KASAMA Vol. 12 No. 2 / April-May-June 1998 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Coni Ledesma & Luis G. Jalandoni, member and chair respectively of the NDFP Negotiating Panel.

(Photo: NDFP)

FRANK CIMATU of NORTHERN DISPATCH interviewed CONI LEDESMA and LUIS JALANDONI during their visit to Baguio City this year. The following is a compilation from two articles that appeared in NORDIS on May 16, 1998

BAGUIO CITY (NORDIS) - She is known by many in the Left as Sister Stella L. but Coni Ledesma brushed this innuendo aside.

"I have not even seen the movie," Lesdema said of the popular and influential Mike de Leon movie about the rites of passage of a militant nun played by Vilma Santos.

"I met with Pete Lacaba (the movie's script writer) and he didn't tell me about it," she said. "All I know is that it was a composite of different nuns. I can not take the solo credit."

If "Sister Stella L" was wholly based on former Sister Coni L's life, the storyline would have been far more radical, literally and figuratively. Ledesma was already an activist nun during the turbulent end of the 1960s. She was a founding member of Christians for National Liberation, the underground organization for subversive priests and nuns.

In August 1972, Ledesma was captured and detained for almost a year. She was released with the intercession of the Catholic bishops and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

In 1976, she began international work for the National Democratic Front. In the same year, she married Louis Jalandoni, himself a former Catholic priest before becoming one of the leaders of the NDF. The couple, who had their 25th wedding anniversary last month, were married by Jaime Cardinal Sin.

They migrated to the Netherlands and were the first Filipinos to be granted political asylum in that country. They have a 22-year-old son, Jose, who is now taking up law at the University of Amsterdam.

Ledesma is now a member of the NDF negotiating panel and a member of the reciprocal working committee for human rights and international humanitarian law. She is also the international representative of Makibaka, an underground feminist organization.

She recalls with fondness the "language restructuring" they've been having with the government panel which insists on not giving the NDF an equal stature even in the field of semantics.

Ledesma said the government was so extra careful in setting aside the NDF's "status of belligerency" that the NDF panel had to exhaust their thesaurus to come to terms with them. Instead of "prisoners of war", for example, the NDF had to come up with "persons deprived of their liberty for reasons of armed conflict". The "white flag of truce" was replaced by "flag of peaceful intentions", even if the flag remains white, Ledesma said. "Ceasefire" is now "suspension of military operations" and the "oppressed masses" is the "toiling masses".

Ledesma said it was their first time to really come back to the Philippines except for that very brief stint in 1986 with the failed talks between the government and the NDF. The couple had been going around the country giving talks and speaking with the so-called "toiling masses".

She said Filipinos have become politically mature. "Malakas ang revolutionary movement (The revolutionary movement is strong). I observed the political maturity in all sectors. They know their rights and they have a clear grasp of the basic issues," she said. However, she said the economic poverty is deplorable. The Jalandonis went back to their native Negros where both families belong to the landed rich.

"I talked to the sacadas (sugar workers). Their condition was terrible. They get paid ten pesos a day and yet they can not even get hold of that money. They are instead issued receipts to buy at the company store. It's back to the 1960s," Ledesma said.

"The urban poor in Negros is in turmoil. It is in a situation where the call for change can not but grow kasi galit na yung mga tao (because the people are already angry)," she said.

Ledesma had already met with President-in-waiting Joseph Estrada with regards to the resumption of the peace talks. She has the same apprehension as her husband that the "Erap Para Sa Mahirap (Erap for the Masses)" may be put aside. "His first meeting was with the businessmen. He should have talked with the peasants. Ang dami nilang (They have so many) struggles. Pakinggan naman sana niya sila (I hope he listens to them)."

Ledesma said she is looking forward to the 100th year of Philippine independence on June 12. "It is a hundred years of struggle against colonialism and imperialism. It is a legacy that has been passed on to us. The struggle for true freedom rests on us," she said.

Ledesma's husband, NDF leader Luis Jalandoni said he is optimistic the peace talks will go on with president-in-waiting Joseph Estrada. But as for now, Jalandoni said Estrada is not as receptive as they wanted him to be.

The NDF is also concerned with Estrada's statement that he is committed to embrace President Fidel Ramos' economic policies particularly towards globalization and liberalization. Jalandoni, who spoke last Wednesday at the University of the Philippines College in Baguio, said this may affect the forging of a permanent peace agreement between the government and the NDF.

Jalandoni said among Estrada's first statements were the favouring of a hero's burial for former strongman Ferdinand Marcos and the exoneration of the charges against his first lady Imelda Marcos.

Jalandoni also said the Mining Act of 1995 should be reconsidered by the Estrada administration. He said about ten million hectares of Philippine land have been applied for by foreign mining corporations for mining exploration and mineral production. He said the NDF's position is for indigenous people's rights yet these lands are covered by applications mostly of foreign mining corporations.

Jalandoni also said the mutual cessation of hostilities has not been followed by the government. He cited the flagrant violations made by the government such as the launching of a military offensive in Calinan, Davao City by the Army's 73rd Infantry Battalion against the New People's Army on May 2. Five NPA members were killed as well as a civilian in the attack. The next day, the same battalion attacked and killed four NPA men in Marilog District also in Davao City.

-Frank Cimatu/Northern Dispatch

Northern Dispatch (NORDIS) is a weekly packet of news, features and analysis produced by the Cordillera Resource Center, Suite 314, Laparel Building, Session Road, Baguio City, Philippines. Tel: (632) 442-4175.