Interview with Prof. Jose Maria Sison
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
By Prof. Roland G. Simbulan
Development Studies and Public Management
9 July 2007
Professor Jose Maria Sison (JMS): The U.P. graduate is unique by being part of the cream of the educated elite. He or she is among the brightest and most competent in his or her profession. He or she is supposed to be often at least patriotic and liberal-minded in a conservative or progressive way or sometimes a revolutionary activist along the line of the national democratic revolution, especially since the militant mass actions of the 1960s. Tatak UP na pinakamatingkad ay matalino, mahusay, makabayan at progresibo. (Translation: The most outstanding mark of the the UP is: Intelligent, competent, patriotic and progressive.)
(RGS): What is it in U.P.’s curriculum or atmosphere that has an enduring impact on its students and graduates?
(JMS): The official ideology of the U.P. is a conservative and pro-imperialist type of bourgeois liberalism. Even as this is the case, the U.P. is still relatively the most progressive university in the semi-colonial and semi-feudal Philippine society. At any rate, there is a constant struggle of progressive and reactionary ideas in the university. These conflicting ideas are reflected in the curriculum, especially in courses of study that allow debate on social issues.
Since my time in the U.P., the Marxists have advocated the national democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class in alliance with the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeosie. They propagated on the campus the alliance of Marxism-Leninism and the progressive type of nationalism and liberalism in order to make a further new democratic advance against the persistence and growth of reactionary ideas which are pro-imperialist and pro-exploiting classes and are opposed to a patriotic, scientific and pro–people kind of education and culture.
(RGS): In your time, who among your Professors influenced you the most, and why?
(JMS): Prof. Teodoro Agoncillo was never my teacher in the classroom. But I was deeply influenced by his works, like Revolt of the Masses and the textbook Brief History of the Filipino People. He was a nationalist in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist sense and was for the national sovereignty of the Filipino people and for the realization of democracy by their own sovereign will and revolutionary efforts. I became close to him after he became an adviser of the Student Cultural Association of the U.P. He wrote the introduction to my Struggle for National Democracy in 1966.
Prof. Leopoldo Yabes was my classroom teacher in graduate school. He was also nationalist and progressive liberal in his orientation and he encouraged me to further read and write papers on Marxist works when he noticed my interest in these. Dean Jose Lansang was not teaching in the UP but he was a UP alumnus and lived on the Diliman campus. I used to visit him on weekends and we exchanged ideas on a wide range of philosophical and political subjects. I was fond of exchanging views and developing friendship with professors who were much older than me.
I learned much by debating with professors who had conservative and religio-sectarian ideas. In the Philippine Collegian, I debated with the head of the English Department and demanded that a subject on world ideas should not be overloaded with the writings of Cardinal Newman and other Catholic writers and should include the writings of Marx, Engels, Stalin, Lenin and Mao. I also learned much by debating with Dean Ricardo Pascual who was a logical positivist. I joined his study group of professors and graduate students and I enjoyed most my debates with him by testing and sharpening my understanding of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.
We in the SCAUP had our own study sessions at two levels: the national democratic level and the Marxist-Leninist level. The participants were SCAUP members who were young faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students. The SCAUP was instrumental in raising the level of debate and struggle in the UP from one between bourgeois liberalism and religio-sectarianism to a higher one between the Right and the Left, with the Left taking into account comprehensively the problems of foreign monopoly capitalism, domestic feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism and proposing the class leadership of the working class in the national democratic revolution.
(RGS): What are your views concerning social activism and excellence in U.P.? Do they complement or hinder each other in advancing the goals of the University?
(JMS): I think that social activism and academic excellence can go together very well and complement each other, even as the two are distinguishable from each other and involve contradictions in the realization of both among individuals and groups with differing interests and capabilities.
I knew many individuals who could combine social activism and academic excellence very well and still have time time for other types of serious activity and fun. I could attend all the regular classroom sessions, the official colloquium , the study circle of Dean Pascual and SCAUP study sessions and I still had time for student organizing, writing articles for the Collegian, reading books and bantering sessions at the greenhouse, basement or Little Quiapo.
A student organization like the League of Filipino Students (LFS)can combine students with high academic marks, leaders of other campus organizations, journalists and writers and the general run of students whose marks are below 2.0. It is fine to combine talents with mass strength along the line of struggle for national liberation and democracy.
U.P. students make their own well-rounded education and advance the goals of the university by combining social activism and academic excellence. Those who become resolutely and militantly patriotic and progressive and who further become revolutionary are usually developed not by the official curricula but by extracurricular study and activities in opposition to the status quo and in connection with the burning social issues resulting from the oppressive and exploitative conditions of the people.
(RGS): Where has U.P. failed its principal sponsors, the Filipino people?
(JMS): The U.P. fails to serve the Filipino people by having an ideology that is contrary to their national and democratic rights and interests and by producing professionals who have a high opinion of themselves and are self-interested but who serve mainly the interests of foreign powers, multinational firms and banks, the reactionary government and the local exploiting classes. It is fine that since the sixties a considerable number of patriotic and progressive teachers and students have arisen to contest pro-imperialist and conservative ideas. They have developed mainly as a result of social activism along the line of the people’s struggle for national liberation and democracy.
The UP also fails to serve the Filipino people as it continues to favor the admission of students from the upper classes. Since my time in the UP, the proportion of students coming from the public school system and the toiling masses has become reduced by the heavy inflow of students from the upper classes. There should be reforms to address this problem. Otherwise the U.P. will continue to fail its principal sponsors, the Filipino people who predominantly belong to the working class and peasantry.
More than 70 per cent of the UP students should be the brightest from the exploited classes. The upper classes are overrepresented in the U.P. They will continue to overrun the UP and push out those coming from the lower classes if there are less and less funds from the government and the tuition fees go higher and higher.
(RGS): What has U.P. really contributed to Philippine society? And what was its high point in its 100 years of existence?
(JMS): The U.P. has contributed a lot to Philippine society in various fields. UP graduates are outstanding in government and various professions. In the main, they have contributed to the maintenance of the reactionary government and to the provision of professional services to their private clients. Quite a number of UP graduates have also gone abroad because of scarce economic opportunities in the Philippines
In terms of doing the best possible in the country and hoping for a new and better social system, I consider as high point in the 100 years of U.P. existence the involvement and participation of UP students, faculty members and graduates in the rise of the people’s revolutionary mass movement against the regime of the UP alumnus Ferdinand Marcos who became Philippine president and fascist dictator with the support of a retinue recruited mainly from the ranks of UP graduates. The UP will continue to supply personnel to both sides: revolution and counterrevolution.
(RGS): In the next 100 years, what more can U.P. do to make it truly a University of the (Filipino) People?
(JMS): In the next one hundred years, the U.P. should become a center of patriotic, scientific and people’s democratic education. It should be at the forefront of the people’s struggle to uphold and defend national sovereignty and democracy, realize economic development through national industrialization and land reform, achieve social justice, promote the national cultural heritage and use science for the benefit of the people and develop international solidarity among the peoples and countries of the world for world peace and development.
The enrolment of UP students should reflect the composition of the people. The overwhelming majority of the students should come from the working people, even to the extent of at least 90 per cent. The students from the middle class can also be accommodated. The university faculty and facilities should be expanded and upgraded several times with the full support of a people’s democratic state.###