Remembering Jose Maria Sison

I was going back to the hospital to be at the side of beloved partner when I got a call from a journalist inquiring if I have information about the reported arrest in the Netherlands of an official of the National Democratic Front. I immediately texted friend, the legal consultant of the NDF’s secretariat for the Joint Monitoring Committee and he replied thay yes, someone was arrested and he was no less than Jose Maria Sison.

Suggested readings on and by Sison:

I’ve met Professor Sison twice in the Netherlands. In 1996, my friend Ina and I visited Ka Joe, Ka Tony Zumel, Ka Louie Jalandoni, Ka Julie Sison, Ka Coni Ledesma and Ka Fidel Agcaoili. We just finished attending the Greenwich Youth Program in Belgium and made requests through emil if we could possibly visit them at the NDF office. We never regretted making that request.

We were so happy when we arrived there that afternoon. The sun was high but the air was cold. As we entered the simple NDF office in Utrecht City, we were greeted by familiar sounds. People were actually talking in Tagalog or Filipino! And they gave us warm smiles and put us in their tight embrace, as if we were long lost kith or kin.

Stacked high on shelves by the walls were files upon files on Philippine and international issues. All issues were being monitored and studied. By the conversations, it is as if we were in the Philippines.

One by one, we met them: Antonio Zumel, the legendary president of the National Press Club who left the comforts of his middle class life and a career in journalism, to join the hard struggle in the boondocks. He was already ill at the time. Our conversations with him was interrupted by a need to inject some insulin in his body.

But he still had a lucid mind at that time. Manong Zumel inquired about the youth movement, the youth groups, specifically the College Editors Guild of the Philippines to which he belonged many years back. He was elated when we presented him the Marcelo H. Del Pilar Award, the CEGP’s highest citation, which was bestowed on him some months back in a national convention.

Zumel became in fact our foster father in our brief stay there. He stayed up late at night so we could exchanged stories about writing, about the Philippines, about the need to bring about change in our country. He said he was happy there are many new activists and that he longs to come back to the Philippines.

Luis Jalandoni or Ka Louie could be mistaken for a priest really. But he was a real one before he joined the resistance in response to the fascist acts against the Negros people he witnessed during the dictatorship. For a long time now, the NDF has repeatedly elected him the front’s international represenrative and chief negotiator in peace talks with the government.

It is quite understandable that the NDF trusts and respects Ka Louie that much. The long distance between Utrecht and Manila becomes meaningless when you listen to him speak on our people’s conditions. Embedded in his memory are the reports from CPP committees, NPA fronts, people’s organizations, media outlets and even the Manila government.

One time, in one of those few visits to Manila, Ka Louie was asked in a forum about the human rights situation in the country. He said it stinks and he gave a very concrete reason why. Without a script or any reference material before him, he told of the experience of a family in the provinces, down to their first names, their barangays, the size and shape of their dwellings and just how unjust whatever the Philippine military did to them.

It is thus no wonder why the Manila negotiators always sabotage the talks with the NDF. Ka Louie’s passionate concern for the people makes them look like fools and ignoramuses. It is thus no wonder why throngs usually welcome him during his visits here. He is well loved because he loves the Filipino people.

And finally, there’s Jose Maria Sison or Ka Joema or Ka Joma or just Ka Joe. His infectious laughter and self-deprecating style of sharing jokes almost immediately shattered whatever misconceptions we had about him. He laughs really heartily and what makes us always laugh when we were with him was when he tells his brand of jokes that were “pilyo” or naughty.

He was a very exceptional fellow, an intelligent man and an obedient husband to Ka Julie. Talking with him nd listening to him makes him wonder why the Philippine government continues to demonize him. Does his words really hurt them? Do they honestly believe that this exile and political refugee who still cannot speak Dutch can actually direct and manage the NPA in the Philippines direct from Utrecht?

Sison has been accused of many crimes since the time of Marcos. But he has never ever been convicted of any of the charges in any Philippine court. Just recently, Sison was among those falsely accused by government for leading a rebellion. Sison, the Batasan 6 and scores of others were vindicated after the Supreme Court trashed the case.

Reports from International Committee Defend says Sison was arrested without warrant, arbitrarily and illegally. His house and the NDF office were ransacked. He is said to be accused of masterminding the murders of Antonio Tabara and Rolly Kintanar, erstwhile NPA leaders who later joined the government.

In an Inquirer report published today, President Arroyo was said to have congratulated National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales on Sison’s arrest.

If Arroyo and Arroyo think that they can do to Sison what they have done to the Batasan 6, they may be mistaken. The long arm of the PNP, AFP and the DOJ led by Raul Gonzalez may misuse the justice system for unjust ends, but that cannot be readily expected in The Hague. International Committee Defend now reports that Sison’s lawyers will question his arrest and seek his immediate release based on Dutch and European laws.

Will Sison be extradited to the Philippines or the US? I don’t know. But the world is surely watching how this drama is unfolding. Here is a drama between the trio of the Philippine, EU nd US authorities on one hand, and a Filipino patriot and political refugee on another.

Yesterday, as soon as the news about Ka Joe’s arrest sinked in, the memories rushed back and I remembered. I continue to remember.

Photo courtesy of INPS website, taken during one of the military commission hearings in 1981.

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