By Gary Leupp
4 September 2007
On the morning of August 28, Dutch plainclothes police raided the home of exiled Filipino revolutionary leader Jose Maria Sison in Utrecht, the Netherlands, arrested him and charged him with ordering the murder of two persons in the Philippines in 2003. According to his wife, they broke down the front door without bothering to ring or knock, bruising her arm as they prevented her from making a phone call. They carted away computers, documents, CDs, and other files, remaining until the evening while she was instructed to sit in a corner. Eight other locations were simultaneously raided.
Sison was not at home the time. Luis Jalandoni, the chief peace negotiator for the Filipino Maoist rebels in their talks with the Government of the Philippines, details what happened:
“The Dutch Police called up Prof. Sison to invite him to the police station because according to them there were new developments on the complaint that Prof. Sison had filed in 2001. Thinking that it was about the complaint he filed on an assassination plot that was hatched by the then incumbent [Joseph] Estrada government against him, Prof. Sison brought with him some documents pertinent to the said complaint.
“But when he arrived at the police station, he was separated from his three companions that included his lawyer. They learned later that Prof. Sison had been whisked away to a jail complex in Scheveningen formerly used by the Nazis for detaining Dutch resistance fighters on the patently spurious charge of ordering the murder of [Arturo] Kintanar and [Romulo] Tabara.”
Sison remains in the National Penitentiary in Scheveningen in The Hague where the judge before whom he appeared August 31 states he will remain in solitary confinement for up to 14 days. According to his lawyer, Jan Fermon, the official charge against him is “incitement to murders” in the Philippines.
Its proximate cause, according to the Philippines mainstream press, was affidavits filed with the Philippines Department of Justice last year by the wives of Kintanar and Tabara (themselves former communists expelled from the movement) followed by visits to the Dutch Embassy in Manila.
Sison has lived in Holland since 1987. The 68-year-old former professor of English literature and accomplished poet headed the newly refounded Communist Party of the Philippines from 1968 to 1977. During these years the party’s military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA), made extraordinary advances in its People’s War to topple the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Captured by Marcos’ troops in 1977, Sison spent years in prison, including a year and a half strapped to a cot, in solitary confinement before he was released in 1986 by President Corazon Aquino following the “People Power” revolution that drove Marcos and his notorious wife Imelda out of the country. Since then he has served as chairman of the International League of Peoples Struggle, and Chief Political Consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in its off-again on-again peace talks with the Manila government.
The CPP has stated for 20 years that Sison is no longer involved in operational decisions and serves from Europe in an advisory role. In 1986, after he was freed from prison, Sison embarked on a world lecture tour. In October he accepted the Southeast Asia WRITE award for a book of his poems from the Crown Prince of Thailand in Bangkok. While visiting the Netherlands three months later, he was informed that his passport had been revoked and that charges had been filed against him under the Anti-Subversion Law of the Philippines. Those charges were later dropped, as have subsequent charges filed by authorities in the Philippines.
But meanwhile the New People’s Army has acquired control of about 8000
villages and perhaps 20% of the Philippines countryside. (It claimed as of 2003 to have 128 guerrillas zones, covering 60% of the villages in the country.) Since 2004, the Armed Forces of the Philippines have designated the NPA “Number One security threat” to the nation (i.e., greater than the Muslim secessionist forces or the allegedly al-Qaeda-linked puny bandit group Abu Sayyaf). The U.S. government, alarmed by communist advances, moved immediately after 9-11 (which helped justify moves against any kind of “terrorism” anywhere in the world) to dispatch troops to the Philippines in what was briefly billed as the “second front” in the “War on Terror.” The ostensible target was Abu Sayyaf, although the Filipino Maoists suggested that U.S. forces (expelled by an act of the Philippines Senate in 1992 but now invited back by Macapagal-Arroyo) might ultimately be deployed against them.
In August 2002, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced with some fanfare that it had decided to declare Sison a “terrorist.” The CPP as well as the NPA were already on the list of “foreign terrorist organizations” prepared by the State Department and rubber-stamped by Congress every two years.
To make the list one has to (1) be foreign, (2) engage in terrorist activity, and (3) threaten the security of U.S. citizens or U.S. “national security.”
“Terrorist activity” according to Section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 defines this as “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed (or which, if committed in the United States, would be unlawful under the laws of the United States or any State)” involving hijacking or sabotage of any aircraft, vessel, or vehicle; kidnapping; violent attacks on “internationally protected” persons; assassination; use of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons; use of explosives or firearms “with intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or cause substantial damage to property;” and/or the threat, attempt or conspiracy to do any of the above, or to incite people to do so, or to collect information on potential terrorist targets, or to collect funds for terrorist attacks.
By this definition, any violent rebellion against any government—however oppressive and illegitimate—anywhere is “terrorist,” or can be so defined at the whim of a State Department the entire world associates with lawless violence. (It would have criminalized the American Revolution, for god’s sake, and smeared the Founding Fathers as “terrorists.”) But Powell’s explanation for the blacklisting of the CPP and Sison was specifically as follows: “The CPP, a Maoist group, was founded in 1969 [sic] with the aim of overthrowing the Philippine government through guerrilla warfare. CPP’s military wing, the New People’s Army strongly opposes any U.S. military presence in the Philippines and has killed U.S. citizens there.” (These allegedly include a U.S. Army colonel, a military intelligence agent, two U.S. Air Force airmen, and two Ford Corporation employees over many years during which the U.S. stationed military forces in the Philippines and actively aided the Marcos regime and its successors in efforts to crush the insurgency.)
Taking their cue from the U.S. State Department, the Council of the European Union (comprised of the E.U. foreign ministers) added the CPP and Sison to their own terror lists. On September 10, 2002 Sison was informed that in accordance with the Netherlands’ “sanction regulation against terrorism” his benefits had been terminated and his bank account frozen. He was also ordered to report weekly to a government office, where he had reported monthly for over a decade. This despite the fact that there were no pending criminal charges against him anywhere in the world. The city of Utrecht, in which he resides, offered resumption of his stipend on “humanitarian” grounds, but only if he implicitly accepted the designation of “terrorist” applied to himself.
The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs explained the decision. “The U.S. regards the activities of the CPP/NPA and Sison as a threat for American citizens and for the national security of the American foreign policy. The CPP is characterized by a strong anti-American attitude. The organization is a fervent opponent of the pro-American policy of the current Philippine government and the presence of American troops in the country. In the 80s and 90s, six Americans died in NPA attacks.” In other words, the U.S. was applying strong pressure on Amsterdam to demonize and punish Sison for his “attitude,” his opposition to the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and his association with an organization accused of killing members of the U.S. military supporting the Manila regime.
In a stunning setback to U.S. vilification efforts, that decision was annulled by the European Court of First Instance (ECFI)—the EU’s Supreme Court—just a month and a half ago (on July 12). The Luxemburg-based ECFI concluded that Sison had never undergone any criminal investigation by any competent judicial authority concerning any terrorist act. It stated that EU Council decisions regarding Sison up to June 29, 2007 were “violative of the rights of Professor Sison,” and even ordered the EU to shoulder Sison’s legal costs.
In a statement issued on July 13, Sison noted that in
“the Philippines, I have been repeatedly cleared of criminal charges. At the fall of the Marcos fascist regime in 1986, I was cleared of the charges of rebellion and subversion. In 1992 the charge of subversion that had been trumped up in 1988 was nullified. In 1994 the charge of multiple murder arising from the Plaza Miranda bombing [in 1971, in which 8 members of the Liberal Party were killed, and which was used by the Marcos government as the pretext to declare martial law] was dismissed by the Manila prosecutors as something based on speculation. In 1998 the Philippine secretary of justice issued a certification that there were no pending criminal charges against me.
“In 2003, the Arroyo regime started to fabricate charges of rebellion and common crimes against me. But in a recent decision in early this month, the Philippine Supreme Court has rendered null and void the identical false allegations of rebellion against more than 50 accused, including the Batasan 6, some NDFP [National Democratic Front of the Philippines] legal consultants and myself.”
These legal defeats of the Philippines government headed by the grotesquely corrupt President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and of the U.S.-orchestrated attack on Sison in Europe form the backdrop of this latest move against the Maoist leader. This time he’s accused of responsibility for the killings of Tabara and Kintanar, two former Maoists (expelled from the CPP in the early 1990s) killed in 2003 and 2004 by the NPA in actions for which the guerrillas indeed take responsibility. They were proponents of a strategy of urban guerrilla warfare, especially in Davao City, using NPA “Sparrows” to attack military and police personnel during the 1980s. The urban guerrilla strategy was predictably condemned in the harshest terms by the Filipino and western governments at the time, and it is curious to see them bemoaning the fate of the deceased whom they would surely at the time have denounced as terrorists. All the more curious because the CPP seem to agree with that assessment.
Gregorio Rosal, spokesperson for the Communist Party of the Philippines, stated in a five-page statement to the Philippines media in 2004 that the NPA metes out the death penalty “only on those found guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of having committed heinous crimes. He said that a People’s Court had tried Kintanar in 1993 and declared him guilty of several crimes and listed them as follows:
1. Masterminding, launching and propagating gangster operations, including kidnap-for-ransom, bank holdups, and dollar-counterfeiting operations while still in the CPP. He cited as examples the kidnapping of Japanese businessman Noboyuki Wakaoji in 1986 and Bombo Radyo-Philippines owner Roger Florete in 1989 where Kinatanar and his men allegedly earned $10 million and P15 million in ransom, respectively.
2. Stealing massive amounts of funds from the Party.
3. Instigating factionalism and attempts to destroy the revolutionary movement.
The CPP has further charged that Kintanar was an “intelligence agent of the [Manila] government’s military and police since 1992,” and was a “project officer in an assassination plot against Prof. Jose Maria Sison in the Netherlands” in 2000 (to which Jalandoni alludes above, and to which Sison has brought Dutch authorities’ attention).
Tabara, according to the Maoists, was apprehended by CPP officials in a parking lot on Sept. 26, 2004. He pulled a gun when they attempted to arrest him for murdering an elderly peasant leader and they shot him to death. This happened in a society in which the regime in power employs death squads. The human rights group Karapatan states that more than 800 left-wing activists have been extra-judicially killed since 2001. The Bush administration makes no fuss about that, or the fact that there were 1200 people on death row in the Philippines in June 2006 when the Philippines Congress passed a law banning the death penalty. The official justice system in the Philippines is widely perceived as fraudulent. But the U.S. and its allies validate it while treating the people’s courts as illegitimate and tools of terrorists answering to Sison in his Utrecht exile.
This is the context of Sison’s arrest. It is not about some “murders” in the Philippines. It’s about cracking down on the People’s War in the Philippines, which has made some major strides in the last few years. It’s about U.S. pressure on Europe to kowtow to its broad concept of “terrorism” and to exhaust the potential of the paranoia it’s whipped up to demonize any “anti-American” target anywhere. I suggested as early as June 2002 that there would be “red targets in the Terror War” and Sison has been for some time a high-profile target.
His arrest in Holland, surely with the encouragement of the Bush administration, is not just an attack on a distinguished leader but a warning to all who sympathize with the global revolutionary left and its armed struggles. Meanwhile the “terrorist” designation can be flexibly applied to anyone Washington wants to set up. The State Department is reportedly about to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guards—a whole branch of a country’s military—a “terrorist organization.” This is a huge leap from targeting violent non-state organizations with the label. Reportedly the Europeans regard this step as provocative and worrisome. (It paves the way, among other things, for U.S. forces to treat the Revolutionary Guards as “illegal combatants” not covered by the Geneva Conventions, hence subject to torture in the event of war with Iran.) But it’s the natural culmination of the Bush/Cheney fear-mongering, blackballing strategy.
What’s next? Declaring the Cuban militia “terrorist”? The whole Venezuelan or Russian or Chinese Army? One recalls the medieval Church declaring this or that “anathema” or heretical, marked by Satanism or witchcraft. Such verdicts were intended to spell death for those so marked, and to intimidate and silence any inclined to defend them if they stubbornly resisted the legitimacy of the judge. Sometimes they were applied to whole nations. One would think such pontifical arrogance had died centuries ago. But here we have it again in the thuggish U.S. administration trying yet failing to secure the world’s obedience using tactics resembling both those of the Inquisition and those of the terror-inflicting fascists in the 1930s.
As Maoists movements press on, especially in South Asia, Marxists of all stripes may increasingly come into Washington’s crosshairs, alongside those that it chooses to term “Islamist terrorists.” The U.S. government continues to categorize the Nepali Maoists as terrorists, even though they have laid aside their arms for the time being and assumed posts in the new Nepali government. It must note with alarm news of a Maoist People’s War unfolding in the small but strategically located country of Bhutan.
While it coddles the Cuban anti-Castro terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, supports Jundallah (God’s Brigade) in attacks on Iran, and continues a long tradition of support for other pro-U.S. terrorists including the notorious Contras of Nicaragua, Washington zeroes in revolutionaries like Sison, enraged that they with their undying rebellious spirit still exist in this world it feels it owns, in which it demands the right to monopolize terror.
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Several Filipino Congressmen have rallied to Sison’s defense. Rep. Satur Ocampo of the Bayan Muna Party (himself arrested on bogus, decades-old murder charges in March but then released) has suggested that the Arroyo government wants to sabotage the peace talks. His colleague from the same party, Rep. Teddy Casiño, agreed. The arrest “will result in an all-out war and lead to the end of peace negotiations,” he declares. Ocampo charges that the Dutch and Philippine governments are “conniving” against Sison, and that “[t]here seems to be an irregularity in the arrest, although I’m not familiar with their procedures. But it looks like from our practice here, it only means they are looking for evidence when they also raided his office and confiscated all the materials there.” Rep. Crispin Beltran said the Dutch government erroneously arrested Sison on “preposterous” charges designed “to sabotage the chances of peace talks and attack the NDF.”
Meanwhile Dutch and Filipino supporters are organizing a petition campaign. Hastily arranged demonstrations have occurred in the Philippines, Netherlands, U.S. (New York and L.A.) and Hong Kong. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has offered his services as an attorney, describing Sison as “a gentle person… and inspiring leader” and “great man.” “Everyone who is concerned about peace and freedom has to be greatly distressed over the arrest of Joma Sison,” he told members of the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines last week. “Sison is a great spirit that the world needs to know about, a great voice that the world needs to hear. The demonization will destroy us if we permit it to continue.”
It’s heartening that a former U.S. attorney general, predecessor to the unsavory likes of John Mitchell, Edwin Meese, John Ashcroft, and Alberto Gonzales, can still say such things openly in these proto-fascist times. It suggests that the lawlessness infecting our own legal system (especially since 9-11, and justified by carefully fanned “terrorism” fears)—a bullying lawlessness that infects allies’ legal systems and the operations of a compromised UN—is not unchallengeable or needs to intimidate all who feel disgusted by the demonization and lies. Clark (79) who once served President Lyndon Johnson at the height of the Vietnam War somehow evolved into a trenchant critic of imperialism. That gives his word all the more weight for anyone concerned about peace and freedom and inclined to listen.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: [email protected]