| |  

He could be no different from any other foreign-based Filipinos. Browsing through dailies every morning after breakfast, taking time off to write, going to office after lunch, watching TV after dinner, sleeping late at night after being subjected to late night interviews by media practitioners from his homeland. But then, he’s no ordinary mortal. He is an intellectual, a ideologue, and more importantly, the most prominent figure in the Philippine Revolutionary Movement. He is Jose Maria Sison, and now, he is being....
Professor Jose Maria Sison, a Filipino, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the on-and-off peace talks negotiation with the Philippines government, made international headline. The US Treasury Department included him, along with the CPP-NPA, in its “terrorist” list last Aug. 12, 2002.
    After the US “terrorist” tag, life has never been the same for the Sisons. The next day, apparently because of US prodding, the Dutch government issued “Sanctions Ruling on Terrorism 2002 III.” On Aug. 15, the Dutch Finance Ministry froze the joint bank account of the Sison couple. The account contains 1,000 euros (around 50,000 pesos). On Sept. 10, 2002, the Dutch Social Welfare Agency removed Sison’s state subsidies on food, housing, health insurance and other basic necessities.
    On Oct. 30, 2002, the European Union also declared the CPP-NPA and Jose Maria Sison terrorists.
    If political columns and gossips are to be believed, Prof. Jose Maria Sison is enjoying a good life abroad. That he is a night owl who likes to disco and sing a lot. Many, especially friends and those who knew Sison personally, resent this depiction of him.
    Sure he sings, his friends say, his favorite changing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” to “I did it, Mao’s Way.” Sure he dances, he shuffles. But they said, more than all this, Ka JoeMa, (Prof. Sison’s more popular name) is a principled man and a revolutionary.
    Sison has spent 14 years living in exile in Utrecht, the Netherlands. According to him, his being abroad is not a personal choice. He was forced by circumstance because then Philippine president Cory Aquino cancelled his passport while he was doing lectures in the Netherlands in 1988.
    A political exile, Sison has since then, join other Utrecht-based Filipinos in bringing the plight of the Filipinos and their struggle to the consciousness of the international community. Most recently, he served as the general consultant of the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS). The said organization is comprised of more than a hundred people’s organizations that act as coordinating centers for all anti-imperialist and democratic struggles worldwide.
    There is no denying that Sison is a political figure. All the Philippine presidents since Marcos has recognized him as a leading and respected figure of the Left if not the revolutionary movement. President Corazon Aquino through emissaries sent feelers to the Utrecht-based Sison and company for a peace negotiations but this did not push through. During the term of President Fidel Ramos, the GRP panel officially recognized Sison as chief political consultant of the NDF. The Peace Talks efforts of the NDFP and the GRP resulted to the drafting of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. Deposed President Joseph Estrada signed the agreement but did not honor it later.
    Even those aspiring for top political position go to the Netherlands hopeful to get the swing votes of the Left. House Speaker Jose de Venecia has his picture taken with Joema at the Netherlands during the height of the 1998 presidential election. Senator Loren Legarda communicates and coordinated with Sison and company especially during the release of the prisoner of war, Martin Buan.
    Since being based abroad, JoeMa’s opinion on many problems and issues at home has been consistently sought by leading newspapers, TV and networks. The banters between Estrada and Joema keep everyone in stitches laughing. Estrada described Joema ugly while Joema gamely responded by calling him El Loco because of his intellectual capacity and Rambutete because of his war-freak solution to the Mindanao problem.
Joma Sison (5th from right) with Dutch friends
Before the ‘Terrorist’ tag - Simple lifestyle and hard struggle
    Contrary to what have been written about Sison’s lifestyle, he and the rest of the NDF personalities based in Utrecht live a simple life. With Europe’s high standard of living, one has to earn really big to survive there.
    Political refugees and asylum seekers like Sison subsist on state subsidies that are below the minimum wage. By Dutch society standard, Sison and the rest of the political refugees are part of lower-income grouping with incomes and conditions below even that of the average Dutch worker. With only some 200 Euros, nothing much is left of Joema’s subsidy after spending it on the basics: food, rent and transportation.
    A typical day for Joema starts with reading newspapers to update himself with recent events and developments.
He goes to the NDFP office to attend his workload as its chief consultant. Meetings, speaking engagements or lecturing also forms part of his daily routine. If time permits, he sometimes play basketball with Louie Jalandoni and other Filipino exiles.
    Transportation alone eats up most of his 200 Euros-a-month subsidy (an average train ride normally costs some 11 Euros). For 14 years, the Sison couple was not allowed to work and practice their professions. They receive measly amount of social welfare benefits. They have no savings. They have no pension. They live in a small one-room affair abode. Friends who have visited them describe their place as so cramp that all available space have to be maximized to make way for the receiving area, kitchen and other parts of their home.
    Their situation is no different from other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Like them, he also experience hardship and homesickness. The only big difference is that after working so hard and saving enough money, the OFWs can go back home and feel the warm embrace of their family and friends. Almost always cash-strapped, Sison and the rest think of the homeland but it is not that easy to go back home. Of course, they can go back to the country, but not without any risk to their safety and their lives.
    In a special gathering of friends and relatives of the Utrecht-based Filipinos who are being tagged as “terrorists,” Romeo Capulong, former legal counsel of the NDFP negotiating panel said how he observed the simplicity in the lifestyle of JoeMa and the rest. Since they really do not own and have much, he had never seen the NDFP panel pick up the bill during meetings with the government panel. He added that they even take with them any uneaten food.

Living on borrowed money, surviving through the help of friends
    It was not simply dramatics that the progressive and militant youth organization, Anakbayan, launched a “Piso For JoeMa” (A Peso for JoeMa) and solicited donations (canned goods, toiletries etc.) for the Sison family.
    They launched the drive after the state subsidies of Prof. Sison were cut off on September 10, 2002.
    Since the Dutch Social Welfare Agency terminated his subsidies, Prof. Sison and his wife, Julie, have to borrow money from friends to pay their bill and basic needs for food and other basic things. Friends and relatives have poured in their support, contributing financially to tide them over.
    The international community, particularly the Dutch and the Belgian people have also thrown in their support. Sison’s Belgian friends and comrades have pledged to foot some of their bills.
    In a recent TV interview in Channel 2, Sison, in his usual jolly but witty mood indignantly deny the terrorist tag. He said that the actions taken against him are serious reminders of how cruel and malicious the US imperialist’s War Against Terror is. According to him, all the things that are taken from him by the Dutch government are at the level of subsistence and have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.

The worst is yet to come
    The worst is yet to come for Sison especially that the US and the Arroyo government are hell-bent on pushing for his detention and extradition to the United States.
    His biggest problem to date is how to raise finances for his legal defense to legally prevent US plans for his preventive detention and extradition. Court cases are being prepared in defense of Sison’s civil rights against the “terrorist” listing and withdrawal of benefits at the Dutch national level.
    Joema’s daily schedules basically remain the same but with additional load on a legal battle against the terrorist tag raised against him. Much of his time is spent on consultation with lawyers Jan Hermon, Hans Langenberg and Dundar Gurses, who have volunteered their expertise in helping him challenge the terrorist listing. He has also busied himself making rounds of public speaking before Flipino communities and foreign support groups.
    Through it all, Sison has proudly stood his ground. For him, the biggest terrorist is the US imperialist — trampling upon the national sovereignty and independence of countries.

If Sison is a ‘terrorist’, why are support pouring in?
    It is ironic that the very one who tagged Sison as a “terrorist” is the one who is in a tight fix and greatly criticized. Tens of thousands are demonstrating on the streets all over the world calling the Bush administration a warmonger. Prominent personalities like Barbra Streisand, Jimmy Carter, Tim Robbins and many more have stood up against the Bush administration’s plan to declare war on Iraq. Wouldn’t the “terrorist” tag put the Arroyo government in a dilemma? Simply put, the Arroyo government and those before her have been negotiating with “terrorists” all long? Legal luminaries and some congressmen are cautioning the government not to go easy with the terrorist tag. Many lawyers are of the opinion that there should be clear distinction between terrorist acts and “acts or omissions committed for political purposes in the context of an “armed conflict.” Civil libertarians on the other hand are worried about the possible repercussion of the “terrorist” tag. Would the labeling of the CPP-NPA and Sison set a precedent? Could it be that today it is the CPP-NPA, tomorrow any legitimate dissent?
    On the other hand, Sison enjoys the support and sympathy of groups and organizations not only in the Philippines but also in other countries. Even members of the Dutch parliament are questioning the “terrorist” tag and the actions imposed by the Dutch government on Sison.
    Maybe the term terrorist has a new meaning now.
Ter-ror-ist (ter-er-ist),: n. any country, group or individual that dares to struggle for social liberation in order to attain genuine peace, equality and prosperity to all mankind.

Joema, the political figure
    Just who is Jose Maria Sison? And why are the US and the Arroyo governments after his head?

    • Born on Feb. 8, 1939 in Cabugao, Ilocos Sur. He took up English Literature and graduated cum laude at the University of the Philippines
    • Founder of the Kabataang Makabayan, where he served as its national chairman from 1964 to 1968.
    • Tagged by the military as the founder and chairman (1968- 1977) of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
    • Wrote the books Struggle for National Democracy (1967), Philippine Society and Revolution (1970) and Prison and Beyond: Selected Poems (1984).
    • Arrested on Nov. 10, 1977 and detained in solitary
confinement from 1977 to 1986.
    • Chief political consultant, National Democratic Front (NDF) of the Philippines.
    • Presently, the general consultant of the International League of People’s Struggle.

    A month after the Marcos regime was successfuly toppled by a People’s Power Revolution in February 1986, Prof. Jose Maria Sison, one of the longest held political prisoners, was ordered released by President Cory Aquino.
    Sison went back to teaching at the Asian Center of Graduate Studies of UP. He also lectured on Philippine Crisis and Revolution in 1986.
    In 1987, Sison went abroad to lecture. He was in the Netherlands when the Philippine military charged him with subversion. President Aquino consequently cancelled his passport in 1988.
    Many believed that Sison could have been one of the many left-leaning personalities assassinated along with Kilusang Mayo Uno and Partido ng Bayan chairman Rolando Olalia and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Leandro Alejandro during that turbulent period had he been in the country at that time.
    Forced by circumstance, Sison applied for political asylum in the Netherlands in October 1988. He was recognized a political refugee by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1991. The Raad van State, the highest Dutch court, affirmed his status as a political refugee in 1992. The Dutch government’s recognition came next in 1995. In 1997 the Law Unity Chamber recognized Sison’s status as as political refugee.
Room 303, Paragon Tower, 531 A. Flores St., Ermita, Manila
Tel Nos. 526-5541 to 50 loc. 218 / TeleFax. 526-3802
Copyright 2002-2003 © PLANET PINOY PUBLISHING INC. All rights reserved.