Davao Today

Side Bar Story Parago : I will not give up the revolution

DAVAO CITY — Commander Parago, the nom de guerre of Leoncio Pitao, leader of New Peoples Armys (NPA) First Pulang Bagani Command in Southern Mindanao, is grieving for the loss of his daughter.

Where journalists found him in Paquibato, a mountainous district at the outskirts of the city, Parago could have easily come down and visit the wake of his daughter. Rebelyn Pitao was abducted on March 4, her body found dumped in an irrigation canal in Carmen town, Davao del Norte a day later.

But just as how hard it is for the military to climb the mountains of Paquibato, so it is for Parago to come down.

He is the most wanted rebel leader in Southern Mindanao. Major General Leo Joggy Fojas, the former area command chief of 10th Infantry (Agila) Division of the Philippine Army, pronounced last year that they would be able to capture the rebel leader by the end of 2008.

A new commanding officer has now replaced Fojas. But Parago is still very much around, leading one NPA tactical offensive after another.

The Pulang Bagani Command, according to a statement by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is responsible in carrying out hundreds of tactical offensives in the region in the past several years.

In January and February this year, two incidents of ambuscades took place in Paquibato, reportedly killing at least two military men, wounding 10 others. There were no reported casualties on the NPA.

In one of these instances, a commanding officer almost got killed when insurgents ambushed the army truck they were riding to Paquibato.

But in November 1999, the military succeeded in capturing Commander Parago. The rebel leader was visiting his home in Barangay Bago Gallera, shortly after the NPA unit that he headed released Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Brigadier General Victor Obillo in Davao.

It was not really my intention to go home that day,” said Parago. But it was All Souls Day and the thought of bico (sweet pudding of glutinous rice) made me think of dropping by the house just briefly, Parago recalled.

But he was wrong. “I did not realize that I was already closely monitored,” he said. The military came and barged into their home before midnight.

Kumander Parago reads the Inquirer story about the abduction of his daughter. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

He recalled how the military poked guns at his childrens faces; Ryan, the eldest, was 14; the youngest, six. He identified Major Randolph Cabangbang, now the spokesperson of Eastern Mindanao Command, among the raiding soldiers. He was still with the 73rd Infantry Battalion at that time, Parago said, referring to Cabangbang.

The Eastmincom is one of the two largest military formations in Mindanao whose jurisdiction include the 4th, 6th and 10th Infantry Divisions, the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, the Philippine Air Forces 3rd Tactical Operations Wing, and the 5th Civil Relations Group.

“I could have put up a fight because I was also armed at that time but they were pointing their guns at my children. They held my children hostage! Parago said.

Parago was consequently put to prison in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. He was released two years later by the Estrada administration as part of the confidence-building measure for the peace talk between the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to resume.

But still, they kept that family house in Bago Gallera. I thought, no matter where I hide my family, the enemy would always find a way to locate them,” he said. He recalled that when his family came to visit him in Camp Aguinaldo, they had to write all their names down on a logbook. “So, I thought, as long as Martial Law will not be declared and human rights laws are not suspended, perhaps my family could still live in the house in Bago Gallera. But it turned out, savages do not have rules, he said.

Parago said even before the gruesome killing of her daughter, he was aware of the possibility that his enemies will come to vent their ire on his entire family.

If they can easily maul poor villagers on mere suspicion that they are sympathizers, if they can kill media persons and even lawyers – people who have the courage to tell the truth and defend the poor – what can restrain them from doing these barbarities to a family of a rebel like me? Parago said.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a known friend of Parago, has offered security and protection to his family but Parago said he could not accept the offer.

The poor have their own government, he said, referring to the national democratic revolution led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the countryside, This government will now be the one to take care of my family.

Parago admitted that in his life as a rebel, the killing of her daughter has been, by far, the heaviest to bear.

They did it to my father,” he said, recalling how in 1978, his father, a farmer in Agusan del Sur, was mauled by soldiers until he coughed up blood. That made me decide to join the NPA, said Parago, who was 21 years old at the time. “They did it to my mother, to my brother, to the masses of people suffering in poverty, he said, And now, they did it to my very young daughter. Tell these savages to come up here in the mountains so that we will face each other in a fair fight, he said.

A rebel and a father

Parago met his wife, Evangeline, in Laac town in Compostela Valley province, where reports of military atrocities against civilians were rampant during the Martial Law years. But incidents of human rights violations against civilians have continued until today.

Laac was the setting of the first documented massive hamletting by the military in the country in the 70s. Until now, one gets to hear of civilians subjected to abuses by soldiers in the course of military operations.

Rebelyn is the third of Parago’s children with wife Evangeline. His children bear the initial R, because as he said, They are all conceived in the revolution.

His children never knew that he was Parago until they were in their teens. They were still too young to understand,” he said. “I have decided to take up arms because of the situation of our nation. If I explained that to them, would they be able to grasp what nation means? he explained.

He said he was always ready with alibis. Sometimes, he would tell them that he is a PICOP worker (a pulp plantation in Surigao province), in another time, he would tell them he works abroad.

But when he was captured in 1999, Parago said he found no better time to tell them.

Ryan, his eldest child, was 15. Rio, the next child was 13, and Rebelyn was only 11. It was during a visit of his entire family to his detention cell at the ISAFP Headquarters in Manila (Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces), that Parago made his disclosure.

I told them, I am what I do, because if we will not fight, time will come, when we will still go hungry because of capitalist exploitation, Parago said.

Paragos only regret, is that, his children grew up away from him and he was not able to enjoy being with them in their growing up years. But he accepted it as part of the life of the sacrifices in the revolution.

Paragos family led a difficult life. He recalled that time his family stayed among the Badjaos (tribe of Moro people) at Isla Verde, one of the seaside slums in the city. When I learned that the house where my family lived in Isla Verde got destroyed by strong waves, it broke my heart that I could not be there to help them put it back together, he recalled.

It was always Evangeline who tried to make both ends meet for the family. Evangeline raise hogs in the backyard to help put food on the table and send the children to school. With the help of friends, the house where his family lives in Bago Gallera was finished. Rebelyn was going there on the night that armed men abducted her.

Memories of a daughter

In December Parago saw Rebelyn. It was my 51st birthday,” he said. I asked them to come here. That was the last time.

Ryan, his son, remembers that day very well because Rebelyn brought some mango float, a sweet dessert made from ripe mango, layered with Graham crackers, condensed milk and cream.

Ryan said he remembers Rebelyn as a responsible, sweet sister. She was very serious in her ambition to become a teacher, he said. “Even when we were very young, she would say that she would like to be a teacher one day. She had good grades in school and indeed, she proved it by finishing college and being accepted at St. Peters (a Catholic School in Toril).”

Parago recalls the time when Rebelyn would ask for some money because she wanted to try a pair of jeans. She was almost high school then, he said. We had no money so I told her to just borrow from her sister. She did not complain and waited until my wife was able to sell some of the hogs she raised in the backyard. She was very happy when, finally, she had her first new pair of jeans,” Parago said.

Also, Parago thinks of her as a very grateful girl. “Even for a P20 load that you give her, she would always text back, Yehey! Thank you pa!”

Even if her father is a rebel, there was never a time that I could hear her taking it against him, Evangeline, her mother, said. “She even said that she would rather that his father stay in the mountains because at least he would be safe there than stay with them and risk his life,” Evangeline said.

“She never complained. When we don’t have viand, she helps herself with soy sauce mixed with rice,” Evangeline said.

Rebelyn finished a Bachelor of Education degree at St. Peter’s College in Toril last year, where after she graduated, she was accepted as a substitute teacher at the schools elementary department.

Evangeline could still recall the first time that Rebelyn received her salary. “She brought home ice cream, chiffon cake and loaves of bread. Her younger brothers were very happy. They would say, ma, at least, we feel how it is to be rich even for just a day.”

Evangeline also finds Rebelyn very prudent with money. She could trust her with the budget. “She refuses to buy even a soft drink because as she would tell her siblings, it is a waste of money and they would rather use the money to buy some viand,” Evangeline said.

Her mother said Rebelyn spends her first salary for the family. “The only thing she bought for herself from her salary was a cabinet. She even set aside some money and gave it to me to keep as her savings, Evangeline said. She would even give some money from her salary to her lola, she said.

“She promised to help his younger brothers and the family. But she is now gone…” Evangeline said.

Parago said among his five children, it was only Rebelyn who asked if he would already be staying with them after his release from prison. “But I told her that if I stay in the house, I would only be serving our family. I explained that there were other people who needed me, Parago said.

Parago himself asked for his daughters remains to be cremated so that time will come when they will be joined with his ashes. If it is not possible for us to be together here because of our situation, we will certainly be together in the next life, Parago said.

Paragos only wish now is to see to it that justice will be served upon her daughters death.

I swear that as long as I live, I will see to it that justice will be delivered. But even if I am already gone, the comrades are there, and the Communist Party will see to it that justice will be given, Parago assured his family.

Parago pinned down Adan Sulao, Helvin Bitang and Ben Tipait of the AFPs Military Intelligence Battalion (MIB) as the ones behind her daughters death.

He said the MIB has its headquarters in Panabo town, Davao del Norte. He also mentioned that these men he named are under a certain Colonel Caliwa of the MIG, and are also the ones responsible for the murder of activists in the region.

Only those with blood in their hands should be afraid,” he said. “The NPAs have principles and laws. We are not bandits. The enemies of the people, the enemies of the revolution must be afraid, Parago said.

He also vowed to launch more tactical offensives against the AFP. What we have programmed before will be doubled, he said.

He said he is not dumb to accept the offer of Major General Raymundo Ferrer, the new commander of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command, for a safe conduct pass for him to attend his child’s wake.

They are like mad dogs howling at the moon,” Parago said of the militarys target of ending the insurgency by 2010. “If they want, this Ferrer (commander of the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command), all these generals, they should come up here, lead their men in their operations. As you can see now, the crisis brought by the capitalist system has spread throughout the world. Here in the country, we, Filipinos, are made to suffer even more. How can they say they can crush the revolutionary forces when there are a lot more of us now who hunger for liberation from the capitalists? One day, the revolution will win and this capitalist system shall be overturned. (Cheryll Fiel/

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