"I am not afraid of death. " Interview with the female guerillas of the Philippines
Philippian women are joining the ranks of the NPA guerilla against the Duterte dictatorship. I had the opportunity to talk to two of them. Listen to their story here.
Imagine, you live in a third world country, now for example the Philippines. Violence is everywhere, the government rotten to it’s core and for the worst, your gender as women is traditionally oppressed. Your situation is not looking good. Ask yourself, how do you overcome poverty in a system designed to keep you down? How do you combat a macho-fascist-dictator, who thinks on activist women as quote “Bitches”? If your answer is a neoliberal one, congratulations, you ignored a century of evidence that neoliberalism is the answer only for the igniting-the-cigar-with-moneybills rich man and their imperialist empires. Anyway, the women of the Philippines found their answer in an all-out rebellion against their everyday enemy.
The dictator Rodrigo Duterte is the embodiment of a macho. He is definitely enjoying his position as one too. In a speech he said “‘There’s a new order coming from the mayor, ‘We will not kill you. We will just shoot you in the vagina,’“. He went on to say that without their vaginas, women would be “useless”. During his election campaign in 2016, speaking about the 1989 prison riot in which an Australian missionary was killed, and inmates had lined up to rape her, Duterte joked he wished he had the opportunity to rape her himself. There are countless examples of this kind of behavior but there are also thousands upon thousands examples of women joining the ranks of the „New Peoples Army” (NPA), a guerilla movement, with the aim of ousting his administration.
The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The organization is outlawed in the Philippines, the US and the EU. The CPP-NPA is fighting an armed insurgence since 1969, the longest running communist conflict in Asia. It suffered many setbacks but is now again on the rise. In a statement the NPA claims „The NPA is assisted by tens of thousands of men and women in the people´s militia and hundreds of thousands in self-defense units of the mass organizations. It operates in more than 110 guerrillas fronts which occupy substantial parts of 17 regions and 73”
Women take a very special place in the Guerilla. A huge number of combatants are female. Although they sleep next to their rifle, their day to day life is not shaped around direct shootouts. I spoke to two young female NPA cadres, Ka Mimi and Jellyn, both 23 Years old, to understand their situation in a society so hostile towards women that they search a way out in an armed rebellion against it.
Q: Hey there, who are we talking to?
“I joined the New People's Army when I was 20 years old. I've been a guerrilla for 3 years already since I entered in 2017. I was recommended and referred to by a former female guerrilla named Ka Maxin member who served as my contact to the unit that I joined.
Prior to joining the armed struggle, I was already familiar with the revolutionary movement. My mother-in-law is a former guerrilla who now serves as a local Party cadre in our community.
I heeded to the frequent and casual invitation of Ka Maxin to integrate with the NPAs and get to know their struggle. I agreed to stay within the unit for a week, but later on decided to extend it into weeks, into months and into years. I recently married a comrade on the 2nd week of October after staying in the struggle for 3 years.
I entertained Ka Maxin's invitation to join or integrate with the NPA unit because of my dismay towards my abusive ex-live-in partner. My partner cheated on me with other women. When I confronted him, he choked me and electrocuted me using a defective electric outlet. I ended the relationship and moved out of the house after that.
I decided to stay in the unit and become a fulltime guerrila. My decision was no eureka moment, but a product of contradictions, and tension of enlightenment and confusion.”
“I’m Jellyn, a Manobo (Lumad/member of a national minority), 23 years old. I joined in November, year 2014.
My husband (Maki, also a Manobo) enlisted first and after a year, he convinced me to visit him and experience his life.
At first, when I was not yet a member, I had no understanding of the revolution. It was only when I joined (the army) that I realized that we have not been afforded our rights and basic services by the government. It was only then that I understood how women and Lumads were exploited and oppressed. That is why after a year, I decided to go fulltime.”
Q: What did you do before you joined the guerilla? What position do you have now in the NPA?
“I was born to a family of rural farmers, but I grew up in an urbanized town and never experienced farming. I'm the only girl among my 5 siblings. I became pregnant at age 14 and had a daughter. The father of my daughter left me after pregnancy leaving no support for the child.
At the age of 18, I worked as a contractual employee of multinational agribusiness corporation which processes palm oil. I worked as a laundrywoman and washed workers' uniforms. After the contract, I worked as a packer for a junk food company owned by a national bourgeois. I worked from six in the morning until six in the evening and received a measly 180-peso daily wage. Our male counterparts received 280 pesos. I experienced unfair labor conditions at work. We (women workers) were not allowed to sit, only allowed to have a 30-minute lunchbreak, and limited bathroom breaks. We had not health benefits among others.
Since my wage was not enough to make ends meet, I was pushed to engage in several antisocial activities to earn a little extra without informing my parents. I worked in a bar and became a prostituted woman. I used to deal with drugs to be able to buy milk for my child.Now I serve as a platoon medic.
We conduct mass clinics and give free medical services to peasants and Lumads. This includes dental services, circumcision and basic surgery. This pandemic, I participated in several medical missions and information dissemination campaigns. In the NPA, we are taught how to practice indigenous health practices and utilize herbal medicines as an alternative to expensive commercial medicines.
Simultaneously, I also serve as a political guide in the guerilla unit. I participate in mass work activities in order to organize and mobilize the masses. We help the masses in establishing their organizations, conducting educational discussions, and resolving internal conflicts.
I think I was able to redeem my self-esteem when I became a guerrila. I used to think of myself as dirty, as a sinner, and as a slut. Serving as a communist guerrila gave my life a new meaning and direction, a life not only for myself but for the collective good.”
“Before I enlisted, I helped my parents in housework and in harvesting sweet potatoes. I have yet to menstruate when my parents arranged my marriage to my husband. I was a minor when I got pregnant, and our first baby died, because my body was not ready to get pregnant because I was too young and there was no health services in my area.
In the people’s army, I was a company supply officer, then I became a political instructor of the alpha platoon.”
Q: How can one imagine the day-to-day life in the NPA?
“Daily life in the NPA involves a lot of work ranging from military, political, production, and technical activities. The unit schedules its daily activities in accordance to its short term and long term plans.
In terms of military work, the command ensures the unit's security. It deploys teams for reconnaissance and surveys, monitoring intelligence networks and so on. If the situation permits, the unit conducts staggered military trainings, obstacle courses, and physical exercises.
Political work is divided into two-internal and external. Internal political work involves ideological training, educational discussions, assessments and conflict resolution, literacy-numeracy among comrades who were not able to enter or finish school. External political work involves organizing, conducting social investigation, and planning mass campaigns.
Guerrillas also help the peasant masses in economic production. This includes manual farm work, conducting seminars and discussions to promote organic agriculture and collective farming, among others.
Technical task involves includes the daily camp tasks including cooking, fetching water, and gathering firewood.
These tasks are ensured by all guerrillas in the platoon. I often take on political and technical tasks as part of my day to day activities.”
“ There are times when it is difficult, there are sacrifices, like walking when it’s hot, raining, at night. But there are also times when we can hold studies on politics and military work, and raise our ideological unity. There are also time specified for mass work. In general, daily tasks are collectively decided, and we carry them out by helping each other.”
Q: What makes your everyday life in the guerilla different from that of men?
“It's different, but it's similar in a lot of ways. For example, there are still existing prejudice on women in terms of military work that women guerillas have to struggle with inside. Majority of military tasks-reconnaissance, survey, tactical offensives are assigned mostly to male fighters. Women insist that they can do the job as well, only if given the opportunity. The Communist Party of the Philippines has long been fighting for women emancipation, and the comrades inside are trying their best to dismantle prejudices on women. While the Party has gone a long way for women's struggle, women still have to prove themselves twice as much in terms of military work.
All other technical task (cooking, fetching water, gathering firewoods) are shared by both men and women.”
“ In my opinion, men and women have the same tasks. Outside, men and women are regarded differently, but in here, they are seen as equals.”
Q: One of the largest Guerilla organization is the YPJ with 26.000 female cadres. Why are you organized side by side with men in one unit?
“Because we act as a collective, and because men and women are similarly oppressed. Men, women, and LGBT are integrated into one unit, in the same way as comrades from different classes including peasants, workers, and petty bourgeois are united. If we separate the women from men, how can the men learn about women's issues and struggle? Last month, we conducted a women's conference where all women guerilla shared their experience, their struggles. We learned about the women's liberation movement and our role in the revolution. We shared the knowledge we learned in the convention to our male comrades.
We recognize the different layers of oppression, and the particularly of women oppression. But we, in the NPA, are integrated as one in a struggle against a common oppressor.”
“ Maybe so we can gain experience from everyone. So that we can know each others characteristics and different classes and tribes will know each other.”
Q: What was your first combat experience like? Are you afraid of death?
“I have not yet experienced an actual armed encounter. The closest experience I had was when enemy troops got so close to us whom we saw on top an adjacent hill. Our unit was able to outmaneuver the enemy, but I was so nervous that time. I told myself to just trust the command. I learned to internalize and overcome the fear of death in the revolution and think of it as a reality in war. We (revolutionaries) are not without fear, we just feel more courageous because we're not alone. We have comrades with us.”
“ Ambush, November 2018. This was in response to the Region’s call for coordinated tactical offensives. About an hour of exchanging fire, then withdraw. 17 elements of the 66th IB were killed. But we also had 1 KIA (Killed in action). But I was not scared, my stance remained the firm. I understand that these are part of our sacrifices to achieve victory.
I am not afraid of death. If necessary, but by being careful, we can prolong our time so we can be of service.”
Q: How do women outside the NPA view you? What are your experiences?
“They always ask me if how I am able to endure guerrilla life carrying heavy loads and walking long distances. They always ask me if my rifle is too heavy for me, and if I can really walk properly with my huge body. I think they are amazed to see women inside, enduring the hardships and sacrifices, leaving their sons and daughters for a greater cause.”
“ There is respect, trust and confidence. They encourage me, tell me to be safe, don’t get caught, etc.”
Q: Do you have any last words you want us to tell?
“I think women have to participate in the revolution. We cannot end women oppression if we cannot end all forms of oppression in class, ethnicity, and race. That's why we have to join hand in hand with other sectors like the indigenous peoples, workers, fisher folk, peasants and others.”
“As a woman, outside, I was neglected by the government. But inside, I am respected. And I thank the Party and the Army for waking me up.”