top of page

Book Review: Tigaon 1969 -- Untold Stories of the CPP-NPA, KM, and SDK

Written by Dr. Jonathan Foe, author and Philippine History professor at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. Originally from Seattle, Dr. Foe moved to the Philippines in 1993 and studied at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) where he received his Ph.D. in 2014. He is the author of the novel The Students Who Fought Marcos and the historical drama The Undercover Lover of Manila.

The book offers an insightful snapshot of an activist’s life in the 1960s. Evidently, the author, Soliman M. Santos, was a member of the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, (SDK), a rival to the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). In the book, there are arguments between the author and Joma Sison, who led the CPP. These arguments are questions by Sison over research presented by Santos. Sison seemed to want to project his CPP and the NPA as the cutting edge of the revolution and belittle the contributions of the SDK.

What Soliman Santos has done is keep history alive and debatable. History is often not a set of facts. As Dominique Caouette wrote in the foreword, history is unfinished, contentious, alive and humane.

The research presented by Santos is amazing and detailed. They describe events that happened far in the past, that had little written record. Only the memory of the living could be utilized through repetitive interviews. Sison, head of the party until his death on December 16, 2022, takes Santos to task over his painstaking research details, essentially describing any non-official CPP history as “done by anti-CPP bourgeois liberals, crypto Trotskyites, and other types of contras.”

It is ironic that Sison engages in name calling, ranting against anyone who questions his memory, engages in a sort of mirror image of red tagging. If you want to dispute Joma Sison, expect to be insulted and maligned.

Santos recalls this name calling by radicals as a regular thing, thus turning off potential allies to the cause. Nor did Sison’s antagonistic style help the revolutionary cause, for it gave a chilling effect among activists who needed to fully debate policy. Naturally they would fear to question the leadership, afraid of being tagged as petty bourgeoise or an adventurist anarchist.

Yet the book is much more than this. It is the story of a group of young men, dedicating their lives to make Bikol a better place. Some communists even settled in Tigaon, contrary to CPP orders, and continued the struggle there. Isolated, meeting in secret with abaca strippers and farm workers, they organized for better working conditions and land reform. Communication was nearly all face to face because of military presence, so there were few phone calls, snail mail, and telegrams sent. Yet these Bikolano activists, barely out of their teens, were successful despite being isolated.

One may reject their call to combat as wrong and adventurous, yet the only option in this militarized era was either silence or combat. The lowly workers and farmers knew the system was wrong, but no one else came to their aid. Santos describes the revolutionary justice given to cattle rustlers and greedy landlords. Many of these young organizers were killed, some tortured, and few remained alive to tell their story.

Yet it was their sacrifice that made Bikol a better place. In response to the NPA, Marcos initiated large scale land reform in the Tigaon area, and CARP initiatives continued under Cory Aquino. There are no large landholdings left in the area, so there is less exploitation.

We owe these leftists our gratitude, and Soliman Santos our gratitude as well, for bringing their untold stories to life.


bottom of page