Ka Juanito Magbanua, spokesperson of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command - New People's Army Negros Island, Philippines holds a tablet featuring an article from the Sun Star, dated August 6, 2021, when Orato first contacted him.

Philippines communist resistance fights deep in the jungle

Deep in the jungle of Negros Island, Philippines, a Communist insurgency marches on, 52 years into the guerilla war.

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Interview Subject
Pictured above: ” I am Ka Juanito Magbanua, NPA” (New People’s Army) reads the sign Ka Juanito Magbanua holds, dated July 8, 2021.

Ka Juanito Magbanua was born in a small coastal village outside Bacolod City, Negros Island, Philipines. 

He is the spokesperson for the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command of the New People’s Army on Negros Island. 

A part of the New People’s Army (NPA) since 1994, Ka Juanito Magbanua lives deep in the jungle and is constantly on the move as he evades government capture. 

He is a regularly quoted source in Filipino media.
Background
The New People’s Army (NPA) is the militant wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines and has been fighting a guerilla war since 1969. 

They are believed to have 110 guerrilla fronts across 73 of the country’s 81 provinces. The guerrilla fronts are said to be made up of villages loyal to the NPA, paramilitary militia recruited from the villages, and full-time NPA soldiers. 

Officially considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the E.U., New Zealand, and the Philippines, the NPA claims to be the voice of the peasant class. 

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has made anti-insurgency fundamental to his platform. 

Duterte has claimed a number of recent victories against the NPA on Negros Island including: 

Seizing two NPA bases after NPA soldiers fled in Sitio Manulaya, Barangay Tan-awan, Kabankalan town in July 2021. 

Dismantling two NPA fronts in Komiteng Rehiyonal Negros/Cebu/Bohol/Siquijor after 60 NPA soldiers surrendered in May 2021.

Killing 10 NPA soldiers in Bacolod City ,Ka Juanito Magbanua’s hometown, in March 2021.

Ka Juanito Magbanua told Orato he considers each one of these government claims to victory as proganda and false.

The NPA claim victory in the July 2021 battle and to have killed three members of the Philippine Army’s 94th Infantry Battalion.

Ka Juanito Magbanua denies any dismantling of NPA fronts have occurred.

As for the battle in Bacold City, Ka Juanito Magbanua conceeded the NPA lost 10 soldiers and killed five.

The Killed In Action Phillipine Army forces were from the 62nd Infantry Battalion, the 16th Scout Ranger Company and 33rd Division Reconnaissance Company, according to Ka Juanito Magbanua.

NEGROS ISLAND, Philippines It was 2 a.m. on a memorable morning in 2004 when we launched a raid on the Philippine military’s militia, known as the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU). 

CAFGU is an auxiliary army created to fight what the Philippine government calls insurgents. I am one of those insurgents. 

Residents of Negros Island, where I’ve lived all my life, complained of CAFGU’s torture, illegal entry into their homes, and indiscriminate firing. 

We heard the militia was selling drugs and stealing the locals’ water buffalo. 

Our informants in the village where the CAFGU detachment was deployed had laid the groundwork for the raid. 

The villagers told us how many soldiers were stationed there, what firearms they carried, and the placement of their huts and foxholes. 

My brothers in arms snuck into the CAFGU base through the rear while I covered them from outside the building. 

One small creak made CAFGU soldiers wise to our assault. 

Gunfire rang out between us and the militia in the depths of darkness. 

I don’t know if I killed anyone or not because I couldn’t see the enemy I was shooting at. 

We had the element of surprise, and on that occasion, it was enough. 

The CAFGU detachment fled into the night and abandoned their position in the village. 

We took the weapons and equipment they left behind, saving them for the next battle. 

I fight for the New People’s Army (NPA), the militant wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. 

Dreams crushed by poverty

I was born and raised in a coastal village, called a barangay, near Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. 

When I was young, my family and I made our livelihood by selling locally-grown coffee and bibingka (baked rice cake).

My dream was to become an architect, but my family was too poor to send me to college. 

I enlisted with the Philippine Navy and was stationed on the Mindanao island. 

We transported soldiers from the Philippine Marines and Army battalions.

After three years, I left the Navy to become a merchant marine, but jobs were scarce. 

I applied to numerous shipping companies, but I couldn’t land a single job in two years of searching for my new profession.

When I came back to my hometown, resistance was brewing against the government. 

The US-Marcos dictatorship that ruled from 1965 to 1986 believed in “constitutional authoritarianism” and kept the country under martial law from 1972 until 1981.

Many of my barkada (close friends) were members of the Kabataang Makabayan or KM (Patriotic Youth).

We held local protests against the administration and through KM’s educational courses I began to learn the truth about my country. 

The Philippines is a rich country in natural resources whose people are kept poor by U.S. imperialism, domestic feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. 

Marcos was deposed in 1986 and I decided to become a full member of the NPA in 1994. 

My parents and siblings didn’t approve of my decision because they were afraid I might get hurt. 

My friends who knew I was a KM member weren’t surprised with my decision, while other friends were astounded when the news reached them that I went up to the mountains to fight with the NPA.

A rich country with an impoverished population

Negros Island is a vast agricultural land mainly populated with sugarcane plantations. 

Most of the inhabitants (Negrosanon or Negrense) make a living in agriculture. 

A handful of big landlords monopolize vast portions of the arable island area following massive corporate land grabs. 

The impoverished farmers and farm workers depend on the will of these few landlords because they don’t have a path to land ownership. 

Many of them receive wages ranging from PhP100 to PhP200 ($2-$4 USD) for eight hours of work. This is meager compared to the PhP395 ($7.90 USD) regional minimum wage for agriculture set by the government. 

Negros Island residents who often protest for higher wages are met with violent police crackdowns. 

The place I live is a seething volcano of social discontent that could erupt at any time.

When I entered the ranks of the NPA, I was assigned to a squad-sized armed propaganda unit responsible for growing our ranks. 

We recruited locals for armed struggle by telling them they had a right to a decent living, just wages, benefits based on their work, and, most of all, their own land.

I would help organize the locals in demanding lower rent, abolishing predatory loans, and developing cooperative farming practices. 

When that wouldn’t work, we’d seize the farmland by force. 

I’m not a terrorist

But we don’t desire war for war’s sake. 

We fight because of the injustices of destitute poverty that the bloated ruling class will never willfully address. 

My hope is for genuine democracy to flourish in the Philippines and for peace based on social justice.

I reject the “terrorist organization” designation thrust upon the NPA by the West. 

When the NPA executes someone, we only do it following conviction at a public trial. 

We adhere to the International Law on Human Rights and Humanitarian Conduct in the civil war and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

After 27 years of joining the NPA, I don’t have any regrets even though I was not able to achieve my dream of becoming an architect.

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William Koblensky Varela has worked as a journalist in Toronto, Lisbon, and Waterloo, Ontario.

He’s covered community news, finance, North American politics, and viral media.

Will’s most recent experience was running a newsroom and publication house at the University of Waterloo and is now focusing on investigations for Orato.

Reach him here: [email protected]