TRIBUTE TO JOSE MARIA SISON
ILPS SOLIDARITY NIGHT | JUNE 27, 2019
LISA ITO, CONCERNED ARTISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES
Good evening, comrades!
Like other Filipinos of petty-bourgeois origins, the first time I heard the name Jose Maria Sison was in school during the late 1990s. By then, he was the country’s most prominent political refugee. He was already based in the Netherlands for almost a decade since he fought the Marcos dictatorship and survived imprisonment, including torture and solitary confinement. Attuned to the pulse and political developments of the Philippines, he represented a mass movement flourishing long before our generation was even born.
My contemporaries came of age during EDSA II in 2000. This was the second People Power revolt which ousted Pres. Joseph Estrada and which was followed by regimes that were all enablers of the neoliberal order. Through progressive organizations, institutions, and individuals and his media exchanges with state propaganda and government officials, we who never lived through the darkest years of the Marcos dictatorship were introduced to Ka Joma as a thinker, peace consultant, cultural worker, poet, propagandist.
As a student, I was then pursuing research on histories of protest art and sought his insights to questions through email. Years later, the chance to meet in person was opened through initiatives of artists and cultural workers in Europe who responded positively to the acts of radical imagination, put into practice, that Ka Joma represented. Always, Ka Joma and others make the most of these instances and opportunities: turning non events and idle spells into educational discussions and learning moments for all.
There is a saying in Tagalog: “walang kapaguran”, which can be translated to tireless or indefatiguable. I think this observation can be well extended to the work of organizations like the ILPS and movements that he led: whose drive is honed by discipline and fuelled by a commitment to “seize the day and seize the hour”, no matter how difficult or unsurmountable the circumstances or challenges.
We have a lot to learn from Ka Joma’s life and practice, shared through forms such as films, interviews, and anthologies. As Filipino activists, our lives have definitely been influenced by texts he has produced, which range from essays such as Philippine Society and Revolution, Struggle for National Democracy to poems such as Prison and Beyond. I hope more people— including anti-imperialist youth, students, teachers, and organizers involved in the task of consciousness-raising among the people—will have similar chances to interact with him and other such comrades as well. At the very least, he has inspired me to try to be a better teacher, a better cultural worker, and a better person.
A few months ago, Ka Julie de Lima wrote about the importance of the “pen and the gun” (2018), the cultural and military fronts, in the continuing Philippine revolution since 1968. Ka Joma embodies this interface in how he successfully overcome threats to his life and safety, legal and political persecution, terrorist blacklisting, harassment, black propaganda, intrigue, and fake news.
We should learn from how Ka Joma FIGHTS BACK against these ATTACKS. Even today, he shifts between discussions of literature to political analysis, poetic form to videoke or other modes of entertainment, public lectures and video speeches to spontaneous verbal jousts and Facebook posts to convey important messages. I can only imagine how he will take to using Twitter!
Tonight, we honor one of the most beloved figures of the continuing Philippine revolution and the global fight against imperialism. But his is also a face which also embodies the stories, lives and sacrifices of countless other revolutionaries and comrades, including the martyred, the disappeared, and those who continue to be part of the struggle today.
In paying tribute to Ka Joma we also pay tribute to millions of other extraordinary comrades, all fighting for a system that upholds dignity, labor, and social justice for all the ordinary people who hold up the world.
Thank you, Ka Joma, for teaching generations of activists how revolutionary struggle for national liberation and global solidarity against empire is possible, real, and most of all, truly joyful. Mabuhay po kayo! ###