To Suffer Thy Comrades

Robert Francis Garcia

To Suffer Thy Comrades: How the Revolution Decimated its Own
Robert Francis Garcia

Quezon City / Anvil Press / 2001

Editor’s Note: To Suffer Thy Comrades describes in detail Bobby Garcia’s life as a New People’s Army guerrilla based in Southern Tagalog, particularly his experience – together with many others – of interrogation and torture during the anti-infiltration purges of the 1980s. The book won the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award (Social Science category) in 2001 and reached #8 on National Bookstore’s bestseller list in late 2002. The subject of much current debate, it is now in its second printing.

Garcia is one of the convenors of PATH (Peace Advocates for Truth, Justice and Healing), a network of NGOs, survivors and their families, peace and human rights groups, and academics. PATH calls on the Philippine Left to undertake a serious process of self-reflection, works to document the purges and assist the victims, and advocates a Truth Commission in the Philippines to objectively investigate human rights violations committed by state and movement alike. He currently works as programme officer of ASPBAE (Asia-South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education).

Adapted from the author’s remarks at the book launch on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2001.

I would like to begin by saying that this is not a feel-good book. Some of the things written here could make you squirm, some could make you cry. The book talks about a very dark period in the history of the Philippine revolutionary movement. It talks about the torture and death of hundreds of revolutionaries at the hands of their own comrades. It talks about purges.

Some friends ask me why I had to write about this at all. It has been a long time already. This has been settled. It has been “assessed.” I tell them I did it to satisfy two needs: my own need to understand and society’s need to know. The movement failed to satisfy either of them. My own quest for understanding has never been easy. The so-called objectivity and detachment that normally attend research undertakings were absent in this case because I was part of the phenomenon I was investigating. It was enormously difficult because silence has a way of insisting upon itself.

I am also aware that many people would not want this book to come out at all. It bares things so unpleasant to talk about. But for me, it proved even harder to shut up and let bygones be bygones.

The most frequent reproach I receive from comrades is that the movement is like a family. Internal family matters, especially really unsavory ones, should stay within, they say. The “skeletons in the closet” are better kept away from public attention and scrutiny, for they are private affairs which are the sole responsibility of the family. I’ve heard this argument from so many different people, it seems to be the “official line” of the movement.

I readily agree that the movement is like a family, with its own problems and its own secrets. I accept that, and I make no bones about it. I have also been a part of that family, and I honestly hold some warm affection for it to this day. For one thing, many of my colleagues are still there, making their own sacrifices for the “cause.” But I can assent to silence only if the “skeletons” are figurative. Not when skeletons are literally out there, buried somewhere in shallow mass graves awaiting their due.

I likewise believe the public has no right to interfere in arguments between couples. They can discuss and debate and raise their voices as much as they want. But once the husband beats up the wife, or vice versa, or if children are being abused, it ceases to be a private affair. It becomes a concern of society, which then has the right to intervene. And when a family member dies at the hands of another family member, it is a crime. Society has the right to know and the responsibility to take action. As far as the sanctity and privacy of the family is concerned, we draw the line at domestic violence.

That is also how I look at the movement. Members can debate endlessly and throw polemics in each other’s faces all they want, but the moment they begin torturing and killing people, it is no longer an internal matter. For then we come to questions of accountability and fundamental human rights, in which we all have a stake.

Other people have objected that this book could be harmful to the movement because it can be used by the enemy. Perhaps. Truth revealed is dangerous in the hands of the wrong people. But it is a hundred times more dangerous if truth is not revealed at all. Nothing is more dangerous than atrocious acts unaccounted for. After the Holocaust of the Jews, after the brutality of apartheid, after the mass rapes of Bosnia, survivors have borne witness. How can there be trials and expiation if the atrocities are never known? For justice to prevail, there must first be knowledge. Truth is more than a weapon. It is a prerequisite 

This book may not be perfect. It has its lapses and some may disagree with its analysis. But no one can deny the reality of what I try to illustrate. At the very least, I hope the book will serve as a first step toward coming to terms with the demons that have haunted the revolutionary movement for so long. I have always held that the movement would come out better and stronger if it would face up to these events and undertake a sincere process of reparation and rectification that involves the public, the very people it supposedly serves. I just want to start that process. I hope the movement and all those who took part in these events, whatever their role, will not turn their back on it.

I am happy to say that in writing this book, I have come to a great deal of understanding. It was both an education and a process of acceptance. For many of my tormentors were my close friends. I no longer hold it against them. I now understand why they felt compelled to do the things they did. I am no longer angry at them… except for a very few. But I hope you could at least grant me that 

Ultimately, I can declare that I do not regret having been part of the movement, notwithstanding the painful doses it administered. It gave me a vast field of experience that I couldn’t dream of getting elsewhere. (Not that I would want to experience it again.) It afforded me a deep insight into the human character – both its frailties and its potential to do great things against all odds.

Of course if the movement would ask me to carry an Armalite rifle again and live in the forest with the mites, the mosquitoes, and the snakes, I would have to beg off. But to them I say with honesty, without bitterness, and with so many words to read between the lines: best wishes and more power.

Robert Francis Garcia

Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Issue 3:  Nations and Other Stories. March 2003