Reds declare unilateral 7-day ceasefire

CPP-NPA ceasefire declaration orders a halt to all offensives but mandates guerrilla units to take “active defense” when faced with hostile actions by state security forces. The ceasefire order also defines “hostile actions.” But it is silent on paramilitary forces known to be trained and supervised by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

northern samar
New People’s Army rebels in Northern Samar during the 44th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Photo courtesy of

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) has declared a seven-day ceasefire “to celebrate and bolster the resumption of formal GRP-NDFP peace talks.”

The ceasefire will take effect starting 12:01 a.m. of August 21 and will last until 11:59 p.m. of August 27.

The CPP central committee said the NDF negotiating panel to peace talks with President Rodrigo Duterte’s government recommended the ceasefire. It said the ceasefire will take effect with or without reciprocal action from the government.

The directive came after an announcement that the NPA would release prisoners of war. NDF negotiating panel member Fidel Agcaoili said the NDF has six prisoners of war, all in Mindanao. Four are in the Caraga and Surigao regions; two, in the Southern Mindanao region.

The formal talks between the negotiating panels of the NDFP and GRP are scheduled for August 22-26 and will be held in Oslo, Norway.

“This ceasefire declaration is encouraged by the GRP’s facilitation of the release of nearly all NDFP consultants who are set to participate in peace negotiations in the course of the next several months,” said the CPP and NPA.

“With or without reciprocation by the GRP, the NPA must maintain a high-level of alertness against enemy troop movements,” said the CPP. “Even while ready to engage in defensive action, the NPA will exert efforts to carry out early counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters during the specified ceasefire period.

When Duterte met with consultants of the NDF in Malacanang last week, he told them to ignore the angry words unleashed in the last few weeks, whether in tit-for-tat exchanges with exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison or during a round of visits to military camps.

NDF consultants interviewed following their release from prison acknowledged concern at Duterte’s rantings.

But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s words and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”

The consultants seem to have gotten that right.

Active defense

The CPP-NPA ceasefire directive mandates guerrilla units to main ‘active defense’ of their territories.

The ceasefire directive, which was furnished to media, ordered regular guerrilla units and people’s militia to cease offensive military operations against personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

But the communist leadership also told rebel units to “remain on defensive mode at both the strategic and tactical levels.”

Local commands, the statement said, should maintain a high degree of militancy and vigilance against any hostile actions or movements by enemy armed forces with the aim of encirclement and suppression.”

It defined hostile actions thus:

“The NPA shall consider as hostile action encroachments on the territory of the people’s democratic government by operating troops of the AFP and its paramilitaries to conduct surveillance, psywar and other offensive operations that are labelled as “peace and development”, “civil-military”, “peace and order” and “law enforcement” operations.

Active-defense operations by the NPA shall be undertaken only in the face of clear and imminent danger and actual armed attack by the enemy forces and only after exhausting counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters.”

It ordered local units to report hostile actions, provocations or movements to the concerned NPA commands and CPP leadership.

The ceasefire directive told NPA units not to arrest individual cops and soldiers with “no serious liabilities other than their membership in their armed units”  and allow them to “enter the territory of the people’s democratic government to make personal visits to relatives and friends.”

Silence on paramilitary groups


The ceasefire order was markedly silent on paramilitary groups that abound in Mindanao. While officially not part of the AFP organisational structure, local government officials across Mindanao have exposed the military as the organiser, trainer and supervisor of these armed groups.

Human rights advocates and indigenous people’s organisations across Mindanao say the paramilitary are the AFP’s dirty tricks department. Partly funded by big mining and plantation firms under an executive order signed by former President Benigno Aquino III, these groups have killed dozens of indigenous leaders.

Paramilitary forces have also and stepped up their attacks since the proclamation of Duterte as winner of the 2016 presidential elections.


Consultants released

Wilma Tiamzon and Concha Araneta-Bocala embrace with joy  following their release from separate places of detention.

The CPP information bureau emailed journalists the statement a few hours after the National Democratic Front – Southern Mindanao said it was set to release some prisoners of war as a goodwill measure.

Read: NPA to release POWs as gesture of goodwill

As of press time, Karapatan executive director Christina Palabay said 19 of 22 declared NDF consultants have been freed from detention.

1. Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala
2. Tirso Alcantara
3. Ariel Arbitrario
4. Kennedy Bangibang
5. Alex Birondo
6. Winona Birondo
7. Pedro Codaste
8. Renante Gamara
9. Eddie Genelsa
10. Alan Jazmines
11. Ernesto Lorenzo
12. Alfredo Mapano
13. Ruben Saluta
14. Jaime Soledad
15. Adelberto Silva
16. Loida Magpatoc
17. Benito Tiamzon
18. Wilma Tiamzon
19. Porferio Tuna

Three others have been convicted. Lawyer Edre Olalia, who helps the NDF panel in the peace talks, said they would be moving soon to help facilitate the release of the remaining consultants.

Read: Tears, hugs and NDF consultants walk free

The CPP stated  cited the case of Ka Eduardo Sarmiento,  arrested in February 2009, convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2013.

The CPP reiterated its “deep appreciation of the determined efforts of GRP President Duterte to push forward and accelerate the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as a means of addressing the roots of the civil war in the Philippines.”

“We hope that this ceasefire declaration will be reciprocated by the GRP as a show of all-out determination to move forward with peace negotiations,” said the CPP.

Captured cops

NDF peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili shared the POW release announcement as top underground leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon walked out of Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and their place of detention since their capture in June 2015.

The POW release statement mentioned only two by name. One of them was Governor Generoso Police Chief Insp. Arnold Ongachen, captured during an NPA raid on their police station on May 28, before President Rodrigo Duterte’s assumption of power.

Agcaoili said the NPA was ready to release  POWs in Caraga but facilitation was delayed by military operations.

“The GRP panel wanted to be at the turnover but as they’re here, maybe other officials can do it. Actually, those four were to have been released earlier but the big AFP operations delayed the release. Even the GRP panel said there was very heavy fighting and so they did not want to enter the area that time.”

Then still mayor of Davao City, Duterte immediately asked rebels to release the police officer. Duterte has accepted turnovers of captured cops and soldiers in the past.

But on June 2, citing a rebel report on the seizure of some drugs from Ongachen’s office, Duterte said he was leaving the cop to the mercy of the NPA and suggested, half in jest, a sentence of 20 years of hard labor.

The PNP and the AFP mounted operations to get the captured police officers and other soldiers captured in Agusan but have failed to make headway so far.

Ceasefire woes

Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire during his first State of the Nation Address. While rebels welcomed it, they sought clearer details of its implementation.

Three days after, the NPA ambushed a joint paramilitary and AFP team. The action, which the NPA explained as part of its active defense measure, killed some soldiers and wounded others.

An angry Duterte rescinded his ceasefire order amid a series of angry exchanges with senior NDF consultant and CPP founder, Jose Maria Sison.

Later, in several visits to military camps across the country, Duterte would unleash diatribes on the NPA, insisting the use of command-detonated mines is a violation of the Genera Convention. The rebels insist the treaty only covers contact-activated mines.

NDF consultants acknowledged concern at Duterte’s tirades. But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s rants and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”

The CPP statement said rebels will push their call for Duterte to “issue a general amnesty to pave the way for the release of all political prisoners.” Militant party-list groups have filed a measure in the House of Representatives. The President earlier said he will declare amnesty after a final peace agreement.

Rebels said they are also open to discussing a longer ceasefire “upon completion of the release of all political prisoners.”


NPA to release POWs as goodwill measure (Breaking news)


Wilma Tiamzon ( far left) and Benito Tiamzon (right) thank supporters after being released from their detention centre in Camp Crame. Photo by Obet de Castro

The New People’s Army will release some prisoners of war as a goodwill gesture for the resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and Asia’s longest-running insurgency.

National Democratic Front peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili told ABS-CBNNews in an email exchange that the NPA Command in Aguusan is now working out “the safe and orderly release of four POWs captured during rebel raids and ambuscades.

He also said the government negotiating panel had wanted to be present for the release.

Agcaoili has clarified there are a total of six prisoners of war across Mindanao.

The two officers named in the NDF statement below are in the Southern Mindanao area; the rest are in the Caraga and Surigao area and the subject of Agcaoili’s remarks.

Agcaoili bared the news as the Timazons dropped by to thank peace advocates holding a rally in front of Camp Crame, their detention centre.

But even as Agcaoili was sharing the POW release news, the Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.

“Gusto sana ng GRP Panel sila ang tatanggap pero nandito sila for the talks. Possibleng sa ibang officials na lang. Actually matagal na dapat na-release pero inabutan ng malaking mil operations. Kahit GRP Panel nagsabi matindi ang labanan dun, ayaw nilang pumasok,” Agcaoili added. (The GRP panel wanted to be at the turnover but as they’re here, maybe other officials can do it. Actually, those four were to have been released earlier but the big AFP operations delayed the release. Even the GRP panel said there was very heavy fighting and so they did not want to enter the area that time.)

A few minutes later, Agcaoili sent a press statement by the NDFP-southern mindanao region.

Read Full Statement:

NDFP-SMR orders release of POWs as goodwill for peace talks

“The National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Southern Mindanao Region today ordered the release of the two Prisoners of War currently in separate custody of the units under the NPA ComVal Davao Gulf Sub-Regional Command as goodwill measure for the formal resumption of the peace negotiations on August 22,” the statement said.

Earlier today, the GRP released NDFP consultants Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria Tiamzon, who were leading members of the CPP and key consultants of the NDFP when they were arrested in March 2014.

Custodial units of POW Arnold S. Ongachen and POW Michael B. Grande have reported the good state of health and lenient treatment of the two prisoners despite persistent attacks of AFP troops in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. They have likewise assured that an orderly and safe turn-over of the prisoners of war may be conducted pending a GPH undertaking of suspension of military and police offensives.

The People’s Democratic Government’s judicial proceedings and investigations into POW Ongachen and POW Grande’s possible war crimes and violation of people’s rights have been effectively suspended in deference to appeals of their families and peace advocates. POW Ongachen and POW Grande have apologized for their violations against the people.

The NDFP-SMR likewise acknowledges GPH Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s efforts that resulted to the on-going process of release of the 22 NDFP peace consultants. This is definitely a positive development in the long-sought justice for these political prisoners and a welcome deviation from the previous reactionary regimes’ militarist approach and despicable contravention of the Comprehensive Agreement for Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

While the CPP, NPA and the NDFP have consistently adhered to international conventions and mutually-agreed upon accords between the GPH and the NDFP, the AFP and the PNP continue to file trumped-up charges to ensure that political prisoners such as NDFP consultants, Red fighters, even civilians and legal activists languish in jail for common crimes they did not commit. Some were even tortured, raped or summarily executed. This is a far cry from the lenient policy of the NPA towards Prisoners of War and are later released in recognition of appeals of families and well-meaning parties.

The NDFP-SMR expects the immediate release of the remaining 540 political prisoners in compliance of the Duterte government to the CARHRIHL and the JASIG. The success of the talks en route to a viable peace accord between the two governments in the Philippines rests in the main on GPH’s—especially the AFP, PNP and their paramilitaries’—adherence to previous agreements and the serious deliberation of the roots of the civil war. In these objectives, the NDFP and the entire revolutionary movement have been and continue to be firmly resolute.

Rubi del mundo
National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Southern Mindanao Region

Even as peace talks poised to resume, attacks on legal activists heighten

(First of five parts)

amelia pond  Even as National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Wilma and Benito Tiamzon finally walked out of detention from Camp Crame today, reports from regions indicate that state security agencies are stepping up attacks against legal activists.

The Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.

Pond is also the research and documentation officer for the Salugpungan School Network in Mindanao, which remain the only available opportunities for education of indigenous children.

The attack happened as peace panels of the government and the NDF were preparing for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

Read: Tears, hugs as NDF consultants walk free

Pond was accosted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) criminal instigation and detection group (CIDG) after a three day RMP assembly at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, in Cebu City’s Lahug district.

Her arrest came as activists and peace advocates were hailing the release of the Tiamzon couple, which brought the number of freed National Democratic Front (NDF) political prisoners to 17.



Wilma Tiamzon (left) and husband, Benito (right) talk to supporters and peace advocates following their release from detention. They are flying  with 12 other consultants to join the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel in Oslo, Norway, where peace talks are set to resume on August 22. Photo by Obet de Castro

“They will join 15 others so far released in peace talks in Oslo on August 22 and for consultations with the NDF Negotiating Panel,” lawyer Edre Olalia said. Two of the released consultants are not joining the Oslo talks as they need urgent medical care, NDF sources said.

Planted evidence?

The RMP report said Pond was in a taxi with three other people when CIDG cops blocked them. They forced her out of the vehicle.

“The female CIDG held her by the arm and asked her with different names but she denied. This was followed by more questions showed photographs, and a supposed warrant of arrest, but they did not make her read the warrant,” the report said.

“One of Amy’s companion insisted that she should read the warrant for her to know what her case is but despite Amy and her companion’s insistence they failed to let Amy read the warrant. Amy vehemently resisted this illegal arrest.”

The witnesses said one of the CIDG men went near Amy and inserted two ID’s in her bag.

“Then they asked her to alight the car. She refused to go with them but they forced her. In this instance, Sr. Francis Anover and Sr. Marisol Garduno who were also in the center immediately went to her rescue.”

Pond was brought to Camp Sotero in Cebu City. and charged with double murder and frustrated murder in Compostela Valley under the name of Adelfa Toledo.

Increasing attacks

pajallaBefore Pond’s arrest, Quezon province cops nabbed a peasant leader identified with the military party-list group, Anakpawis.

Karapatan-Quezon spokesperson Alex Pacalda told that the arrest of Antonio Pajalla was illegal as, “the rebellion charge against him was long extinguished when he was granted amnesty under former President Fidel Ramos.”

Bulatlat quoted Pacalda as saying the peasant leader held with him his copy of the certificate from the National Amnesty Commission when he was arrested at around 9 a.m. Aug. 12. He was on a jeepney en route to the Anakpawis Partylist’s office in Catanauan town.

The rebellion charge against Pajalla, which is the ground for his arrest, was first filed in 1995. But Pajalla was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1997, said Pacalda.

Karapatan and other rights groups  have warned that the continuing presence of paramilitary troops — trained and supervised by the military — represents a major threat to the peace process.

“We must watch out for saboteurs,” said Catholic Bishop (Caloocan City)  Deogracias Yñiguez on the eve of the Tiamzons’ release. He said church workers and civil society and people’s organizations must remain vigilant on human rights violations and other abuses, which could wreak havoc on the peace process.

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Yñiguez said, worked hard with other groups “to find many ways to ensure that the crucial peace process resumes.”

Lumad victims

Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo confirmed that paramilitary troops strafed a lumad community on July 30 during holding a wedding in  San Fernando, Bukidnon, killing a pregnant woman and wounding seven other people, including five children.

Maytas Gauyran, chieftain of the Tigwahanon tribe, grieves at the coffin of his daughter, Marikit Gayoran, who was pregnant when shot dead during a community wedding. Photo courtesy of Kilab multimedia

A DSWD report said  a paramilitary group associated with the 8th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army. Taguiwalo said all victims beneficiaries of the DSWD’s 4Ps and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT).

Taguiwalo also ordered an investigation into the provision of projects for suspected mastermind ‘Alde Salusad’ or ‘Butsoy’ despite a warrant of arrest for a previous killing of a lumad datu, Jimmy Liguyon, in front of his small children.




Vulnerable communities

The Save Our Schools  (SOS) network said attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao have increased following then assumption of Duterte. The tough talking leader has close links to restive indigenous groups fighting against the entry of big mining firms and plantations into their ancestral lands.

In the areas around Duterte’s home city of Davao, teachers were forced to close down some schools because of death threats, according to SOS executive director Rius Valle.

He said paramilitary forces trained and supervised by military officials were hunting the teachers in the Pacquibato district of Davao City.

“They documented attempts to kill them,” Valle said in an interview.”The two teachers had to close down the school and seek sanctuary in Davao City.”

After the Paquibato incident, which happened just before Duterte’s  first State of the Nation Address (Sona), paramilitary troops also killed the leader of a parents’ association in a lumad school on the outskirts of Davao City. The community in the area have a long running feud with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a known supporter and friend of Duterte.

lumad444On August 13, six men, riding in tandem on three motorcycles, also strafed a group of lumad in Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. A woman, shot in the chest, had to be placed under intensive care.

The victims are indigenous claimants to land now covered by an forestry agreement granted to  Provident Tree Farms, INc.
The RMP said the incident is connected to an earlier series of attacks, including the murder of  Datu Mansulbadan, the former supreme datu of the Manobo community in the area.

Four other Manobo — including a 13-year old boy — who were the apparent target of the gunmen suffered less serious injuries. The attack also prompted an evacuation of residents.


Life behind bars for NDF consultants: Pets,stolen moments, cramped cells

consultants final raymund
FREE AT LAST, albeit temporarily. The first batch of political prisoners released as part of preparations for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front.

Alexander and Winona Birondo have spent the last year gazing and waving at each other through a small opening that allows sightings among residents of different detention blocks in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

For seven months after their March 2015 arrest, the couple managed to share soft-diet weekend breakfast meals in Camp Crame. Once they were transferred to Bagong Diwa, however, court hearings were the only opportunities for the couple to see and briefly touch each other.

“Aldub na aldub ang dating namin,” jokes Alexander, following their release as the Philippine government and Asia’s longest running insurgency prepare to resume stalled peace talks.

ALDUBAlexander and Winona Birondo have spent a year waving and gazing each other across rooftops, with court hearings providing their only opportunity for physical closeness. Photo by Obet de Castro

The Birondos are middle-aged. Both suffer from diabetes and have been released on humanitarian grounds.

Hardly the spry, coy youngsters of the country’s most popular television variety show segment.

But Alexander says he identifies with the young lovers’ frustration at obstacles that stand in their way.

“Nasa magkabilang building lang kami, pero bawal kaming magkita,” he said. “Sa rooftop lang kami nagkikita, kaway, kaway.” (We were assigned to adjoining buildings but refused to let us meet. We could see each other only on the rooftop, waving at each other.)

“Ito yung masasabi mong napakalapit pero malayo,” he adds. “Talagang aldub na aldub ang dating.” (We were so near, yet so far. We could have been the stars of Aldub.)

In his excitement to finally see his wife, Alex’s blood pressure shot up. The reading during the mandatory medical examination required for release was 180/90.

“I had to reassure the doctor that it would easily do down,” said Alex , whose affectionate gestures towards wife draw grins from comrades.

Pet — and food taster

alcantaraMid-afternoon of Wednesday, August 17, Christina Palabay holds up a two-page document filled with dense text that detail the 46 criminal raps filed against Tirso Alcantara.

The secretary general of human rights group Karapatan is checking several mobile phone units for blow by blow updates on efforts to secure the 22 political prisoners who are covered by safety and immunity guarantees.

It is the third, nerve-wrecking day for Palabay and an estimated 100 lawyers and para-legal workers tasked with ensuring the releases. The hard work started on August 5, when the Supreme Court ruled that lower courts had jurisdiction on arrest proceedings.

“They actually camped out in the courts,” jokes Alcantara.

The military calls the 62-year-old detainee the deputy of Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, the late chief of the Southern Tagalog Melito Glor Command of the New People’s Army.

Arrested on Feb. 14, 2011, Alcantara was incarcerated in isolation at the Philippine Army’s maximum security area at Fort Bonifacio.

He was eventually transferred to Bagong Diwa. There, he adopted a cat that once reportedly belonged to Rizal Alih, a leader of a rebellious separatist faction.

.”It’s my child,” says Alcantara. “It’s also my food taster,” he quips with black humor.

But the wisecracking Southern Tagalog rebel leader could not have imagined the coincidence that allowed him to reunite Wednesday with a grand-daughter he hadn’t seen in 12 years.

lolo and grandkidThe last time Alcantara saw Nica, she was a rambunctious four-year-old visitor to the guerrilla front.

The revolution, however, separated him from family. His daughter, based in Palawan, spent eight years in jail. Alcantara lost touch with the child.

Nica grew up with an aunt with very little affinity for politics. She doesn’t even know  about the peace talks. But on the wayto school at dawn, Wednesday, she saw a banner with a familiar name.

“She went up to the speaker. She said, ‘lolo ko yan’.”

It was dusk when Nica saw the tall, sturdy figure of her grandfather alight from a the van.

She charged at him, past alarmed security escorts, hurling herself into his arms with the cThere are some 500 political prisoners nationwide. Membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines is no longer outlawed, but most detainees are charged with common crimes.

SALUTACamp Bagong Diwa hosts the most number of political prisoners.

Ruben Saluta says conditions there are not much different from shocking photos of the Quezon City jail.

“Sometimes it gets so hot that my blood pressures goes up to 170/90,” Saluta noted. “We’re mixed with common criminals in areas that are so congested that we take turns sleeping or resting. If one of us stands up to use bathroom, someone will take our place.”




*** “With miles to go before he sleeps” was the subhead in this story/interview published in the Philippines Graphic in 2004.)

Romy Capulong’s wake at the Church of the Risen Lord, UP Diliman. Photo by Rolando Rico Olalia.

It is a young man’s voice, pitched low but musical. It is a donnish mien. Lawyer Romeo Capulong reclines on a lounge chair, legs crossed, one gently swinging. His is an old world charm; strangers could be forgiven for mistaking him as the owner of the old-wood furniture gallery cum café.

Yet for the last two decades, Capulong, who turned 70 on February 15, has borne the tag, “The Communist Lawyer.”

It is a title at once prestigious and dangerous, depending on your place in the political spectrum.

Capulong has straddled all sides. This farmer’s son from Nueva Ecija has gone through traditional law practice, a constitutional convention, electoral politics, and high-powered bourgeois fraternities and organizations.

He is more better known, however, as legal counsel to the National Democratic Front negotiating panel. That makes him a key actor in a peace process that takes flight or stumbles according to the political fancies of rulers and rebels.

In 1999, as a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines national directorate, Capulong joked about his Red credentials, playing coy and sardonically aping the US government’s “neither confirm nor deny” pronouncements.

Now, in the autumn of his life, the man who at 65 awed then Senator Loren Legarda with his swift ascent of rugged mountains – in the cause of freeing prisoners of war – repeatedly invokes his independence from his famous client.

Ringside seats

As he deals with the latest round of movement in the Public Interest Law Center, Capulong muses about the changing norms of commitments and struggles. His eloquence hints at long hours of thought. Showing full grasp of the changing times, he discusses what the Left (legal or underground) needs as it struggles with increasingly alienated middle forces. He rubs his palms and jiggles a leg. The subject matter is familiar. It is a major theme of the present imperfect.

Capulong is arguably the Left’s most famous outsider, though military sleuths claim otherwise, noting his services to fringe sympathizers (the late Ninoy Aquino, for one) and underground stars who have since become each other’s deadly foes.

One might fault Capulong’s politics but even critics shake their heads at his staying power. He has mentored many lawyers: Alex Padilla has assumed high government posts; Jong Olalia, son the slain leader Rolando, is now labor attaché to Canada. (*Jong has since returned to practice law in the country.)

The young ones come and go, according to life priorities and shifting ideological views. Capulong remains the grand old man of people’s lawyers. It is a lonely position. His sad eyes belie statements of optimism. But Capulong is no stranger to the ups and downs of struggle. He knows there is a time for everything, including moving on.

 Lost friends

Despite his gentle voice, he displays a relentless will that screams, “Alpha Male”. He openly and unrepentantly admits to “authoritarian” tendencies. Like any patriarch, he has loss as constant companion.

Capulong has occupied prime ringside seats into the Left’s turbulent history.

In the years just before martial law, he remained friendly with old communist party cadres even while attending the discussion groups of the young turks who went on to preside over Asia’s longest home-grown leftist insurgency.

He and other traditional lawyers braved martial law captors to forge links with the revolutionary underground. His passions blazed and waned, until a second brush with dictatorship set him full course on alternative law.

The lawyer saw the Left grow from a gaggle of academics stumbling across limestone cliffs, to become a national movement of activists and cadres that chipped away at a dictator’s power base.

The leftist underground expanded in the turbulent post-EDSA I years that saw pitched battles with the Right.

Success brought its dark side. Capulong and other human rights workers scrambled to clean up the mess as adventurism and over-expansion opened the Left to backlash. He would later stand helpless as a new split convulsed the new Communist Party of the Philippines split. He was one of many believers and sympathizers who remonstrated – often futilely — with both sides. He still grieves over the murders of former clients.


Capulong does not hide his admiration for fellow Alpha male Jose Ma. Sison, top honcho of the communist movement. Yet neither does he hide his dismay at how the Left has devoured its own children — not just the top guns of the rejectionist factions, but also the thousands of innocent victims of its purges during the 1980s.

He is amazed by how cadres uncritically spouted party lines to justify the purges. Among the excuses peddled then was a clearly fantastic tale of the US American Central Intelligence Agency recruiting 400 deep penetration agents before the proclamation of martial law, agents who had ostensibly climbed through the ranks of the various leftist underground departments and who, one cadre told Capulong with a straight face, had confessed to being US spies.

Hardly surprising.  Survivors of the purges tell of torture that could make you fess up to the murder of Andres Bonifacio.

And yet Capulong remains a believer in the national democratic cause. He sees it as a bulwark against efforts to wrest back the democratic gains achieved since the first People Power.

The Philippines Graphic talked with Capulong about life on the fast lane, life on the run, staying afloat amid shifting ideological currents, walking a thin line between legal and illegal, the difficult choices that face an activist, and things that remain the same. Is his a well-deserved optimism, or the just an aging lion’s stubborn effort to retain control of a life fast passing by?

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Graphic: At 70, you’re still the lawyer of the National Democratic Front

Capulong: I prefer to be called a people’s lawyer. Of course, the more popular term is human rights lawyer, popular during the time of (the late President Ferdinand) Marcos. It is also called public interest lawyer or one who practises alternative law.

The more accurate term is people’s lawyering, or lawyerring for the poor and the oppressed and the exploited sectors of society.

Graphic: Do terms really matter?

Capulong: Yes, it is important. With “people’s lawyer,” right away you send a message.

We often equate lawyering for the poor with welfare-ism. That is not the type of lawyering we want in the Public Interest Law Center. There are enough legal aid programs. We all know the Public Attorney’s Office. It has about 1,000 lawyers nationwide; the IBP has its legal aid program. These are all traditional modes of free legal assistance for litigants, programs responding to a big need.

But progressive lawyers should transcend that, put in some developmental content, then use issues to raise consciousness or social awareness, and help in organizing for a just society, and even in the development of unity in militance among your clients

Graphic: So just what are you to the NDF?

Capulong: To be accurate, my undertaking has been as lawyer for the NDF’s negotiating panel in peace talks with the government

Graphic: You’re not general counsel of the NDF?

Capulong: I am clarifying this. The NDF does not need a counsel because it operates outside the legal judicial system. They become subject to our legal and judicial system only when some of their forces are arrested and may have to temporarily enter the legal system. Then we take on individual clients to protect their legal rights.

But the NDF itself operates independently. Sa peace process, recognized sila as a separate political entity or authority.

Graphic: An image problem then?

Capulong: Yes, we have real image and security problems. That is why we at PILC assert our status and the legitimacy of our profession.

I was once a member of IBP board of governors. We made a survey of lawyers’ knowledge of our task. Most of our own colleagues called us queer, sometimes radicals, subversives, communists. Not surprising because of structural realities.

Most professionals are urban based, corporate oriented, profit driven. How many would go into lawyering for the poor or the indigents? Napakaliit na bahagi. (A very small percentage) But it should be recognized as a legitimate field of law practice and it is recognized all over the world.

Third World countries like the Philippines should recognize this specialty. Yet there is a conscious effort by the state and military to frame us, to trap us in that very narrow framework.

Graphic: If your clients and market are so poor, how do your sustain your operations? And is it possible to be lawyers for the NDF in the peace talks and not actually believe in the things they espouse?

Capulong: No, no. It is not possible. To be an effective lawyer for your client, you must be committed and dedicated.

First of all, you have to believe that we should be engaged in a continuing struggle for a better society. Just call it a just and humane society. As a lawyer, you should be able to look at your profession as part of that struggle.

You know at one time I was chair of one human rights group; umalis na ako dahil wala nang time. But when I was chair, I was deeply involved; I wasn’t just an honorary chair. The practice is, you’re usually there as decoration.

Graphic: But can’t a lawyer safeguard a client’s rights but still remain neutral?

Capulong: That’s the traditional concept. And that’s why PILC doesn’t accept funding despite financial constraints. In the struggle, in this kind of society, neutrality is hard. A funder could insist on the universality of the so-called human right concept, that work in this area should be non-political.

One funder of a human rights group said they would only release money with proof that we were politically neutral. I argued against that. In RP, how can you be a committed HR worker at P3,000 a month, expose yourself to great risks, and not be committed? You have eyes, ears, a brain, and you go to the countrysides. It would be impossible to remain neutral.

Graphic: How committed is committed? And to what?

Capulong: I have tried to impart to my colleagues, the younger lawyers, that you must be committed, you must be dedicated. And you should believe in what you’re fighting for, and generally the cause of your clients, their struggle.

Photo by Arnold Padilla (

Graphic: Are we talking armed struggle?

Capulong: The struggle doesn’t have to be ideological. It can be issue based. The struggle of peasants, how many issues are involved there? The struggle of the workers… urban poor, women, youth, students…You have to believe in their struggle. That doesn’t mean you are a kasama, or a cadre.

Graphic: Straight out. People are dying to know… cadre ka ba?

Capulong: No. (He breaks into laughter.) I am not a cadre.

Graphic: Just a believer?

Capulong: Let me go on. When you say you believe in the revolutionary movement, you have to take its program to heart. Yes, I studied the program of the NDF right from the start, the 12-point program.

Graphic: And you believe in the NDF program?

I believe there is room for debate on the means, but I cannot argue with the program. Who can argue against a genuine agrarian reform? Or nationalist industrialization? [Editor’s note: A lot of economists say it’s a concept past its time] Or the kind of culture we must espouse? Cultural revolution and so on. Generally, who can argue against the nationalist democratic struggle?

Graphic: Lots of folk, actually. Many see the Left as a dinosaur that causes more harm than good.

Capulong: Yes, you may not agree with the means. As far as I am concerned, I am a lawyer. I’m even a judge of an international court now. So I work within the system. But as I told the IBP during one national assembly, the law is merely the expression of the dominant interest in society and I am willing to argue with anybody on that.

Graphic: Is this a case of flexible legal standards? Is that a justification of armed struggle?

Capulong: The law as we know it, is a means to perpetuate an unjust system. There are a few progressive laws that pass a conservative, reactionary legislature but these will have safety valves and loopholes for ruling interests.

Having said that, I believe we people’s lawyers should be able to creatively use the law and the legal system to advance the interests of our clients.


Graphic: That’s a dream, a long-term goal. What do you do in the here and now?

First of all, to protect our clients from unjust laws and abuses. That’s primary. So sa people’s lawyers, you can’t waver – and this is what other lawyers should emulate – always primordial are the interests of your clients whether individual or collective. While you may have a cause, always put the individual and his rights first. All other issues are secondary.

Graphic: Don’t lawyers take losing propositions just to highlight a cause

Capulong: No, that is a betrayal of trust. You must fight it out. For example, the Flor Contemplacion case. When I was fighting for her life in Singapore, my entire focus was to save her life. It was secondary that I shake up the government and other institutions to recognize the plight of domestic workers all over the world. That is the task of other groups, not the lawyer. The principal is to save a life, even just one life. [Editors’ note: Singapore executed Contemplacion for murder.] That’s a given and that should govern the guidelines. Secondary ang buhay? Secondary sa struggle? Di pwede yun. (That’s unacceptable.)

You cannot turn a client into a prop. I will not allow that. I will never allow that. I always tell my lawyers. Principal yan. Kahit ano pang impluwensya pumasok dyan, (no matter your influences) follow that guideline.

Graphic: How does PILC survive without funders?

Capulong: When I came home (from the United States) in 1986, I made a study of this type of lawyering. I studied the US and Japan. And I saw one common error. They had no self-reliance program. So they get dissolved. Even FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group, at one time the biggest human rights lawyers’ organization), at one time folded up. Mabini folded up, as did the Protestant Lawyers’ League, Alter Law, Makatao in central Luzon, Bicolandia. None survived because they all lacked a self-reliance program.

Graphic: How does that work?

Capulong: The only way we can do it… if you have 2,000 clients (families) if you inculcate the importance of legal services and make them realize why this type of lawyering needs to survive. Just a peso or two pesos or P10 per family a month and that can sustain a lawyer.

The problem here is welfarism. People believe human rights lawyers should be martyrs. People think all human rights services should be free. That’s wrong. Institutions need to survive and their staff, too, as middle class and concerned Filipinos.

Graphic: So your Hacienda Looc clients pay?

Capulon: No, not yet. That’s what I meant, the mindset that services should be free. We have three kinds of clients. They belong to category of those who cannot afford to pay or who have not yet absorbed the mindset I want. But we should develop that base as main resource center, though we still struggle against the welfare mentality.

So because we don’t have that economic base, we accept revenue generating cases that do not conflict with our mandate.

Graphic: Like? Please give an example.

Capulong: Like breach of contract cases, or even big firms as long as their cases do not go against our struggle.

Graphic: A particular case may have no bearing on the struggle, but what if the prospective client is involved in other controversies that could indirectly affect your principal clients?

Capulong: We stay away from multinationals, or companies with bad labor policies, or notorious land grabbers. We need to trust out client.

Graphic: How big is the percentage of revenue generating cases?

Capulong: Before, it was only 30% revenue generating as we were busy with other cases, now 40 to 50%.

Photo collage by Dennis Gorecho

Graphic: A lot of cases due to the struggle. How many lawyers?

Capulong: We have different layers of lawyers… am talking of fulltime lawyers… We have a different set-up for part-time lawyers; sometimes we give them an economic base and they give part of their time sa PILC. Then we have volunteers. And then consultants; when we have a major case, I organize a big team…

Only six are full time. And now Marie Yuvienco has told me she’s leaving and Jason is off to study and we have one on loan to the joint monitoing committee.

Graphic: Funding. Even some Left-linked NGOs accept funding.

Capulong: Probably we are the only law firm engaged on this field that doesn’t accept funding. If you accept funding, here or abroad, they impose conditions and even control your program. So what happens is, NGOs do one thing and do some creative reporting just to meet compliance requirements. I don’t like that.

Besides most of these funds are tainted.

Graphic: How are they tainted?

Capulong: A lot have their own agenda. Many are controlled by the US government.

Graphic: Is that necessarily bad?

Capulong: If you want to defeat armed struggle, you will expand the ranks of reformists. You fund those groups that condemn armed struggle. You pit them against the armed movement. Of course, we (points to Graphic and himself) are reformists. (Laughs)

Graphic: On the other hand, if the reformist movement does manage to win substantial reforms…

Capulong: The technique is very sophisticated and subtle.

Graphic: Have you seen that up close and personal?

Capulong: Okay, one country. You know, all revolutionary movements have interaction or links with other groups. A funder provided money to these groups while peace talks were going on. The funder, which happened to be a government, muscled into the peace process.

Instead of being a neutral observer, it became an arbitrator. The rebels did not want that, the funder threatened to withdraw funds from people’s organizations. And these groups pressured the revolutionary movement.

Graphic: But many groups friendly to the NDF have also been receiving foreign aid, maybe from different sources

Capulong: Yes, there were lots of funders before. That’s what I am saying, we lawyers opted not to. My first board were very young, idealist people…. Alex Padilla, Chet Diokno, Jojo Florendo, Leo Batad; they didn’t want to accept funding.

Maybe, it’s just a matter of strategy. I’m not saying those groups are influenced, malalakas din yan, ideologically.

Also, there’s an advantage if you practice with traditional cases. You don’t get isolated from community… and then may fall back ang lawyers… if something happens to institution or when they get tired of this type of lawyering. Admittedly, dead end yan. You’ll never get rich.

Graphic: So do you see a lot of turnovers?

Capulong: Some but not that fast. Others, I encourage to take new paths. For example, Jong Olalia, Lando’s son, I asked him if he wanted to work for the government. This was soon after Erap (former President Joseph Estada) was ousted; we were part of the presecution team during his impeachment trial. Jong is now labor attaché to Canada.

Look, I don’t want to be self righteous. It’s just that we can afford it. And we value our independence.

Jose Ma Sison

Graphic: Is the NDF a paying client?

Capulong: Definitely not, we end up shelling out funds.

Graphic: Isn’t that called giving aid to the enemy?

Capulong: (Laughs). But during the first peace process between the NDF and the Aquino government, it requested Flag to assign And we asked the government how it viewed our role. The government said it had no problem.

At that time, we didn’t realize we’d be called NDF lawyers or communist lawyers.

Then at one point, when both sides had signed an agreement, I asked Howard Dee (then chief of the GRP negotiating panel) could the government recognize my services, not just to the NDF but to the process itself. So since 2001, my designation has been senior legal consultant to the process… peace process

Of course, the government knows I can’t support their program, dahil what’s there to support?

Graphic: When the peace talks happened in 1986, did you actually believe it would lead somewhere?

Capulong: Oh, yes,

Graphic: It wasn’t just a tactic?

Capulong: Yes, you can even tell me now that I was naive and I’m willing to accept that. May certain degree. But even now, I still believe may certain achievement ang peace process.

Graphic: Movement is rather slow.

Capulong : Right now for example, three substantive topics… human rights and international humanitarian law, may agreement na; social and conomic reforms, both sides have drafts ready since June 2001, four years ago. You’re left with political and constittional reforms. If agreements are forged on all three, it follows there will be cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces…that’s the fourth item…

Graphic: One agreement signed, how long will the rest take?

Capulong: Look at it this way. Since start of peace process in 1986, the framework of both sides were at extremes… The GRP wanted the talks to be held within framework of constitution and for the NDF to lay down their arms before talks can be help. Ang NDF naman wanted explicit recognition of the status of belligerency.

So as early as Sept 1, 1992, during (former President Fidel) Ramos’ term, we were able to resolve fundamental question of framework, by sayind that peace talks would be governed by mutually acceptable principles. No explicit recognition of status of belligerency pero wala din naman capitulation on the part of NDF. That’s important; other peace processes worldwide never resolved the question of framework

And we have agreement on HR and international humanitarian law that’s in place.

Graphic: But its more honoured in the breach, by both sides..

Capulong: Maybe you can put it that way. Marami pang violations…But I believe.., well it’s a form of struggle. Malayo pa,because of the balance of forces. Malakas ang gobyerno and conservatives have the dominant voice.

But I believe in eliminating accusations of bad faith kasi kailangan ang premise mo in good faith. So we’re still pushing. Let’s see where it goes.

Graphic: Some sectors say it’s just an opportunity for the Left to regroup.

Capulong: There are many dividends. During Ramos’ term, there was an image of political stability and investors had more confidence.

Graphic: If peace paid dividends during Ramos’ time and fuelled economic recovery, why haven’t succeeding administrations taken the same tact? Why has the peace process bogged down?

Capulong: Because the last administrations, the government has has not really spoken with one voice. A lot of dynamics inside; you have moderates and hardliners on the panel. Not like NDF, which has a consolidated position

Graphic: Explain these dynamics.

Capulong: In  the GRP, aside from the panel and other public officials involved in peace process, there are a lot of outside voices: discordant voices in Congress, the Cabinet and the military. All that, bear upon the actions and decisions of GRP peace panel

Graphic: Any government will have its hardliners. Like the Left.

Capulong: Under GMA, the hardliners are dominant. With Ramos, he was hands on so there was no problem though the hardliners were also there. Howard Dee was a hardliner. At one point, he scuttled the talks. But Ramos vetoed him. When the GRP panel was divided on an issue, it went direct up to Ramos and he decided.

Now, the NDF is expected to push its program as far as it can. But when the NDF wins on one provision, hardliners sound the alarm

Graphic: Who decides under GMA?

Capulong: The other problem in the present government is, there are too many layers in the peace process.

Under FVR, the panel had powers and a certain degree of autonomy, and could act directly under their guidelines. Now, aside from the panel, there’s the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Poverty, the Cabinet cluster on national security, the entire cabinet, then the small circle in Nalacanang

The GRP panel… every step needs a clearance.


A visit to the field during the 1987 peace talks. Photo by Arkibong Bayan

Graphic: We’ve heard all the belligerent statements from all sides. Does this verbal hostility surface during face to face negotiations in Oslo?

Capulong: If the two panels were given autonomy, it won’t be affected by outside pronouncements. That’s why the NDF insisted the talks be held abroad, to minimize pressure.

Graphic: Including posturing

Capulong: Yes, grandstanding sa media.  Talks that ignore these move faster.

Graphic: When angry statements are hurled, does it affect the atmosphere during negotiations?

Capulong: No, we all bring the Pinoy culture. Foreign oververs are amazed. People die in the Philippines and we smile at each other, share meals and swap souvenirs in Oslo. That’s Pinoy. You see that with the GRP old timers. Of course, everyone in the NDF is old timer. (Laughs)

Graphic: But the fact that there hasn’t seemed to be any change in NDF panel… is that good or is there need for change? Doesn’t the NDF need some new voices?

Capulong: Peronalities are not really relevant because everyone pushes one progrsam. There’s consistency. But yes, the personalities of the participants can help or burden the process.

Graphic: And Joma helps or burdens?

Capulong: (Laughs) Don’t believe the stereotype. Surprisingly, it’s Joma who’s the good cop. He’s always consistent in that role. If there’s a problem, it gets resolved when Joma comes in. That is how skilled he is.

Graphic: The good cop?

Capulong: (Laughs) Surprised? But that’s true. Ask the GRP panel; that’s also what they say… ask people from the Norway government and they will agree.

NDF wreath at Capulong’s wake

Graphic: However did you get to be involved with the NDF in the first place? No one’s born a people’s lawyer.

Capuong: Even before the NDF asked Flag, I had studied the program.

Graphic: You and the NDF guys are old friends?

Capulang: Yes, I knew Joma way back in 1971. I was a Concon delegate. Many personalities related with us and we didn’t ask if they were underground or legal. We just attended these discussion groups.

But even when I was secretary to Governor Eduardo L. Joson (of Nueva Ecija) from 1960 to 1969, I was already a people’s lawyer. I helped organize legal staff for farmers… I related to old Left, principally Masaka and the new communist party. Even after that split, I continued to help members of masaka. That’s why Masaka backed me.

I was elected on November 70, but would take the seat by June of the following year. I had seven months so I decided to improve my academic skills because practice erodes these.

Graphic: You went on immersion?

Capulong: Yes. (Laughs) At the UP library. And in good company… Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Raul Manlapus, Teofisto Guingona, my own Dean, Cinco, and two editors of the Collegian – Tony Tagamolila and Ed Gonzales.

Graphic: What issues pushed you to gravitate to people’s law?

Capulong: It was gradual until I reached crucial juncture… but the seeds were all there — class background, social background, and sensitivity to injustices. I was the son of a peasant.

I wavered between progressive and traditional. You tend to struggle with your ambitions. For a time I straddled both sides of spectrum… one foot sa traditional lawyering, the other foot in the progressive camp. Until I reached a point I had to choose. That was when my office was raided for second time on October 26, 1979 and I had to go into hiding and then escaped…

Graphic: How did you go to hiding?

Capulang: Mabigat. Simple. Deep hiding. Ang ibig kong sabihin, I wasn’t in the movement pero maraming kilala…(I wasn’t a part of the movement but knew many who were.)

It was Tony Tagamolila who called to warned about impending raids when martial law was declared. Another friend in media also called. By the time soldiers came to our house in UP Village, I was gone.

Graphic: Where did you hide?

Capulong: Just around Metro Manila. Different homes. I was with (former senator Raul)Roco. Other people had their own groups…Heherson Alvarez. Boni Gillego, Tony Pet Araneta…the progressive bloc of the Concon — Voltaire Garcia, Ding Lichauco, Joe Marie Velez…around 37; we were all in hiding but we’d  get together from time to time.

Graphic: Was it the underground Left that hid you?

Capulong: (Shakes his head) We had no organization base, only friends. Then Roco thought of an idea. We printed pamphlets; we contacted the Left. We actually looked for them.

Graphic: It must have been a lonely time.

Capulong (Laughs and shakes his head.) We had friends, some in government, some in media. They would ask, ‘what do you need?’ The others would help but scold, ‘sinasabi na nga ba!’ (I told you so). And, of course, there was Sigma Rho.

Graphic: So brotherhood does pay?

Capulong: (Laughs) Sometimes. Enrile was defense chief. Angara worked for Enrile’s law office. Angara and I were friends, we had been dorm mates.  Si Liwag, dating boss and colleague sa Concon; he’d reassure us, ‘akong bahala, kausapin si Marcos.’ He had independent efforts to get a memo clearing us.

Balancing act, from the website of SusanDaley

Graphic: Personal ties in a rainbow coalition?

Capulong: We used connections, yes. Our wives went to everyone, their counterparts … Mrs. Angara, Mrs. Enrile.

Sometimes, they faced humiliation. One time, Enrile snapped at my wife. “I cannot answer that question!” She was asking him for dossiers on what the government had against us.

When the government stabilized, ang temper Enrile okay na, di na masyadong bugnot, (Enrile’s temper cooled down and he wasn’t that grouchy anymore) They reviewed evidence, submit the memo, and the order to throw us in jail was lifted. This was around 1972. We were placed under house arrest.

Graphic: What was it like?

Capulong: Later, it became hard. You had to spend for your guards. They made me report once a week, just to say I wasn’t doing anything bad. I complied with their guidelines.

Graphic: There was nothing to report?

Capulong: Yes, I did not do nothing wrong when I resumed law practice. I’d go to the office with two guards… feed them, whatever, cigarettes. Hard, because I had very few clients, hardly any income.

But the guards and I got closer and one day, they just waved me off and stayed at home while I did my thing.

So I had the opportunity to meet up with Joma. This was 1973.

Graphic: Still in Manila?

Capulong: Bundok na

Graphic: You’re old friends, you had the right influences, experience… why didn’t you go underground?

Capulong: My passion, my love was lawyering. And now lawyerring for our people, poor, oppressed and exploited. That is my passion. That is where I pour all energy and that’s how I want to be known.

With my own son, Eduardo, I had a big debate. My son is a lawyer, professor of law, from Standford, he went to New York University where the climate is more liberal. I would protest that he was a lawyer but did the task of a cadre and an activist. I told him there are many non-lawyers with organizing skills, many who can do cadre work, but there were very few of us lawyers who could serve the masses through law.

Graphic: Always, the movement cast a long shadow.

Capulong: I thought it was complementary to relate with the kilusan. As a people’s lawyer, to be effective, you have to serve organized forces. Kung di sila organized, mas maganda ma-organize sila, politicised and helped to develop strong unity and militance. Mas maganda yun sa laban.

We help those objectives… Who organizes masa? The biggest group is the NDF, and then there are big legal mass organizations. We had to work together because we had a common beneficiary of services.

Graphic: Don’t lines of authority get entangled?

Capulong: If we handle a labor case for a union, there are the union officers, the organizers from outside, and there are the lawyers…Modestly aside, in these cases, I insisted in defining relations and mandate.

Graphic: That’s interesting… a fine balancing act

Capulong: Yes, you will need good relations, all three…you should know your mandate and respect others’….

Our objectives, for example; we have different priorities. What’s principal for one could be secondary for another. But we have to work together well. Fortunately, we have defined relations.

Graphic: Like how?

Capulong: We are an institution. We are not integral to the movement. We are not in-house counsel; we are external lawyers.

That’s a major difference… we deal at arms’ length with our client. Wala kaming dependence sa kilusan for our existence. (We are not dependent on the movement.) Operationally, we have our own policies and internal procedures. But yes, our politics is national democratic politics, which is legal, by the way.

Graphic: Not everyone sees things that clearly

Capulong: Our lawyers are free to embrace, to what extent they get involved with movement. But always, your time – and this is PILC’s basic principle – your time belongs to the center. The center takes care of your economic needs.  Your contribution to our struggle is done through PILC in the form of legal service.

Which means bawal maging director or have a position in other organizations… on a case to case basis, some people ask permission; I have yet to grant this.

They’d say, it’s just a small job; they only need my name. As a mater of policy, bawal yun because our time belongs to PILC — our expertise, time and skills as people’s lawyer our contribution to struggle. If that is respected, you have an ideal relationship. And it is being respected.

Graphic: What kind of economic base do you provide?

Capulong:  We are trying to be at par with small or medium sized law firms but di namin kaya. Relatively small but within middle class… their needs… certain level of income…our lawyers have cars, even if they have to buy on instalment or get it second hand. They may not yet be able to afford a house, but they are still young. Travel, of course, is a perk and we farm out opportunities to everyone. We don’t get anything from the NDF. First, that’s against policy. Second, as I’ve told the younger lawyers, we can look for other sources of income, but these people toil in the forests and the mountains and far-flung areas, and they don’t have income.

Graphic: Has there been conflict, like, say younger lawyers wanting or not wanting a client, or having ideas different from the client? How do you deal with that?

Capulong: In the handling and acceptance of cases, we have an evaluation committee, both for revenue generating and public interest cases.

It is true, there can be misunderstandings caused by generation gap. I am the oldest. I guess they have learned to accept my weaknesses, but still retain respect for me as their superior, the managing counsel. Not a big problem. They accept my weaknesses; I accept theirs. Working closely together helps forge unity. We’ve tested that at PILC. But yes, sometimes, a young lawyer will leave and it is only later that I hear of his or her sentiments.

Graphic: And what are your weaknesses?

Capulong: Authoritarian ako. Demanding sa tasks.

Kung ano standard sa akin, ganun sa kanila

Graphic: You’re all over the place; doesn’t your family resent that?

Capulong: I had problems before.

Graphic: Just what is demanding?

Capulong: Your time belongs to PILC. We have a daily time record aside from a log book, where you write down what you do, who you are servicing. We have a whereabouts chart. No matter where you are, the office should know. You must be accessible to clients at all times.

Graphic: Do you people have lives?

Capulong: (Laughs) Well, yes, the young lawyers wanted changes. I remain accessible sa client 24 hours; everyone knows that, knows my cellphone number, which hasn’t changed through the years.

The younger lawyers asked for a cut-off time… hanggang 8 p.m. lang. I agreed on one condition. Among ourselves we are accessible to one another, 24 hours.

Graphic: That is tough…

Capulong: There’s more. We have regular evaluation. How much time is input, or revenue earned. This is the principal of self-reliance.

I tell a new lawyer: You will have to generate your own income to maintain your life. Say, P25,000 a month plus  appearance fees for paying clients. You raise that salary plus around 10,000 for upkeep — staff salaries, utilities, communications. So you know how much you need to contribute.

It works because our salaries are not delayed; we have not had to seek loans. (Laughs) But of course, every month is suspenseful. I always check. If funds are law, I do double time in our paying client base.

There are new initiatives now… in Central Luzon, the Lawyers for Public Interest, in Iloilo, Naga, Baguio and, surprisingly, Palawan though I have yet to check the situation there.

Graphic: Non-cadre work, cadre time and energy level. You’re no longer managing counsel?

Capulong: No more, just president.

Graphic: Is that preparatory to retirement?

Capulong: Yes. Three years ago, I said, there are things I have to do. Health — if I continue working that hard, I could have five years at most. I’d want some more time.

Graphic: Is the pool dwindling or expanding?

Capulong: We’re not into organizing. Always I say to clients and national leadership, one gauge of your strength is the ability to organize among lawyers. That’s your job, we can only give guidance.

Graphic: Are they listening to you?

Capulong: In 1991, the movement saw the IBP as hopeless, controlled by the establishment, the Sigma Rho. I told them it hasn’t been tapped, it remains the premier association, with stature and resources to help with major cases.

So I broke into the IBP leadership, first by becoming head of the Nueva Ecija chapter, then becoming a governor. (Laughs) I wanted the presidency but my brods blocked that. (Shrugs)

Still, I got a lot of support in proposing development and legal aid. That was approved unanimously during a meeting of the second highest policy-making body. I was actually surprised.

Graphic: So post-PILC work would be IBP?

Capulong: I want to concentrate on how to utilize the IBP to help masses; you don’t need ND politics for that.

Remember the IBP board passed a resolution supporting the termination of the US bases agreements. It was controversial but they did it. Enrile and (former senator Jovito) Salonga were so happy.

Now the IBP has a memorandum of agreement with Migrante and Migrante International. I am working on an MOA between IBP and Karapatan and Selda, and maybe putting up quick reaction team for Bayan during dispersals and arrests.

Graphic: You’ve had two decades, no more, relating with the NDF. You’ve seen the ups and downs, the push and pull of ideological forces. How to you manage to stay out of the fray? And how do you feel as a person and friend of all these people, including the newly dead?

Capulong: I have been privy to info material, access to all sides. But whether consciously or unconsciously, have not sat on any discussion about the debate. I was never invited by either side.

(After a long silence) When the problem erupted, I was in Japan with Nelia (Sancho) and Fidel (Agcaoili). We saw the CPP statement. Our instinct was, this is so sudden. They called and suggested for more time to resolve the issue. But official action had already been done, and Joma had gone public.

At that time, I had more clients with the rejectionist group, or maybe an equal number. Kintanar (Romulo, murdered last year), Bilog (Rafael Salas, now a businessman) who was then involved in the fight, Baylosis (Rafael, now a labor leader), Benjie de Vera, Joy Jopson (Kintanar’s widow). The peace process was not that active then.

I could only listen to all their stories. I kept my friendships but one my one, the RJ clients dropped out. I don’t know… and I feel really bad about this. I wish they’d done it other ways, both sides.

(I had met lawyer Romy Capulong while covering conflict and its fallout. But not until 2004, after this interview, did I get to know him well. Strange, but it was my true-blue capitalist pal, Yvette Lee, who made the introductions. She had met Romy while trying to untangle and solve environmental issues that dogged a former employer. She found him and his band of young lawyers at the Public Interest Law Center tough but reasonable – and funny. That was important to Yvette who bonded with Romy as they embarked in a venture to improve agriculture sustainability. That didn’t fly because of red tape and turf battles in the agriculture department. They went on to explore other possible projects – forestry, among others. Mostly, they just really liked each other. It was fascinating to watch these two spar on the state of the nation amid lots of laughter. Yvette never budged Romy’s beliefs and he never turned her into a leftist. But in all those leisurely lunches and dinners and outings, often with lawyers Marie Yuvienco, Jong Olalia and Rommel Quizon, we learned about the complex moves and the stories, tragic and funny behind the news headlines. In the last two years, we had badgered Romy about writing down his memoirs. He remained busy through his illness. We urged him to get a recorder and just dictate whatever came to mind. Then time run out. I guess we all will have to write his memoirs.)