New People's Army

Timeline: What pushed Joshua Sagdullas to join the New People’s Army?

Inday Espina-Varona

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Timeline: What pushed Joshua Sagdullas to join the New People’s Army?

HAPPIER TIMES. Classmates and friends at the University of the Philippines Tacloban remember former student leader Joshua Sagdullas as soft-spoken but eloquent, kind and polite, before he joined the New People's Army in 2020.

Rowell Montes

One of Joshua Sagdullas' last posts on Facebook warns of a fake account that shows him as turning on fellow activists and supporting then-president Rodrigo Duterte's tokhang-style, anti-insurgency campaign.

TACLOBAN CITY –  Soft-spoken, smart, and a logical thinker. This is how a former professor of Joshua Sagdullas at the University of the Philippines Visayas, Tacloban College described him as a political science student.

Associate professor Ladylyn Lim-Mangada spoke to Rappler on Thursday, June 1, a day after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported that Sagdullas was one of four New People’s Army (NPA) rebels slain during a May 28 clash with members of the 43rd Infantry Battalion in the hinterlands of Brgy. Mabini, Catarman, Northern Samar.

The three others killed were identified by the military as Geraldine Teopinto alias Luz, the finance officer; Abigail Padula Baselga alias Moana, a medical officer; and Vicente Termo.

Sagdullas, who graduated with a degree in political science in 2017 from UP Tacloban, was Mangada’s student in several political courses and excelled in class, she said.

As a student leader, he consistently lent his voice to the poor, oppressed, and weak, she added.

Kind, eloquent

Sagdullas was “one of the kindest people I know,” his former classmate Ara Pacoma said.

“He was very helpful to his fellow students, a leader who always showed his willingness to lend a hand, and I never heard him complain even in the midst of so many daunting tasks as student council president.”

When asked by Rappler if he knew the student Sagdullas, a security guard of almost two decades at the said university recalled him as being polite and kind. The youth, he said, was a good public speaker and seemed untiring even in longer talks. 

Former student leaders who shared news of Sagdulla’s death mentioned his “eloquence” during council debates. They described him as having a “critical mind with a great talent for articulating points and arguments anchored on the best interest of the people.”

Kabataan party-list Representative Raoul Manuel on Twitter said, “Joshua was the chair of KASAMA sa UP (national alliance of UP student councils) when I served as Student Regent. Many students and people will remember Joshua not as a terrorist but as a defender and servant of the oppressed.”

Joining the NPA

After his graduation, the campus activist eventually became the Eastern Visayas secretary general of Bayan, the national militant coalition of sectoral organizations. He remained active in organizing youth groups.

Sagdullas was a regular user of Facebook, pushing statements of people’s organizations, and schedules of events. He combined condemnation of human rights violations and attacks on activists, and the Duterte government’s messy COVID-19 pandemic response, with lyrical notes on art, music, and authors he loved.

His social media presence abruptly stopped on June 8, 2020. 

Captain Jefferson Mariano, 8ID public affairs chief, said that year, Sagdullas joined the NPA as a full-time combatant.

He was among the combatants belonging to the NPA subregional guerrilla unit deployed in Northern Samar to reinforce the NPA front committee 2 dismantled by the military early 2023, said Mariano. 

He was a political officer, Mariano added. It was not clear where Sagdullas was operating before that.

A former comrade identified the bodies of the four rebels slain on May 28. Alias Kurati had surrendered on April 30, 2023, to officials of Barangay Santander, Bobon, Northern Samar after receiving serious injuries in a firefight that killed seven rebels.  

Turning point

Military officials blamed Asia’s longest communist insurgency and its “pointless ideology” for the death of a promising young man. 

The public information office of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division (8ID) quoted its commander Majr General Camilo Z. Ligayo as saying that Sagdulla “could have had a better future ahead and be an active partner of the government in nation-building, helping the people in the community if he had not been recruited with the terrorist group.”

But Bayan national secretary-general Renato Reyes told Rappler on June 1 that the government pushed Sagdullas to take up arms.

“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,” the activist leader said on June 1.

Rappler researched what was happening in Tacloban and other areas of Eastern Visayas in the last year before Sagdullas’ disappearance from legal activism. This is what we found:

June 7, 2020

A day before his last Facebook post, Sagdullas asks friends to report a fake account bearing his name and picture. It launched in April of that year. But it gets his attention only when a spate of fake accounts surface after the arrests of activists during a June 5 protest against the then-still-unpassed anti-terror bill.

Rappler on June 7 also reports on the trend, which started at the University of the Philippines  Cebu and then spread to other UP campuses. The newer fake accounts, however, are still blank when activists report these.

The fake account paints Sagdullas as a rabid supporter of then-president Rodrigo Duterte, who had ordered stepped-up anti-insurgency campaigns in the islands of Samar and Negros in the Visayas, and Bicol – for example, the fake Sagdullas justifying the killings of people violating the curfew imposed as part of the government’s COVID-19 lockdown.

In bad English, the post says people who feel threatened by Duterte’s shoot them dead order must be violators.

FAKE ACCOUNT. Unknown persons created a fake account using Joshua Sagdullas’ name and face in April 2020, crafting posts to make him look like an activist who had turned around and pledged allegiance to the government. Joshua Sagdullas

Why did this alarm the activist?

“He feared it was setting a trend for a murder that the state would then blame on the NPA, as there were hints of this new tactic,” says a former Eastern Visayas rights worker forced to leave the region for security reasons.

May 30, 2023

Sagdullas shares a call for justice for Secretary-General Carlito “Ka Karlets” Badion, an urban poor leader whose dead body was found on a highway in Ormoc City on May 28.

The news outfit Bulatlat reports that Badion, the long-time secretary general of Kadamay, was red-tagged and received death threats two days before his killing.

GUNNED DOWN. Kadamay secretary-general Carlito Badion was found on a highway in Ormoc City on May 28. Ferdinand Gaite, Courage
May 29, 2023

“Stop the killings!,” Sagdullas calls out as he shares a Manila Today report on the May 26 killing of  farmers’ leader Allan “Mano Boy” Aguilando, in Barangay New Rizal, Catarman, Northern Samar.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) says the 43rd Infantry Battalion claimed Aguilando died in an encounter.

A June 7 report by the National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas says that “the allegations against him are baseless and the so-called recovered gun planted in the manner of Tokhang killings and other murders of peasants such as in Negros.”

KMP says Aguilando was the 251st farmer-victim of extrajudicial killing (EJK) under the Duterte administration.

KILLED.  Farmers’ leader Allan “Mano Boy” Aguilando was killed on May 26 in Barangay New Rizal, Catarman, Northern Samar. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
May 27, 2003

The Army reports the abduction on May 27 of three “peacebuilders” by the NPA in Canvais village, Motiong, Samar.

The Army’s 87th Infantry Battalion claims Cosme Cabangunay and his sons Jevie and Jason were members of the Motiong Peacebuilders, a group of former rebels who joined the peace and development efforts of the government.

The NDF in the region denies the allegations. 

“We are aware that the Cabangunay men were earlier forced to ‘surrender’ by the 87th IB even though they were merely peacefully farming in their community. We fear for their lives and demand that the military immediately surface and release them,” says a statement by Fr. Santiago “Ka Sanny” Salas, then-spokesperson of the regional underground group.

April 12, 2020

Sagdullas shares a PressOne report of officials of Balangiga town in Eastern Samar denying the 8ID’s claim that NPA rebels had raided relief goods meant for the COVID-19 aid program. Even the local police deny the claim after conducting an investigation.

March 10, 2020

Sagdullas shares a petition announcement of a Quezon City event supporting community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who was arrested in Tacloban City, along with four human rights defenders on February 7, 2020 in Tacloban City.

Cumpio remains in jail three years after her arrest. He also defends Cumpio in a March 7 post.

December 19, 2019

Sagdullas posts that Northern Samar has experienced 11 cases of politically-motivated killings since then-president Duterte issued Memorandum Order 32 in November 2018 to halt the “state of lawlessness” in Bicol, Samar, Negros Island. 

November 27, 2019 

Sagdullas mentions the killing of  Commission on Elections (Comelec) employee and former community journalist Maureen Japzon.

Japzon, the founder of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Eastern Visayas chapter, was shot seven times by suspects on board motorcycles on October 15, 2019 near her workplace in McArthur, Leyte.

On the same day that Japzon was killed, the human rights group Karapatan says Renee Superior, a village councilor in Libungao, Kananga, Leyte was also reported killed. 

“Several other barangay officials have been targeted in the region for supporting campaigns against militarization,” says Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

November 22, 2019

Sagdullas posts the Bayan Eastern Visayas statement, challenging some local media that had signed a Manifesto of Commitment to Duterte’s Memo 32 and joined the military’s red-tagging efforts in statements, videos, and photo captions.

“Word usage includes ‘confirmed’, ‘known’ and other similar words as if to denote or deduce that the illegal tagging of our organizations as ‘mere legal fronts’ of the CPP-NPA-NDF is valid,” the statement says.  –

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