The raid at the armory of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) occurred in the early evening of 29 December 1970. The operation’s timing was near-perfect. It was the Christmas holidays and many cadets were enjoying their vacation. The Academy’s superintendent, General Ugalde, and some of his officers were out to welcome then President Ferdinand Marcos who was to arrive in Baguio City. The camp officer of the day was a young lieutenant by the name of Victor Corpus; he was also a member of the raiding party.
The squad of New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas worked methodically having planned the raid well in advance. By the time the raid was reported to the authorities, the raiders who were on board two cars and a military jeep were already en route to an NPA camp in Isabela and have managed to cart away with them the following: 21 Browning Automatic Rifles, 11 carbines, a rocket launcher, six air-cooled machineguns, two Chinese-made AK-47s, two Garand rifles, 3,200 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition, 2,260 rounds of .30 caliber tracer bullets and 195 rounds of ammunition for carbines.
The weapons haul was a big boost to the fledgling NPA which was founded just a year and nine months before; with increased firepower comes the potential for the NPA to conduct more offensive actions. But the more telling blow to the Marcos administration was the defection of 1Lt. Victor Corpus to the rebel side. New Year’s Day of 1971 was greeted with bold newspaper headlines about the raid that shocked the nation. As if the almost non-stop demonstrations and protests that started in January of the previous year were not enough, the incident further highlighted the widespread discontent arising from the grave ills of Philippine society. Moreover, the raid and Corpus’ defection thrust into the national consciousness the idea of revolution as an alternative solution to the country’s problems. And finally, it showed that even within the military establishment, radicalism and rebellion can grow.
The rebels exploited the defection to the hilt. Corpus’ statement that was well covered in the media was further amplified when the rebels, not long afterward, published a pamphlet entitled “Why Lt. Victor Corpus left the AFP to join the New People’s Army” that gained enthusiastic readers from among activists in the mass movement. As talk circulated about a shadowy “Victor Corpus Movement” supposedly operating inside the AFP, the young lieutenant, who has become some sort of an instant celebrity, also became one outlaw that was most wanted.
Victor Navarro Corpus was born in San Pablo City, Laguna on 4 October 1944. He spent his elementary and high school days at the De La Salle University getting grades that, although satisfactory, were not enough to land him at the top of his class. He joined the Boy Scouts and was an Explorer Scout; he was also athletic and was good at boxing and track and field. Vic was a member of the Acolyte Club and served at mass. He was religious and wanted to become a priest but his father, Col. Vicente Corpus, who belonged to the AFP Medical Corps, prevailed upon him to join the military. Thus, in 1963, Vic entered the Philippine Military Academy and became a plebe instead.
His wife once described Vic as “sarado Katoliko” in the days before he became a cadet; inside the military organization, he showed dedication and discipline and became “sarado military”. But he became exposed to professors who encouraged him to open his mind. Soon, he was reading literature and listening to lectures on topics such as imperialism and national liberation, topics which can be considered controversial, if not taboo, in a military school run by the State. It was while still a cadet that Vic joined the militant Kabataang Makabayan. After graduation in 1967, he joined the Philippine Army and underwent Airborne and Special Forces training. He was, however, transferred later to the Philippine Constabulary where at one point he attended the PC Law School.
As an idealistic young PC officer, Vic quickly became disgruntled with the branch of service where he belonged and developed detestation for the existing order. He observed first-hand how officers and soldiers were detailed as security guards of corrupt politicians and particularly hated the fact that they were being used as tools of the ruling elite for oppression and exploitation to the extent that they can be ordered to unjustly kill and inflict violence. He was once ordered by his commanding officer to assassinate a mayor but instead of complying, reported the plot to the would-be victim. He also got entangled with the Crisologos when he was assigned to secure and bring to Manila vital witnesses to the torching of barrios Ora Este and Ora Centro in Bantay town. (The powerful Crisologo clan controlled Ilocos Sur. Floro, the patriarch, was the province’s representative in Congress while Carmeling, his wife was the governor. Their son Vincent, more notoriously known as Bingbong, handled the lucrative tobacco trade, and was suspected, later convicted, of leading the gang of arsonists who sought to punish the barrio residents for not delivering the votes for his mother.) Not wanting any more of the corruption and injuries to his self-esteem, Vic returned to the academy and opted to become an instructor. In time, his belief that only a violent revolution can effect thoroughgoing change grew firmer.
Vic drew the suspicion of his superiors because of the way he handled his subject and conducted his classes. He was put under surveillance. Around this time, he was already in close contact with the rebel movement, and thereafter would plan the armory raid.
Vic’s assignment when he was integrated to the NPA was cut out for him. Adopting Ka Eming as his nom de guerre, he took over the Personnel and Training Department of the Northern Luzon Regional Operational Command as its head and put to use his valuable knowledge and experience as an officer and instructor.
Isabela became the seat of insurgency in 1970 when the NPA shifted its center of gravity to that province after it suffered setbacks in Tarlac within a year of its founding. The AFP had earlier announced the success of its nip-in-the-bud operations against the NPA resulting from the killing of several insurgents in firefights and overrunning of a number of tunnels including a big one where huge stacks of documents were captured and which was purported to be the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA. In Isabela, the leaders of the insurgency directed a nationwide expansion program and fashioned political and military cadres for deployment to different points in the country out of raw recruits. Ka Eming took charge of the military aspect of the training of fighters many of whom were young idealistic students who dropped out of school and flocked to Isabela to join the revolution. One of Ka Eming’s trainees was Romulo Kintanar who belonged to a batch of young activists from Mindanao, and who would in the future become head of the NPA’s General Command.
Ka Eming also took part in military operations and led fighting units. In 1972, he led a team of NPA fighters across the Sierra Madre to Palanan to rendezvous with another unit that is to arrive aboard a boat loaded with thousands of high powered rifles, ammunition, supplies and communications equipment from China. Unfortunately, the boat MV Karagatan ran aground off Digoyo point when the tide ebbed. While the rebels were unloading the ship’s cargo, passengers of a private plane owned by a logging company that was flying over the area noticed the unusual scene and reported this to the local PC command. Fighting erupted when troops attempted to land in the area by boat. When heavy reinforcements arrived, Ka Eming and his men were forced to abandon most of the cargo on the shore and fight a rearguard battle while retreating to the jungles. Marcos would later cite the failed arms landing in proclaiming martial law.
Ka Eming rose in the hierarchy and later on became a member of the Central Committee. But by this time, he was already beginning to become disillusioned with the organization that he joined. The biggest question that occupied his mind was the Party’s responsibility in the Plaza Miranda bombing. In August 1971, the miting de avance of the opposition Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda was bombed. In the middle of the rally, two hand grenades were thrown in the direction of the stage while opposition leaders were alternately delivering speeches. Two people were killed and more than 90 were wounded, some very seriously. Marcos blamed the Communists and suspended the writ of habeas corpus; the Communists blamed Marcos. A number of activists were forced to go underground and retreated to Isabela when the writ was suspended. One of them disclosed that he was part of a group assigned by the Party to throw the grenade at Plaza Miranda. He later recanted his statement.
While awaiting his redeployment to Mindanao in 1976, Vic decided to contact a former classmate in the PMA. He arranged his surrender, but the martial law regime made it appear that he was captured. He underwent a series of interrogation sessions and was held incommunicado for very long periods. He was initially detained at the Army’s Military Security Unit in Fort Bonifacio where his wife was also detained. He was later transferred to the ISAFP facilities in Camp Aguinaldo. Together with Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. and Bernabe Buscayno, the military commission sentenced Vic to die by musketry in 1977.
Vic spent 10 years in prison. When the Marcos dictatorship fell in 1986, then President Corazon Aquino ordered his release and extended clemency to him. He was later reintegrated to the AFP as a Lieutenant Colonel and joined the Operations Staff as Chief of Combat Research Office, J3, GHQ. While serving at the J3, Lt. Col. Corpus authored the book “The Silent War”, a virtual handbook on how to conduct counterinsurgency operations against the NPA and which became the basis of the national counterinsurgency strategy dubbed “Oplan Lambat Bitag”. He was later given command of Task Force Panay, an AFP task force in charge of reforestation in Panay island. In 1990, he was sent to study Public Administration at the Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He later rose to the rank of Brigadier General and became the Chief of Intelligence Service of AFP in 2001.
Corpus retired in 2004; he was designated Veterans Affairs Officer at the Philippine Embassy in Washington in 2009. When a journalist asked him on the first things that he did on assuming office at ISAFP, Gen. Corpus offered the following answer:
“I issued policy guidelines. First is the strict observance of human rights. Traditionally, intelligence officers are seen as violators of human rights. Violators will be severely dealt with. Second, [the need to make Isafp] relevant to the field units, down to the brigade level. Our efforts should be geared towards the needs of line units. In the past, the presence of the organization couldn’t be felt in the field. Our main mission is to gather intelligence to be used by field units. Third, Isafp used to be an instrument to serve a corrupt status quo. Now we should reorient ourselves to be protectors of the people.”
Looking back at his past involvement with the movement that tried to overthrow the government, General Corpus asserts that he “was sincere in going to the other side” since he “thought it was the right path.”