It was a Red Friday in Davao City. The streets were filled with posters, streamers and red flags from more than ten thousand people who paid their tribute to Leoncio Pitao popularly known as Kumander Parago Sandoval or Tatay for the people of Paquibato District. Unlike the usual mournful funeral march, Parago’s funeral march was more of a celebration of life, a tribute for a well-spent life, dedicated in service to the people.

The life of Ka Parago is indeed worth to celebrate. Even Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gave utmost respect to the Parago, whom he considers to be a good friend. Undeniably, Ka Parago played an important role in shaping Davao City, in particular by protecting the environment especially the hinterlands of Paquibato District. Ka Parago was known to be one of the supporters of Davao’s mining ban. Such defense of the environment provides the people of Davao a world-class water supply that is in contrast from its neighbor provinces — Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte where mining companies have proliferated.

To his detractors, Parago is considered to be a “communist-terrorist”, and a threat to their self-serving definition of democracy. The past and the present regimes consider Parago as a criminal with 17 warrants of arrest and a P5.60-million bounty on his head.

Ka Parago gained his popularity in carrying out victories in daring tactical offensives against big mining companies, torching environmentally destructive equipment, and arrest of high-ranking military officials whom he treated well in accordance to existing international humanitarian laws.

The well-attended funeral march for Parago was not just a show of force, it was also a political statement. Such attendance and militancy debunk the false claims of the AFP against Parago and it is beyond debate that he is indeed a valiant soldier of the poor and the oppressed. NDFP founding member and former Congressman Satur Ocampo was right, the numbers during the tribute to Parago showed the mass-base of the liberation movement.

He is a well-loved man by the peasant class. For 37 years or almost four decades of struggle, Ka Parago maintained a clear stance to advance the agrarian revolution in the countryside to champion the interests of the toiling rural poor. Agrarian revolution is an important component of the entire national democratic revolution which Ka parago adheres.

Actually, some of us might question the relevance of agrarian revolution waged by Ka Parago of the 1st Pulang Bagani Battalion and the entire national democratic revolution, while there are existing land reform programs of the past and the present administrations.  The answer to such question is simple, the land reform programs, such as Marcos’ Presidential Decree 27 (PPD 27) to Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and Extension (CARPER) were not effective at all.

In Davao region alone, the vast lands were still owned by few landlords, either it was exempted from CARPER or previously covered by CARP, but subsequently re-concentrated to the landlords due to the program’s inutility. This was manifested by the revocable character of CARP’s Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA). There are around 1, 800 CARP “beneficiaries” in the region, 1, 300 of which was revoked, while 544 sold their lands or made their lands as collaterals for their increasing debt under the exploitative usury system.

Hacienda Luisita for example is still being controlled by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan, the president’s family. Instead of parcel of lands were distributed to the farm-workers, bullets from combined state forces and Aquino’s goons were sprayed against them in 2004 which became the infamous Hacienda Luisita Massacre.

Until now, peasant leaders and progressive organizations were being targeted for assassinations among other forms of harassment and state brutality. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas – Southern Mindanao Region (KMP-SMR) Secretary General Aida Seisa and Compostela Farmer’s Association (CFA) Chairman Bello Tindasan’s residences were indiscriminately strafed by suspected state forces in two separate incidents a few weeks ago.

The ineptness of the government pushes our people to seek substantive reform far different from the government’s shameful land reform programs, while state violence pushed them to their limits to seek for defense and revolutionary violence is one of the most potent form in the countryside. The very same reason that pushed Ka Parago 37 ago to join the armed revolution.

Maybe for the state forces Ka Parago was indeed a criminal, but we have to think about this, a frugal man with the noblest intentions to distribute land to the tillers through the national democratic revolution will never be a terrorist and could perhaps be a hero in the contemporary history of this nation.

A known dissident and Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro said when he was imprisoned after the Moncada attack, “only history will absolve me!” In the case of Ka Parago, history was written with red inks in the streets of Davao and it resonates even on the international liberation movement highlighting the validity of the agrarian revolution and Asia’s longest running armed struggle.

In a society full of inequalities and despair, the army of the oppressed will always be a hero, their life and struggle will remain as an inspiration.

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