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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.


Jallores Brothers

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 Marcos dictatorship.

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.


Number estimates

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.


Revolutionary Tradition

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 1898.


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 congressman.


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, Sanchez, Santiago.


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:, URL:






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KAIBA News & Features, P.O. Box 6126, Naga City 4400.  email:  Tel No. 0917 8122107 Copyright © 1999  KAIBA News & Features. All rights reserved.  Revised: August 17, 2002