The death of Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, spokesman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), leaves a void in the revolutionary movement.
He was the face of the movement, the consolidated expression of a peasant and mill worker who was imprisoned, escaped, rejoined the underground and worked tirelessly to build guerrilla fronts under the most perilous conditions in the border of Quezon and Bicol, the Bondoc Peninsula and in Mindoro.
CPP issued a formal statement to end speculations about the fate of the veteran revolutionary and leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Southern Luzon.
He died in the company of a unit assigned to secure him and provide for his needs after suffering from two seizures, the last in 2006.
Known generally as Ka Roger, Rosal was actually known to the people in guerrilla zones in the region as Ka Pablo but he earned the monicker from journalists who covered the release of military captives in 1986 and during the meeting of the NPA guerrillas and the military in Lucena City as the peace process started in 1987.
In that meeting, facilitated by the Roman Catholic bishop of Lucena, Rosal came in with about two squads of NPA regulars, to the consternation of Army troopers nearby, wearing a camouflage and shaking the hands of people around.
Told that no firearms were allowed in the meeting room, the truthful Rosal confided to us that he had a cal. .45 pistol in his chest, but we had to tell him to just meet his counterparts since he would not be searched, anyway.The meeting proceeded without a snag.
Since he was using an Icom radio, Rosal was using the standard term “roger,” for which reason some of those covering the meeting used it to refer to him.
For journalists covering the revolutionary movement, Ka Roger was ever ready to answer questions just as he was quick to criticize some eager-beaver photojournalists for producing images of children decked with bandoliers and brandishing M-16 rifles taller than them, complete with the caption that they were “warriors.”
We were there when Roger admonished the photographer and he was surprised as well when we told him he took to the same route to the meeting that was taken by a band of activists who trekked to Bugon, Sariaya and outlying communities in 1971.
He reminded the fellow that the caption was probably a joke and stressed it would be best not to use souvenir photos as serious stuff, to which many agreed.
In the same year, we would cover him as he touched base with a variety of influential groups, including one religious sect whose members took firearms from NPA guerrillas in Quezon.
We would meet him again in a guerrilla zone in Southern Luzon after trudging through the mountains for 14 long hours, negotiating steep terrain and thick cogon grasses under the sun and rain, getting zapped by leeches and eventually dripping with sweat as we met in a hut.
Smiling, he would tell me that I had another great exercise. Eventually, we learned the easier route would not have taken four hours, through a waterway popular with farmers in the general area. Blame it on the guide who had to be guided in choosing the right trail from the highway to an area where only birds sing, and the stillness does not convey the risks ahead.
“It’s good to see you,” he said, but I did not tell him that we had to avoid a military unit only 200 meters away since we were in the company of another NPA unit. It was easy to spot them. They used firewood to cook their food.
He talked at length about the general situation, the establishment of more guerrilla zones and the need to spread military forces thinly.
Another noted NPA leader stood by as he talked at length, but this leader did not share the same fate as Ka Roger.
He was abducted several years ago and reportedly tortured in military camps in Central Luzon before vanishing without a trace.
In the same encampment, a number of ordinary folk also met with him, complete with reports about landlord abuse and the operations of certain military units. They knew him more as Ka Pablo.
Several years ago, Ka Roger even called us and since we were with the Harvard-trained political economist Dr. Alejandro Lichauco, we gave the cell phone to him and the two started conversing, with the former telling him that he was influenced by his writings, particularly his call for nationalist industrialization.
He also asked about his former colleagues in Sierra Madre who were in the lowlands, with one of them supposed to have died. “Pakikumpirma kasi maghahanda kami ng luksang parangal,” he said.
The confirmation came months later, and Ka Roger was relieved that his comrade was not dead but strong as a bull.
When talk about his death became a calendar story in the tabloids and broadsheets, we took the opportunity to seek him out. All those stories turned out to be false.
Last year, a story came out that he had had died two years earlier. The revolutionary movement shrugged off the report, saying there was a ban on the use of cell phones since the US forces were actively helping the military in locating Ka Roger, considered to be a big catch for them.
During the Arroyo regime, the last bit of information Ka Roger gave was that then Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao was “never a target of physical attack” but said “we have to kill him politically,” which meant battling his pronouncements and proving him wrong.
He did not laugh when told about Tiglao’s concern, saying the name of the former chief of the Manila-Rizal Regional Party Committee is not found in in any Order of Battle, which meant he is not a military target at all.
We knew his health was failing, and that he could no longer walk as fast as he could the last time we met in Sierra Madre, but we believed he had the spirit andf the tenacity to overcome difficulties.
One thing is sure, though. He would no longer be able to monitor radio and TV and dish out statements using his laptop and a variety of gadgets and he would not be there to meet us with a wide smile, ready to talk for days on end about the future he had seen.