Death of an NPA guerrilla

The last time I saw him in Davao City about four years ago I think, he looked gaunt. Too gaunt, in fact. He had just come down from the mountains and, as he would often do, was touching base with friends, many of them journalists like me who had covered him and the progressive movement when he was the secretary-general of the leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) in Southern Mindanao.

His skin also grew darker, and I joked that Biolink, a skin-whitening lotion, hadn’t done much for him. How could it? he said. In the mountains, where Val Mante Jr. had repaired to after years and years of being the public face of the Left in Davao, the last thing you cared about is your skin.

Val, you see, was a New People’s Army guerrilla. After legally fighting the government on the streets, he probably figured that a more meaningful struggle — albeit underground and fraught with danger — could be fought to protect the welfare of poor Filipinos who eke out a miserable living in the countryside, where the defenseless and voiceless needed intellectuals from the middle class like himself to counter a state that was becoming more and more oppressive.

It seemed as though becoming an NPA guerrilla was inevitable for Val, an expression of a higher level of commitment to a cause, if ever there was one. It was a decision that did not shock his friends. To us, it was simply a matter of time before Val decided to bear arms.

To be sure, many would scoff at Val’s decision to become an NPA and the things he stood for, dismissing this as stupidity, a mindless commitment to an ideology long discredited. Perhaps. But Val, during the times that we interacted while he was already with the NPA, would often impress on me that this “dead ideology” is far from deceased in the poor rural areas where peasants are locked in a never-ending struggle with their landlords. In these areas, for instance, a real agrarian-revolution was taking place, supplanting the bogus one being implemented by the government.

As I have personally seen in the many years that I covered the communist movement in the Philippines — and having actually camped with Val one time to do this story — this “dead ideology” is the one thing that gives many of these abused masses the hope that they couldn’t find elsewhere — hope for justice, for a decent life, and for an existence free from the abuses of the state.

Val didn’t harbor any illusion that he and his fellow communists would take over the country anytime soon. “It will probably not happen in my lifetime,” he told me once years ago. It didn’t matter to him whether the revolution would succeed or fail; as far as he was concerned, it was the right thing to do.

Whether one agrees with Val’s ideology or not, nothing can dispute the fact that, in the past three decades, the absence of good governance and the overwhelming dominance of abuse, corruption and hunger in our national life have pushed many poor Filipinos in the countryside and elsewhere to seek refuge in the bosom of the revolution, into the arms of comrades like Val And for 10 long years, Val was with them, right to the very end.

Val Mante Jr. died of a kidney illness on Sept. 22. He was 57.

Rubi del Mundo, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front in Southern Mindanao issued a statement about Val on Wednesday. It read in part:

Coming from lower middle class origins, Ka Val was a consummate activist, instructor, organizer, untiring mass leader, poet, literary writer, a friend, comrade and a dedicated member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Having spent more than half of his life aboveground as an activist — from being a progressive seminarian and youth activist in the turbulent 1970s to being a human rights worker in the 1980s and as secretary general of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Davao City, Ka Val decided to move on from the boundaries of legal democratic struggle.

Ka Val joined the New People’s Army in the late 1990s and spent a decade full of hard struggle, in loving and earnest service with the masses of Southern Mindanao. Ka Val, ever the practical and hardworking cadre, did not mind the intermittent fever he was suffering since last week and instead told comrades — who were worried and who were pressing him to seek medical treatment — not to fuss over him because he was fine. Ka Val finally relented, endured almost 14 hours of travel atop a hammock carried by comrades, and finally sought medical treatment at a hospital in Davao City Sunday (Sept. 21). He never fully recovered. The next day, after three attempts of resuscitation, doctors declared him dead.

The revolutionary movement and the masses would surely miss Ka Val, whose life was a stark example of loving sacrifice and whose death is as heavy as the mountains in the countryside.

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