Inquirer Mindanao NPA loses ‘mother of all mothers’


By Jeffrey M. Tupas
Mindanao Bureau
First Posted 00:20:00 10/05/2008

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Lola emerged from the tent, complete with matte-finished cheeks, lips in strong pink and a sky-blue choker to match the shirt. Although everyone was busy for the big day, they never failed to notice Lola whose flamboyance, many would say, was so contagious even in the least demanding times.

That day, Lola was to officiate at a wedding in a hinterland village of Compostela Valley. And when much of the attention was showered at the bride and the groom, Lola effortlessly took a generous part of it from the indigenous peoples, the farmers and the visitors who had traveled far to witness and celebrate the union.

Puzzling for outsiders to see was how Lola was getting all the fuss, but it was understandable, really, for someone who hooked the world’s admiration (and criticisms) when Lola married a young man in an elaborate and controversial ceremony three years ago.

Lola is Valerio Mante Jr. or Ka Richard, a gay communist fighter who, for more than 10 years, surrendered himself to the embrace of a “people’s revolution.” He was one of the top leaders of the New People’s Army in Southern Mindanao who took up the fight of peasants and indigenous peoples against oppressive forces.

Mourners from mountains

And when he passed away recently, a throng of mourners from the same sectors swelled into Davao City—never mind if it would show a bit of heart toward the revolutionary movement.

On board trucks and braving military checkpoints, hundreds of people went down the hills of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental to say goodbye to Val. He was buried on Sept. 30.

Val, 57, died from blood infection that resulted in kidney failure, a day after he was finally confined in a city hospital or more than 14 hours after his comrades brought him on a crude stretcher down the mountains of Compostela Valley. It was a week after his health deteriorated rapidly.

Rubi del Mundo, spokesperson of the communist-led National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Southern Mindanao, said Val, to the very end, chose to stay at their base.

“He did not mind the intermittent fever he was suffering from and instead told the comrade-medics not to fuss over him because he was just fine. After so much convincing, he finally allowed himself to be brought to a hospital in Davao,” Del Mundo said.

Before his death, Del Mundo said, Val was even making everyone in the hospital room happy and made a list of those who would be invited to his wake, “playfully reminding us that even in his death, there are people to organize and mobilize.”

Active

Val’s involvement as an activist and a guerrilla started when he was an active worker of the Catholic Church, even long before the dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. During the First Quarter Storm, he joined Khi Rho, a mass organization working among peasants.

He was detained for more than a year at the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary Barracks in Tagum City. After his release, he went back to Davao City and directed a Lakbayan protest march from Tagum to Davao against massive landgrabbing.

During martial law, Val became the chair of the Citizens Council for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and later joined the Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy. He also became a member of the Freedom from Debt Coalition in the early 1990s and head of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Southern Mindanao from 1996 to 1998.

Val was the “darling of the press,” working from one sector to another. Antonio Ajero, a veteran journalist, said Val gained the respect of the media during his time for being “amiable and sincere to what he’s saying.”

“I could remember him as someone very personable and sincere. He was very articulate and had a good relationship with the media because he was never arrogant, and had good answers to every question,” Ajero said.

Joining the NPA

His friends recall that Val’s decision to join the NPA became a topic for discussion among them.

Nick David, one of his closest friends, said he had a debate with Val over his joining the underground movement because of Val’s age. (At that time, Val was 47, fresh from heading Bayan.) “He was already too old to join the movement,” David said.

But then when David visited Val in the mountains, he realized how Val loved the people and how he was being loved in return. “He loved the farmers so much. During dinners, he would carefully pick crumbs because in producing rice grains, farmers have to go through a difficult experience,” he said.

Journalist Carlos Conde, another friend of Val’s, wrote in his blog: “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.”

“But Val, during the times when 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 areas, for instance, a real agrarian-revolution was taking place, supplanting the bogus one being implemented by the government,” Conde added.

Rural reach

In his journal, Val expressed that his decision to join the armed revolution came after he desired to expand his reach to the people in the rural areas.

“At the height of my activism, I decided to join the NPA. My decision elicited various reactions from the people close to me. Some were happy, some were skeptical. This did not affect my decision,” he wrote.

“It was a product of a long and painful struggle against selfishness, individualism and pride. I gave up a comfortable lifestyle, left my family and relatives and evaded close friends. It was the harshest yet the best decision so far I’ve made in my life,” he added.

Sama Sulong, a “lumad” leader from Boston town in Davao Oriental, said Val would always be remembered as the “inahan sa tanang inahan (mother of all mothers).”

“Lola treated us as his real children. The grandmother of the lumad people … the hero of the oppressed,” Sulong said.

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