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A Dead Man’s Cap

By David Haldane

April 1, 2024



The closest I’ve ever been to a violent Filipino revolutionary was wearing his cap.

It happened three years ago when George Madlos, a commander and spokesman for the communist New People’s Army, died of gunshot wounds after—depending on who you believe—engaging in a skirmish with soldiers in Bukidnon or getting ambushed by them while riding a motorcycle to his doctor’s office.

“George Madlos’ reign of terror has finally ended,” Army Commander Major General Romeo S. Brawner Jr. declared.

In fact, Madlos, 72, had known one of my closest friends in Surigao del Norte, the home province we all shared. “I urged him to give himself up,” Fernando Almeda told me after the insurgent’s death. “I argued that communism would never triumph here like it did in Cuba, that he would never be another Che Guevara.”

The rebel’s response was quiet but firm. “It’s too late to change,” my friend recalled the old radical telling him. “He said he would die fighting for his cause.”

Then Madlos handed Fernando his cap, just as Fernando would one day hand it to me. It was jungle-colored military green, adorned in front with a bright red star. As I gingerly placed it on my head—apparently somewhat larger than the revolutionary’s—I couldn’t help but reflect on the terrifying ironies of history. “Keep this as a memento,” Madlos had instructed Almeda. “When I am dead, you can display it in a museum.”

Many have pointed to George Madlos’ death as a turning point for the communist revolt in Northern Mindanao. And, indeed, last month government officials finally declared Surigao del Norte insurgency-free. “We are happy that the province now is free from the cudgels and shadows of conflict and unrest,” Surigao’s 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said following a ceremony in which 14 former rebels pledged to behave after collectively receiving nearly a million pesos to help.

Area residents had long known of the rebel presence. My barangay, in fact, is rife with stories of their comings and goings. Several years ago, friends living in the hills near our house recalled spending an entire day listening to the popping sounds of gunfire just beyond their backyard.

A neighborhood legend holds that a misbehaving foreigner received a visit from the NPA after threatening someone with a gun. Nobody I know can say exactly what transpired during that solemn sit-down, but the very next day, the story goes, the unruly gunslinger left the country never to be heard from again.

And a Philippine Navy guy, one of several stationed 24/7 at a coastal watch station next door to us, told me someone purporting to represent the NPA once showed up demanding cash for “protection.” Within minutes, he said, the place was surrounded by military personnel holding guns to the would-be extortionist’s head. And for the entire year following, that small Navy team was bolstered by a contingent of armed soldiers charged with protecting everything in sight, including us and our house.

But it was the story of George Madlos—known affectionately as “Uncle Jorge” to his comrades—that most affected me. Surviving family members unanimously described him as gentle, loving, and kind. All this despite multiple criminal charges involving robbery, murder, and mayhem.

A niece living in America penned several posts recalling the hand-painted birthday cards, wedding congratulations, and life-affirming advice Madlos offered over the years in clandestine meetings hidden from those who would eventually kill him.

“To the world you are a bad person,” she wrote. “To me and the rest of the family, you are simply the soft-spoken uncle. People may think you speak with a booming voice [but] yours was the softest voice yet filled with conviction.”

Even violent revolutionaries, it seems, have people who love them.





David Haldane is an award-winning author and journalist with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines. His latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon. This column appears weekly in The Manila Times.


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