Solo: Luis Taruc

- Tonette Martel () - February 16, 2003 - 12:00am
At 90, Luis Taruc may be the oldest living rebel in the Philippines. He still espouses the same ideas and beliefs that he fought for when he founded the Hukbalahap Movement (Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan) in 1942. The Huk movement began as an anti-Japanese resistance force and then became a formidable mass movement to address peasant grievances in Central Luzon. After failing to reach a peaceful settlement with both the Roxas and Quirino administrations, Taruc and his men went underground. By 1950, his guerrillas controlled most of Central Luzon including two provincial capitals.

In 1954, Taruc was forced to surrender to the Government of President Ramon Magsaysay, who had gained widespread peasant support through his pro-poor agenda and by instituting reforms in the Philippine Army and the Constabulary. Subsequently Taruc was put on trial for revolt and terrorism. He was imprisoned for 16 years and was released in 1968 by President Ferdinand Marcos.

When I first interviewed Taruc in 1998, he was visibly weakened by age and a long-standing heart ailment but was still fighting for the causes of the poor and the peasantry. He organized farm unions and cooperatives in Central Luzon while championing the rights of the Huks veterans in Metro Manila. Today, Taruc hosts a radio program every Saturday on DWWW and from time to time organizes rallies in Nueva Ecija to call for long overdue social change and reform.

Ask Taruc what keeps him busy these days, and he will tell you that he is "attending to the needs of the poor and the peasantry who account for 75 percent of the population." A tacit admission that things have not changed much.

Socialists or communists, however, do not have the monopoly on wanting to rid the country of its social ills and inequities – we all have a stake in that. All Filipinos hope that this nation will see better days. We all want to see this country prosper just as our Asian neighbors have, but we seem bereft of answers or ideas.

Is Taruc just a voice from the past? Are his ideas relevant? Taruc, like many in his generation and those that followed, riles against American imperialism and lays the blame squarely on America for the stagnation of our nation. Those of us in this generation wonder when the blame-game will ever end. Japan was devastated by WWII, China held back by Mao’s repressive regime, yet these nations have transformed adversity into triumph. Closer to home, Thailand’s tourist industry is booming, Malaysia is a rising IT center and even war-torn Vietnam is seeing brighter days. When will we catch up? Neither the establishment nor the revolutionaries have clear answers. Yet even old rebels like Taruc admit that a violent revolution is not the answer – but real shift in our national consciousness, one that will bring about a true sense of nationhood.

It has been a long journey for Taruc, the son of peasants who stood for their cause and earned his place in history. The late Senator Ninoy Aquino once said of Taruc, "He was one of the few men who impressed me early in life. How many men have thought of doing what he did, but didn’t do what he did? This guy was tempted with wealth; but refused it. He could have compromised with the establishment; instead he went to the hills...He opened my eyes to the iniquities in my own hometown..."

In his time Taruc was a controversial figure – a man who was vilified, yet one who also inspired admiration. Today he remains a rebel who has not lost sight of his cause.

Philippine STAR: It’s been five years since we last spoke, what is keeping you busy these days?

Luis Taruc:
Of course, I have been attending to the problems of the poor, particularly the peasantry who compose almost 75 percent of the total population. They should be attended to with all our ability to help them come into their own, to assert their strength and numbers. Morally speaking, spiritually speaking they are the most reliable segment or center of power of our nation, who produce the food so they sustain the whole country in our food supply.

When you say you are attending to their needs, specifically what do you do for them?

I remain basically a socialist. It is more relevant today because capitalism has reached its apex. It will begin to slide down or will dissolve or save itself through a Third World War to control the whole world through oil and the subservience of small countries like us and I don’t like that. I am happy that Cardinal Sin stated very clearly that we must be for peace. We are for America but the good America, not the America today. The good America of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR is the America I love and admire. But the America today wants to control the economy of the world. The war in Iraq, if it will happen, is a war for oil, no matter how many millions will die so long as they can control Iraq which is the second largest oil-producing country in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia and its neighbors

Let’s turn to the communist party. Do you think it is living up to its terrorist tag and has lost its legitimacy in the struggle?

In the first place I want to tell you from the start I was never a communist. I joined Pedro Abad Santos in 1932. I joined the socialist party in 1932 when Abad Santos started organizing it but I parted with him because I started for two years in the National University. Then when I stopped studying for lack of funds I re-started and joined him for good until now.

Yes, but you can comment on these things.

There was a time when the communist party was conducting almost correctly this leadership over the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the NPA. You know these three organizations, the NDF is a conglomeration of many sympathizers while the communists are for democracy and the NPA is the New People’s Army taken from the old, which was mine, which were the Hukbalahap and the HMB, this is what they called the old leftist army. They called us wrongly, they called us a communist army. That was not true. The army I led, the Hukbalahap, against the Japanese militarism and fascism was not a communist army. We had about three percent communist leaders in our ranks but we had a continuing struggle among ourselves that they are too leftist, too adventuristic, too opportunistic, hoping to seize power.

I am aware always that the powers that be are so strong, we can not go headlong to pit our forces, it would be suicidal, so we had that position. Which Lenin himself said that "it is not only foolish to launch an armed revolution but it is a leftist criminal adventurism when the people are not ready to support it." The people are not ready, they don’t even understand what we are talking about.

But they want a better life?

Yes, even socialism is not yet understood by people, much less communism. And the rich are very afraid of communism because it means confiscation of their wealth and liquidation of their lives. So we must not do that. We had a quarrel among ourselves in the mountains. I am for the democratic process, slow but gradually propelled by understanding, compassion and love. With them, it was prompted by hate, anger and vindictiveness. That is the difference between my attitude and the communist attitude. They call it Bolshevik attitude. Bolshevism is a ruthless and godless principle. Then it continued with Mao Tse Tung because they are not Christian and they had different kind of morality, so that was our difference. Mao Tse Tung committed part of the mistake, he was so self-satisfied with their success from the Chinese revolution that they did what the press called "bamboo cutting" to replace or supplant the great wall of China. He even put down Deng Xiao Ping but Deng Xiao Ping was able to recover and when Mao Tse Tung died it was he who led the Chinese revolution up to the present regime, who has adapted what is good in capitalism and what is good in socialism.

The President is intent on forging a lasting peace with the communist party. But there seems to be a big gap between both sides, great mistrust. What should be the starting point?

No matter how many errors, mistakes, sometimes violent mistakes the communists have committed through the NPA, they should not be called terrorists. If what they did had some element of terror, it was only to counter terror, the bigger terror of vested interest over them. So the problem is tremendous. We need an extraordinary solution.

Such as?

You must not compel them to kneel down, surrender their arms and submit to what the army and you are telling them. Give them the chance to an honorable reconciliation, to save peace. Because if you humble them, insult them before talking to them, they will not agree. They prefer to die rather like what Ninoy said, "I prefer to die on my feet than live on my knees."

Please comment on an article by William Peser, in the Business Section of the International Herald Tribune on January 27, 2003. He was critical of President Arroyo’s leadership. He wrote: "Last month marked her second anniversary in office, and so far she has proven to be only moderately successful than Estrada, yet the more important point here is Arroyo’s potential. Say what you want about Arroyo’s government, it is still the most credible one Filipinos have known in decades." Do you agree with his assessment?

In essence, I agree with what the writer said. All these politicians in one way or another, big or small, are corrupt, they’re crooks. So if all of them have that stain, that mantsa of corruption they must be humble enough to accept it. And whatever mistakes, weakness the communist movement have done, pareho tayong mali, magpatawaran tayo. Comparing her with all the other politicians, she’s better than most of them. First she declared on December 30, 2002 that she will not run anymore in 2004, just to call their attention to what is needed – national unity and cooperation. Instead of cooperating with her, they were like mushrooms, everyone was trying to grab the limelight to replace her. So that’s the politician’s game. Instead they came to the press boosting their own personal selfish interest. That’s why I say I agree with this American writer, compare her with the others, she has an edge, she is better than all the other politicians.

More honest?

Yes, more honest and more forthright but more submissive to President Bush’s enticement or pressure. I have a letter to her. I told her: You must be bolder on your position on sovereignty and nationalism. I talked with her for 42 minutes. Never allow the good land to be converted into golf courses and subdivisions, attract the rich so that you can implement land reform, rural and urban fully. Because we need the bulk of our population to cooperate with you to save the country from hunger as you have been appealing to. Every Filipino family must have shelter for his family and they must have food for their table. This is the urgent need of our people.

Why is there too much politics in our country today?

our country, our people are so miserably, painfully divided. The poor are being enticed, tinutukso, in their desperation, to join even the communist extremists in the hope of getting a better future for themselves and their families. The rich are looking desperately at ways to save their privileged status to the point of clinging to American imperialism which has the tendency to occupy the whole world by controlling the oil of the world. So the trouble in Iraq is not really between countries but between economic interests of those who want to control the oil of the Middle East. The trouble in Venezuela is a part of this, they want to put down Chavez, the President of Venezuela, because he is leftist, left of center but not communist.

Ego, selfish interest dominate our politics. The rich don’t know they are sitting on a social volcano which might erupt any time and even the good people like you who belong to the middle class and the upper class will be swamped by the flood of devastation.

I hope not to see that happen.

I hope the peaceful revolution will succeed because of intellectuals like you. The mass media can help the mass leaders to bring about a consensus of good-meaning Filipinos so that by peaceful means we can change the system. There are 80 million Filipinos, one percent of that is 800,000, one percent of 800,000 is 80,000, 1/10th percent of 80,000 is 800. Our country is controlled by 800 families and corporations. Is that democracy? So how can we change that?

Yes, how?

By peaceful revolutionary unity, without violence we can do it. The poor are being driven by hate and bitterness, they want to eliminate the rich who have been oppressing them. The rich are also prisoners of the system. They will have security, peace of mind and peace in the countryside if they help the poor uplift their lives.

In and around Asia we see a lot of bold visionary leaders like Deng Xiao Ping, Lee Kuan Yew, Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, who have propelled their countries forward with a vision. Why have we failed to produce leaders like these men?

Filipino leadership has been corrupted since the Spanish times by self-aggrandizement. Therefore, they were seeking selfish personal and family interests, not collective development, and yet they go to churches, to the cathedrals praying to God as Catholics and as Christians and yet they do not follow the teachings of Christ. To pray the Ama Namin, Our Father, there is no I, there is no you it’s all collective interest, collective preservation. "Ama namin sumasalangit ka, our Father in heaven, help us, guide us, give us today our daily bread."

For the rich to be humble enough to realize that they are a part of society, they cannot remain like this – enjoying life, their beautiful condominiums as fellow Filipinos are living in hovels. Have you tried living as a squatter, no? It is so difficult, a hate-propelling situation so that if an agitator comes, it will be easy to hate the rich, even the middle class. We must dissipate that kind of thinking among the poor.

In a recent interview, Rodolfo Salas told ANC Live that the problems of our nation are very simple, that the basic needs of our people have to be met with concrete measures but successive administrations have not been able to achieve that. Why is that the case, why is it very difficult to achieve that?

Because to be so simplistic is not enough. Until and unless our people have learned the rudiments of the basic foundations or principles of a true republic, of a true democracy, food and housing is just a minor path or a technique. What we need is a national psyche, a national attitude that as a people we must stand up with self-respect and self sufficiency. We have a very rich country. We can produce all the food we need, but to do that we must have a good government. That government must really represent a national attitude and national characteristic, which is what the Vietnamese have done, which is what the Japanese have done. The Japanese have no trace of a socialistic or communistic ideology and yet because of their nationalism they were able to project Japan as one of the most prosperous industrial countries of the world.

While I admire Rodolfo Salas’ simplistic approach to the problem of the country, it is not enough. What we need is for Rodolfo Salas, Satur Ocampo and the rest of them to come to an agreement that they must help to bring about a consensus of Filipino self-respect and Filipino integrity. Mass media can help in this effort. Ideology, which is founded on the right kind of national pride, national self-respect, national integrity, must always be partnered with national self-sufficiency.

What do you think is the future of the communist party in light of recent developments?

If the communist party under the leadership of Joma Sison insists on being too radical, too incorrigible, they will fail. They will, as the saying goes, "die on the vine." They will wither and be forgotten. The people themselves will reject them. They should instead abide by the people’s interest, help in the development of a national attitude, of national freedom, national republic which is what Gloria is now advocating, building a strong republic. But how do you make every family self-sufficient, healthy and not wanting in anything? Gloria’s father, Kong Dadong Macapagal, was an advocate of FDR’s New Deal. New Deal, emergency employment administration, saved America from the crisis that it suffered under Hoover. So before the war broke out America had recovered. Kong Dadong started to adapt that but the Americans discouraged him. The American vested interest, not the America of Lincoln and Washington, discouraged it so we would remain a very poor country. Why? Because after the war, the American government pressured Gen. MacArthur and Truman. Truman helped the European system through the Marshall Plan and neglected the Philippines.

And yet the Philippines of all the countries in the world, was the most faithful, the most loyal in the fight against the Japanese Occupation and against fascism. I am a living witness to that kind of discrimination and persecution the American imperialists have done to us. They succeeded in dividing us. When a labor union becomes nationalistic, they infiltrate it and divide it. When a political party becomes strong like the Democratic Alliance of Jesus Barrera and Antonio Araneta they destroy it by infiltrating it. When the communist movement became strong, they infiltrated it and caused them to quarrel with each other. So there was a Stalinist Communist Party under the Lavas and a Maoist Communist Party under Joma Sison. This is the clear evidence of the divide and conquer policy of America.

Another segment to that is low intensity warfare, low intensity conflict which was the brainchild of Henry Kissinger. Let Asians kill fellow Asians, let people fight each other and kill each other as long as the war will not reach the American continent. So through the instigation of the CIA and the divide and conquer policy and low intensity conflict, those in Africa, in the Balkan states, in Europe and Asia, have been quarreling against each other while the American imperialists are laughing at us. This is the sorry state we must slowly try to extricate ourselves from, the kind of international intrigue by American imperialism.

Do you see anyone in the horizon who could prove to be an effective leader/president in 2004?

Not any one. I see many people if they come together the leaders of the Bayan Muna, must soften their approach and come in contact with other groups. I told Satur personally, "can you stand on your own feet as a leader of your own worth and not be a lackey of Joma Sison?" Joma Sison is a vanishing risk, whatever you call it, until and unless he becomes a true Filipino patriot nationalist. If Fr. Jalandoni will live up to his former calling, a soldier of Christ, he must influence Joma Sison to be a Christian rather than Joma Sison influencing Fr. Jalandoni to be an atheist.

I think we are coming to a crossroads where Joma Sison must humble himself but at the same time President Gloria’s government must also humble itself for the sake of the national unity. Call them to an honorable reconciliation, not giving an exacting demand to the NPA and Joma Sison to kneel down to the conditions of the military.

Yesterday, I was on radio appealing to the masses to come together and help bring about a new kind of leadership. To pull Gloria and help her do everything in her power to fight corruption and the lack of discipline in the political system. In my position paper, I said, "How can I give the remaining days of my life to help you and see you succeed in your administration?" The concluding paragraph of my position paper states, "you are a Pampangueño, I am a Pampangueño, it is my pride to see you succeed as a Pampangueño. Your father is my kinakapatid, fraternal brother, and we treat each other as brothers, so if I consider your father as my kinakapatid, you are my niece spiritually and morally. But over and above that, you are a Filipino. The chance and opportunity for you to be great, better than your father many times over, is in your hands. Grab it and you will become, I believe, a great president."

To what do you attribute the failure of the Huk movement?

After WWI, America was so strong. They did not want us to get strong so they did everything to discourage our movement. Just imagine they called for national election for president, vice president, congressmen and senator but they did not call for local elections. They knew we would win in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog so they destroyed our mass base. From the beginning it is again a manifestation of the divide and conquer, so they had to conquer our growing strength by dissipating, by discouraging nationalism.

You were hampered because you never got any aid from the Soviets, you never got any aid from the Chinese, you were just a peasant movement working by yourselves with limited means and limited mobility.

Yes, I was against going to Russia, of sending envoys to Russia to help us bring about a revolution here. No, we must build up our strength from our internal connection with the masses, with the people. I thought we would be able to succeed through a wide democratic participation with the people, which the Americans and the vested interest discouraged. They even put us to prison.

The communist movement spread all over the country, they’re organized, but you focused only on Central Luzon, why didn’t you expand your sphere of influence?

I wanted to. Nagkaroon kami ng organizer sa Samar, nahuli agad. Mayroon organizer sa Mindanao, nahuli agad, nahuli, na-capture. May organizer sa Cagayan de Oro. See, two points of Mindanao – Davao to start spreading around, Cagayan de Oro to go around but the government spies were able to trace them and capture them. Ganoon din sa Samar and Leyte so we failed to expand. Talagang malakas ang American influence during those days. So I tell you we were not strong enough, not capable enough to spread out to organize throughout the country. And we were so narrow-minded as to consider all these people as our enemies.

They could have been your allies.

Yes, and yet the Stalinist consider Bolshevism as direct approach that whoever is enjoying his life in the present system must be considered an enemy. They took it from St. Matthew, "He who is not with us is against us." President Bush used the same statement, "He who will not join me in this war against terrorism is my enemy." And Gloria sided with him. I criticized Gloria. "Why did you offer yourself with open arms, indicating the country is accepting Bush with open arms, why did you not say I accept you also with open legs." Nagalit sa akin. Because how many, we have about 50,000 women more or less victims of American soldiers. We are the victims of the injustice of American vested interests.

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