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Rebellion in Catanduanes
By Perry M. Calara, Kaiba News and Features--Bicol
Now that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US
government is aiming its gun at the New People's Army (NPA),
and the NPA has established a base in Catanduanes,
Catandungans can expect their island to become a battlefield.
Even before President Gloria Arroyo ordered a redeployment of
troops to NPA areas, there were already reports of encounters
between government troops and the NPA guerillas in
Catanduanes. In early July 2002, two police persons were
killed when NPA attacked the police station in the
municipality of Bagamanoc. Last February 2002 a suspected NPA
was gunned down by government forces while riding a motorbike.
The military already acknowledged that Catanduanes is one of
the areas where the NPA has expanded. The island-province is
in the eastern part of the Bicol facing the Pacific Ocean.
Expansion in 1997.
In 1997 residents observed that there were suspicious looking
group of people from the mainland Bicol who came to the
island. A former municipal kagawad of San Miguel town
described the activity of that group as, "dati nagtitinda lang
sinda nin sigid, pagkatapos nin pirang taon namalisyahan mi
kaiba na sinda kan mga nasa itaas" (they use to sell broom,
then we noticed that they were already with a group in the
mountain). This suspicious looking group is described by
Victor Corpus in his book Silent War to be the, "liaison group
that avoids military activities in order not to induce
government troops to launch a major operation against them."
One Catandungan interviewed by the Kaiba News and Feature (KNF)
said that, "dati ginigibo lang kan mga taga mainland (Bicol)
an Catanduanes para sa rest and recreation…lalu na idtong hali
sa Caramoan." (Those "guerillas" from the mainland Bicol used
to make Catanduanes a "rest and recreation" area…particularly
those from Caramoan)." The Caramoan Peninsula of Camarines
Sur, west of Catanduanes is in the third district of Camarines
Sur. The third district is the birthplace of the NPA in Bicol.
According to a document at the Tigaon Museum, in Camarines
Sur, Romullo (kumander Tangkad) and Benjie Jallores planted
the seed of the NPA guerilla warfare in Bicol to fight the
The brothers started the organization in the boundaries of
Tigaon and Ocampo towns, about three towns away from the
municipality of Caramoan. The NPA did not consider Catanduanes
for their expansion. From Tigaon-Ocampo area, the NPA expanded
to Albay. In 1972, just when Marcos declared Martial law, they
started organizing in the province of Sorsogon.
The NPA started organizing in Masbate a few years before the
1986 People Power. Masbate is the other island-province in the
south-western part of Bicol.
Although the Jallores brother started organizing the NPA in
Bicol in 1971, it was only in 1997, twenty six years later,
that their organization, as observed by many Catandungans,
made Catanduanes as one of their guerilla bases.
The KNF asked some government line agency personnel and
residents to estimate the number of the guerillas in
Catanduanes. Those who answered estimated that it is about 20
to 30 armed guerillas. A residents of an upland barangay in
Catanduanes observed that, "minsan mga tolo lang sinda, minsan
kinsi na may mga darang halaba" (sometimes they are in a group
of three, sometimes they are in a group of 15 with long
firearms). This observation is a classic guerilla tactic from
Sun Tzu's Art of War. A tactic used by Mao Tse Tung: expand
when needed by the situation, and disperse when there is a
stronger enemy force.
Guerilla movement in Catanduanes is not new. In the 1896
revolution, thousands of Catandungans joined the revolutionary
guerillas in Catanduanes to fight the Spanish colonizers. Jose
Maria Panganiban led the guerillas in the northern part of the
province. Today, a town in the island was named after him.
Because of the brave effort and sacrifices of the
revolutionaries, the Spaniards left the island in September
During the Filipino-American war, many Catandungans again
bravely fought the new colonizers. One Prominent battle
happened in the town of Bagamanoc where the guerillas, led by
Apolonio Cueva, killed an American officer. Many Catandungan
were detained and killed by the American military during that
war. One of those killed was Mariano Alano, the Capitan del
Pueblo of Buagao, Bagamanoc.
When the Japanese colonizers came, the Catandungans organized
the Catanduanes Liberation Forces (CLF). This guerilla group
was led by Salvador Rodolfo.
The CLF fought the Japanese without any external help. They
were fearless and fought hard that the Japanese forces were
virtually destroyed. When the American forces, the supposedly
liberators, arrived in Catanduanes in 1945 the island was
basically free from Japanese military forces.
Fifty two years after the guerilla forces under the CLF
defeated the Japanese colonizers in Catanduanes, the NPA
started organizing their own guerilla force.
Politics and Economy
For decades, the island is being controlled by a few clan;
and, the church during the Spanish period. They are basically
the elite who controlled the economy and the seat of power in
the island. The poor peasant sector, who is the majority of
the Catandungans, has not been near that seat of power.
During the American period, the Vera family was the political
kingpin. Jose Vera from Pandan, Catanduanes was one of the
Senators when the Philippines was still under the American
colonizers. Pedro Vera, Brother of Jose, also became a
The First Governor of Catanduanes in 1947 was Alfonso Usero
nephew of the Vera Brothers.
From 1951 to 1986, it was the Albertos who controlled the
political power of the province-particularly Vicente and Jose
Alberto. But it was during the Marcos regime that the Albertos
and the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) became very powerful.
Senator Francisco "kit" Tatad, from the town of Gigmoto,
although a former KBL and Public Information Minister of
Marcos, opposed the Albertos. Tatad aligned himself with the
Estrada camp during the impeachment trial of the ousted
president Joseph Estrada.
After the 1986 and 2001 People Power, the family of Leandro
Verceles Sr., a family close to President Fidel Ramos, emerged
as the dominant Political clique in the province. During the
2001 elections, the Verceles camp was challenged by four big
political names in Catanduanes: Alberto, Sarmiento-Alcantara,
In addtition to a situation where the political power is being
controlled by the elite, the poor economy of Catanduanes is
also pushing the peasants of the island to embrace the cause
of any group that promises to give them political and economic
power. It will not be a surprise if many of them will support
the cause of the NPA.
In the Town of San Miguel, it was reported by the municipality
in 2000 that ninety eight percent (98%) of the residents,
particularly those living in the upland barangays of J.M.
Alberto, San Marcos, Kilikilihan, and Tobrehon, live below the
poverty line. The average household income, particularly in
the upland barangays, was about PhP18,000.00 per annum.
Province-wide, however, the average income in 1997 was
PhP83,605 per anum.
Typhoons which regularly pass the island contribute to the
economic difficulty of Catanduanes.
Because of the government's all-out war declaration against
the NPA and the expansion of the NPA in Catanduanes,
Catandungan can expect their island to become a battlefield
(Kaiba News and Features, email: email@example.com,