In Her Own Words: Sharing of Ka Handum

Liberation International is reprinting The Sharing of Ka Handum that came out in the revolutionary cultural publication ULOS in 2022.  Ka Handum is the nom de guerre of Comrade Wilma Austria Tiamzon, a courageous noble revolutionary martyr of the Filipino people who was brutally killed by the forces of the fascist Armed Forces of the Philippines. In short vignettes, she narrated her experience as a trade union organizer, work in the province of Samar and Central Luzon. Her outstanding work and performance of tasks and responsibilities were acknowledged by the Communist Party of the Philippines, the comrades and masses she by entrusting her with responsible high positions in the Party organization.

I heard the stories narrated by the old folks in our neighborhood about the hardships during the time of the Japanese occupation. My grandfather was a guerrilla who escaped the torture of the Japanese, their stories were imprinted in my consciousness; it was always a special occasion to watch the band and town parade and the waving of the Philippine flag every June 12 to commemorate Philippine Independence Day; I like to listen to one particular song of the Hukbalahap (Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon – People’s Army Against Japan) taught to us by our third grade elementary teacher, also her stories about the lives of the guerrillas; and some high school teachers who spoke to our class about their patriotic sentiments and social commentaries.

I was attracted to the group discussions at the UP (University of the Philippines) that discussed patriotic writings and books of the likes of Claro M. Recto and Renato Constantino, and the Struggle for National Democracy (SND) by Jose Maria Sison. These paved the way to sit down with the group for further discussions of several articles of great Communist teachers like Marx and Mao. I joined rallies and integrations in the workers picket lines until I decided to join Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK-Democratic Association of Youth).  It was during the discussion groups and in the SDK labor committee that my high school boyfriend and I met and sealed our political path which became a revolutionary love relationship nearly half a century ago.

Amado Guerrero’s Ang Krisis at Rebolusyong Pilipino, which was later published under the title Philippine Society and Revolution (Lipunan at Rebolusyong Pilipino) formed my understanding of the condition of the people, encouraging me to appreciate the study of Philippine history, pointed out why the poverty of the broad Filipino masses cannot be solved because of the existence of the three fundamental problems of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism that have burdened the people, and laid out firmly why a new type of national-democratic revolution is absolutely necessary under the leadership of the proletariat and its party, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The power of the revolutionary theory of the Philippine society and revolution cannot be underestimated in rousing all the motive forces of the revolution. It should and must be the starting point and stepping stone for understanding other specific conditions and issues of classes and sectors.

At the beginning of the first semester of the second year of college, before the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971, I decided to work full-time in the revolution. I was just one of the thousands of offsprings of the storm (First Quarter Storm) of 1970 in the new revolutionary stirrings under the leadership of the CPP. Before martial law, until the early part of the Marcos dictatorship, I performed the duties of the secretary of the trade union movement in a district and at the same time was a member of the district committee. I became the trade union movement secretary in the textile and garment line industry in the Manila-Rizal region and became the secretary of the regional bureau in the trade union movement before I was arrested in July 1973. In between these times I became the secretary of the district I was assigned to.

During the storm, new recruits, young people and reliable bodies for various tasks rapidly appeared, the pace of conducting the work was extraordinary; days became nights and there were a lot of studies and theoretical explorations to be put into practice, large-scale actions and changes easily took shape. My experience of action in Manila-Rizal that lasted just over two years provided invaluable lessons and wisdom that served as a long-term foundation for carrying out work in the countryside and on wider levels.  The method of sporadic visits on the picket line and integration and support for the striking workers during our time on the Labor Committee in SDK were not enough.  It was necessary to visit the factories, systematically plan their organization on a district-wide basis with an appreciation of the size of the factory workforce and its strategic economic and political significance, incorporate specific issues of the trade union movement in the continuous study of Philippine Society and Revolution and MLM (Marxism-Leninism-Maoism) theory. The desire of the workers to build their own union was strong. The number of unionized workers was still very small, and in the factories that had a union, even if it was held by the yellows, it was a company union.

The number of factories that could be reached by the organizing groups was still limited.  During the storm, it was necessary to seize the recognition of the national-democratic movement by the working masses and to establish mass connection with the workers and to gather the loosely organized into a broad organization.

A simple project of an open lecture on unionism and the labor movement whose invitations were simply posted at bus stops and churches attracted an attendance of over a hundred. From this, the Progressive Union of Workers in the district was formed. It became a productive center for the training of organizers, revolutionaries, became a school for MLM, expansion, support during strikes, mobilization in rallies and many others. It became a model for the formation of similar alliances in other parts of Manila-Rizal, and it can be said that it became a seed experience for the establishment of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU-May 1st Movement).

There were major trade union struggles launched in the district, most of which turned violent due to the forced dismantling of picket lines by strikebreakers and goons who were supported by the police. I directly participated and was a part of many of these strikes. I learned that the strike was bravely sustained. Firstly, due to the unity and steadfastness of the factory workers with a revolutionary core at the leadership. Secondly, the strike was sustained through the help of other workers, and thirdly, through the support from other existing mass organizations. The last strike I participated in was preceded by a declaration of martial law—a strike at Presto/CFC by employees supported by rank-and-file unions from various CFC factories. Two workers on the picket line were shot and killed by the security of the factory while they were preventing the forced dismantling of their picket line by goons and strikebreakers. I was on the picket line when it happened. I just heard that after more than 40 years, the decision was a victory for the workers’ strike.

The period of my work in a Manila-Rizal district was a period of intense mobilization for rallies in the center of Manila. It was a period of intensive propaganda-agitation work and tireless recruitment and building of chapters of mass organizations to mobilize large forces for mass actions. It was a time when we organized a long march (modelled after the long march of 1971 against poverty participated by farmers) that went around the entire district and was fashioned as a rally-propaganda-education-recruitment march. It was an era of forming broad alliances and organizing cultural activities in communities and streets. It was a time of deploying forces for specific battles of district-level significance; pulling forces from other tasks to help the masses affected by the widespread flooding of July-August in 1972 which resulted in strong ties with the masses for the continuation of organizing in their communities, factories and schools after the flood, recruiting Party members and starting to send cadres and activists to the countryside.

When the districts were abolished during the early days of martial law, I was appointed to head the textile and garment line industry and later became the secretary of the regional trade union movement. In this short period of time, all forces under the area of leadership were united in the policy of upholding, as much as possible, the spirit of disobedience against the prohibitions and suppression of martial law in the labor movement, not to cower and bow down to the threats of the dictatorship, pursue group discussions and studies in a secret way, develop a secret system of distribution of literature, turn the many houses of the workers into a network of meeting places, gather strength and launch potential union struggles, and encourage those ready to go to the countryside to serve the armed struggle. Some strikes were launched but were not sustained in the face of the strong reaction from the capitalists and the fascist state. Until I was arrested in July 1973.

The revolutionary consciousness I developed, the actions and struggles with the masses and many comrades, and my deep hatred towards the enemy became my source of strength to firmly face and overcome the interrogation and torture of the enemy when I was arrested.

The experience of being arrested and detained became an additional incitement to the decisiveness to immediately be free in order to return to the mainstream of the struggle. We reached the already established areas in Samar, particularly in some towns in Western Samar and Eastern Samar. We were assigned in December 1975 to a division of Samar – the Northern Area which covers the towns in the northern half from the three provinces of Eastern Samar, Western Samar or just Samar and Northern Samar (Samar was then divided into the Northern Area and Southern Area). In parallel with this was the work at the regional level. In January 1976, I joined the previous batch that included my husband to Eastern Samar after an 11-day journey.

Our Northern Area committee has now become a three-tiered committee —working as a guerrilla field committee, as a Northern Area committee and as a regional executive committee. This arrangement was productive because we focused on the actual development of a guerrilla front, using the experience we gained for expansion to the rest of the northern part of the island, and to lead the entire region. The committee within the Northern Area was a good and successful leadership committee where the talents and skills of all its members were well gathered and harnessed.

Within three years, from 1976 to 1978, the formation of mass organizations spread like fire in the barrios, the Philippine Society and Revolution, teachings and lessons of the MLKMZD or MLM were spread, the anti-feudal movement was launched characterized by the large-scale formation of people’s militias, young people enthusiastically joining the NPA, and eventually the formation of the main platoon force of the NPA for the entire Northern Area and other squads and platoons located in the three rear guerrilla areas of the district, and emergence of capable local cadres to lead districts and sections. My main role was in education and propaganda work, so I contributed to the formulation of short courses in mass and Party studies, traveling to give studies to army units, to district and section committees and even mass organizations. For a short time, I was the secretary of the resettled barrios in the forest area, able to gather direct personal experience in the formation and operation of full-fledged mass organizations, waging the antifeudal struggle and developing social research and class analysis in the barrios.

The said three years was marked by a new level of revolutionary maturity in terms of my grasp of MLMZD, knowing firsthand the conditions of the Philippine countryside, and applying revolutionary theory and practice in advancing the revolutionary armed struggle.

I value the lessons on how the peasant masses can be quickly aroused, organized and mobilized from the concrete method of simple cooperatives or cooperative endeavors, of using the principles of political economy to analyze the status of the rural classes, of launching productive investigation meetings, the formation of NPA units and lessons in launching tactical offensives, and the successful gathering and formulation of policies and guidelines for the overall advancement of the revolutionary struggle

The work in Central Luzon became a new challenge and further enriched our understanding of revolutionary theory and deepened our revolutionary practice. It was a time for another storm – the anti-dictatorship storm that led to the popular uprising at the same time as the military rebellion that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship. It was again a time of leaps and bounds in theoretical and practical knowledge in the revolution.

The outpouring of anger against the Marcos dictatorship after the assassination of former senator Benigno Aquino, Sr. was amazing. The previously dormant towns in different parts of Central Luzon rose up and spontaneously took to the streets. At this time, the issue is how to combine rural strength with massive street action in the urban centers, how to seize extraordinary opportunities to quickly expand and strengthen both the rural and urban areas and how the NPA can contribute to the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship.

A significant large-scale action that Central Luzon participated in was the Lakbayan of 1984 to promote the boycott movement against the fake IBP (Interim Batasang Pambansa) Election of the Marcos dictatorship. It linked the boycott campaign to the call to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship, to fight imperialism, which was propping up the fascist dictatorship, and to promote genuine land reform.

The preparation for the Lakbayan and the actual Lakbayan was truly a feast for the masses. Entire villages spent the night preparing the food to bring, organizing marching groups, appointing marshals, painting placards and streamers, arranging shelters and sleeping quarters, forming a group of speakers in each stop stations and diligently gathering financial support.

In fact, the warmth of the countryside and the city met. Donations of food and water flowed; even extra places to sleep. Many people contributed financial assistance that exceeded the needs of the Lakbayan. Speakers at impromptu rallies at every station were listened to attentively and cultural performances were enthusiastically applauded. For the rural masses of Central Luzon who have long suffered from large-scale and brutal military operations, participating in such a broad open mobilization to denounce and protest against the fascist Marcos dictatorship was like releasing water that had long been stored in a dam. Everyone felt that the Marcos fascist dictatorship was doomed to fall.

For me, the victory of the revolution and a bright morning for the oppressed and exploited masses and the proletariat class are proven every day by the masses’ embrace of the revolutionary theory of society and the Philippine revolution – in their organizing and struggle, in persistence of the NPA on the path of armed struggle, in the full effort of the CPP to merge the universal theory of MLM with the concrete practice of revolution by the Filipino people.

I have full trust in the masses and in the Party that we will reach greater times than the previous storms and achieve the complete victory of the revolution. Even if new obstacles and difficulties arise in the march to victory, the lessons of the past, the leadership of the Party and the awakening of the masses will surely prevail.