Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The work of Philippine communist spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, starting in the tumultuous 1980s, spurred the military to invest nearly as much man-hours drowning out his voice as it did to actually hunting him down.

According to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), Rosal died last June 22 from a heart attack. The government reported his death so many times that his actual demise seemed anti-climactic.

“Ka Roger rose to prominence in the decade of the 80s in the Quezon-Laguna area,” recalled Brig. Gen. Rolando Tenefrancia, the former Philippine Army attaché in Washington DC and now Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army at Fort Bonifacio, Makati.

He was then a young captain at the Civil Relations Service (CRS), the psychological warfare operator of the Philippine military that was principally tasked to counter rebel propaganda.

“He was a good spokesman for the CPP because he had a grasp of the issues,” Tenefrancia told the Manila Mail, “He had a way of swaying public opinion because he was good at networking with media.”

Born in Ibaan, Batangas, poverty forced Rosal to quit school at an early age, working as a servant in their landlord’s house and later selling mosquito nets to make ends meet. He was a student activist at the Golden Gate College in Batangas City when then President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1971.

He was arrested in 1973 but escaped from a police jail in Calamba, Laguna, and quickly joined the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s military arm. Rosal suffered his first stroke in 1997 and his health slowly deteriorated.

The military publicly offered to treat him but he refused and the government intensified the manhunt against him.

Tenefrancia said Rosal maximized his contacts with the press, especially with radio that at the time was the predominant form of media particularly in the rural areas.

“Every time there was an issue, there he was on DZRH (one of the Philippine’s top radio stations). DZRH was heard nation-wide so he was effective in raising the morale of their army,” he averred.

The 1980s was the peak of the modern communist insurgency in the Philippines . The NPA fielded “Sparrow Units” – hit teams that assassinated ranking government, police and military officials in capital cities, including Metro Manila.

US Army Col. James Rowe, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, became the highest-ranking US official to be killed by the communist insurgency. On April 21, 1989, a “Sparrow” hit team ambushed his bullet-proof car in broad daylight in one of Quezon City ’s busiest streets, fatally shooting him in the head. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery here.

It was also the decade when the communists mounted a deadly purge that killed thousands of cadres suspected of being government spies in campaigns that had such innocuous codenames as Operation Missing Link (in Luzon) and Cadena de Amor (in the Visayas) and Ahos Zombie (in Mindanao).

“In the ranks of the NPA only Ka Roger was allowed to speak on behalf of the group,” Tenefrancia said.

“It was probably because he had a lot of contacts in media,” he added, “and with what was happening in their organization, it wasn’t wise to have too many spokesmen.”

One measure of Rosal’s effectiveness, according to Tenefrancia, as his health deteriorated, so did the intensity of communist propaganda.

“He was not really a threat in the purely military sense but we had to counter the issues he was raising in the press. His problem was not everything he said was true. It was normal for us to answer the issues but we soon learned not everything he said needed to be refuted,” he explained.

“He’s died so many times in the newspapers,” Tenefrancia noted, “but no one from their ranks has actually emerged to take his role. In fact, ever since he got sick, they (NPA) have also fallen silent.”

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