MANILA – Former ranking security officials through the years have consistently belied the denials made by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chair Jose Maria "Joma" Sison that he masterminded the Aug. 21, 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing in Quiapo, Manila that left nine people dead and 95 others wounded.
The incident, which will be remembered anew this Sunday or 51 years later, happened during a Liberal Party's proclamation rally for its eight senatorial and Manila mayoralty candidates.
As the event was about to begin, two hand grenades were hurled at the stage, ripping the speaker's platform.
Among those killed instantly by the blast were a five-year-old child and The Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas.
Wounded were then congressman for Palawan Ramon V. Mitra Jr., then incumbent Senators Jovito Salonga, Eddie Ilarde, Eva Estrada-Kalaw, Liberal Party president Gerardo Roxas, Sergio Osmeña Jr., lawyer Martin B. Isidro who served as councilor, vice mayor and congressman of the City of Manila, Ambrosio "King" Lorenzo Jr. who served as the second district councilor of Manila, and Ramon Bagatsing, the party's mayoral candidate for Manila.
Salonga was among those seriously injured. The blast left him blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. Small pieces of shrapnel remained embedded in his body until his death in 2016.
Lorenzo was in a comatose for two weeks and lost sight in his left eye and hearing on the same side.
Bagatsing lost his left leg and suffered a crushed right cheekbone and a shattered right arm as a result of the blast.
Then president Ferdinand E. Marcos was initially blamed for the attack by the Liberal Party as he then suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. He used the incident and other bombings along with the insurgents' botched arms landing of the M/V Karagatan on July 4, 1972 as his justifications for declaring martial law on September 21 of that year.
As a background, Sison, in the 1970s, asked for support from then-chair Mao Zedong of the Chinese Communist Party.
Military reports indicated Sison’s emissaries negotiated for weapons including M-16 rifles, ammunition, and heavy weapons. These reports said China also supplied about 1,200 M-14 rifles, bazookas, mortars, communication equipment and medical kits.
China was said to have denied the CPP-New People's Army (NPA) request for a submarine prompting Fidel Agcaoili, Sison’s personal emissary, to go to Japan to acquire the Kishi Maru -- a 91-ton, 90-foot steel-hulled old fishing trawler.
China agreed to pay for the boat, which was renamed M/V Karagatan. On the later part of June 1972, the ship loaded with weapons departed from Fukien and sailed for Digoyo Point in Palanan, Isabela.
Meanwhile, NPA fighters trekked through the Sierra Madre to Digoyo Point for the grand arms landing.
But seemingly out of nowhere, the Philippine military showed up and intercepted the NPA. Military reconnaissance aircraft baited and wore down the trawler.
For several days, the military and NPA battled each other from the shores of Digoyo. As the military has more firepower with a coordinated air and naval gunfire, the NPAs escaped to Quirino province through the thick and rugged jungle terrain of Sierra Madre.
Since then the Plaza Miranda bombing would be outrightly blamed on Marcos by the opposition until the former military officer-turned-NPA commander and rebel returnee Victor Corpus revealed that the attack was ordered by Sison.
Corpus was the one who led the NPA fighters in receiving the arms from the M/V Karagatan. The account was revisited in an episode of GMA Network’s documentary program I-Witness titled “Ang Pagbabalik sa Karagatan” aired in 2012, where Corpus accompanied broadcast journalist Howie Severino and his team to the remote northern Sierra Madre to search for the wreck of the boat.
Corpus alleged that Sison deployed the cadre responsible for the attack in an interview in November 1986 and in the autobiographical prologue of his 1989 book "Silent War," he claimed to have overheard some CPP leaders discussing the attack shortly after it took place.
Corpus, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1967, defected to the NPA due to alleged corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in 1970 and shortly after led the raid on the Philippine Military Academy armory on December 29 of that year.
Disgruntled with the NPA and its execution of its own followers, Corpus surrendered in 1976 and spent the rest of his life under the Marcos regime in jail until granted clemency by then President Corazon "Cory" Aquino shortly after the EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986.
He was reinstated in the AFP in 1987 with the rank of lieutenant colonel and retired as a brigadier general in 2004.
Corpus also served as head of the Intelligence Service of the AFP prior to his retirement.
In a Washington Post article in August 1989, it claimed that the CPP leadership decided to carry out the attack as part of their efforts to push the country to the brink of a revolution as they thought the Plaza Miranda bombing will force Marcos to conduct a crackdown against his opponents.
With this scenario, they thought it will drive thousands of political activists to go underground making it easier for insurgents to recruit and arm more fighters.
In his column By the Way published by the Philippine Star in 2004, the late veteran journalist Max Soliven said Corpus went to his house prior to his 1976 surrender and told him that it was Sison who ordered the Plaza Miranda bombing and not Marcos.
Corpus also said Sison believed that an attack on the opposition will be blamed on Marcos and his government.
In 2018, then Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also tagged Sison as the mastermind of the Plaza Miranda bombing after the CPP founder tagged the military for the murder of nine workers in a sugar farm in Sagay City, Negros Occidental.
"Yeah right! Coming from the mastermind of the Plaza Miranda bombing, the killing of hundreds of New People’s Army (NPA) cadres suspected of being agents of the government, as well as assassination/killings of innocent civilians in the past 50 years?" he said.
Lorenzana also warned Sison to refrain from pointing fingers, noting that the CPP founder's "other fingers are pointing back at you".
"You have been unmasked as the man behind these atrocities by no less than your former comrades. Your psywar no longer works. Nobody, even your so-called fighters, believe you anymore," he added.
Lorenzana also said Sison is doomed to be consigned to the dustbin of history as a pathetic revolutionary failure, who has achieved nothing significant and instead brought bloodshed and suffering to the Filipino people.
Also in 2018, one of the CPP founding members, Ruben Guevarra, in a documentary produced by Sambayanan, tagged Sison as the one who gave orders to throw grenades at the said gathering.
"Ang Plaza Miranda bombing ay bahagi lamang ng isang serye ng kampanya na ginawa ng CPP. Ito'y bahagi nung sinasabi naming Oplan Big Leap Forward (The Plaza Miranda bombing is only a part of a series of campaign carried out by the CPP. This is part of what we call Oplan Big Leap Forward)," recalled Guevarra, who was also then part of CPP's Central Committee.
Guevarra said anyone who will reveal the CPP's involvement in the bombing will suffer the highest form of punishment in their organization but added that Danny Cordero -- leader of the group that carried out the bombing -- himself stood firm on the fact that it was Sison who gave them the order for the bombing.
Guevarra said the CPP also conspired with the government of then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong to wage an armed battle.
"Nung naipakita na namin yung umiral na yung revolutionary situation, may kakayahan na talaga na armado ang NPA na sumagupa, ipagkakaloob na samin ni Chou En Lai yung tulong na pinansyal at armaments (When we were able to show a revolutionary situation, and that the NPA was ready to go into an armed battle, then-Chinese Premier Chou En Lai would grant us financial help and armaments)," he said.
In the same documentary, Corpus corroborated Guevarra's story saying he was the one who gathered the firearms in Isabela.
Guevarra said the fact that the communist struggle lasted for 50 years showed that Filipinos do not want the ideology.
"Huwag na tayong patangay diyan sa sinasabi ng mga komunista, limampung taon na ito (Let us not be swayed by the words of the communists, it has been 50 years), my God," Guevarra added.
Guevarra said the communist ideology is not the solution, as it destroyed the God-centered and family-oriented values of Filipinos. (PNA)