Two militia members warmly welcomed the comrades who visited a guerrilla front in the Bicol region last October. After a few minute trek, they were greeted by a platoon commander of the New People’s Army with firm handshakes.
Ka Leon, one of the militias, and the platoon commander Ka Bager are both former members of a cultural group in Barangay Lemon. The comrades formed the group 15 years ago. After more than a decade, scores of youth and their elders have become outstanding members of the revolution moulded by revolutionary cultural work in the barrio and its nearby villages.
Sometime in 2002, the leading Party committee in the area deployed a team to form cultural groups in the barrios. This team was integrated within the NPA and participated in the daily task of the people’s army. During that time, the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid (PKM) had just been organized in these barrios. A campaign to lower deductions imposed by compradors on coconut products was then also recently started.
These activities coincided with the formation of the first cultural group. The first piece rehearsed by the members was specifically created for the campaign. They replaced the lyrics of a mainstream popular song with progressive lyrics and choreographed its dance steps. Ka Jabi, one of the organizers, said, “the cultural group’s performances in activities related to the campaign were intended not only to entertain a tired audience, but also to highlight the people’s culture.”
This is the same reason why the founders found it easy to organize their pioneer members. Most of those invited to the group were young children of PKM members. The members’ ages range from eight to 18. Aside from being inclined to singing and dancing, the youngsters also understood the struggle of the residents of their village and other neighboring barrios.
Alongside the victory of the struggle of coconut farmers in the cluster of barrios, the group was able to reach out to residents in other areas. Soon enough, they were invited to perform in fiestas and schools. For several times, they were also invited to perform over the radio. Moreover, the group always performs during events held inside the guerrilla zone.
Ka Jabi clarified that the group’s tasks are not limited to playing music, singing ang dancing. “They were organized into a chapter of Kabataang Makabayan. Meetings are not only meant for rehearsals, but also for National Democratic School educational discussions, planning and others.” Included in their main study program are the orientation on revolutionary cultural work, and writings of Mao and Sison on culture. On the organizing aspect, the youngsters themselves volunteer in inviting their village mates, classmates and peers from neighboring barangays.
When the group was organized, two of its members were also part of the local Party branch, making it easy for the group to be guided and managed. In recent years, administration of the group was transferred to the Party Section Committee. Even when the NPA unit and the organizers are in the area, the groups rehearse by themselves. Over the past years, the members have become equipped with the ability to conceptualize creative movements for their performances through workshops.
More than ten cultural groups have been formed in the guerrilla zone of their front. Most of those recruited to these are the youth, with some cultural groups that are composed of mothers and the elderly. Ka Jabi shared that recently, when they printed out shirts for the group in the cluster of Barangay Lemon, they were able to count more than a hundred current and former members.
Some of the groups were organized after individuals approached the organizers to seek assistance in forming their group. In other towns where organizers were deployed, playing music and songs have been effective. Ka Jabi added, “in new areas, we only started with playing the guitar and singing. The masses know for whom the comrades’ songs are dedicated. Discussions always come after these.” Because of the peasant masses’ inclination towards singing, they are often serenaded by comrades with revolutionary songs.
Once, a mother who was a member of the local parish choir assisted in arranging the voices of the singing group of which her child is a member. “We were surprised when we heard them sing the Internationale with blending voices,” Ka Jabi enthusiastically recalled. In the barrio pertained to by Ka Jabi, nine members of the group joined the people’s army together.
Cultural groups have produced a number of individuals who eventually became fulltime NPA members and active members of the local Party branch. One of the founding members, Ka Raul, is currently a cadre of the Section Committee and a member of the local guerrilla unit. Ka Bager’s other siblings, who were also his batchmates in the group, are active members of mass organizations.
How was revolutionary fervor instilled among its members? “Revolutionary culture transforms our methods of thinking, standpoint and action,” said Ka Jabi. “The cultural groups’ decades of existence has taught its members to be critical. Even in watching television and listening to the radio, the youngsters can distinguish between what is true and not, right and wrong. Even inside the family and the village, members handle problems correctly, for example, by criticizing a parent who is into vice, or enlightening a fellow youth’s wrong impressions of the group.”
Also a big factor in shaping the group’s revolutionary stand is frequent integration with the people’s army. They are witnesses to the nature and tasks of the NPA, thereby encouraging them to enlist at the right age.
Although the members also appreciate bourgeois songs, they mindfully play revolutionary and progressive songs, especially when they gather for rehearsals. Likewise, performing has been very effective in helping the peasant masses’ bashfulness. Because of the performances, members are trained from childhood to deal with people. This enhances their ability in undertaking even greater tasks in the revolution such as conducting discussions, confronting landlords, commanding the army and others. Launching sports competitions is also included in the program of the Party committee. In recent years, basketball tournaments have been held in two adjacent clusters of barrios. At one point, youngsters from a neighboring guerrilla front even visited and joined the competition.
Current challenges for Ka Jabi and the comrades, aside from sustaining the groups, include raising the level of their performances. The comrades noted that in recent batches, children often become timid upon reaching adolescence. The organizers realized that their performance pieces must also adapt to the performers, and not only the audience. This is why their recent pieces now incorporate rap music, hip-hop dance and other contemporary elements, like the spoken word poetry to catch the interest of the youth. On the other hand, performances like concerts and skits or short plays are still popular to the masses and are still staged.
Cultural work in the guerrilla front will flourish, especially since the groups’ rich experience is set to be summed up. The cluster, to which Barangay Lemon belongs, has more than 40 members already. Many more express their interest to join the groups, said Ka Jabi. These cultural groups will remain a deep well of members like Ka Raul, Ka Bager, Ka Leon and the scores of others who are shaping revolutionary culture in the countryside.