SAMAL, Philippines — War has come again to Alberto Mangalingan's home. The 50-year-old insurance agent has known little else since he was a child.
Japanese and American artillery and warplanes flattened his family's ramshackle home along with the rest of this impoverished coastal town 40 miles across Manila Bay from the nation's capital. Skeletal American and Filipino prisoners limped through the heart of Samal in April, 1942, during the Bataan Death March.
Then, 18 years ago, his province became a key battle zone in another war that still threatens the Philippines. And this month, his little house--rebuilt by his parents in the late 1940s with war-reparations assistance after the Americans reclaimed Bataan from the Japanese--was wrecked again.
Acting on a tip from a military informant in this town, the birthplace of the Communist New People's Army guerrilla force and now one of its strongholds, government troops raided one barrio, San Juan, just after 8 a.m. on Sept. 12. A six-hour battle ensued, and the rebels seized Mangalingan's house for cover.
By the time the fighting was over, two guerrillas lay dead on the dirt floor of his living room, and the house was shot to pieces.
But Mangalingan says he does not blame the Philippine armed forces for a tin roof that now lets the rain in every day, for the hundreds of bullet holes in the walls and for the expense to repair his home.
He and the other townspeople no longer know, or care, whom to blame. They are just sick of war.
"We are tired of all of this, and really we don't know where to go," Mangalingan said. "We have evacuated this place before, but this is the place of my birth, the birth of my four children. And we have no money anyway. So where do we go?
"All we can do is just sit tight here and pray--pray that someday peace will come to this place."
The firefight in Mangalingan's barrio of San Juan was a crucial one, military authorities now say. It also was a classic illustration of how the guerrilla war that has raged in the Philippines is taking an increasingly large toll of civilians--the farmers, laborers and small businessmen struggling to survive and to remain somehow neutral in a war zone that grows bloodier by the day.
On Tuesday, the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, cited Samal as an example of a recent military success, noting that troops managed to kill eight guerrillas who were taking shelter in civilian homes without killing a single villager.
In acknowledging that six soldiers also died in the Samal raid, Ramos conceded that the insurgency has worsened significantly since the Aug. 28 attempt by mutinous soldiers to overthrow President Corazon Aquino, an attempt that left the Philippine military divided and demoralized.
Before the coup, an average of three soldiers were being killed each day. In the last three weeks, Ramos told reporters, the average was up to 4.4 soldiers killed per day.
"The event of Aug. 28 opened up new opportunities for the New People's Army to hit government and military targets," Ramos told foreign correspondents at a weekly luncheon forum. "The number of attacks, the intensity of the attacks and the number of government casualties has gone up. But they (the rebels) are really hurting the people a lot more than the military."
Main Threat to Aquino
The Communists confirmed in a special issue of their party organ, Ang Bayan (Our Country), distributed soon after the coup attempt, that they had escalated their armed rebellion against the government "to take advantage of the disarray within the ranks of the reactionary forces of the enemy."
The party organ added that guerrilla strikes could be expected, "not only against military targets but also against such counterrevolutionary infrastructures as communications facilities . . . and other such projects and agencies of the puppet regime."
The insurgency continues to be the biggest threat to Aquino's attempts to bring a stable, liberal democracy to the Philippines. And the rebel attacks are increasingly aimed at the capital and its strategic surrounding provinces, among them Bataan. The rebels have blown up five bridges in the last two weeks in the Bicol region south of Manila on the only highway that carries food from the fertile south into the capital, a city of 4 million. On Monday, a heavily armed group of 500 guerrillas hijacked a train along the Philippines' only rail line, which parallels the same highway.
"It is clear they are trying to disrupt the supply lines to the capital," Ramos said. "We are very, very watchful."
Specifically, Ramos cited Bataan--a peninsular province so strategic that Gen. Douglas MacArthur selected it as his final stronghold against the Japanese in World War II--as an example of one of the military's recent advances against the Communists, who have said that both their party and its armed wing were founded in Samal in 1969.