By Niña Calleja
Philippine Daily Inquirer
4 December 2010

UTRECHT, The Netherlands— In a foreign land, the 71-year-old leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines, constantly dreams of home and yearns for mangoes and the mountain ranges that he used to roam in his youth.

Jose Maria Sison expressed a desire to return home after living in self-exile for 23 years, but only under one circumstance: that peace negotiations prosper under President Aquino, whose mother granted the rebel leader political amnesty two decades ago.

“I hope to go home soon, although it is not as clear as a plan. It may happen if the peace talks under the Aquino administration would succeed,” Sison said in a recent interview at the office of the National Democratic Front in the Netherlands.

Recently, both the government and the communist-led NDF have agreed to revive the peace negotiations, hoping to end the decades-old communist insurgency in the country.

The communist rebels and government troops have agreed on a 19-day Christmas cease-fire starting December 16.

Coming home now, according to Sison, would imperil both his life and those of high-ranking officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, which he founded in 1968 after taking over the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas.

“The government might eliminate me the moment I set foot in the country. Their second option may be to detain me. Kung matalino talaga sila (If they are really wise,) they will let me pass through,” he said.

How come former Senator Ninoy Aquino managed to return and he couldn’t?

Sison said: “Aquino back then flew home because he was assured by US officials that he was safe and Marcos’ men had no chance to kill him. In my case, I still have a role here as peace negotiator in a foreign neutral venue according to Jasig (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees).”

Signed In 1995, the Jasig provides immunity from arrest to members, consultants and staff of the NDFP who are part of the peace-negotiating team.

Is it really posssible for the peace talks under Aquino’s term to succeed?

“It is possible if they (the government) are not traitors and if they truthfully aim for national independence. But if they still cling to VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement), and would always want to depend on foreign investments without efforts to develop the country to be self-reliant and independent, nothing significant will happen,” Sison said.

He said forming the negotiating panel already signified the readiness of the Aquino to sit down and talk with the Reds.

Through the social networing site Facebook, the Inquirer reached Sison and requested for a visit and an interview.

Despite the brisk cold breeze of autumn, Sison and his wife, Julie de Lima, fetched this Inquirer reporter at the Utrecht Central train station.

“Heto, gusto nang umuwi (I want to go home),” was the first thing that Sison spoke of when asked how he was doing in the Netherlands.

Sison said he longed to travel and see the mountains of the Philippines and taste its succulent mangoes.

“The mountains and the mangoes, these are the things I miss the most here, aside, of course, from the people,” he said.

Next to writing statements and poems, answering and reading messages in Facebook are what Sison busies himself with.

“In between writing and reading, I am on Facebook. I am quite addicted to it,” Sison said.

He said the social networking site has become a venue for him to communicate with friends, comrades and even “innocent” strangers.

By innocent, he meant the Internet-savvy who would not spy on him or post hate messages on his account.

He has his way of knowing by running a background check through the Internet.

Asked if he was also hooked on Facebook games, Sison answered in jest: “Like the Mafia Wars and FarmVille?”

He said Facebook amused him for it enabled him to know fresh political and personal events—from learning about the students’ strikes in the Philippines to getting in touch with, as he said, “ten female friends who gave birth in a span of one week.”

The military has been claiming that Sison enjoys the good life in the Netherlands, hobnobbing with beautiful women at parties.

Sison, however, repeatedly denied the accusation, saying there was nothing wrong in mingling with migrant workers in Europe.

Sison and Julie de Lima are living on the latter’s social-welfare pension from the Dutch government, which amounts to 800 Euros (P48,000) monthly.

Citing Europe’s high living costs, the couple claimed that the amount was meager.

Since his inclusion on the terror list of the US and European Union in 2002, the Dutch government has stopped giving him the social payments for living allowance, housing, health insurance and old-age pension.

The terror tag on Sison was, however, lifted by the ruling of a top European court last year, prompting the Dutch authorities to unfreeze his bank account which, according to the Philippine and Dutch governments, was a conduit for international support to the CPP-NPA.

“I am still pushing the Dutch government to give my pension back. I also filed a damage claim of 300,000 Euros after winning the case (on the terror listing),” Sison said.

Asked about his role now in the CPP-NPA, Sison insisted he remained the chief political consultant of the NDF.

“I am no longer in the position to answer those,” Sison said when thrown questions like “Where is Ka Roger?” and “How weak or strong is the NPA now?” “Ask those who are in the movement in the Philippines,” he said.

But Sison said he was keeping his hopes high for the protracted war waged by the CPP-NPA, which is probably now the world’s longest-running communist insurgency, dating back to the post-World War II years.

He said the CPP-NPA would keep going even if it goes up and down, going through zigzag, or commits a foolish mistake.

“No one is going to make a final judgment that they are defeated. In a people’s war, as long as they serve the interests of the workers and peasants, there are no significant losses,” he added. “The fact that the government still gives value to peace negotiations means that they recognize the existing strength of the movement.”

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