AS the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) celebrates its 48th anniversary today, it is not mere speculation to assert that it is one with the rest of the country in entertaining the possibility of a final peace agreement being signed with the government within the term of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.
Aside from the country’s top communist leaders headed by CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon, another ranking communist leader who is in a position to express this new-found optimism is none other than Tirso ‘Ka Bart’ Alcantara, the former spokesman and “commander” of the ‘Melito Glor Command’ (MGC), the main fighting force of the CPP’s ‘New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Southern Tagalog.
Up to the middle of 2000, the military concedes that “STR” (Southern Tagalog Region), where Ka Bart holds sway since the late ‘70s as NPA “chieftain,” is the “strongest” among the country’s regions where the CPP-NPA operates.
With the MGC’s growth seemingly unstoppable, the name of Ka Bart and his exploits took on the form of “folk legend” not only among the rural folks but also, among “activists” and “mass leaders” who all “revered” him and, among local officials, who all “feared” him.
Due to the danger this proximity of the growing MGC poses to the security of the nation’s capital and the established order, the military, under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, designated Southern Tagalog as part of its own “NPA” (national priority area) under ‘Oplan Bantay Laya II’ that targeted for “pacification” the northern, central and southern parts of Luzon.
As such, majority of the military’s and the entire government’s resources in suppressing the CPP-NPA were poured into the region during the latter part of the Macapagal Arroyo administration.
By the time Ka Bart was captured on January 4, 2011 in Lucena City, Quezon, the military, this time under ‘Oplan Bayanihan’ under Pres. Benigno Aquino III, had already boasted that the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and parts of Rizal, Quezon and the island of Mindoro, have all been “cleared” from “communist infestation” and are now considered “peace and development ready.”
“I give my word, I won’t go back”
Privately, the military considers the capture of Ka Bart, now 63, as one of their “major” accomplishments, conceding that he has given the military a “big headache” the whole time that he has been commanding the NPA forces in Southern Tagalog.
Wounded near his buttocks after trying to shoot it out with his military captors, Ka Bart would spend nearly two years-20 months-in solitary confinement (“bartolina”) inside the restricted compound of the Philippine Army’s ‘Intelligence Service Group’ (ISG) inside Fort Bonifacio.
Indeed, while still recuperating at the Army hospital inside the camp from his bullet wound, a platoon of soldiers, armed to the teeth, were encamped just outside the hospital as an added security measure.
Slapped with at least 49 criminal cases ranging from murder to arson, Ka Bart conceded that had it not been for the peace initiative by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, a key component of which was freeing key leaders of the CPP-NPA like him for the peace talk, he is not likely to taste freedom, albeit temporary, again.
“Kung hindi sa peace talk (of Pres. Duterte), hindi na siguro ako makakalaya,” he said, matter of fact. By his own reckoning, he has been behind bars for “5 years, 11 months and 8 days” before being set free for the peace talks.
But what would it be for him and other rebel leaders? “Temporary” liberty as granted by the court while the peace talk is ongoing?
Or, would it mean taking the opportunity to go back to living “underground” and reassume his preeminent role as CPP-NPA leader in Southern Tagalog?
Here, Ka Bart also revealed that his “comrades” have been pressing him to “go back” to the armed revolutionary movement because he is “needed” but he refused.
“Nagbigay na ako ng aking salita; hindi na ako babalik; bagaman ang ‘puso’ ko ay nasa kanila (underground armed revolutionary movement), iba na ang ‘trabaho’ ko ngayon, sa usaping pangkapayapaan na,” he said.
Ka Bart said he made the “promise” even to the three different court judges who have been hearing his assortment of criminal cases and who asked him of his intention before allowing him to join the peace talks.