By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
ALIPATO — Ka Luis Taruc
Directed by Dik Trofeo
THIS DOCUMENTARY consists mainly of interviews with the former Huk Supremo Luis Taruc which were conducted during the last years of his life. By then, the filmmaker Dik Trofeo had grown so close to Taruc that he called Trofeo his second son. (Taruc had only one son: Romeo, by his first wife Feliciana Bernabe. He had three wives.) Other producers have attempted to make unauthorized bio-pics of Taruc, including one with action star Senator Lito Lapid, but Trofeo’s film has Taruc’s imprimatur. “Ka Dik” and his camera crew tagged along with the peripatetic Taruc on his provincial sorties to stomp for peasant cooperatives. By then, he had ceased to be either Maoist or Marxist and was inducted by the National Historical Commission into our National Hall of Heroes.
“The Philippine revolution needs to be indigenized,” observed National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose who was a young journalist during the post-WWII pistaym (peacetime) when the Huk was an armed force of 12,000 strong, with at least two million peasant and civilian sympathizers, or about 10% of our population then. Thousands had demonstrated when Taruc and his second-in-command, Casto Alejandrino, were detained by the Quirino Administration. Former South African President Nelson Mandela acknowledged his debt to Born of the People, written by Taruc under the pseudonym “Alipato (meaning ‘spark’ or ‘ember’), with help from the American sympathizer William Pomeroy who was married to an amazona (a female Huk). Mandela used Taruc’s book as a valuable resource on guerilla warfare for the armed wing of the South African National Congress.
Much of the film consists of Taruc reminiscing on the history he’d lived through, or expounding in extreme close-up, on his own political beliefs. He was an avid reader of the newspaper op-ed pages. He compared then newbie President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) to a harlot too quick to spread her thighs, upon her volunteering Philippine support for the US President George W. Bush, without even being asked, in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York. This ungallant remark ostensibly reached GMA, who instead of getting mad at Taruc, offered him a Land Bank directorship.
Taruc refused: “You can’t buy me with dirty politics.” This line might be his meme, as it’s repeated throughout the film. Unfazed, GMA asks Taruc’s permission to offer the Land Bank board seat to his son Romy instead, who accepts. Perhaps it was GMA’s way of making up for her father, former President Diosdado Macapagal’s refusal to pardon Taruc during his term, despite their both being Kapampangan. President Ferdinand E. Marcos released Taruc in 1968, and he became the Apo’s poster boy for Marcosian agrarian reform. He explained that working with Marcos was necessary to get the Huk recognized as a legitimate guerilla force so that they could collect benefits as WWII veterans.
Taruc also explained the infamous massacre of former First Lady Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon and her entourage in April 1954. Quezon City Mayor Ponciano Bernardo, a member of Dona Aurora’s group, was said to closely resemble former President Elpidio Quirino who was purportedly the real target of the ambush. Doña Aurora’s ill-fated party was escorted to Baler by two army transport trucks which further misled the rebels into believing that they were there to protect Quirino himself. Taruc surrendered soon after the Quezon tragedy. He claimed that the late Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. double-crossed him by failing to come through with the promised pardon from President Ramon Magsaysay.
Apart from the occasional archival footage, there are attempts at recreating history. Particularly moving is the re-enacted scene from Taruc’s boyhood, of his barely literate parents, who were tenant farmers, using kernels of corn to calculate what their portion of the harvest would be, vis-à-vis what they would have to give to their landlord, mostly in usurious interest payments. Sionil Jose, who calls Taruc a true nationalist, complained that the two-hour documentary was too long. Actually, given Taruc’s place as a leader of the prevalent counter-force to the infant Philippine government, this documentary might have worked better as a longer mini-series in the Ken Burns mode, so that every episode might focus in greater detail on an early developmental stage in our continuing struggle for democracy and nationhood. The events of 1946 when Taruc attempted to participate in legitimate government are barely mentioned. He was elected congressman then, but President Manuel A. Roxas maneuvered to immediately unseat him along with other members of the oppositionist Democratic Alliance. In the documentary, Taruc recounts how Roxas had earlier asked him to run as his vice-president. Taruc went underground again. In less than a decade, the Huk was decimated by infighting.
In “The Philippines A Century Hence,” our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal declared that: “All the petty insurrections that have occurred in the Philippines were the work of a few fanatics or discontented soldiers, who had to deceive and humbug the people or avail themselves of their powers over their subordinates to gain their ends. So, they all failed. No insurrection had a popular character, or was based on a need of the whole race, or was fought for human rights or justice; so it left no ineffaceable impressions… when they saw that they had been duped, the people bound up their wounds and applauded the overthrow of the disturbers of their peace! But what if the movement springs from the people themselves and based its causes upon their woes?”
Given its unprecedented numbers, the Huk was such a movement of the people. Taruc was not a fundamentalist though, of any school of Communist ideology. He deplored the hard-core intolerance of other Philippine Communist leaders for any dissent or perceived deviation from the book or the party line. Think of the NPA purges. Taruc’s vice, Casto Alejandrino, personally carried the order from the PKP (Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas) secretariat, to arrest his Supremo on charges of deviating from the party line, which led to Taruc’s surrender to the Magsaysay government.
A 1952 report on Philippine peasants noted “that the rank and file of tenants seek to become individual owners of the land they cultivate was proof against their adherence to, or understanding of the basic principles of communism. This knowledge, however, adds little comfort, for the fact remains that the strength and bulk of rebellious tenants are being used to support the communism which champions their cause.” This is still happening 70 years later. These may not be the last days though, when “our sons and our daughters shall prophesy, and our young men shall see visions.” Meanwhile, in Alipato, our old men dream their dreams.