Monday, April 04, 2005

A Narrow Escape

A Narrow Escape from a Military Plot
Willy Marbella’s Odyssey from Bicol to Metro Manila

In the course of his work as an activist leader, Willy Marbella found himself forced to leave his native province in order to elude death threats coming from the powers-that-be. Even so, he continues his work in Metro Manila; he recently found himself in a hunger strike to protest the recent spate of killings of activist leaders.


The left leg of Willy Marbella, national spokesperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement), limps. This is because in 1965, when he was not yet in first grade, he suffered a bad fall from a carabao (water buffalo).

But this physical handicap did not prevent the military in Bicol (southernmost Luzon), whence he came, from branding him a “kumander” of the guerrilla New People’s Army (NPA).

Before he began his stint in December last year as KMP national spokesperson, he was working full-time as the chairperson of the multi-sectoral cause-oriented group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) in the Bicol region.

His work as activist leader in Bicol had everything to do with his moving to Metro Manila. Besides, it added a highly personal streak to his joining the hunger strike led by Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Reps. Rafael Mariano and Crispin Beltran from March 30 to April 1, in protest of the recent spate of killings and abductions of known progressive personalities.

The hunger strike was staged to demand action from the Macapagal-Arroyo administration to stop the spate of activists’ killings.

Thirty-two activist leaders have been killed from January to March 15, based on data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights). These include Tarlac City Councilor Abelardo Ladera, Aglipayan priest William Tadena, and human rights lawyer Felidito Dacut. Meanwhile, seven other activists have disappeared during the same period.

Human rights lawyer Charlie Juloya survived an assassin’s bullets in La Union while another, UN Judge ad litem Romeo T. Capulong, was the target of a foiled assassination attempt in his hometown in Nueva Ecija.

In many of these killings, abductions, and assassination attempts, military and paramilitary forces have been identified by human rights groups, witnesses and survivors of the victims as the prime suspects.

Marbella feels he could have himself ended up in the list of casualties had things turned differently. “The enemy knows how deeply committed I am to the cause of the peasantry and the people as a whole,” he said.

Not new

He is not new to what he describes as the government and the military’s game of demonization, however.

Starting out in 1981 as a member of the Bicol Coconut Planters Association, which fought against the imposition of the coconut levy, Marbella was elected to the KMP National Council in 1987.

As early as the 1980s, Marbella was being linked to the Sparrow Unit, an NPA urban unit that operated during the period. During this time, he would find himself being “invited” to a military camp for questioning.

In 1999, Marbella was elected chairman of Bayan-Bicol.

Two years later, he would start seeing on the walls of Bicol University and other establishments graffiti calling him Kumander (Commander) Willy and warning him to “change his ways.” The graffiti, he said, always carried the signature of the Kilusan Kontra-Komunista (Anti-Communist Movement), a group widely believed to be associated with the military.

In the next two years, Marbella and other activists would always find posters on the walls of the Bayan-Bicol office calling him a “communist and terrorist.” The posters also carried the signature of the Kilusan Kontra-Komunista.

They were also able to monitor, he said, the distribution of flyers calling the Bicol activist groups “front organizations” of the clandestine National Democratic Front (NDF). He also learned that the Department of Social Welfare and Development
(DSWD) used its Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan (Link Arms Against Poverty)-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services or Kalahi-CIDSS program to discredit Bayan-Bicol and the organizations under its umbrella.

“In Bicol as in other parts of the country, mass leaders are demonized in preparation for their liquidation,” Marbella said. “The public mind is conditioned with pictures of the mass leaders as ‘communists’ as a way of making them believe that it would do good if these people should be eliminated.”

Late last year, things would take a turn for the worse.


On Oct. 28, he said, elements of the Philippine Army’s 9th Infantry Division (9th ID, PA) entered the village where he lives. On the night of Nov. 8, he said, they surrounded his house, and he heard some of them talking with neighbors, pretending to be compadres looking for him. Fortunately, he said, his neighbors had the presence of mind to shield him by saying they didn’t know where he was at that hour. The soldiers stayed around and waited for him to arrive.

That same night, the first chance he got, he slipped away from his house.

Two days later, Joel Baclao of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), who was also a regional coordinator of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and who always accompanied Marbella on his trips, was killed. On Nov. 11, Marbella received three text messages saying he was next.

On Nov. 12, a fellow activist would reveal in a Bayan-Bicol meeting that the day before he had happened to be in a church where a military official’s remains were lying in state, and he had overheard soldiers saying that Marbella was the next target.

Marbella left Bicol for Metro Manila on Dec. 9, and the next day he spoke at the Human Rights Day rally as KMP national spokesperson.

There are still soldiers stationed near his house, and he has been receiving reports that his relatives are being harassed, he said.

He says that “the enemy” gained a slight victory by driving him away from Bicol, where he was an activist leader since the 1980s. “But this does not mean the defeat of the mass movement there,” he hastens to add.

“I was pushed into a situation where I had to protect myself to deprive those with evil intentions of a chance to act treacherously against me,” he said.

But does he find Metro Manila a safer place for activist leaders in his condition? “Being here is not really a guarantee that those in my condition would be safe,” he said.

“I would rather think of being here as an expression of determination to continue with my work in the service of the people,” he added. Bulatlat

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