By Jim Gomez
27 December 2010
MOUNT DIWATA, Philippines — Too poor to afford school beyond fourth grade in the southern Philippines, 19-year-old Johnny Buyo walked away from home six months ago to join the communist rebellion — one of Asia’s longest-running. He was handed a rusty M16 rifle, which he vowed to keep for life.
The teenager recently gathered with an older generation of battle-hardened veterans in their 60s for a celebration marking the 42nd anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines, whose insurgency withstood decades of crackdown by five Philippine presidents.
“It’s scary at first but later, you gain confidence when you think that you’re fighting for the people,” said Buyo, the rifle slung on his tiny frame.
Amid a Christmas cease-fire and looming peace talks with President Benigno Aquino III’s new government, about 80 Maoist guerrillas armed with rifles and grenade launchers marched in a remote rice-farming village in the foothills of Mount Diwata in southern Surigao del Sur province as more than 2,000 villagers, relatives and sympathizers cheered.
Persistent poverty in the Philippines’ southern region fuels popular support for the movement, inspiring new generations to join even as Cold War communist insurgencies fade into memory across much of the rest of the world.
It has been 38 years since Jorge Madlos, then a student activist, quit university and went underground after then-Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Now 62, the prominent rebel spokesman — distinguished by his trademark Mao-style cap and goatee — says only one thing can make him leave his comrades.
“Our retirement comes in death,” Madlos said.
At Sunday’s ceremony, smiling guerrillas handed out 2011 calendars, red pins and packs of roasted pork and rice. They belted out nationalist songs on a stage in a rice field festooned with the hammer and sickle communist symbol. Relatives and friends used the occasion for reunions with rebels, including a mother who said she has not seen her son since he joined the guerrillas 10 years ago.
The chaotic scene under a broiling noontime sun both depicted the rebels’ resiliency and constraints.