Reply to Alexander R. Magno: Jose Maria Sison’s academic and literary record

Presidential appointee Alexander R. Magno, currently a director of the Development Bank of the Philippines, today made the likes of President Arroyo, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, the top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Dutch and US Embassies exceedingly happy with his latest column piece at the Philippine Star.

Why happy, because the column piece help reinforce the cruel characterizations of Sison. For Magno and his ilk, Sison does not deserve anything, not even the titles, awards, and distinctions he has long earned. From the choice of words Magno used, Sison seems to be undeserving of being called a human.

Is Magno continuing to write in favor of Arroyo ang rabidly against Sison in exchange for the DBP directorship? I do not know. What is apparent is that Magno’s ideas pose serious dangers to Sison. He seems to agitate deaths squads to finally kill Sison, or for the Dutch government to jail him. But like the Dutch and the death squads, Magno cannot hide from the truth. He can go and hide in his cool office, sit down in his swivel chair and type similar column pieces of pure hate and cruelty, but truth is not on his side.

In the interest of fairness, let us look at Sison’s claims of being a writer and professor.

Professor Sison’s academic record

Of course, Professor Sison did not bestow the title on himself, as Magno pathetically claims.

After graduating cum laude with a BA in English Literature in 1959 from the University of the Philippines, Sison started teaching as a Teaching Fellow, also at UP. He also immediately began to take up Master of Arts in Comparative Literature at UP from 1959-1961.

Sison later received the Jajasan Siswa Lokantara scholarship in Indonesian language which sent him to Jakarta, Indonesia in 1962.

Sison was first called “Professor” in 1964 when he began a three-year stint as professorial lecturer in English, Political Science and Social Science at the Lyceum of the Philippines. 1964 was also the year Sison founded the Kabataang Makabayan, then the most militant organization of young Filipinos.

Upon his release from prison in 1986, Professor Sison returned to the academe and was appointed as Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the UP Asian Center.

Professor Sison was on a global lecture and speaking tour when the Philippine government cancelled his passport in 1987, forcing him to seek political asylum in Holland.

Sison as writer and poet

Everyone has favorites and it is quite clear that Magno does not count Sison as one of them. Magno also heaps scorn and doubts on Sison as a writer and poet endlessly as if he was sure 100 percent about what he was writing.

Let the records speak for itself about Sison’s writing and poetry:

Sison’s first book of poetry, Brothers, published in 1962 established him as a nationally-recognized poet. On scholarship in 1962, Sison learned Bahasa Indonesia and translated the works of Indonesian poet laureat Chairil Anwar.

His second book of poetry, Prison and Beyond: Selected Poems, was published in 1984.

In 1993, Dutch translations of his selected poems were published in a book entitled Gedichten.

His poems and essays have been published in international periodicals and anthologies.

Sison’s works are included in the following anthologies: Luis H. Francia’s
Brown River, White Ocean: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Philippine Literature in English and Voices of Conscience: Poetry from Oppression by Hume Cronyn.

Sison’s latest book is Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World–Portrait of a Revolutionary, which he co-authored with Ninotchka Rosca.

Literary Awards for Sison

The prestigious Manila Critics Circle awarded Sison in 1984 with the National Book Award for Poetry for the book Prison and Beyond: Selected Poems. The following year, Sison was bestowed a Literary Achievement Award by the Writers Union of the Philippines.

In 1986, Sison was awarded the South East Asia WRITE Award by the Crown Prince of Thailand for his poetry and essays. He was the eighth Filipino to receive the award after Jolico Cuadra, Nick Joaquin, Gregorio Brillantes, Adrian Cristobal, Edilberto K. Tiempo, Virginia Moreno and Ricaredo Demetillo. After Sison, the awardees included Bienvenido N. Santos, Rio Alma, Lina Espina Moore, and more.

In 1998, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, an institution founded in 1931, awarded Sison its highest citation, the Gawad Marcelo H. del Pilar for his poetry, writings and activism.

Sison and writers’ organizations

Sison was president of the UP Journalism Club in 1958-1959 and a member of the UP Writers Club in 1962.

He was founder and chairman the Student Cultural Association in UP (SCAUP) in 1959-1962.

He also became a member of the following:

  • National Press Club, 1965-68
  • Afro-Asian Journalists’ Association, 1966
  • Afro-Asian Writers’ Bureau, 1966
  • Wereldschrijvers Werkgroep, Netherlands, 1993
  • Vereniging van Letterkundigen-Vakbond van Schrijvers (Association of Literary Arts – Union of Writers), Netherlands, 1994

A people’s professor

Having established Sison’s legit claim to being a professor, poet and writer, it is important to stress his role as a writer in recent Philippine history.

Professor Sison is accused by the military of being Amado Guerrero, author of the Philippine Society and Revolution, the “bible” of Filipino national-democratic activists which ended the dominance and monopoly of functionalist-structuralist analyses on Philippine history and current affairs. Commonly known as PSR, this book continues to draw adherents.

Prior to the publication of PSR, Sison went on a speaking tour as professor and as an activist leader. His speeches and talks were later collected and published as Struggle for National Democracy (SND), a required read for activists and encapsulized Marxist, conflict analyses on history, politics, culture, military affairs, and standard issues of the day.

These two books helped transform Sison’s cause of “national democracy” from idea to concrete action. These books produced a national democratic movement that by the time Marcos proclaimed martial law was prepared to wage armed resistance to the dictatorship, welcomed the best and brightest of that generation to its ranks, and offered the Filipino people a hope beyond what is offered by the rotten system Magno helps maintain and prettify.

Lastly, Magno’s column illustrates the two diverse paths an intellectual may take. One is Magno’s way which is to be a sellout, and Sison’s way, which is to serve the people despite the depredations and the villification by the likes of Arroyo and her pet Magno.

Photo shows Prof. Sison delivering a lecture at the UP Asian Center in 1986, courtesy of

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