a merchant of ideology

“I’m a merchant of ideology” Bernabe said to the man sitting across from him. “Not a salesman of frivolous fascinations.”

The angular eyebrows broke from their pointed mold to form two rounded arches. “Frivolous fascinations?” the tight lips uttered with a slow drip of condescension. “If you’re operating under the assumption that you cannot be swayed, you simply have not been offered the right price.”

"Every man has his price"

“And what do you know about me that gives you the tenacity to say that?” Bernabe maintained his gaze with the empty eyes.

“Every man has his price” said the lips.

A long pause.

“Leave this office. You’ve been here long enough.”

The chiseled face stared back, unmoving for a moment, then rose. Carried by the cold grey pant legs, it turned and moved toward the door. “Even you have your price, though you won’t admit it. Not monetary, perhaps, but ideological.”

The suited body stopped at the door and the chiseled face looked back once more at Bernabe. “When the merchant loses his market, then he listens to reason.” With that, the grey suite was gone, the door swinging shut in its wake.

Unsettled, Bernabe couldn’t help but think the man had a point. Yet he was confident. His cause had power, more power than the chiseled face thought.

The recently closed door flew open, allowing Pym Vorshel, the organizations prim communications director an unobstructed path to Bernabe’s simple desk.

“Urgent word from the streets, Mr. Buscayno” said a breathless yet in-control Pym.

More urgent news. Everything seemed to be urgent these days. The meeting he’d just ended had been urgent. In hindsight, he couldn’t see how such bullshit could be considered pressing, though he couldn’t have known the extent to which the grey-suited U.S. ambassador would go in convincing him to stop this war. Like it was his war to stop…

“People are being murdered in your streets, your city streets, every day because you, along with president Duterte, insist on eradicating petty criminals” the ambassador had said.

But Bernabe knew this man didn’t and couldn’t see the situation for what it was. The goal of a society should be to become more perfect, better for all people. These “petty criminals” weren’t simply a nuisance. They presented the biggest challenge to achieving a fair, prosperous and efficient society.

The New People's Army logo

“There are mass protests in the streets.” Pym stated bluntly. “They say they don’t want the NPAs’ communism. They want democracy, not tyranny. That’s what they’re signs say.” She delivered the message dispassionately, as usual.

“Sounds like they’re on our side but are too blinded to see it. Democracy is everything we fight for. But not in the sense of empowering people to elect some corrupt out-of-touch elite who doesn’t truly give a damn about anyone but themselves. Democracy is a rule by the people and for the people. The dim-witted people on the streets hear “communism” and think “authoritarianism” and “dictatorship.” Marcos was an authoritarian but he wasn’t a communist. People think they’re they same. They’re not and it’s our task to alter this tendency and will to conflate.”

Bernabe was known to go on and on when it came to this topic, and Pym had heard it a thousand times before. But she knew that he spoke truth and so she listened as always.

“Those people don’t know what they want. They’re buying the American propaganda.” These events made it seem like Bernabe’s market was indeed declining. But such is the nature of an ideological war.

As founder and leader of the New People’s Army, Bernabe Buscayno had the force of aggression on his side. He was a militant at heart and wasn’t afraid to direct with this characteristic.

Ever since the election of Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, Bernabe had been breathing easier. There was no lack of things to hate about the president, but imagining the alternatives made for a highly unpleasant experience. Duterte was strong and didn’t play games when it came to establishing order.

Order. That was Bernabe’s mission. There were many who called him and the New People’s Army a terrorist group, but in the big picture, what of it? If order were established, people would be happier. Families would be happier, safer, able to sleep.

“What did the ambassador have to say?” Pym asked.

New People's Army (NPA) fighters in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila. Photo: AFP/Noel Cialis

“The usual talk about how our military activity is causing instability and how the rest of the world doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of our cause.” Bernabe’s voice didn’t event attempt to hide the sarcasm he felt dripped from such words.

Pym’s confident voice responded. “The rest of the world pays us too much attention. But great change never comes unnoticed.” She let this linger in the silence for a moment. “Your expected to make a statement in response to the protests.”

“What would you say to the mob?” Bernabe asked Pym.

“I’d start by affirming their willingness to make known their concerns. Then I’d make my dissatisfaction with Duterte clear in such a way as to remain allied with him yet gain more confidence from the people. Everything that we are, is for the people. We’re the New People’s Army.”

“We can only walk that line for so long, Pym. We walk it too long, we’ll be exposed as frauds.”

“True. But in walking it, we’re not being disingenuous to our cause or ourselves. We don’t forsake what we value.”

“And what is it we value?” He wanted to hear it spoken plainly.

“Egalitarianism, the wellbeing of the populace, the ability of the working class to be the engine of society, order, efficiency, Filipino identity…”

Aw yes, such precious idealism. Bernabe believed in these values with everything he had, but to hear them spoken out loud, they somehow seemed diminished, bastardized, made trivial. People could dismiss the idea of egalitarianism as a laughing stock but they couldn’t dismiss something like an assassination or an attack. Reality was grim. Messy. Deadly, even.

You know a man’s values not by his words, but by his actions.

A statement in response to the protests wasn’t enough. Action was required. This, he admired the president for. But he had just labeled the New People’s Army an official terrorist group. It was like the populace suddenly realized the existence of the NPA and wanted them gone. But they’d been around since 1969.

As an organization, they shared a great deal ideologically with Duterte. But it was their violence that made them politically unacceptable.

“Egalitarianism, the wellbeing of the populace, and all the rest… Our values indeed. Yet conveying them in the political realm makes them less than what they are. It reduces them to a political value. Politics is too shortsighted for any lasting change. Action, and violent action is what we need… is what we’ll continue to provide this great land. What are a few deaths and a temporary instability in service of a long-lasting stable society?” Bernabe had is remarks. He would give people what they sought.

The New People’s Army is the militarized wing of the Community Party of the Philippines. The NPA was formed in 1969 by Bernabe Buscayno. The group’s activity has increased since the election of president Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, who has waged a bloody war against drugs. From my understanding, in reality there is no collaboration between the NPA and the government. In fact, the NPA has waged its ongoing war directly with the government. In this story, I have painted some degree of similarity between them because the NPA has monopolized on the violence and chaos spurred by Duterte’s drug war. The United States government along with the Filipino government recognizes the NPA as a terrorist organization.

This writing is a fictionalized view.