Northern Samar

Ex-campus activist forced underground by threats slain in Northern Samar clash

Ricky Bautista

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Ex-campus activist forced underground by threats slain in Northern Samar clash

YOUNG REBEL. Joshua M. Sagdullas, one of four New People's Army rebels who died in a Northern Samar clash on May 28, speaks at a rally during his days as student leader and legal activist, before threats and harassment hounded him to go underground, according to friends. Joshua Sagdullas Facebook

Dire circumstances, including the arrests and detention of activists on trumped-up charges, force many to go underground and find other ways of resistance, says Bayan national secretary-general Renato Reyes

CATBALOGAN, Philippines — A former student leader of the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban Campus  (UPVTC) died with three other alleged New People’s Army (NPA) rebels during a clash with government troops in Northern Samar on May 28.

Philippine Army 8th Infantry Division (8ID) public affairs chief Captain Jefferson Mariano announced on Wednesday, May 31 the death of Joshua M. Sagdullas, former chairperson of the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban Campus  (UPVTC) College Student Council and former Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Eastern Visayas secretary general.

Mariano said a rebel surrenderer known as “Kurarti” identified Sagdullas as “Miyong”, alleged political instructor of the NPA in Northern Samar.

He identified the three other alleged rebel casualties as Geraldine Teopinto alias Luz, finance officer; Abigail Padula Baselga alias Moana, medical officer; and Vicente Termo, an NPA cadre.

“Joshua Sagdullas is a rebel but he is no terrorist,” Renato Reyes, Bayan national secretary-general told Rappler in response to the AFP’s statement calling Sagdullas and company “terrorists”.

“The dire circumstances in the province, including the arrests and detention of activists, including many Bayan leaders, based on trumped-up charges, is what forced many to go underground and find other ways of resistance. “Yung gobyerno ang nag-tulak kay Joshua na lumaban sa armadong paraan. (The government pushed Joshua to take up arms.)” Reyes said.

“The AFP should save its crocodile tears. Joshua offered his life in the struggle of the people. His death is not in vain,” he added, offering sympathies for the slain rebel’s family and friends.

Mariano said the military recovered two M16 rifles, two cal.45 pistols, magazines with ammunition, and personal belongings from the clash site in the upland village of Mabini in Catarman, the capital of Northern Samar.

Sagdullas family has been informed, and that the Tacloban City government was facilitating the return of his body, he added.

RECOVERED. The Philippine Army seized these items after the May 28 encounter in Mabini, Catarman, Northern Samar, where the four suspected rebels were killed. (8ID public information unit)

Sagdullas joined the NPA as a full-time combatant in 2020, according to Mariano, and served with a subregional guerrilla unit deployed in Northern Samar to reinforce the rebel front committee 2 dismantled by the military early this year.

Reyes did not specify the threats faced by Sagdullas before he went underground.

But after peace talks between the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the government of then-president Rodrigo Duterte collapsed in 2017, he signed Memorandum Order No. 32 ordering the deployment of additional troops, equipment and ammunition to Samar island, one of three key perceived strongholds of Asia’s longest running communist insurgency.

The government has designated the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA as terrorist organizations. It has tried to tag even legal activists as terrorists, and courts have dismissed many of what activists call trumped-up cases.

Several legal activists in Eastern Visayas, including journalist Frenchie Mae Quimpo, have spent years in jail after being slapped charges linking them to the communist movement.

International institutions have condemned the practice of red-tagging in the country. The rights group Karapatan has said that hundreds of activists killed under the government of then president Rodrigo Duterte were all red-tagged online and on-ground before the attacks that felled them.

AWAITING HOMECOMING. The coffins containing the remains of four alleged New People’s Army rebels slain on May 28, 2023 in Northern Samar await the guerrilla’s final journeys back to their hometowns. (8ID public information unit)

Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) Chair, Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez conveyed his sympathies and condolences to the families of the deceased.

In English, Tagalog and the local Waray language, the mayor urged rebels to think of the families they have left behind.

“You feel that your are fighting for a good cause. But in the end, grief is what it brings to those you leave behind, including the parents who worked hard to give you good education, and all for what? I hope this will stop, and this will end very soon,” Romualdez lamented.


Samar, an island in the Eastern Visayas divided into three impoverished provinces, has a reputation in military and activist circles of having the strongest underground communist bases.

But the rebels there have suffered serious setbacks recently, including the deaths of top CPP leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon and eight other comrades during a September 2022 chase in waters off Samar province.

The deaths of the Tiamzons came eight months into a government campaign launched after a series of surrenders by mid-level but key officers of the rebel movement in Samar.

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The clash that killed Sagdullas is part of the military campaign to crush what it calls the last two remaining rebel bases on Samar, “both in the wilds of Northern Samar,” according to Mariano.

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