Life in the countryside ‘freer’ than open work for NDF — Tiamzons
Life was freer working underground in the countryside, National Democratic Front (NDF) consultant Wilma Tiamzon admitted as she reflected on her current role in the peace negotiations.
Tiamzon and her husband Benito went underground in 1971 when former President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus, a year before martial law was declared.
They stayed underground for more than four decades until they were arrested in Cebu in 2014. The two were accused by the military of being top cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Today, they are the face of the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the CPP.
Recognized as consultants of the NDF, the CPP’s political arm, they were recently released from Camp Crame and allowed to participate in the formal peace talks in Oslo, Norway. Their life has changed drastically since then.
Wilma, during an INQ&A interview, recalled how they could freely move and interact with people when they were still in the countryside.
“Hindi limitado ang iyong magagawa (You are not limited in what you can do),” she said.
Wilma said they can move around and travel from province to province.
She also said they were most safe in the countryside as opposed to working underground in the city where there is higher risk of being arrested or even killed.
She said these were the risks faced by fellow NDF consultants who have to cross cities to get to other parts of the country.
Life in prison was another thing.
“Yung buhay sa kulungan napakalimitado (Life in jail was very limited),” she said of their stay in Camp Crame.
Earlier, she told INQUIRER.net that they would read newspapers from cover to cover. Starving for news and having nothing else to do, they would read seven or so broadsheets a day.
Although granted temporary freedom, Wilma said their release has come with very strict schedules for them to follow as they campaign for greater understanding of the peace process.
“Kasi yung sa underground ang nag-aagawan sa oras namin ay talagang naka-focus lang sa iba-ibang organisasyon, iba-ibang pangangailangan ng masa. Ngayon ay tuwiran kaming kailangan makapagharap sa iba ibang (grupo), tulad dito sa media,” she said.
(Because when we were underground, we could focus on different organizations or the different needs of the masses. Now we need to face different groups like media.)
She added that big businesses and social groups, as well as relatives, have been wanting to meet with them.
In an earlier exclusive interview with INQUIRER.net, they said they have yet to push through with their planned family reunion as their schedule has left little time for them to tend to personal affairs.
Benito recalled that after their release in the morning of August 19, they had to give a press conference in the afternoon. They had their visa approved that night, prepared their baggage the next morning and flew out of the country in the afternoon.
“Kaya talagang puno, punong-puno ang aming oras (Our schedules our very full),” Wilma said.
Nowadays, the Tiamzon couple grant regular interviews or hold public conferences. They are also consulting with various groups as they prepare for the next round of negotiations in October where working groups are expected to discuss the remaining three agreements of the NDF and the government.
Wilma has been appointed chair of the working group on the end of hostilities. Benito, on the other hand, serves as the vice chairperson of the two committees — end of hostilities and political and constitutional reforms.
Wilma clarified, however, that despite their busy schedule, they enjoy their new roles.
“Hindi naman sa napapagod, gusto rin namin (It’s not that we’re tired, we also like this),” she said.
The couple agreed that they would need to work hard to get the public support for the peace talks.
Both the Philippine government and the CPP have declared unilateral ceasefires in support of the negotiations. Peace panel memebrs from both sides say they are hoping for the conclusion of the talks in one year.
This will involve the eventual end of hostilities and disposition of forces, which Wilma says will be based on the final agreement. She said they would still have to study and observe the different models proposed, including the Philippine government’s experience with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. JE
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