It was billed as a one day training seminar for paralegals. I was then a young and impressionable 18 year old political science student thinking of a career in the legal profession so the invitation to attend the seminar for no expense whatsoever seemed too good to be true. It was.
So a couple of days later, on one hot day in the middle of July in 1982, in a residential house in one of the suburbs of Cebu City, I and a couple of other university students got our first glimpse into the secretive, shadowy world of the Philippine's revolutionary left. When we left for home a few hours later, I felt like Alice stepping through the looking glass. Familiar things were suddenly different, once cherished beliefs now questioned. It was the beginning of my "re-education."
In the years that followed I flirted with the underground left and was intensely involved in the fervent student activism seething in the university and college campuses all over the country while the nation almost ripped itself apart in its struggle to rid itself of almost two decades of the Marcos dictatorship. The voice and ideology of the left was at the vanguard of the protest movement and I was one among thousands who "believed" and who were not afraid or hesitant to shout and advertise the fact.
Even those among us who were uncomfortable with the idea and reality of armed revolution saw and accepted it as an inevitable consequence of a society groping for quick answers and solutions to decades, if not centuries, of repression and oppression. It was viewed then as a distasteful yet necessary part of the overall strategy to achieve progressive change.
But as one grows older, perceptions change and one's priorities shift in focus and importance. A rapidly changing world order as exemplified by the fall of "orthodox" Communism worldwide also hastened the evolution in both the outlook and belief systems of people all over. A "paradigm shift", if you could call it that, had occurred and I, like so many, changed with the times.
Much of the idealism of my student days however remains strong in me. That is why I am deeply saddened and disheartened by news reports of New People's Army guerrilla forces attacking and burning cellular phone transmission towers and, heavy equipment depots and public transportation facilities because the companies owning these have not paid their share of "revolutionary taxes".
The recent attacks on two Globe Telecom transmission towers in Barangay New Maug, Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur and in Barangay Alipao, Alegria in Surigao del Norte are typical of such "collection enforcement" activities. One begins to wonder where the need for the "solicitation" of funds to support the revolutionary movement ends and where plain criminal extortion begins.
And what about the reality of revolutionary forces and their affiliates engaging in illegal logging and the illicit mining of precious metals or tolerating and even protecting those engaged in such environmentally destructive activities. This is common knowledge shared by many people living in the Lianga area where the vast profits that can be realized from the exploitation of existing, untouched, virgin forest reserves and untapped mineral resources remain, because of government neglect or corruption, up for grabs by the unscrupulous and criminally inclined.
The voice, rhetoric and energy of the left, even those of that part of the political spectrum who have made the choice to continue to agitate for violent revolutionary change, remain vital components of the evolving, maturing political landscape of this country. That is why what happened in Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Norte and what continues to happen in Lianga and in many other parts of the country is contemptible to say the least.
No political or revolutionary movement can be allowed to cloth such obviously criminal, oppressive and immoral activities with dubious legality or morality under the guise of being part and parcel of the struggle for revolutionary change especially one which professes to be fighting for social justice, fairness and economic equality.
To allow for that to happen is to to dishonor and discredit many of those who used to believe and who tirelessly fought for those beliefs, and those who, even now, still firmly believe in the validity and relevance of the armed struggle and whose lives have been irrevocably changed because of their faith in such a dream.
When revolutionaries start appropriating for themselves the methodologies, appetites and habits of ordinary criminals, how then does one distinguish one from the other? Somebody please tell me because, for the grace of God, I can't.