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The NPA arms landing that convinced Marcos to declare Martial Law

Berto Pogi

Nov 8, 2016

Arms carried by the MV Karagatan from Fukien are successfully intercepted; pictured here are then-head of the Philippine Constabulary Fidel V. Ramos and then-Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile.

The NPA arms landing that convinced Marcos to declare Martial Law​

NPA fighters trekked through the Sierra Madre to Digoyo Point in Isabela where a grand arms landing was about to take place from aboard the MV Karagatan. Out of seeming nowhere, the Philippine military arrive to intercept their efforts. Rolando Peña writes about what happens next.

Rolando Peña | Dec 12 2018

Editor’s Note:

Throughout the 70s, Communist Party of the Philippines chairman Jose Maria Sison sent several delegations to Beijing with an armaments shopping list that he would present to Chinese officials. According to military reports, Sison’s emissaries negotiated for armaments in the form of M-16 automatic rifles, ammunition, and heavy weapons, and China supplied about 1,200 M-14 rifles, bazookas, mortars, communication equipment and medical kits, according to military reports.

After China refused the CPP-NPA request for a submarine, Fidel Agcaoili, Sison’s personal emissary, traveled to Japan and purchased the Kishi Maru, a 91-ton, 90-foot steel hulled old fishing trawler. China agreed to pay for the boat, which was later christened the MV Karagatan, the military added.

The M/V Karagatan successfully loaded armaments from Fukien province. By the end of June 1972, the vessel sailed to the Philippines to drop off the arms at Digoyo point in Palanan, Isabela. Members of the Philippine military were able to intercept the unloading of arms through reconnaissance aircrafts that baited the old trawler, leading it to its eventual breakdown. In the following days, the military and NPA fired at each other from the shores of Digoyo. As the military was strengthened by coordinated air and naval gunfire, members of the NPA escaped to Quirino province through the thick and rugged jungle terrain of the Sierra Madre.

Below is a log of the events penned by Rolando Peña, the renowned geologist and left-wing revolutionary who steered the M/V Karagatan, and escaped military gunfire with his comrades.

Peña’s account was read at a parangal held by the NIGS (National Institute of Geological Sciences) witnessed by writer Barbara Mae Naredo Dacanay. Peña passed away last November 2018.

Dates included below were not in Peña’s original account but were added as a guide by Dacanay.

Silhouettes of fishermen going out to sea dissolved in the darkened Batangas Bay as our twenty-foot (or so) wooden-hulled boat gunned the engine towards where the sun disappeared. The five New People’s Army fighters and I huddled against the cold breeze that night in May 1972 as we skirted the coastline of Cavite, then steered away so as not to be noticed by the basnigs, the brightly-lit heavy fishing boats off Bataan.

When I agreed to guide the wooden hulled boat to Isabela on the eastern Pacific Coast of Luzon Island, to deliver rice and field supplies, I explained that I could bring the boat from one point to another as I could get my bearings from landforms as reference points.


The M/V Karagatan in more tranquil waters.

We took turns at the helm, but we were so focused on maintaining our direction that we failed to check our actual surroundings. As we swung along the coast of Zambales, our hull struck a rock and we began to take in water. Fortunately, we had a manual pump in the boat, and we took turns at it until we reached an isolated beach in Aparri, where we were able to take a look at the damage. Indeed, there was a gash that two lengths of my palm could not cover. So we went on our way, taking turns at the pump.

After rounding Port Irene on the northeast nose of Luzon, we hoisted the sail as there was a tailwind that made us skim the water faster. We did not encounter any coast guard patrol as we came abreast of Divilacan Point on the coast of Isabela for a rendezvous with the NPA.

However, the coastal water was strewn with rocks so we (the NPAs aboard the boat) went back a few miles and met them (land-based NPA) at the mouth of Digoyo River. Hardy faces beamed in welcome as we came ashore to handshakes and backslaps for a mission well done. Lieutenant Victor Corpus (then a military officer who had just defected to the NPA) feted us with a hearty meal of boiled fresh-water fish, river shrimps, and rice on a long banana frond. Not long afterwards, a steel hulled fishing boat, the MV Karagatan (which carried 1,400 AK-14 firearms from Fukien) anchored very near the coast and unloaded more supplies.

We were to about to bid the crew of the M/V Karagatan goodbye when I was handed a a small strip of paper from Joma Sison. It was a letter from the Communist Party Chair. The hurried scribble gave me the task to help navigate the M/V Karagatan across the South China Sea, from the Pacific Ocean on the eastern seaboard to northwestern seaboard of the Philippines to reach China. We were to fetch supplies and weapons and bring them back to the Philippines for a second arms landing. Sison was impressed by stories that I could sail by the stars—something called celestial navigation. What he did not realize was that stars, for me, were only for viewing, not for seeking guidance.

You’ll never truly appreciate the vast sky until you see it almost filled with stars lighting the endless sea.

Those of us aboard the bancas landed at our destination in Digoyo River and received our load of supplies: firearms, and ammunition from MV Karagatan for the men of Lt. Corpus in the Sierra Madre. We laid at anchor for two days to let a storm pass before setting off on an easterly bearing toward Luzon. Midway, we sprang a leak perhaps because we were fully loaded—but there was no question of turning back as we were in the middle of our journey. One of the crew members found the source of the leak and remedied the problem, so we were able to proceed with an easier mind frame.

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