Jose Maria Sison has been a leading figure of the Philippine national democratic revolution for almost 40 years. He is one of the pioneers who revived the anti-imperialist movement in the Philippines in the early 1960s, and he was elected chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1968 when it was refounded on the basis of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. For nine years, he was the most prominent political prisoner of the U.S.-supported dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. After living for nearly twenty years in the Netherlands as a political refugee, Sison is in prison again.
On the morning of August 27, 2007, Sison was arrested in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on trumped up murder charges. The Dutch police kicked down doors and ransacked Sison’s apartment. The Dutch police also raided the houses of several staff members of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and confiscated computers and files in an attempt to shut down the NDFP’s international solidarity work.
Sison has been in the crosshairs of successive U.S. puppet Philippine regimes since his release from prison in 1986 as a result of the “people power” uprising that brought down the Marcos regime. While Sison was on a university lecture tour in Europe in 1988, the Philippine government of Corazon Aquino stripped him of his passport. A year later, the military offered a one million peso bounty for his “arrest, capture or neutralization.” Sison has remained a political refugee in the Netherlands since 1988 because of continued threats to his life by the Philippine authorities. As recently as 2000, a special unit was sent to the Netherlands to murder Sison.
In 1992, Sison was invited by the NDFP to be its Chief Political Consultant in peace negotiations with the Philippine government. The NDFP is composed of the CPP, the New People’s Army (which has established more than 120 guerilla fronts on all eleven major islands of the archipelago), and 15 groups based among workers, peasants, women, youth, the religious sector, the Muslim Moro people, and the many indigenous groups in the Philippines. The NDFP’s national democratic program calls for the uprooting of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism in the Philippines, leading to the socialist stage of the revolution.
Over the course of a decade, the NDFP has held peace talks with the Philippine government. The two sides have signed ten bilateral agreements, including the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in 1998. The CARHRIHL requires both sides in the armed conflict to refrain from acts of terrorism against the civilian population and soldiers who are hors de combat. However, the Philippine government has undermined the agreement by objecting to setting up enforcement mechanisms.
More importantly, the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has violated the CARHRIHL and international humanitarian law by orchestrating the murder and disappearance of more than 1,000 civilian political activists during the last six years. These activists have included workers and peasants, priests and pastors, and members of the Bayan Muna (People First) party that recently elected three representatives to Congress in spite of massive voter fraud.
While the Philippine army sends out squads of motorcycle-riding masked soldiers to assassinate those whose only crime is opposition to a corrupt, brutal regime, the revolutionary forces strongly oppose terrorist actions and terrorism as a strategy. The NDF, the CPP, and the NPA recognize that they must gain and maintain the active participation and support of the people in the revolution. They use their limited weapons judiciously and precisely only against the military and those guilty of serious offenses against the people. Nevertheless, the U.S. and the European Union have listed the CPP and the NPA as “terrorist organizations” and have tried to blacken the reputation of Sison by designating him as a terrorist.
In response to a question on this issue at a press conference in 2002, Sison replied, “Terrorism is usually associated with the assassination of innocent civilians, the wanton destruction of property, the maltreatment of captives and the like. These are precisely the kinds of things that the New People’s Army never does. The NPA is treating the people humanely and is respecting their human rights. It abides strictly by its own Rules of Discipline, and the organs of people power follow the Guide for Establishing the People’s Democratic Government, which serves as the Constitution for the areas under NPA control.”
The Dutch police claim that in 2003, Sison ordered the murders of two ex-leaders of the CPP, Romulo Kintanar and Arturo Tabara. At that time, the New People’s Army, based in the Philippines, announced that Kintanar and Tabara were killed resisting arrest and were slated to be tried by people’s courts for serious crimes committed after they left the CPP. Kintanar had been working for Philippine army intelligence, and Tabara was charged with the murder of an elderly peasant leader. The CPP publicly took credit for administering “revolutionary justice” to Kintanar and Tabara. For over 20 years, the CPP has stated that Sison is no longer involved in operational decisions and that he serves the revolutionary movement in an advisory capacity in Europe.
Why has Sison come under attack now? Over the past year, the Philippine government has been on the defensive for its human rights violations. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights have issued reports harshly critical of the Philippine government and army. After hearings in the spring of 2007, 48 U.S. Senators and Representatives sent a letter to the Arroyo government expressing concern that U.S. military equipment was being used to commit human rights abuses.
In July 2007 the Philippine Supreme Court dismissed a long list of charges against Sison and 50 other progressives, including the murders of Kintanar and Tabara, that spanned the period from the founding of the CPP in 1968 to 2006. This legal defeat for the Philippine government may have prompted it to request that the Dutch government file the murder charges against Sison, which mean he will be tried in the Netherlands instead of the Philippines.
The Netherlands has a long and notorious colonial past in Southeast Asia (Indonesia) and South America (Surinam and the Dutch Antilles). Today, it is the third largest trading partner and the second largest investor in the Philippines. Dutch conglomerates such as Royal Dutch Shell (oil), Unilever (consumer products), and Phillips (electronics) are well entrenched. Their exploitation of the labor and natural resources of the Philippines is administered by the Arroyo government and guaranteed by U.S. military equipment and advisors.
The U.S. government was quick to respond to the Dutch police action. American ambassador Kristie Kenney offered to extend support to the Dutch government to prosecute Sison. While the U.S. seems to allowing the Dutch government to take a lead role at this point, Sison could be kidnapped by the CIA or U.S. Special Forces. According to the CPP in the Philippines, the U.S. government has had standing plans to subject Sison to extraordinary rendition and to imprison him in Guantanamo Bay or a secret U.S. detention facility.
At present, Sison, 68, is being held in solitary confinement in the Dutch National Penitentiary, which was used by the Nazis during World War 2 to imprison and torture Dutch resistance fighters. He is being denied warm clothing and medicines for a heart condition. However, Sison is familiar with prison, and his voice will not silenced easily. On August 30, a march on the Dutch embassy in Manila was attacked by truncheon-wielding police, injuring dozens of people. In the last week, demonstrations have been held at Dutch embassies, consulates, and government offices in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Sydney, Taipei, Vancouver, B.C., Montreal, New York City, and Los Angeles, with more actions planned.
Dave Pugh lives in San Francisco and works with Bayan USA.