Friday, December 23, 2022



Flashback: Ceasefire 1986

05:05 AM December 23, 2022

With the death on Dec. 16 in the Netherlands of Jose Maria Sison, 83, founding head of the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front/New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA), speculations are rife on what’s ahead for the world’s longest running insurgency which is in the Philippines. No peace talks or ceasefire in the horizon.


Sison was still in prison when I made him tell his story in a two-part series in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine (“Joma tells all,” April 6 and 13, 1986). In December 1986, when the CPP-NDF-NPA and the Cory Aquino government were to hold the first peace talks ever, I wrote the magazine’s Sunday editorial (“Ceasefire: Media’s suckling child,” Dec. 7, 1986). Here are excerpts with some rewrites from 36 years ago:

Imagine yourself waiting on a wharf on a cold morning for a figure to emerge from the mist. Or bathing in a freezing river to wash off mud just before a press conference in the mountain fastness. Or backriding on the wheels of a member of the deadly Sparrow Unit. Or waiting by a doughnut stand where, after half a doughnut, somebody comes to haul you off to an “undisclosed place.” (Eyes down, you are told, so that even if torturers threaten to gouge your eyes, you will never be able to reveal which way you went.)

For journalists who covered the underground, it’s always been a waiting, a leap in the dark, or to borrow more mystical language, an entering into the “cloud of unknowing” from where you emerge later with a story with the whats, wheres, whos, and hows but without the wheres. And if your editor insisted on a place, you had to come up with “the suburbs of Manila” or the “forest primeval.”

Journalists who have been through this since the martial law era and, more recently, during the ceasefire negotiations will hopefully no longer play hide and seek with imagined or real stalkers in military uniforms for a period of 60 days starting Dec. 10 (Human Rights Day) when the ceasefire agreement between the government and communist rebels takes effect.

The ceasefire document signed on Nov. 27, 1986 lists surveillance as one of the “hostile acts” that the two signing parties may not indulge in during the ceasefire period. We, in the media, may sound presumptuous or paranoid in thinking that we are of any consequence, but surveillance was indeed one of the threats reporters feared. Try following a reporter. Where their roads end could be a story and more.

Putting possible stalkers off track was therefore one of those dizzying games reporters played when getting to underground sources. It was fun and exciting only because we psyched ourselves to believe it was so. But it could sometimes be perilous and torturous. For some, it was a death-defying act, especially when they came under heavy mortar fire. One of our photographer-friends recalls how he suddenly froze during one of those, and recovered only when a guerrilla shook his shoulders and said, “Pare, okay lang, walang mangyayari sa iyo!”

Climbing mountains to get “there” was exciting only after, when we regaled friends with jungle stories, close brushes, or how we covered our tracks to protect our news sources and, of course, ourselves. But some colleagues have died in an armed encounter as in the case of the late ace Vietnam war photographer Willy Vicoy and reporter Pete Mabazza. Some of us have been accused of “giving comfort to the enemy” or “writing propaganda” in favor of one side.

The night before the signing of the pact, journalists waiting for NDF negotiators to break the news about the agreement, drank and toasted the ceasefire’s imminent success, stopping only when they thought the heady brew might affect the next day’s headlines.

We will miss those days of living dangerously, and we hope 60 days will be forever. Surely, it is not presumptuous for us to say that somehow, media, despite its faults, played a part in the forging of the peace pact. We would like to think that even in a very small way, we played midwives to this suckling child called ceasefire.


It is the season of Advent. For us, the irreverent lot, here are some Advent lines from Isaiah, the prophet and writer who knows what ceasefire is all about.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb

And the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

And the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

And a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall feed,

Their young shall lie down together

And the lions shall eat straw like the ox

The suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp

And the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 

They do not hurt nor harm on all my holy mountain,

For the country is filled with the knowledge of Yahweh

As the waters swell the sea.

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