An Encounter with a Communist: Jose Maria Sison and the Filipino Revolutionary Spirit
by Balangiga Press
February 14, 2019
The NDFP is the revolutionary united front organization of the Filipino people fighting for national freedom and for the democratic rights of the people. Established on 24 April 1973, the NDFP seeks to develop and coordinate all progressive classes, sectors and forces in the Filipino people’s struggle to end the rule of US imperialism and its local allies of big landlords and compradors, and attain national and social liberation. https://www.ndfp.org/
My first encounter with Joma Sison was during the late night Eds (education) in the mountainous region in the Philippines. Along with other students and activists we have to understand the meaning of oppression and exploitation right from the book of ‘Ka Joma’. That time this ‘Ka Joma’ was bigger than all of us. He knew the Philippines and its struggles like the back of his hand.
The basic question in ED goes like this:
“The Philippines is a rich and highly diverse country in terms of natural resources. Why then are we still poor?”
And the lists of reasons why the Philippines remain in poverty, and the real democracy cannot be achieved until the country is semi-feudal despite industrialization where only the capitalists and the elite families benefited from the labor of the working class. Then we called on the national industrialization, land reforms, protection of the ancestral domains, free education etc. In short, Filipinos must unite to end the oligarchy.
Years later, little has been done to change the Philippines, though there are small victories, especially in the legislative process where people’s organization like Bayan Muna, Gabriela and Anakbayan are now members of the House of Representatives.
Thirty-two years after he left the Philippines to seek political asylum in the Netherlands, Jose Maria Sison remains a force to reckon with by any presidents of the Republic of the Philippines. But to the majority of the Filipinos whose only source of news is Facebook, Jose Maria Sison is irrelevant and yes, demonized – a communist, NPA (New People’s Army), enjoying life in Europe, enemy of the people, etc. His name is always associated to red words on public walls calling for change – OUST ARROYO, OUST ESTRADA, OUST AQUINO, and now OUST DUTERTE or when big bold letters congratulate ‘MABUHAY ANG IKA-50 ANIBERSARYO NG CPP-NPA’ on December 26.
His name also crops up whenever students from the University of the Philippines stage mass mobilizations. Jose Maria Sison is painted by the government as an aging communist living a comfortable life in the Netherlands, while his followers the New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas are waging war in the countryside against the Philippine forces.
For the past 50 years, a protracted war in the Philippines has been on going despite ceasefires on some occasions. Both parties seem to be at the losing end, but no concrete plans for peace have been achieved yet.
Since 1986, there were over 40 rounds of peace talks between the government peace panel (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF). But none engaged in a ‘word war,’ not until Rodrigo Duterte became the Philippine President.
After a series of failed talks, jailing the NDF consultants, and packets of NPA attacks in various places in the Philippines in late 2016 and 2017, Mr. Duterte signed Proclamation No. 360, which terminated the peace talks with the NDF. He also issued Proclamation No. 374, declaring the CPP-NDF as terrorist organizations. The proclamation is also used to red-tag even legitimate people’s organizations, and individuals who are opposed to the growing authoritarianism in the Philippines.
In August 2002, the United States also regarded him as a person ‘supporting terrorism’ but in September 2009, the European Union’s second highest court ruled to remove him from the list.
Despite his exile, Professor Sison, now 81 years old does not show of slowing down, anyway the people’s war has not ended yet. It intensifies.
Mr. Duterte declared ‘war-on-drugs’, ordered the massive militarization in the indigenous communities, declared all-out of support to Chinese interests in the Philippines, and orders the killings (shooting them in their vaginas) and rounding-up of activists, and media people who are critical of his policies. The continuous decline of the economy plunge the Filipinos into poverty. We can only win this war either way – the electoral process or joining the armed movement.
In this conversation, Professor Sison shares his views on the mid-term election, also clarified some issues hurled to him by the reactionary government agent, and the future of the New People’s Army when he passed on. He also recognizes the young people as the agents of change, because he was once in their rank.
EBN: What are the likely outcome for the mid-May election?
JMS: Regarding the mid-May election, the most pertinent person to whom questions should be addressed is Duterte himself. Will martial law nationwide be proclaimed and/or the congressional bill on chacha for the bogus federalism and extension of terms be enacted, thus making the mid-May election unnecessary. If it shall be held, will you not rig it because you have complete control of the Comelec and you order the AFP and PNP to assist the Comelec, as you have done in the plebiscite on BOL in Mindanao?
EBN: Is there a possibility of NO-EL (no election)?
JMS: There is a possibility because there is a provision for extension of terms in the Lower House bill for the cha-cha. But in case the Senate does not pass the cha-cha or deletes the provision for the extension of terms, Duterte can still hold and rig the elections because he has tight control over the Comelec and the entire electoral process. The BOL (Bangsa Moro Organic Law) plebiscite is a preview of how he can rig the May 2019 elections. In the BOL plebiscite, the Maranaos are made to appear happy with Duterte and grateful to him for the destruction of Marawi City and the prolonged evacuation of the people,
EBN: What does the country need in terms of leadership and new economic policies?
JMS: The kind of leadership in the Philippines is one that upholds, defends and promotes national sovereignty, democracy, social justice, economic development, cultural progress and just peace against the vested interests of foreign monopoly firms, the big compradors, landlords and corrupt bureaucrats. The new economic policies that the Filipino people need are those already spelled out in the NDFP draft of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms: They include assertion of economic sovereignty and protection of the national patrimony, economic development through genuine land reform and national industrialization, expansion of the social services, conservation and wise utilization of the environment and independence from the dictates of foreign monopoly firms and banks and end the scourge of neo-liberalism (the policy of unbridled greed for the benefit of 1 per cent at the expense of the 99 per cent of the population).
EBN: You always speak about US domination, what about the Chinese?
JMS: Of course, Chinese imperialism is a growing threat to the Filipino people and the Philippines. It is violating our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. And it wants to make the Philippines its debt colony by offering high interest loans and overpriced infrastructure projects. China is now acting like Japan before World War II after being in partnership with the US. But until now, the US is still the dominant imperialist force in the Philippines. It is privileged with the treaties, agreements and arrangements that spell all -round domination of the Philippines in economic, political, cultural, and military terms.
EBN: When you were first approached by Duterte during his first term of office to recommend persons for cabinet positions, why did you accept? Did it ever cross your mind that it was Duterte’s trap?
JMS: When Duterte offered the cabinet posts to the Communist Party of the Philippines no less, we in the NDFP noticed immediately that he was trying to outwit and put the Communist Party in a trap. So I told Duterte categorically that the CPP or its representatives cannot accept any post in his cabinet before the successful completion of the peace negotiations. I also told him reasonably and politely that he could appoint individuals who are patriotic and progressive, highly competent, honest and diligent. Those individuals appointed by Duterte were not representatives of the CPP or even the NDFP. On their own individual merits, they have been in the government service anyway. Dr. Judy Taguiwalo was a retired professor in the state university and Mr. Rafael Mariano was a member of Congress for several terms. For any official representative of the CPP or NDFP to join the Duterte cabinet in 2016 would have meant falling into Duterte’s trap and surrendering or selling out to him. A mental mediocre like Duterte cannot outwit the highly principled and politically skillful leaders of the CPP and the NDFP.
EBN: Is revolution still relevant up to this day?
JMS: It is necessary and certainly relevant to wage revolutionary struggle so long as the oppressive and exploitative US-dominated ruling system of big compradors, landlords and corrupt bureaucrats persists. The entire people, especially the workers and peasants, cannot accept the ever worsening conditions of oppression and exploitation.
EBN: Until now, you don’t have travel documents. Is it true?
JMS: I can be granted by the Dutch foreign ministry the temporary single return trip permit to travel called laissez passer if the purpose is to participate in peace negotiations or visit a seriously ill close relative in a third country (not the Philippines).
EBN: If given a chance would you come home? Are you still considered enemy of the state?
JMS: The reason why I cannot return is obvious. I would be met at the Manila airports by the same military organization that tortured me and detained me illegally for nine years (1977 to 1986). And very recently Duterte no less has threatened to slap and kill me if I return home. I am protected from being deported to the Philippines or a third country by the Refugee Convention and by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits my being put at risk of being sent back to the Philippines, tortured again and subjected to worse criminal action by those in authority.
I can decide for myself whether to submit my life, limb and liberty to those in power who boast of being able to murder people with impunity or to demand sufficient legal and security guarantees for my safety and wait for better conditions of my return. Even if I were foolish enough to ask for a Philippine passport now, it may or may not be granted by the current regime. But I think the regime will allow the grant of the passport because that would put me at the mercy of the regime, which means it can either murder me or put me under duress for the purpose of phony peace negotiations or simply any nasty psy-war campaign.
EBN: What future awaits the NDF if something happened to you? You are already, I would say in the twilight years?
JMS: The NDF and the revolutionary movement do not depend on my life or longevity. The revolutionary forces and the NDF were able to grow in strength and advance even while I was in prison and even as I have been abroad for 32 years already. My mission in life is already accomplished: which is to criticize the oppressive and exploitative semi-colonial and semi-feudal system and try to overthrow it in my lifetime. A strong foundation is already established for the younger generations to continue the revolutionary process. Since the age of 19, I have given up any desire to engage in any kind of social climbing or political climbing for myself within the ruling system. My overriding interest has been to carry out the people’s democratic revolution.
Certainly the NPA will grow in strength and advance will advance together with the other revolutionary forces, including the CPP, NDF, revolutionary mass organizations and the people’s democratic government (organs of political power).
EBN: Do you have message to millennial voters or first time voters?
JMS: The young and all other registered voters should be ready to vote for the patriotic and progressive candidates at all levels of the elections. If the elections are not held for some tyrannical reason, they should be outraged and carry out protest mass actions. If the elections are held but are rigged by the Duterte regime, they should also be outraged and rise up against the tyranny responsible for the electoral fraud.
This article is part of the Balangiga Press Manila inaugural folio on Populism, Imperialism, and Nationalism in Southeast Asia. We encouraged our readers to respond to this article for a broader discussion and debate on the themes we would like to explore for our inaugural issue. Submission guidelines is here.
 The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) or Republic Act 11054 on Monday, January 21 through a plebiscite. The ratification created the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), replacing the Nur Misuari led Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). ARMM has been called a ‘failed experiment’ because of its dependence on the national government and accusations of corruption and mismanagement (https://www.rappler.com/nation/221899-plebiscite-results-armm-votes-ratify-bangsamoro-organic-law)
Eunice Barbara C. Novio is a Thailand-based freelance journalist. She is also a lecturer at Vongchavalitkul University in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. Her articles have appeared on Asian Correspondent and The Nation. She also writes opinion pieces for Asia Times. She is a stringer to Inquirer.net’s US Bureau. Novio won the Plaridel Award from the Philippine American Press Club in 2017 for Feature.