Being a member of communist revolutionary groups for most of her life, 29-year-old Magdalena Gano now takes on a different role in her community.
Growing up with limited access to education, Gano said her community was lured to be educated in the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) offered by communist groups.
She said her parents allowed her to study in TRIFPSS with hopes of her getting a good education.
“Wala kaming pera na pang-aral sa akin so dun na lang kami sa libreng school. Lumipas ang panahon, nag-iba na ang tinuturo sa amin, lagi na kaming magra-rally, dinadala kami kahit saan (We don’t have money to finance my studies, so we opted for the school that offered free education. As time passed by, things being taught to us changed. We are always asked to attend rallies and we’re brought anywhere),” she said.
Gano spent 14 years with the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and its political wing Bayan Muna, from her childhood days up to the time she decided to leave the group in 2016.
During her stay with the leftist movement, Gano said she goes by the name “Cecil”.
She narrated that she joined various rallies organized by the leftist groups, including the Manilakbayan in 2016 but admitted that her participation did not result in anything good.
“Pag-uwi ko, nakaisip ako na yung pamilya ko napabayaan na. Nagsama-sama ako wala naman akong nakuha. Naisip ko na susuko na lang ako (When I come home, I always think that I have neglected my family. I went with the movement, but I got nothing from it. So, I decided to just quit),” she said in an interview.
Gano said she also realized that some of the values of the CPP-NPA is not in line with her own values and principles.
“Bakit tinuturuan ang mga batang magsinungaling? Doon ko naisip-isip na hindi tama itong grupong napasukan ko. At saka sa sarili naming tribo, nasasaktan ako na lokohin ko yung tribo ko (Why are they teaching children to lie? That was the point when I thought I was in the wrong group. It pains me when I deceive my own tribe),” said Gano, a member of the Manobo tribe.
She also admitted that the CPP-NPA charges revolutionary taxes as she herself collected them from establishments in their area, with threat of arson for those unwilling to pay.
She said the turning point for her to return to the government fold was when her uncle was killed by communist rebels on mere suspicion of being an intelligence officer for the military.
At that point, she asked her superiors to transfer her from the armed group NPA to its political wing Bayan Muna.
From the highlands to the lowlands, she got an opportunity to be offered to return to her normal life when she talked to her former communist comrades who have surrendered to authorities.
From that point onward, Gano devoted her time helping her community by convincing her tribe mates to enroll their children in Department of Education-accredited schools.
Being a former rebel surrenderer, she was offered to train to be part of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU). Since June this year, Gano has been working with CAFGU, tasked with organizing tribes and communities for meetings and dissuading them from joining leftist groups. With her allowance, she said she is able to save money and help her family.
Gano admitted that she and her parents still get threats from the NPA for speaking up and joining CAFGU. She, however, is unfazed by this.
“Kung hindi ako tatayo, sino ang tatayo? Papano yung mga katribo kong api-apihin? (If I won’t stand up and speak out, who will? What will happen to my tribe mates who are being abused?),” she said. (ER/PNA)