By Wilson Lee Flores
The Philippine Star
(Will Soon Flourish)
19 August 2012
Is he the Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara of the Philippines, or is he a terrorist and a misguided idealist? One of the most controversial persons in Philippine history, the Utrecht, Netherlands-based 73-year-old Professor Jose Maria “Joma” Sison is the founding chairman of the 44-year-old Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) and chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle.
Joma became well-known in the mid-1960s as co-founder of leftist Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth). Joma is co-founder of the CCP’s guerrilla-military arm the New People’s Army (NPA) which now still wages an insurgency in various regions of the country.
An award-winning poet, a literature and political science professor born to a landed family in Ilocos Sur province and educated at the Ateneo, Letran and University of the Philippines, revolutionary Joma Sison was jailed for nine years and tortured during the martial law era of President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Joma was freed in 1986 by President Cory C. Aquino for the sake of national reconciliation and for his being part of the anti-Marcos forces, but he continued his anti-government activities. He won the prestigious 1986 Southeast Asia WRITE Award for his poetry presented by the Crown Prince of Thailand, and later went into exile in the Netherlands to seek political asylum. The government of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had lobbied for Joma to be labelled a “terrorist” by US and European governments since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center.
At present, Joma Sison is officially the chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDF), a broad far-left coalition of political parties, farmer and trade unions, and other groups. He recently gave the Philippine Star an exclusive interview:
Philippine Star: We will soon mark the 29th anniversary of the 1983 assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino. Who do you really think was the mastermind (or were the masterminds) of this unsolved crime?
Jose Maria Sison: The masterminds were the fascist dictator Marcos and a very close relative of Cory Aquino. General Ver could not have coordinated the assassination plot, involving subordinate generals and colonels and several armed services, without the approval of Marcos. The cousin of Cory Aquino — who hated Ninoy Aquino and who was one of the top cronies of Marcos — was the patron and boss of General Gatan who was responsible for getting Galman as a prop in the David Copperfield-type illusionist theatrics of the assassination plot.
Did you ever meet the late Ninoy Aquino?
In my capacity as general secretary of the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN) and chairman of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), I met Ninoy Aquino as senator in the late 1960s. We discussed how to oppose Marcos. Since then, Ninoy and I had become friends.
Was it true the past accusation of the military and Marcos that then opposition Senator Ninoy Aquino was a friend or even had helped the Communist rebels or your NPA?
I did not have any direct relations with Ninoy pertaining to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People´s Army as claimed by Marcos and by the military.
You are an Ilocano, like the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, did you ever meet him? What did you talk about?
Justice Secretary Claudio Teehankee arranged with Senator Lorenzo Tañada, chairman of the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism, the meeting of Marcos with the MAN National Council in 1967. As MAN general secretary, I met Marcos for the first time at that meeting.
What did you and President Marcos talk about?
We discussed how a policy of national independence, industrialization and land reform could be pursued. He pledged to pursue the policy and he said that the mass actions should not be directed against him. Senator Tanada told him that the mass actions could be in support of a nationalist policy.
Was that your only encounter with Marcos?
The second time I met Marcos was after my capture by the military in November 1977. We talked for 30 minutes. He opened the conversation by saying that he had read my books and articles and that it was possible to have national unity and reconciliation. I said that he must anticipate the US dropping him if he became more of a US liability than an asset. Then he said that I talked like Aquino. He asked if Aquino had anything to do with the establishment of the CPP and NPA. I said no.
He asserted that armed struggle was passe and that a Marxist like Allende of Chile could become president through elections. I retorted that Allende was subsequently assassinated in a coup d´etat. I complained to him about extrajudicial killings in the Southern Tagalog region. And he promised to investigate. I gave a full narration of my encounter with Marcos and my subsequent torture to my lawyer, the late Atty. Juan T. David.
You were freed in 1986 by the government of the late President Cory C. Aquino. Did you get to meet her?
I met Cory Aquino at the Cojuangco building penthouse, where she was holding office, when I was released on March 5, 1986. Her son, the current president was also there. I was released on the recognizance of Ninoy¨s mother, Doña Aurora Aquino.
Cory conversed with me and Bernabe Buscayno who was also released. The picture of us conversing was taken by the Associated Press and it came out on the front pages of major newspapers throughout the world.
What were your impressions of Cory?
I was impressed that she was a gentle lady. It was the same impression I had of her when I first met her in 1967 at her Times St. residence.
Has the Philippines become a more democratic society after the 1986 military-backed uprising?
The Marcos fascist dictatorship was brazenly anti-democratic. But the succeeding regimes have been pseudo-democratic and consistently anti-democratic.
Why do you think the post-Marcos governments failed to uphold democracy?
The same anti-national and anti-democratic exploiting classes of big compradors and landlords, who are subservient to the US are ruling, exploiting and oppressing the workers, peasants and the rest of the people. Every regime emerges from an electoral contest of political factions from the same exploiting classes.
How do you assess President Noynoy C. Aquino, who has a populist style of governance after a big election victory in 2010?
Noynoy Aquino has become president by capitalizing on the deaths of his parents, by manipulating the anti-Arroyo sentiment of the people and of course by having collected more campaign money than his rivals and by having the experts to handle the mass media. He appears to have the populist style by using Arroyo as a punching bag, by posing as Mr. Clean and by using big and small events to land on the front pages. He makes big news on the floods even after stopping and delaying the flood control projects.
What about P-Noy’s commitment to reforms?
Noynoy has not done anything to advance the Filipino people´s struggle and aspirations for national independence, substantive democracy, national industrialization and land reform, social justice and the like. He has done the opposite of these. He is not a leader of the people but an errand boy of US imperialism, foreign big business and the local exploiting classes to which he belongs.
He will eventually be isolated and discredited like Arroyo despite his pretenses and media savvy. The people are suffering from more unemployment, worse poverty, soaring prices of basic necessities and deterioration of social services. The corruption of his regime is being exposed in the making of infrastructure contracts and all kinds of deals involving government approval and funding. Human rights violations are mounting under the US-designed Oplan Bayanihan..
You are famous as the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) in 1968, but the CPP has claimed that for the past two decades that you’re no longer involved in its operations and that you’re only an adviser. Is this true?
It is obvious that I cannot be involved in operations of any organization in the Philippines, not even the Philippine chapter of the International League of Peoples´ Struggle (ILPS). I am now merely the chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. I am daily preoccupied with my duties as chairperson of the the ILPS. You can look at the volume of my writings for the ILPS on global issues.
If you’re no longer leader of the CPP and the armed wing New People’s Army (NPA), who are the top leaders now? How do you assess their capabilities?
You have to seek them out and find connections to them. They are in the Philippines like you. I presume tthat they are very dedicated and capable as I can estimate from my visits to http://www.philippinerevolution.net/
In my recent interview I asked Senator Ping Lacson whether your New People’s Army (NPA) is still a serious threat to national security. He replied: “No more, they’ve been decimated already, unlike in 1987 or 1988 when there were 25,000 armed regulars. Now, there’re only 5,000 to 7,000 NPA rebels.” Is this accurate?
The NPA never reached the level of 25,000 fulltime fighters with high-powered rifles. According to the 1985 Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPP, the NPA had only 5,600 fulltime fighters. These increased by another 500 in 1986. Then the NPA strength stagnated in until the Second Great Rectification Movement rectified major errors and revitalized the revolutionary forces from 1992 onwards.
So it’s not true what Ping said about the NPA being decimated or declining in numbers?
You can approximate the current number of NPA fulltime fighters by using as a multiplication factor the more than 110 guerrilla fronts that now exist in the Philippines. A guerrilla front usually has the total strength of 75 to 120 fighters with high powered rifles. You can also monitor the increase of NPA arms by tabulating the names of regional and guerrilla front commands and list the number of arms that the NPA is seizing in tactical offensives. What should worry most those who wish to preserve the ruling system is that membership in the people´s militia now runs in the tens of thousands and the self-defense units in the hundreds of thousands.
Would the CPP agree to stop its armed rebellion and to surrender the NPAs if, just in case, the Philippine government allows the Communist Party to exist legally and be part of the democratic process of elections?
As chief political consultant of the NDFP in peace negotiations, I can assure you that the NDFP in representation of the CPP, NPA and other revolutionary forces of the people is trying hard to persuade the Aquino regime to engage in serious negotiations for a just and lasting peace by addressing the roots of the armed conflict through mutually agreed basic social, economic and political reforms.
Is the surrender of your military-guerrilla arm the NPA not a possible scenario, even if the CCP is legalized, since your allies BAYAN and others have already won surprisingly many seats in Congress anyway?
The NDFP will never agree to capitulation and pacification. It will not stop the revolutionary movement and surrender the arms of the NPA in exchange for participation in elections controlled and manipulated by the US and the local exploiting classes. BAYAN and other legal progressive forces are independent of revolutionary forces and make their own decisions.
President Noynoy Aquino says that the Philippine economy is doing very well under his anti-corruption administration. What is your assessment of our economic situation?
Aquino is feigning ignorance of the ever worsening crisis of the world economic system and the domestic ruling system. The value of Philippine exports is going down. The economic crisis and the political biases egged on by it in host countries work against the acceptance of migrant workers. The cost of foreign borrowing is rising. The business call centers, the plunder of mineral resources and graft-ridden infrastructure projects do not and cannot result in economic development.
How many among the people are classified as poor based on your studies or informants?
The toiling masses of workers and peasants, and even the middle social strata, are suffering from the high rate of unemployment (at least four times than the official 7 per cent), the soaring prices of basic goods and services, increasing homelessness, landlessness and other deprivations. At least 80 percent of the people are living in poverty and misery–worse than two years ago. The tokenistic cash dole-outs under the Conditional Cash Transfer Program are now better known for corruption and serving the well-to-do in the barangays than in serving the truly poor.
The United States today seems to be still in economic crisis or at least in the doldrums. How do you analyze their problems?
The US remains afflicted with grave economic and financial crisis. It clings to the neo-liberal economic policy that has caused the current crisis of overproduction and over-accumulation by a few. The federal government bails out the banks and the military industrial complex and gives the tax cuts to the corporations and the wealthy. But it leaves the revival of production and employment to the so-called free market. The public debt crisis in the US is conspicuous at the level of the local states, cities and towns.
How do you assess the impact of the US economic crisis on their people?
The American people are suffering from a high rate of unemployment, the soaring prices of basic goods and services, the foreclosure of mortgages and other economic ills. The poor and near poor are close to 50 per cent of the population. Impoverished areas are expanding, looking like those in the third world. While the jobless, homeless and poor have increased, the monopoly bourgeoisie and the financial oligarchy are wallowing in wealth as never before in human history.
Who would you prefer to win in the U.S. presidential election, Obama or Mitt Romney? Why?
It does not matter who wins. Obama appears to be better than Romney but he has used the appearance of being better than Cain to do as bad as Bush the junior in many cases or even worse in certain cases. Romney appears to be worse than Obama and most probably will be so if he becomes president. It would be easier for the American people to confront a blatantly bad president than a bad president who pretends to be good.
Are the economic problems in the US and Western Europe just the excesses of capitalism, which can still be rectified?
The current economic and financial crisis of the US, Western Europe and the rest of the capitalist world is deep going and likely to protract (counting the years from 2008). It has come as a result of the total bankruptcy of the neo-liberal policy and from a long series of economic and financial crises, of which there have been more than 100 of varying scales in various countries and global regions since 1980s.
Are you predicting a crisis or collapse of capitalism?
Capitalism is not going to collapse anytime soon. But so long as the imperialist powers stick to the neoliberal policy, they will continue to fail at solving the current economic and financial crisis. Neither will they be able to solve the crisis by resorting to protectionism, which would intensify the inter-imperialist struggle for a re-division of the world.
The protraction of global depression, the rise of state terrorism and the unleashing of aggressive wars have a potential for inciting the people to rise up in resistance and challenge the imperialist powers and their puppets states with people´s movements for national liberation, democracy and socialism.
China has become the world’s most amazing “economic miracle” the past three decades due to the late Deng Xiaoping’s “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” or use of market-oriented reforms, and it seems Vietnam’s Communist leaders are successfully following this model. Do you think this is the ultimate future of socialism, to have a socialist foundation with a strong-willed pro-people government acting as resolute referee to market-oriented policies? Or do you consider China and Vietnam as apostasies to the authentic ideals of Communism or Socialism?
Capitalism has prevailed over the socialist cause in China and Vietnam. The ruling party is still called communist but in reality it is now bourgeois. The bourgeoisie is in power and is accumulating wealth in these countries. Let us see whether in the forthcoming years China and Vietnam can avoid the crisis of global capitalism, continue to have some amount of prosperity and prevent the people from rising up.
Mao Zedong explained a long time ago that it takes a great deal of revolutionary blood and sweat to ascend from one society to a higher kind, but a descent to a lower kind of society is peacefully done where there is nothing to prevent the state and party officials from adopting revisionist policies of capitalist restoration and from becoming corrupt and divorced from the people. The communist revolutionaries of today think that they will be able to use Mao´s theory of continuing the revolution under socialism, wherever socialism can be established.
What are your views about the controversial anti-American Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and his ongoing fight for re-election? Will he win?
I appreciate Hugo Chavez for being anti-imperialist and for using the oil income of his country to benefit the people. According to my Bolivarian friends, he will win in the elections.
Have you ever met Cuba’s Fidel Castro? What are your impressions?
I met the officials closest to Castro when I visited Cuba in 1988. Cuba has the unique problems of being small and being only ninety miles away from the biggest monster of the world and having lost favorable trade relations with the former Soviet Union. But Cuba has also the unique achievement of looking after the good of the Cuban people and refusing to capitulate to the US, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Will Cuba eventually go the path of China-style reforms or not?
I do not know any further direction Cuba might take even as I know it has good relations with China.
What about North Korea, your assessment of the new third-generation leader President Kim Jong-Un?
For the Korean people and the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un is living up to the legacy of his grandfather and father, continuing the development and defense of the North, working for independent and peaceful reunification with the South and standing up against the economic and military blockades, pressures and threats from the US and its allies.
Did you ever meet his late father Kim Jong Il or his late grandfather the revolutionary Kim Il Sung? What are your impressions?
I met Kim Il Sung but not his son Kim Jong Il. I have long admired Kim Il Sung for having led the revolutionary struggle of the Korean people for national liberation against Japanese colonialism and then against US imperialism which occupied the South and launched a huge war of aggression against Korea. I was impressed by his firm stand against US imperialism, notwithstanding the blockades, pressures and threats.
What about Chairman Mao Zedong, did you ever meet him? Yes. I met him in Beijing in 1967 at the 25th anniversary of his Talks at Yenan Forum on Art and Literature.
You had been a former literature professor at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) and you had won the Southeast Asia WRITE Awards for your poetry book Prison & Beyond in 1986 with the Thai crown prince presenting you the honor. Who are your top three favorite writers in the world?
My top three favorite foreign writers are Ernest Hemingway, Bertolt Brecht and Pablo Neruda.
What about your top three favorite Filipino writers?
My top three favorite Filipino writers are Amado Herrnandez, Nick Joaquin and Gelacio Guillermo. I can mention more, but you have limited me to three for Filipino and foreign writers.
Who among our showbiz stars you admire or are impressed with? Why?
I admire Angel Locsin, Monique Wilson, Allen Dizon and Gina Alajar. Angel Locsin and Monique Wilson take up the women´s liberation cause and participate in various campaigns of Gabriela. Allen Dizon and Gina Alajar are excellent actors and have appeared in the progressive films of Joel Lamangan and Boni Ilagan.
Any favorite Filipino movies in recent years or even in the past?
I have watched several movies of Joel Lamangan and Boni Ilagan. I have watched the acclaimed and award-winning films of Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal.
The late director Lino Brocka seemed like an activist with leftist sympathies. Was he with your revolutionary cause?
I was a friend of Lino Brocka because we were in the same classes, in the same ROTC company and in some plays of the UP Dramatic Guild. He enjoyed my banter. I did not know how he developed his progressive views.
Who else in the past were with you and Lino Brocka?
My contemporaries in the UP Dramatic Club were Behn Cervantes, Ishmael Bernal, Joonee Gamboa, Adul de Leon and Lino Brocka. Most of them became progressive on their own account.
Is it true the son of motel tycoon Angelo King—Wyden King—was once an assistant of yours during the martial law era?
I remember him.
Wyden King is now a born-again Christian. Your impressions of him then and now?
He was intelligent, conscientious, fearless and punctual. I hope that I can meet him again someday.
The military had a few years ago released a photo of you dancing with then sexy actress Ara Mina. You said that was at a Christmas party. Your version of this incident?
Indeed, the occasion was a Christmas party of the Filipino community, with the Philippine embassy officials and NDFP personnel attending.
Your impressions of Ara Mina, if any?
Ara Mina was a gracious woman and was a good total performer — singing, dancing and bantering.
How is life in the Netherlands? How do you spend your days, and what are you busy with?
I stay at home most of the time to do my research and writing. Thus I save money and time.
Are you not bored there?
In a sense, I am a prisoner because of financial and other limitations. I spend much time writing statements as chairperson of the ILPS and occasional papers for delivery before graduate students of political science and conflict studies. Whenever I get bored, I go out for bantering or karaoke sessions.
Are you used to life in exile?
A group of Dutch, Canadian and Greek documentary film makers is doing a film on me. It is titled Penal Colony because they think I am in The Netherlands as if it were a penal colony. I cannot travel freely to any other country, unless I get a laissez passer (special passport for one trip) for peace talks in Oslo or court hearings in Luxembourg.
Walking and singing with or without karaoke.
Had there been any assassination attempts on your life like in the case of Leon Trotsky in Mexico? When? By whom?
I have not been axed yet. But the first assassination team was dispatched from Manila to kill me by knife in the period of 1999-2000. In one instance, one of the assassins walked towards me while I was crossing the street with a small boy in front of the NDFP Information Office in Utrecht. I became alerted and changed direction and Fidel Agcaoili caught up with me. The would-be assassin backed out.
A second assassination team was organized, when the first one failed to carry out its mission and was called back to Manila. It was at this point that an insider revealed the assassination plot to friends of mine in Manila and also to then Colonel Berroya who was the former boss of the insider in the military. The details are known to my Filipino and Dutch lawyers and Dutch police and are on record. Colonel Berroya named the principal plotters in a radio broadcast in Manila and before a Dutch police investigator in early 2001.
Do you now have any security or bodyguards?
Since 1999 I have been extra careful in going out of my home and going to public places. I am always accompanied by at least one person. We make sure that any strange character approaching me or casing my home or office would be covered by camera. I am also alert to possible rendition or wet operation by US operatives.
Who were your parents, their professions or backgrounds? I read you’re from an Ilocano landlord family?
My father was a landlord who was one of the main heirs of the Serrano, Soller and Sison estates in the Ilocos. He got enough rent from tenants and could sell pieces of land to be able to send his seven children to expensive Catholic schools in Manila and further on to American universities for postgraduate studies. I was the only one who did not go to the US.
Any of your ancestors involved in politics before?
In his twenties, my grandfather Don Gorgonio Sison was the last gobernadorcillo of Cabugao, Ilocos Sur under the Spanish colonial regime, the first municipal president of the Philippine revolutionary government and the first mayor under the US colonial regime. The first governor of Ilocos Sur, Don Mena Crisologo, was a grand uncle of mine. There was a time when two uncles of mine, Jesus Serrano and Sixto Brillantes, were the congressmen of the two districts of the province.
But our Sison relatives in Pangasinan were far more awesome. Six became governors of the province, starting with Don Rafael Sison at the start of the US colonial period. Several became senators and assemblymen or congressmen. Quite a number became cabinet secretaries. The most notable was Teofilo Sison, who was the first secretary of national defense and also became secretary of justice and executive secretary. He was close enough to Quezon to move from one cabinet position to another.
Your hometown of Cabugao in Ilocos Sur is facing the sea, any recollections of your childhood years there?
The town center or poblacion of Cabugao is a few kilometers away from the seaside barrios of Dardarat, Salomague, Daclapan, Salapasap and Pug-os. We owned land in all these barrios. My mother loved to go to tne beaches for picnics during summer. We also enjoyed going to the barrios east of the town, especially Caellayan where there were orchards of mangoes, santol and duhat.
I read that your family is connected to or maybe related to Ilocos Sur political clans like the Crisologos and the Singsons?
My extended family of Azcuetas, Sollers, Serranos and Sisons intermarried several times with the Florentinos, Crisologos and Singsons of Vigan since the 19th century. Several uncles, first and second cousins of my father were the latest to marry into these Vigan families.
Your impression of Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson?
Chavit is a good guy and loyal friend if you are friends with him. He and I have mutual relatives. He and my younger brother were classmates and friends.
Is it true you first got interested in leftist revolution from your childhood barber telling you about the Hukbalahap uprising?
Yes, I had a Capampangan barber who talked a lot about the Huks while cutting my hair. But I learned about the Huks earlier from my Capampangan mother whose family came from Mexico, Pampanga. When I was a boy, I heard her telling my father that a Laxamana landlord relative of ours was killed probably by a poor relative who was a Huk.
Who among the leftist revolutionaries in history do you admire the most — Chief Justice Jose Aad Santos’ elder brother the medical board topnotcher and bar topnotcher Pedro Abad Santos, Huk leader Luis Taruc, Kumander Dante (Bernabe Buscayno) or former martial law era Ateneo student leader Edgar Jopson?
I admire Pedro Abad Santos who was landed and yet chose to be a socialist and then communist. I admire Crisanto Evangelista, who was the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippine Islands in 1930. I did not have a chance to meet them. They were both martyred by the Japanese fascists.
I admire Edgar Jopson. At first, he was on the opposite side of Kabataang Makabayan in the student movement. But eventually he became progressive and joined the Communist Party of the Philippines. I was the one who asked him to chair the NDF Preparatory Commission in 1975. He was martyred by the troops of the Marcos fascist dictatorship in Davao.
Luis Taruc and Bernabe Buscayno had good periods in the revolutionary movement. But they dropped out at some point. I met Taruc while he was still in prison in Camp Panopio in 1964 or thereabouts. Tonypet Araneta brought me along when he interviewed Taruc for his doctoral dissertation. Of course, it is of public knowledge that Bernabe Buscayno and I were together in the revolutionary movement.
If you had not become a revolutionary, what would you have been?
I would have become a lawyer for the poor and exploited, and I would have tried to fulfill the ambition of my late father for me to become president of the Philippines.
How would you want Philippine history to remember you and your legacy?
I would like be remembered as the activist and articulator of the Filipino people’s struggle and aspirations for national independence, genuine democracy, national industrialization and land reform, social justice, a patriotic and progressive culture and international solidarity for peace and development.
* * *