The funeral march of Leoncio “Kumander Parago” Pitao last July 10 drew thousands of supporters to the streets of the Southern Philippine City of Davao.
Spokesmen of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) boasted that the death of the legendary commander of the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) will drastically weaken the revolutionary movement in the region.
But the show of force by supporters and well-wishers of Ka Parago and the rebel movement who put the busy thoroughfares of Davao City to standstill to bring Ka Parago’s remains to the Davao Memorial Park for his cremation caught these army spin masters off guard.
An estimated 12,000 mourners, mostly peasants and indigenous peoples from all over Mindanao as well as from Davao City itself, joined the funeral march.
A tribute program for Ka Parago was likewise held at the Davao City Almendras Gymnasium which was filled to full capacity the night before the march.
Many of Parago’s mourners were brought to the city from all corners of Mindanao by about a hundred buses, trucks, cars and other vehicles a few days earlier.
Growing strength of the revolution
According to Satur Ocampo, former Bayan Muna Partylist representative Satur Ocampo, the massive crowd that showed up during Ka Parago’s funeral is reflective of the growing size and strength of the NPA’s mass base in Southern Mindanao.
Ocampo, who was one of the leaders of the underground National Democratic Front of the Philippines during the Martial Law era, said that the event disproves the AFP’s claims that Pitao’s death marks the beginning of the end for the armed struggle in the area.
“This also shows how prepared the mass bases are to sacrifice for the revolution in cases where the state gets back at them for coming [to Parago’s funeral march],” said Ocampo.
The heavy presence of police personnel and soldiers as well as intelligence agents armed with cameras did not at all discourage the marchers from daring to join the funeral march.
This is in spite of what has been decried as the Aquino government’s systematic campaign of “torture, threats and extrajudicial killings” against suspected supporters of the NPA under its counterinsurgency design Oplan Bayanihan which is set to end next year.
There are 92 victims of extrajudicial killings in Mindanao from July 2010 to March 2015, said the human rights group Karapatan. There are now 55 combat battalions or 60 percent of the entire AFP force deployed in Eastern Mindanao for counterinsurgency operations against the NPA.
Human rights advocates say that rather than destroying the revolutionary movement, the massive militarization of the entire island will only worsen the already sordid human rights situation in the area.
They are calling for the immediate pull-out of troops from Mindanao, saying that the Aquino government must instead focus on addressing the roots of armed conflict such as rising inequality, unemployment, and injustice rather than pursuing a destructive military approach.
A Tatay to peasants and lumads
Ka Parago was killed last June 28 with his medic Vanessa “Ka Kyle” Limpag in Paquibato District, Davao City in what the military has claimed to be an armed encounter with the NPA.
A statement by the NPA, however, said that the two were summarily executed by the military in a raid even as Ka Parago was already “weak and sick” while an unarmed Ka Kyle “identified herself as a medic and raised her hands to surrender.”
The rebel group has accused the military of violating international humanitarian law for the cold-blooded murder of Pitao and Limpag.
The legendary rebel commander has long earned the ire of the military for his daring military exploits. His daughter Rebelyn, a young teacher during her tragic death, was raped and killed by alleged military and police agents in 2009.
Ka Parago, born of poor peasants in Agusan del Sur in 1957, joined the NPA at the young age of 22 during the height of martial law in the year 1979.
He soon earned for himself the moniker “Tatay” (father) by the peasants and lumads in the hinterlands of Mindanao that he helped organize and taught to defend their rights against big landlords, businessmen and abusive officials.
Ka Parago would stage daring and victorious tactical offensives against the military in the last four decades, including the capture of General Victor Obillo as a Prisoner-Of-War in 1999, and the raid of the Davao Penal Colony in 2007.
He led the NPA’s famous Pulang Bagani Company and later on the revolutionary forces’ first-ever Battalion-sized force active in Southern Mindanao.
Ka Parago may have died but his heroic example of selfless service and dedication to the cause of the poor lives on in the hearts of many.
I wrote this article for thepoc.net.