By Atty. Romeo T. Capulong
Ad Litem Judge, International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia
President, Public Interest Law Center
Philippines, 19 November 2002
In developing the main points of my presentation, it is necessary to state the antecedent facts relevant to the vicious attacks of the US government, the Dutch government, the Philippine government and the Council of the European Union against Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA). My discussion will focus on Prof. Sison as a person and victim of human rights violations, reserving further discussion on the NPA and the CPP for another occasion.
On 9 August 2002 the US State Department branded the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines as “foreign terrorist organisations” together with 33 others. It is significant to note that only a few of these 34 organisations, ironically those organised, funded and trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency that includes the Abu Sayyaf and Al Qaeda, may be considered as terrorist organisations. The majority are either humanitarian organisations or national liberation movements espousing causes and programs opposed to US imperialism.
Three days later on 12 August, the US Treasury Department ordered the freezing of the assets of the CPP, NPA and Jose Maria Sison. In reality, this order was directed at Prof. Sison alone, for the purpose of depriving him and his family of their bare necessities of life because the US government knew very well that the CPP and NPA did not have visible assets, much less kept them within reach of enemy governments. The following day, 13 August, the Dutch government issued the so-called Sanction Regulation against Terrorism 2002 III freezing Prof. Sison’s joint bank account with his wife Julie de Lima.
This is a small bank account with a balance of €1,145.46 or roughly P50,000 at the time of the freeze order where the Sisons received their measly sum of allowance from the Dutch social welfare agency for their daily subsistence. On the same date, the Dutch government also announced that it would ask the European Union to declare the NPA, the CPP and Prof. Sison as “terrorists.”
On 10 September, the Dutch social welfare agency terminated the benefits due Prof. Sison as a political refugee retroactive to 15 August 2002. Such benefits consisted of meagre allowances for food and other necessities, housing, health and third party liability insurance. On 28 October, the Council of Ministers on Foreign Affairs of the European Union yielded to the request of the Dutch government and to pressures from the US and Philippine governments to declare the New People’s Army as a terrorist organisation.
In the Philippines, our own puppet and war-freak President has been the most articulate Asian leader in parroting George Bush and in acting as the mouthpiece of the US on the so-called “US global war on terror.” Her government declared an all-out war against the CPP and NPA, re-deployed government forces in NPA areas, adopted an open-ended interpretation of the Visiting Forces Agreement to enable US forces to intensify US military presence and intervention in the Philippine counter insurgency program, begged for more US military assistance, and embarked on a ferocious campaign of criminalization, vilification, demonization and other forms of anti-communist propaganda against the CPP/NPA/ NDFP leadership, the mass movement and their suspected supporters.
While these vicious attacks are principally directed against Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the stark reality is: these assaults on human rights and fundamental freedoms, legal short-cuts, blatant transgressions of international law particularly the conventions that guarantee basic universal human rights and civil liberties committed by the US and its allied right-wing governments and puppet regime must be analysed and understood in the context of the geo-political interests and strategic agenda of the US in the Philippines. Let me highlight this point by asking the pertinent questions. In persecuting, coercing and intimidating Prof. Jose Maria Sison who is perceived by the US and Philippine governments, rightly or wrongly, as the most respected and effective theoretician of the national democratic movement, are the two governments harbouring the illusion that Prof. Sison and the NDFP negotiating panel will succumb and eventually capitulate to the GRP?
Failing in this, is it not the undeniable agenda of the US to scuttle the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations to justify a purely military solution and further escalation of US intervention in the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency campaign?
Based on classified documents, and the open and public policy pronouncements of the top officials as well as the activities of the military forces of the US and Philippine governments, is it not clear that the US will reestablish unhampered military basing rights in the Philippines as a key element of its hegemony in the Asia Pacific region and the Middle East and considers the progressive movement as the main obstacle to this design?
In this context, the attacks on Prof. Sison, though per se are serious and blatant violations of his human rights that must be condemned in the strongest possible language, must be viewed as secondary and incidental to the main agenda of the US. More significantly, these attacks are ominous warnings to all Filipinos and to all peace and freedom-loving people of the world that the US will not be deterred in the pursuit of its strategic agenda, certainly not by accusations of human rights violations, violations of national sovereignty or commission of war crimes and crimes against peace and against humanity.
Having said these, allow me now to state briefly the credentials and personal and political background and current circumstances of the subject of our discussion.
In a prior paper, I stated categorically, without any fear of being disputed, that the persecutors and violators of the human rights of Prof. Jose Maria Sison, which are the US, Dutch and Philippine governments and the Council of the European Union have no case whatsoever against him or against any of the NDFP negotiating panel members and consultants. The criminal cases filed from 1977 to 1986 against Prof. Sison, namely: those filed in the military courts of the Marcos dictatorship, the case for violation of the Anti-Subversion law in 1988, the false and totally malicious and baseless charge of murder in 1991 in connection with the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing have all been dismissed. In the Plaza Miranda bombing case, the charges were dismissed for utter lack of evidence with the dismissal order castigating the complainant Philippine National Police for filing criminal charges based on “sheer speculation.”
In 1998 the Philippine government issued a certification through the Department of Justice stating that there was no pending criminal case against Prof. Sison in any Philippine court. Likewise, there is no case against him in the US, the Netherlands or in any other country simply because he has not violated any of their laws, not even for minor infractions of their administrative law such as immigration regulations. Using the language of the law on evidence, it will be inherently incredible if any of these three governments acting singly or in connivance with one another were to concoct charges and manufacture evidence to build a case and accuse Prof. Sison of a common crime.
Calling him a terrorist is, therefore, devoid of any iota or scintilla of evidence and factual basis. Such label and its consequences including the stigma of public ridicule and hatred, violated in an immeasurable and irreparable way the rights of Prof. Sison to life and liberty, his right to recognition as a person before the law, his freedom of thought, conscience and belief and freedom from retroactive penal laws. These rights are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the constitutions of the three persecuting countries and the 15 members of the European Union and by international conventions such as the Refugee Convention and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
As human rights and peace advocates, it is our duty to strongly remind Prof. Sison’s persecutors and their misguided allies and camp followers that these rights are non-derogable and cannot be impaired, abridged, or suspended by state action in the name of national security or emergency situations.
Far from being a terrorist or human rights violator Prof. Sison has been a victim of human rights violations. During the Marcos regime, he was unjustly incarcerated for nine years, kept for a long time in solitary confinement and tortured. He was one of the plaintiffs who played a key role in the successful prosecution of the $2 billion landmark human rights lawsuit against Marcos instituted by the 10,000 victims of the dictatorship in the US Courts.
As chief political consultant of the NDFP, Prof. Sison has been playing a crucial role in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. Unknown to many among us, he is the principal architect of the ten bilateral agreements entered into between the two parties in the peace negotiations and approved at the highest levels of their respective authority.
In recognition of his political wisdom and sharp analysis of Philippine current events and history past Presidents and top officials of the Philippine government have sought dialogue and communicated directly or indirectly with him on matters of public interest and policy issues.
lndeed, as one prominent legislator once told me, in our generation there were three prominent Filipino leaders whose politics and leadership have shaped the political direction and landscape of our nation and exerted the greatest impact on the lives of our people. Without hesitation, this legislator named them in this order: Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. and Jose Maria Sison. I wish to add that Prof. Sison’s achievements and lasting contribution to the present and future generations of Filipinos derive not from the dirty game of electoral politics but from his lifetime commitment and unerring guidance of the Philippine progressive movement.
What aggravated the injustice done to Prof. Sison is the fact that he has been deprived of his basic and fundamental human rights without due process of law. Daniel Webster defined due process of law as ” a law that hears before it condemns, which proceeds upon inquiry and renders judgment only after trial.” (Dartmouth College vs. Woodward, quoted in Ynot vs. Intermediate Appellate Court 148 SCRA, 659). Simply stated, due process of law requires as a minimum that the accused be given notice of the charges against him, a right to confront his accusers and to refute the evidence against him before an impartial tribunal. We all know that due process of law is a very important procedural and substantive right cherished and nurtured in humankind’s long and arduous quest for a just legal order. As a legal principle and mechanism, it is so far the only reliable legal safeguard against convicting an innocent person on the basis of passion, hysteria, prejudice and hidden agenda.
In labelling and treating Prof. Sison as a terrorist, the governments of the United States, the Netherlands and the Philippines and the Council of the European Union grossly violated this important legal safeguard by acting as Sison’s accusers, false witnesses, prosecutors, judges and executioners all at the same time in a summary, ex parte and secret hearing.
A similar discussion can be made for the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines. But this has to be reserved for a later time. Suffice it to say that my brief discussion here about CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison apply to the men and women of these revolutionary organisations, especially the martyrs who have sacrificed in the long struggle against an unjust social order.
And now, you will probably ask: what further lawless and repressive actions are the aforementioned three governments planning against Prof. Sison and how will he defend himself against such actions.
It is quite difficult to answer this question given what I have already said about the blatant violations committed against the fundamental human rights of Prof. Sison. Besides, I have been a long- time human rights litigator and I know from personal experience that in defending the rights of victims of human rights violations, both the lawyer and the victim should not entertain any illusion that the legal forum of a reactionary government will uphold the rule of law. I dare say that the most serious threat to Prof. Sison’s life and liberty are not legal but extralegal means that could take the form of kidnapping and assassination. As we all know, both the US and Philippine governments acting singly or in concert with one another are capable of doing these especially under the present administrations in the two governments.
But I shall attempt to answer the question I posed on the basis of what legal defences are available to Prof. Sison. Let me point out that volunteer pro bono lawyers known for their competence and dedication have been organised as Sison’s international defense panel, one of whom is Filipino human rights lawyer Jayson Lamchek of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC). Upon the initiative of PILC, a Philippine defense panel for Sison has likewise been organised composed of equally competent, energetic and committed lawyers and volunteer law student researchers. More significantly, an international Initiative Committee to Defend Filipino Progressives in Europe (DEFEND) has been organised whose main objective is to defend the democratic rights of Filipino progressives who are being persecuted in Europe, especially in the Netherlands. This early, barely three months after the three persecuting governments began their repressive moves against their victims, protest actions are being held in many cities around the world denouncing such acts.
Extradition to the US may be resorted to by the latter but this is unlikely given the stringent requirements of the US-Dutch Extradition Treaty. Prof. Sison has not committed any extraditable offense in the US territory, in the Philippines or anywhere else against US laws. Prof. Sison is a recognized political refugee in the Netherlands, a status that will bolster the political offense doctrine as a defense to extradition and make it difficult for the Dutch government to reject such valid defense. Extradition to the Philippines is out of the question at the present time or in the near future because there is yet no extradition treaty between the Philippines and the Netherlands. Under the principle of non-refoulement of a political refugee Prof. Sison cannot be deported to the Philippines but only to a third country willing to accept him and where he will not face political persecution on account of his ideology or political beliefs. The most likely “legal” action which his persecutor governments can take against him is to order his expulsion from the Netherlands and his preventive detention while the Dutch government pretends to be looking for a third country willing to accept him.
My friends, many among us here probably disagree, in whole or in part, with the politics of Prof. Jose Maria Sison. Being his lawyer, it has been my distinct privilege to be privy to his innermost thoughts and feelings, Joma being a transparent person. I have worked with him closely in the peace negotiations and in the handling of his cases. I have read his important works. I have seen him in his most unguarded moments. To brand this man a terrorist is a grave injustice, not only to him and his family but to all those who believe in his ideas and follow his leadership. The central issue in the debate and criticisms against Prof. Sison and his works is principally in the resort to armed struggle as a means to achieve fundamental reforms in our society.
As a lawyer I have always said that I work and do my part in the struggle for a just society within the parameters of our legal system. But given the kind of electoral process we have, and our bad experience with the two Presidents catapulted to power by People Power I and II, who can now say that the armed struggle as it is being waged in the Philippines is not the correct form of struggle? Armed struggle, after all, is neither a moral nor a legal issue: it is a political question on which only our people and history will ultimately render judgment. #