Former NPA child warrior recalls life as Sparrow Unit member

After suffering physical abuse from her father, she left home and ended up being recruited into the New People’s Army (NPA) at just nine years old. She was a slim, long-haired girl when the “hukbo” (corps) enlisted her to the Sparrow Unit tasked to kill government troops in Metro Cebu in the 1980s.

In an interview on Monday, Myrna Romero, now a 47-year-old farmer in a village in Cebu province, recalled that her sad experience with her father made her run to the activist-priests at a church here, which led her to become one of the youngest combatants of the communist rebel group in Cebu.

She mentioned a certain “priest” from Carmen, Bohol, as among her mentors.

She recalled being given Maoist teachings on communism as well as living a life under the KPPH (Kongkretong pagtuki sa kongkretong kahimtang, which means “Concrete discussion of the concrete situation”).

“Intelektuwal ko nga bata, may sariling kalibutan. Di ko bugo nga bata, tingale motubag ko unsay dapat, kulatahon ko… (I was an intellectual child that had her own world. I was not an ignorant child, when I talked back, I got assaulted),” Myrna told the Philippine News Agency.

“So daghag kuwestiyon nga di nako masabtan… nakat-on ko og kaisog, sa kalagot di na ko mohilak kun kulatahon ko (So, I had so many questions that I could not fathom… I learned to be strong, as I get angry when I get stricken, I would not cry anymore),” she added.

The former child warrior recounted that aside from the priests, she was also recruited to the rebel group by a youth activist group which also had links with the church in the uptown district here.

Trained as a child warrior

Myrna said she was the lone regular child warrior of the NPA at the age of 12 under the “Grupo sa Gagmay’ng Kabataan”, organized to counter the “Kabataang Barangay” (KB) program of then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

“Akong lang sa babaye before as regular fighter ko. Twelve years na-train nako sa armed (combat). That time, ang uban mag-16 to 17, naay mag-18, (I was the only woman regular fighter before. I was 12 years old then when I was trained for armed combat. At that time, others were 16 to 17 years old, there were some who were 18 also),” the former rebel said.

During the Marcos regime, she recalled having met nine to 13-year-old child warriors in the “hukbo”.

She opined that family problems could lead a child to become rebellious and be easily swayed to believe in leftist teachings.

She said that if a child is fully guided by parents and enjoy social acceptance from the community, those societal issues confronting him or her would just become part of the child’s development.

“Personal nako, ang importansiya sa komunidad, sa pamilya kay sa mga guidance gikan sa mga tawo. Ang ginikanan ang naka-front sa issues ngadto sa ilang mga anak nga before unta ipakatawo ang bata hangtod sa pagka-tawo, guided sila (Personally, guidance from community and family to the children is important rather than guidance from other people. Parents should be at the forefront in tackling issues confronting their children, that before they were born until they grow old, they are guided),” she said.

Debate on communists’ principle of equality

Myrna described herself as a voracious reader. Whenever she finds reading materials, she read and studied them to fill the gap caused by having no formal education.

She said she was a graduate of “UM” or University of the Mountain but was able to outsmart a professor who came to Cebu for a plenum (congress of members of the Communist Party of Philippines and NPA area commanders). She said they had a debate over “equality” as espoused by the Maoist communists.

The plenum, she said, was called to plan out their way ahead in the fight against the government. She was sent to attend the event that was only meant for officials of the NPA despite her tender age, as she was already known as an expert in operation, intelligence, and politics.

“She (professor) taught us that we are all equal in the ‘hukbo’. But I argued that it cannot be because we have a different background and purpose in life – she was a university professor and I was just a poor warrior in the mountain, how could we be equal?” she asked in Cebuano, stressing the impossibility of the ideal world where there is no rich and no poor.

The organization then demoted her and sent her back to the mountain to continue fighting government forces.

Myrna said that argument with the professor over the philosophy of equality was left unsettled and became the springboard for more questions than answers, which later on led her to think of leaving the CPP-NPA.
Sparrow Unit operating in Cebu City

The monikers “Ka Magda,” “Ka Ligaya,” and “Ka Chona” became well known in Cebu in the late ’80s.

Myrna’s story as a beautiful, long-haired teenager who could kill officers of the Philippine Constabulary (PC) in broad daylight spread in Cebu and the Visayas like wildfire.

Her “legend” started when she executed a man in Sitio Villagonzalo in Barangay Tejero, where her ballcap fell and her long, braided hair fell to her buttocks.

She recalled that she was able to start good propaganda by floating the moniker “Ka Chona” of the Sparrow Unit who later owned up to the killing of the victim, a known womanizer.

Her other moniker, “Ka Ligaya”, came about when she posed as a bar GRO (guest relations officer) and waited for lawmen to come so she could execute them.

Myrna also recalled having robbed a famous jewelry store in the downtown area, organizing a front group and meeting more NPA leaders, including those from the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

Graceful exit through marriage

Although she had long planned about leaving the CPP-NPA, she could not yet present an intelligent reason.

One day, she asked to be assigned in an area where she befriended everyone she met, believing they could help her leave the Sparrow Unit.

Using a different name, she enrolled in the Japan Karatedo Association (JKA), where she met a plumber whom she later married. The man, she said, did not have an inkling about her life as a hit squad member.

“Nagtuman akong gusto, mabuntis ko pinaagi ani. Wala sila kahibalo kinsa gyud ko sa tinud-anay. Akong tuyo manganak lang, pero nagpakasal gyud ko (My wish came true to get pregnant. They didn’t know who I was. My objective was to get pregnant, and get married),” Myrna recalled.

However, by the time she got married, she was already wanted by the authorities, with a PHP150,000 bounty on her head.

This led her to decide to turn herself in to the government troops who were operating near an NPA hideout in the village of Guadalupe here in 1996.

She said she led other rebel surrenderers in a ceremony for the “Balik Igsoon Program” under the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos.

Among the rebels who took their oath of allegiance to the government then were members of the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabayan (RAM) led by then Col. Gregorio Honasan, who later became a senator.

Through the “Balik Igsoon Program”, Myrna and the other surrenderers were granted amnesty.

Giving back to the government

Now that she is enjoying life in a democratic society, planting crops and raising goats on her farm, Myrna is helping the local police in their “little needs” and provides them with a place for their target shooting practice.

She said she is now a friend to local officials and the church, as well as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), other government agencies, and the Philippine Army, giving talks to people about the atrocious life in the CPP-NPA.

“Ako lang silang papilion. Akong ipresentar ang kinabuhi sa bukid ug ang kinabuhi natong wala makig-away sa gobyerno ug asa ang walay kalinaw (I will ask them to choose. I will present to them the life in the mountain and our life here, who are not fighting against the government and which life has no peace),” she pointed out.

“I discovered that in the CPP-NPA, we can see that they are just riding on the innocence and poor state of the people just to satisfy the aim of the people who are hungry for power,” she said in Cebuano.

As a guest lecturer in anti-insurgency seminars, Myrna does not accept payment, which, she said, is her way of giving back to the government against whom she fought as a child.

Myrna said Gen. Alexander Yano, former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, offered to make her a regular soldier so that she could receive a salary and at the same time continue teaching about the ills of insurgency.

But she said she declined as she wanted to give her services for free. (John Rey Saavedra, PNA)

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