Peace process reunites Tiamzons and spy who dogged them

Carmela Fonbuena

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Peace process reunites Tiamzons and spy who dogged them
The Tiamzons and retired General Ted Torralba will work together in a committee that will operationalize how to end hostilities between the military and the New People's Army

OSLO, Norway – Captain Teodoro Cirilo Torralba III listened to the radio as his men reported that Wilma Tiamzon, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was leaving the rented apartment on Wilson Street in San Juan that they had been watching for weeks.   

It was 1989, the height of the communist insurgency in the Philippines, when members of its top brass were based in the country capital and the military had a dedicated unit tasked to hunt them.

Four vehicles followed the car carrying Wilma until Ortigas Avenue in nearby Pasig City. They surrounded and forced the car to a full stop. Calm and quiet, Wilma did not resist arrest.

Torralba, a military intelligence officer, waited for updates from the other team that searched the San Juan apartment for the bigger target – Wilma’s husband, then CPP Chairman Benito Tiamzon. But he was nowhere to be found. 

“We were delayed by, I think, two days. If we effected the arrest earlier, kasama niya sana (he should have been arrested, too),” Torralba, now a consultant to the peace process between the Philippine government and communist rebels, recalled the arrest to Rappler 27 years later.

Benito smiled when told about the failed military operation to arrest him. “Hindi lang two days. Nagkamali sila doon. Akala nila ako ‘yung isang nandoon sa bahay. Mayroon kasing the same ang build ang katawa,” Benito, who learned about Wilma’s arrest on the radio, told Rappler.

(It wasn’t just two days. They made a mistake. They thought I was the one in the house. There was one person with the same body built.)

The resumption of the peace talks in Oslo, Norway, was not only a reunion between the power couple of the communist movement and the man whose book strengthened their radical ideas when they were students in the University of the Philippines, CPP founder Jose Maria Sison. It was also a reunion with the spy who dogged them in the ’80s. 

“Do you remember, General Torralba?” a government official teased Wilma as he pointed at Torralba at the lobby of Scandic Holmenkollen in Oslo, the venue of the peace negotiations. Wilma stared at the now retired Brigadier General, whose face was familiar. She only recognized him when she was told about the 1989 arrest.

“Santos ang alam ko e (Santos was the name I knew),” said Wilma, referring to the fake name Torralba gave her 3 decades ago.

Wilma then remembered her conversations with the military intelligence officer who checked on her group, which included the driver and two more people from the San Juan apartment, when they were not being interrogated by senior officials. 

Sabi ni  [According to] Sun Tzu, you should know your enemy,” Torralba said about those conversations. 

But the young captain was also tired of the war that saw many soldiers fall to the Sparrow Units of the New People’s Army. Knowing her place in the movement, he asked Wilma the same question he raised to other communist rebels he had arrested: How can this war possibly end?

“I was just a captain. Nine years pa lang ako sa serbisyo nito pero pagod na ako sa laban. I was asking her, paano ba (I was just 9 years into the service but I was tired of fighting. I was asking her, how do we go about this)? What can we possibly do?” Torralba recalled.

Wilma told the young officer about the continued failings of the Cory Aquino government to address the reforms they had been seeking since Martial Law.

She likes to believe that the young officer also had progressive ideals. “Kung nakapag-usap lang kami ilang ulit, may ilang points na puwede kami magkaintindihan (If we had time to continue our conversations, we may have agreed on several points),” she said. 

Wilma was later moved to the police custodial center, where she escaped about a month later. How? She wouldn’t tell. “That is still classified,” she said with a laugh. 

Galit na galit kami [military] noon (We were very angry then). Can you just imagine the time, effort, and resources we spent [to arrest her]?” Torralba recalled.

Wilma would be arrested again, but would be repeatedly released because of her immunity as consultant to the peace talks. The latest arrest was in Cebu in 2014, this time, with Benito. They were detained for two years before the courts granted them temporary liberty in August for the resumption of the peace talks.

It was the first time she and Benito sat down as negotiators of the peace process that, it was believed, they had previously opposed. They are in charge of the committee that will prepare a draft for panel discussions on how to end the hostilities between the military and the New People’s Army. (READ: Warriors, negotiators: Optimism on Day 1 of peace talks)

It is the final phase of the peace process that the government aims to complete within a year, but both camps agreed to hold simultaneous discussions on other substantive issues – socio-ecoomic and political reforms – in an attempt to accelerate the timeline. 

The negotiating table is a continuation of the 27-year-old conversation between Wilma and Torralba, who co-chair the committee that will advise panel discussions. If the peace talks go well, Wilma will get the reforms she has long been fighting for, and Torralba will finally see the end of the longest running communist insurgency in Asia. –

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