Jesus Lava: Memoirs
of a Communist

Posted: 9:59 PM (Manila Time) | Oct. 26, 2002
By Eric S. Caruncho
Photographs by Jim Guiao Punzalan
Inquirer News Service

Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas

THE Philippine flag still hangs in the Mandaluyong house where Dr. Jesus Lava lives quietly, surrounded by papers and grandchildren -- a reminder perhaps of what he has spent the better part of 88 years fighting for.

Tall and thin, with an easy smile and an affable manner, it is hard to picture "Amang," as family members call him, as the "enemy of the state" as he was once considered by the government.

But 40 years ago, as secretary general of the outlawed Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), Lava was No.1 on the Philippine Constabulary's hit list. The government had placed a P150,000 bounty on his head -- a huge amount in the early 1960s, when the dollar exchange rate was 4:1.

Acting on an informant's tip, PC troopers stormed a house in Sampaloc, Manila on May 21, 1964 and arrested Lava. Conflating Peter Pan and James Bond, Nick Joaquin wrote a melodramatic account of "Operation Lightning" and the capture of "Dr. Huk" in the Free Press. The Macapagal government crowed that it had finally broken the back of the communist movement.

Lava faced charges of subversion, two counts of rebellion and 15 counts of murder, most of them dating back to the Japanese occupation when he was with the Hukbalahap. He pled guilty to rebellion, and was later acquitted on the murder charges, but it would be 10 years before Jesus Lava would see the light of day again.

In the meantime, history moved on. The PKP scrambled to recover from its latest debacle, but it never did.

In 1968, blaming the movement's setbacks on "revisionism, subjectivism, Left and Right opportunism" -tendencies he blamed squarely on the leadership of the Lavas -- Jose Ma. Sison led a reestablished Communist Party of the Philippines in a decisive split from the "old" Party. Taking their cue from Mao Tse Tung's theory of protracted war, the CPP and its armed partisans, the New People's Army or NPA, picked up the ball and ran with it. If the Lavas were remembered at all during the CPP's ascendancy in the 1970s, it would be as Sison had painted them before consigning them to the dustbin of history.

But history never rests, and it may yet prove kinder to the Lava legacy. Dr. Lava has written his memoirs, as yet untitled, but soon to be published by Anvil Publishing. If nothing else, it should help clarify his imprint on Philippine history.

"I'm proud to be a communist," says Dr. Jesus Lava. "I'm not ashamed of that tag. Ideologically, philosophically and practically, I'm still a communist although I'm no longer a member of the party."

Which party would that be? With the underground Left riven into more factions than Lava could ever have imagined, the Soviet Union gone and China seemingly on the capitalist road, to profess communism these days is to risk being called an anachronism, a quaint relic from a dimly-remembered past. But then, his critics have been calling him that for the last 30 years, so what else is new?



Enemy is 'imperialism'

For Lava, the face of the enemy remains as plain as the light of day, and it is still the face of American imperialism, though it now goes by the more benign tag "globalization."

"The real root cause of poverty, not only in the Philippines but in other countries, is imperialism," he maintains. "The colonial powers are guilty of the worst kind of human rights violation. The basic human right of people to develop economically has been frustrated by the US, by preventing us from developing industrially."

For Lava, the Battle of Seattle and similar international rallies against globalization merely portend a coming confrontation between the oppressed and the oppressors.

"The oppressed have no choice but to band together," he says. "The way I see globalization today, there is no way except for the transformation of economies from a profit motive to a socially-oriented motive. It may take 20, 30 or even 50 years, but it's inevitable."

If socialism is a faith as much as an ideology, then Dr. Lava has kept it.

"I don't know if it is original, but my position is that the aim of a socialist society and the aim of all religions will eventually converge," he says. "Both are based on humanity, love, cooperation. In a futurist sense, this will be the basis for a truly egalitarian society."

For all the hardships he has endured, Lava says he would do it all over again for the ideas he embraced more than half a century ago.

"I regret the mistakes, but not the path I took," he says.

Jesus Lava was born on May 15, 1914, the youngest of nine children of Adeodato Lava and Maria Baltazar. The Lavas were a prominent ilustrado family in Bulacan, Bulacan, owning orchards planted to mangoes, santol, lanzones and pineapple. The elder Lava had aspired to higher education, but failed to achieve this for himself. Instead he became a teacher, and showered instruction on his children. His efforts, like his orchards, would bear profligate fruit.

All the Lava children -- especially the sons -- were expected to excel. The eldest, Vicente, earned a doctorate in chemistry from Columbia University and developed a revolutionary patent for extracting coconut oil from fresh coconuts. Francisco, a lawyer, attended the University of California at Berkeley. Horacio was the country's first Ph. D. in economics, from Stanford no less. The two youngest, Jose and Jesus, earned law and medical degrees, respectively, from the University of the Philippines.

The 1930s were a period of social unrest, peasant revolts, a growing labor movement, and increasing anxiety about Japanese expansionism in Asia. Just as ilustrados of the previous century were drawn to the independence movement, so were the Lavas to the political ferment of their time.

In his book "The Lavas: A Filipino Family," writer Jose Dalisay, Jr. wrote:

"...They (the Lavas) gave the educated Filipino middle class ... another option besides the blind acceptance of things as they have alway been.

Marxism in RP

They redefined personal excellence, and infused the personal and the professional with the political imperative. They promoted the entry of the middle class into the mainstream of radical, mass-based politics, and reintroduced a whole new generation of Filipinos to the revolutionary ideals of 1896. To workers and peasants, they offered proof of and hope for solidarity in political action across and among social classes. For those they inspired-and despite their many errors, shortcomings, and imperfections-they helped to turn the ideal into the commonplace."

In the 1930s, Marxism attracted many Filipino nationalists. Vicente was the first to join the PKP, which had been founded in 1930. In the crucible of World War II, Jose and Jesus would follow and all three brothers would rise to the top echelons of the movement in due course.

The easygoing Jesus was, at the outset, considered least likely to succeed as a communist.

"Vicente was unsure that I could be a member of the party," recalls Lava. "He never encouraged me to join. He correctly perceived my general way of life as not conducive to the strict ways of party discipline. He thought I was a playboy and that I could not be serious."

Indeed, of the Lavas, Jesus seems to have had the keenest interest in the opposite sex. He was, as one grandnephew puts it, "pabling (a ladies' man)." The war changed all that. Lava was a resident physician at Mercy Hospital when the Japanese bombs fell on Manila. There he met and married Anita Mayang, a nurse from Kabankalan, Negros. Eventually, Lava found his way to the mountains of Central Luzon where the Hukbalahap-the People's Anti-Japanese Army-had set up a guerrilla base. In 1942, following the arrest of PKP founder Crisanto Evangelista, Vicente Lava became PKP general secretary. The same year, Jesus joined the party.

Eventually, he was captured by the Japanese and held for several months. Luckily, a general amnesty was announced when the Laurel regime was established, and Jesus returned to the hills where, except for brief periods, he would live the ever-shifting life of an underground revolutionary until his capture in 1964.

"If you were to sum it up," reflects Lava today, "from the outbreak of the war until my release in 1974-33 years -- I probably spent only six or seven months total with my wife. That's why I only have two children with her, and they practically grew up without seeing me."

Lava, however, also had two "mountain wives" with whom he had five other children. (The party allowed married comrades who had taken to the hills to have "mountain wives," as long as the "city wives" agreed.)The end of the war only spelled a new phase in the struggle.

The end of the war only spelled a new phase in the struggle. With the Japanese gone, the Americans turned their attention on the communists as the next threat to US interests. Members of the Hukbalahap were disarmed, arrested and, in many instances, killed.



Huk movement

In 1946, Lava ran for and won a congressional seat as part of the Democratic Alliance (DA), but reactionary congressmen, keen to pass the Parity Amendment, systematically blocked the DA's representatives from voting. When a peasant leader was abducted and later turned up, minus his head, Lava took that as his cue to head for the hills.

Vicente Lava died of rheumatic heart disease in 1947 and Jose succeeded as secretary general. The Hukbalahap had become the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) and continued to grow in strength, controlling large areas in Central Luzon. Meanwhile, the Americans had infected their local counterparts with their rabid anti-communism, and made sure they kept the pressure up on the Reds. Point man in the anti-Huk campaign was Defense Secretary and soon-to-be President Ramon Magsaysay. In 1950, the government scored a major coup when it arrested more than a hundred communists, including six members of the politburo, Jose among them. He would spend 20 years in prison.

As head of the party's second front, Jesus became general secretary in 1951. But by this time, the Huks were on the run. To make matters worse, a serious rift developed between Lava and Huk supremo Luis Taruc, who wanted to pursue a peace policy and legal struggle. Taruc eventually surrendered in 1954. Three years later, Lava gave up on the idea of protracted war from the countryside, and went down from the mountains into Manila to continue the struggle in the cities. For the next seven years, Lava lived a cat-and-mouse game with the police, moving from safehouse to safehouse until his capture in 1964.

Lava says he was not physically tortured during his 10 years in detention, but the isolation was torture enough.

"I developed clinical anxiety because of my isolation," he recalls. "Since I had no facilities, I had to find comfort and sanity in self-analysis. I became interested in the power of the mind to influence, to a greater or lesser extent, diseases of the body."

Together with Tony Araneta, a fellow detainee, he experimented with hypnosis and developed a keen interest in psychic healing, so much so that upon his release, he became research director for the Philippine Society for Psychic Healing, conducting experiments with Alex Orbito, Jun Labo and many other prominent psychic healers and writing two books on the subject.

Jose Lava went to his grave in 2000, a communist to the end. Jesus Lava is the last of a remarkable generation, and his story bears retelling, if only to shed light on a segment of our history that remains shrouded to this day. As for his place in it, Lava says he would like to be remembered as "a consistent fighter for Philippine independence, sovereignty, prosperity.'

"Actually, those are motherhood statements," he laughs. "Make that a fighter for Filipino nationalism, which can only be based on historical truth."