Chinese secret service, successfully landed a very large shipment of arms and ammunition from abroad somewhere in the coast of northern Luzon. The public came to know of this arms landing in July, 1972 when the government announced the capture of the MV Karagatan, off Digoyo Point in the north province of Isabela. The MV Karagatan was the arms transport vessel, but it was already empty when seized by government forces.

Planning and preparing for cross-border clandestine special operations such as the MV Karagatan landing of arms takes many months, even years. By military definition, special operations or specops are always of a strategic (meaning political) and/or operational (meaning highest military purpose) nature, and must utilize the advantage of virtually unlimited resources and national-level intelligence’ (meaning the necessary involvement of a sovereign power or government). Some examples are: the Iran-Contra Affair during the Reagan administration in which the U.S. sold arms to Iran (in glaring contravention of an international arms embargo on Iran earlier spearheaded by the U.S. itself), the proceeds of which were then used to support clandestine arms delivery to the Contras in the mountains of Nicaragua who were fighting the Marxist Sandinista government; also in the 1980s, the massive supply by the U.S. through Pakistan of arms and logistics to the Mujahedin who were fighting the Soviet armed forces in Afghanistan; and in recent past, the U.S. specops which led to the killing of international terrorist Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

By this definition therefore, months before, perhaps even a year, Joma Sison had prior secret knowledge of the arms delivery. Sison thereby became concerned with an impending personnel and operational problem: he was expecting the arms and logistics to arrive, but he was lacking men in the communist New People’s Army in order to deploy the majority of the expected war materials. Let us read the direct and firsthand account of retired Army general Victor N. Corpus of Sison’s solution to this dilemma: “I was a lieutenant in the Constabulary teaching comparative government at the Philippine Military Academy when I defected to the Communist New People’s Army on December 29, 1970. For the next five years, I lived with the rebel guerrillas. I helped train them in warfare and fought with them against what I perceived to be an unjust government.... The Plenum of the CPP Central Committee of December 1975 became the turning point for me....I had prepared beforehand a list of my criticisms directed at Joma [Jose Ma Sison] and some members of the Central Committee. But I did not have enough courage to say what I really felt during that meeting for fear that what happened to Danny Cordero (alias Ka Cris) might also happen to me. You see, for being too vocal and frank in his criticisms of the regional party leadership during a party committee meeting, Danny Cordero was charged with inciting to rebellion; and in that same meeting (which was converted into a military tribunal), Danny was executed...Why did the Party leadership order the bombing of the Plaza Miranda where so many innocent civilians were killed and wounded? I was present when some leaders of the Party headed by Joma plotted the bombing of the Liberal Party (LP) rally at Plaza Miranda. Danny Cordero, before his execution, revealed before the military tribunal that he was totally innocent of the charge of inciting to rebellion, insisting that the Party leadership in fact had full trust in him by assigning him a very delicate mission. When pressed by a member of the military tribunal what the so-called delicate mission was, Danny proclaimed that it was he, together with two other comrades from Caloocan, who was assigned to bomb Plaza Miranda.

Question: Did Ruben Guevara (alias Ka Peter), who headed the military tribunal and represented the Central Committee, manipulate the trial and execution of Danny Cordero to forever silence him regarding this ‘skeleton’ in the Party ‘closet’?....It was in a jungle camp of Commander Dante, then the Commander-in-Chief of the New People’s Army, in the Isabela portion of Sierra Madre Mountains that the plan to bomb the Liberal Party rally at Plaza Miranda was first hatched. It was also in this camp where I was brought after I led a group of NPA’s in a raid of the armory of the Philippine Military Academy –my alma mater – on December 30, 1970. A few weeks after my arrival at the camp, Joma, then chairman of the Central Committee of the CPP and Jose Luneta, the General Secretary of the Party, arrived and joined us in the camp....It was during one of our study sessions that Joma made mention of thousands of arms that would be arriving from the People’s Republic of China. The problem raised was that we were only less than a hundred armed men in Isabela at the time. How then could we match the thousands of firearms to the few men that we had? We would then be reversing Mao’s dictum that it is people, not weapons, that are the decisive factor in war. But Joma had a brilliant solution....At the time we were discussing the matter, election was drawing near. Joma saw in the electoral exercise a chance to create the conditions for bringing about the revolutionary leap that he was aspiring for....If we could create conditions, such as an incident in one of the rallies of the opposition party, that would heighten the contradictions between the two main factions of the ruling class, we could weaken the ruling class as a whole and hasten its downfall. If a rally of the Liberal Party were bombed, the opposition would naturally point an accusing finger at Marcos. Marcos, in turn, would surely blame the Communist Party, and force him to take more severe repressive measures against us. The greater the repression, the greater still would be the resistance, Joma contended. And by our forcing the hand of Marcos to take more repressive measures (which Marcos actually did by suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus right after the Plaza Miranda bombing), the middle forces (or the so-called ‘moderates’) would be pushed to join the armed struggle and thus swell our ranks. This was the ‘quantum leap’ that Joma aspired to create through that incident at Plaza Miranda, which he hoped would solve the problem of too many firearms with too few men to use them. Such was the rationale for the Plaza Miranda bombing.” (from ‘Silent War’ by V.N. Corpus)

The event that came to be targeted was the Liberal Party (LP) campaign rally to proclaim the LP candidates for the senate and for mayor of Manila. It was on the weekend Saturday night of August 21, 1971. About 4,000 spectators were in the audience to cheer LP stalwarts such as Senators Jovito Salonga, Eddie Ilarde, Eva Estrada Kalaw, Sergio Osmena Jr, LP president Gerardo Roxas, candidate for mayor Ramon Bagatsing and other top LP leaders, some with their wives. At or about 9:15 p.m., as the customary fireworks lighted up, two hand grenades were thrown onto the stage within less than two seconds of each other. Killed instantly was a 5 year old child and The Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas. Ninety eight others were injured, many critically. Seven more would die from injuries, bringing the death toll to 9, all innocent spectators. Senator Salonga became blind in one eye and deaf in one ear because of the blast; he was among those who were most seriously injured. Many thought he was also going to die. Even wives of the LP politicians who were seated on stage five rows back suffered serious injuries. Judy Araneta-Roxas, the wife of the LP president was hospitalized.

When the two grenades exploded, Benigno S. Aquino Jr., the foremost LP senator and party general secretary was not on stage in Plaza Miranda. Before the attack, witnesses recount seeing him going around the area of the rally in his convoy, but avoiding the plaza. He made brief stops at certain places, notably at the Manila Hotel and, repeatedly, in front of the Jai-alai court in Taft Ave. People saw him and recognized him, and they wondered why he was not at Plaza Miranda. Reportedly in the car with Benigno S. Aquino Jr. was the son of Amah Pilar, the owner of the Carvajal Restaurant in Manila’s Chinatown.

Being arguably the most popular senator at that time and a key pillar of the Liberal Party, why wasn’t Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. at his party’s most important rally to start the campaign in the capital city? It was not a matter of luck, but a matter of connection; and foreknowledge borne out of the connection. He was warned by Jose Maria Sison himself or by Kumander Pusa (Ruben Tuazon from Pampanga, former PKP cadre who later joined the CPP), or both. Rodolfo Salas (a.k.a. Kumander Bilog from Pampanga, who became NPA chief after Kumander Dante was captured by the government) believed that Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. was a traditional politician who would use any venue or group, the NPA included, to advance his political ambition. Rodolfo Salas himself met Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. in late 1960 when the senator brokered the groundbreaking meeting between Jose Maria Sison of the CPP and Kumander Dante of the HMB, which was the organizational meeting leading to the creation of the New People’s Army. At that time, Rodolfo Salas was the CPP political officer-in-charge for Central Luzon. Salas tells of his visits with Kumander Pusa to the Time Street residence of Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. to receive support from the senator, often arms and ammunition. For whatever reason, one can only guess as to why Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. did not warn his party friends, considering that he was a young politician in a hurry with resolute presidential ambitions.

Samuel ‘Bob’ Paquis, a cadre of the CPP/NPA, was the driver of the Volkswagen beetle car which brought bomber Danny Cordero to the area of Plaza Miranda. Immediately after the bombing, Cordero and driver Bob then proceeded to northern Luzon where they linked up with units of the CPP/NPA.

When Maria Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco Aquino became president of the Philippines in 1986, coming to power after Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in the 1986 first Edsa people power uprising, one of her first policy directives was a move to grant “full and complete amnesty” to the members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. As a dissemblance, the amnesty covered other political strata such as national democrats, social democrats and other allies. [Recently in 2011, Senator Joker Arroyo, a Corazon Aquino ally and her former Executive Secretary, felt obliged to explain, “collaboration among groups belonging to different sides of the political spectrum then (that is, during the fight against Marcos) was not unlike the principle behind the Allied forces’ decision to side with Communist Russia in WWII.”] President Corazon Aquino’s amnesty was formally announced sometime in early 1987. During this time, Samuel ‘Bob’ Paquis became a “rebel returnee” under the rebel rehabilitation program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Civil Relations Services (AFPCRS). Soon, both houses of congress began investigating the Plaza Miranda bombing. Bob Paquis was asked to attend one such hearing in the Lower house, where he was accompanied by Col Oscar Florendo, who was then concurrent Armed Forces Secretary Joint Staff and AFP Spokesman and PIO. When a related hearing in the senate on Plaza Miranda was scheduled, with Senator Jovito Salonga as senate president (Senator Salonga’s term was from 1987 to 1991), the AFP was again all set to bring Bob Paquis to attend the senate hearing. However, then sitting President Maria Corazon C. Aquino made back-door moves so that the hearings would altogether be stopped. President Corazon C. Aquino also allowed a Utrecht, Netherlands exile for Jose Maria Sison who was earlier freed by her amnesty proclamation. Except for being mentioned in the media once in a while, the Plaza Miranda bombing has never again been mentioned officially.

Filipino scholar and historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo, in his ‘A Short History of the Philippines’, wrote that Filipino relationships with one another are guided by Filipino traditional attitudes, such as pakikisama (the sense of deep camaraderie, which implies mutual respect and help), utang na loob (which demands that a man pay his debt of gratitude to a friend or another person who has helped him), and Filipino traits such as hospitality, respect for elders, closeness of family ties and loyalty to a friend. Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. had at the very least an operational relationship with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army which were trying to bring down the government and the democratic system in the Philippines, at the same time that he himself was a high official of that Government. While condemnable, one can, by a strenuous stretch of reasoning, accept such reality as a traditional politician trying everything, including active conspiracy with an intrusive foreign ideology and power, to capture the presidency. But there is an inescapable truth here: if a man can’t be loyal to close friends and comrades about to face danger, how can he be loyal to people whom he does not know? How can he be loyal to a people? He can use them, manipulate them, even sacrifice them fatally to further his ambitions and the interests of his family; but loyalty, never.

Once there was a star, he may or may not have been Red, which is not altogether an important differentiation in the strategic sense. One who once had been a Red conspirator may be your most important ally in some future time and for some very good strategic reason. But he certainly was not a worthy, loyal friend and couldn’t have been loyal to a people he didn’t know. This goes beyond politics and the ordinary mundane; it has to do with real character and the true worth of a person. Perhaps the God of History has ordained that two seemingly disparate events, wide apart in time, become connected by the common thread of one person and the same day of the same month. That, on a weekend Sunday afternoon, August 21, 1983, that person had to go through his own personal Plaza Miranda. The first Plaza Miranda was clearly meant to be an instrument of national manipulation. This second Plaza Miranda may have been similarly utilized.

In intelligence if there is any doubt, there is no doubt.

Ninoy Sison
06 April 2012

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