Whether Solita Esternon is her real name, her alias in the revolutionary movement, or an arbitrary invention still remains unknown to the interrogators in the military prison at Sorsogon.
What they have established so far is that the woman they are holding is a 24 year old university student and a cadre in the Maoist guerrilla organization, the New People's Army (NPA) until she was caught in December. They have found too, that she is four months pregnant.
According to her captors, the para-military Philippines Constabulary, she's a "hard-core" case, she was carrying a loaded .3 calibre pistol when arrested, and is believed to have been entrusted with the delicate task of establishing a base in Sorsogon City.
Her rigid espousal of the necessity for armed struggle, her refusal to compromise by disclosing information about her comrades' whereabouts will make her a tough subject to re-educate, they say.
It is seldom that anyone outside the immediate family is given access to a political prisoner especially to one as unrepentant as Solita. Lieutenant-Colonel Villanueva, Philippine Constabulary commander for Sorsogon province, at the southern tip of Luzon apparently decided to allow my visit to prove that charges of martial law brutality, aired by President Marcos's opponents, are ill-founded, at least in Sorsogon.
The commander, a seemingly kind-hearted man, may also have thought to alleviate the loneliness of the one among 30 prisoners in his care whom nobody ever came to see -- though he blamed this on her obstinacy in refusing to disclose her true identity and the place she came from.
In the unsupervised privacy of her cell, Solita confirmed to me that she personally had never been ill-treated, even if as an attractive woman, she was forced to endure the coarse suggestions of her guards.
Consistently egalitarian, the young Maoist complained instead of the contrast between the generally chivalrous treatment accorded her and the soldiers' tough, sometimes brutal behavior towards the men--not only to captured NPA members but also to innocent suspects rounded up for interrogation.
Later, in another cell a male NPA member showed me thick red scars on his chest and back, while another said his ribs had been damaged during a beating by Constabulary soldiers.
There was no evidence of systematic torture, however, nor did I hear complaints of any. "They generally only get rough when they've had too much to drink," I was told.
Solita recalls the clumsy attempt of an interrogating officer to intimidate her into disclosing the whereabouts of comrades in the mountains. "He told me, 'You'll be inside for 30 years and then you'll be an old woman and you won't be able to get married. I was shocked that he thought that such a threat would frighten me. I told him, all right. I said, I’ve been married once already, and that was enough to last until I die."
Her marriage, to an NPA regular lasted less than half a year. The wedding was a simple promise made over a Filipino language version of Mao's red book, witnessed by other members of her cadre group. No bible, no priest, and, Solita says firmly, no double standards.
"Having a second wife or mistress is punished very severely in the NPA. Look at the double standard in this camp. Every constabulary officer has his mistress. Filipinos abuse women, though they treat them chivalrously."
Five months after her marriage her husband was killed in an encounter with Constabulary soldiers.
Solita says she was never a member of any left-wing organization while at the University, where she studied Literature until her money ran out the year before she could graduate. The seeds of her political education, she says, were sown before martial law came into force in September 1972, when there were fierce anti-Government and anti-American demonstrations in Manila.
When martial law was imposed she was not among those activists students, who, fearing arrest went to the mountains to join the only opposition force that could still operate effectively, the NPA.
But some of her friends were there, though Solita refuses to explain how she personally was recruited, for fear of implicating comrades. "One thing though: I was not converted. I objected to the religious, forcible connotation of the word. I was clear about what I was doing."
The New People's Army grew out of the ashes of the Soviet-oriented Huk Army which was strong in the 1950's until it was wiped out by the Government with U.S. help. The NPA, pro-Peking in its ideological line, is thought to comprise only 1,500 armed regulars, supported by two or three times that number of political cadres.
At the grassroots level of the village organizing committee--where Communist ideology sometimes wears quite thin--there are an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 supporters. Outside its stronghold in Isabela province, in Northern Luzon, the NPA support is today concentrated mainly in the Southern provinces of Camarines and Sorsogon (though there are suggestions too, of a common front with the Muslim independence movement in Mindanao).
The fundamental tenet of the NPA is redistribution of land, in order to "free the impoverished rural masses" (who make up some 70 percent of the Philippine population) from the "exploitation and oppressive grip of the landowners."
The description is that of Marcos' Secretary of Agriculture; some of the bite has been taken out of the NPA'S agrarian revolution by the Government's own land reform program. Yet after 16 months' vigorous promotion under martial law, there are signs that land reform may soon grind to a halt.
What would have been clear from the beginning--but for some faulty arithmetic--is at last sinking in: there are simply more tenant farmers than economic-size holding available, and 80 percent of landholdings are smaller than the 17 acre holdings which the Government could not possibly carve up without angering the small bourgeois landowners on whose support it depends.
It appears doubtful that more than 40 percent of tenants will ever attain the promised state of emancipation under the Government's programme.
The NPA's recipe is simple: to redistribute the coconut, sugar and other plantations which are not affected by land reform--which is confined to rice and corn lands. Moreover, emancipation through NPA would absolve peasants from having to repay dispossessed landlords, as they have to under the present system.
It is not difficult for the Communists to enlist support for their proposition that no burden of debt lies with the tiller, who may have to give half of every harvest he reaps to an idle landlord.
Solita found that "the people in the barrios (villages) wanted to know all about "communism". They had strange notions, such as one that in communist societies old people were made into seasonings to use for cooking.
"We tell them that under communism there will be no landlords, that the land will really be theirs, and their families. We teach them about the problem of bringing about communism in feudal society like the Philippines; that the first stage of the struggle would be to industrialize the Philippines, but that this cannot be done as long as we are a semi-colony of U.S. Imperialism."
In groups of six or seven, cadres may stay in one barrio until they have set up barrio organization committees, the mass base of the NPA. In Solita's group there were two other students and four peasants.
They were well received by hut villagers, they slept in their houses, ate their food, and helped in the fields. The task of another of the cadres was to provide food for the NPA regulars, who have no permanent base in Sorsogon but are constantly on the move. NPA military operations, it seems, are confined to ambushes of government forces--the principal method of collecting arms--and the liquidation of informers who betray their presence.
The Government makes much of these killings, and of the alleged extortion of food and money by the NPA. Keen to downgrade the ideological nature of the movement, the military authorities and the controlled media seem to impress that the communists are "bandits," "rebels," "Mao-Maos" (goblins). Female members like Solita are referred to by the same sources as "Amazons."
Solita appears to be undaunted by the prospect of indefinite detention, without much hope of ever seeing a charge sheet or being tried. Soon, when the interrogators at Sorsogon see that they can extract no more information from her, she will be transferred to another prison, to undergo two hours a day of "re-education" until she agrees to accept President Marcos' New Society. She does not know how she will respond, but she believes that there is no difference between the "New Society" and the old, except that in the old one political power was shared by several politicians and now it is concentrated in one man.