by Tonyo Cruz
September 3, 2016 (updated)
Nine years ago, on 28 Aug. 2007, Dutch authorities arrested and detained Jose Maria Sison based on the then-Arroyo government’s trumped-up charges of murder.
At the time, the pundits, military authorities, and professional anti-communists in Manila celebrated the incident as Sison’s supposed humiliating political death. The formal peace talks between the Arroyo government and the Communists had been all but completely scuttled, and there was an epidemic of extrajudicial killings of activists, the filing of spurious charges against activist leaders and the arrests of the rebel movement’s consultants for the peace process.
But the Netherlands is not the Philippines. A court found no convincing evidence to warrant his detention, as pointed out by Sison’s international team of defense lawyers and by the international campaign that denounced what was clearly a naked political attack against a political refugee. After two weeks, Sison was released.
Now, fast-forward to 2016, Sison is back in the news as the leading voice of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines in political engagements with the Duterte government.
It certainly helps that Sison was once Duterte’s professor at the Lyceum, and that the President became a member of the Kabataang Makabayan, the history-making youth organization founded by Sison in the 1960s. As mayor of Davao, Duterte made the city open to everyone, soldier and rebel alike, and fostered good relationships with the rebels that he would be trusted to intercede for and accept the release of rebels’ prisoners of war.
Upon his election, Duterte made clear his intention to offer cabinet positions to the CPP, specifically to Sison.
Traditional politicians or traditional political parties, rotten to the core as we know them to be, would have immediately jumped with joy and made acrobatic cartwheels on their way to Duterte to claim the offers. But not Sison and certainly not the CPP.
The rebel leadership notified the NDF of Duterte’s offer, came up with a list of nominees with impeccable credentials, and then dispatched an emissary to Duterte and his transition team to present the nominees. Duterte himself honored the nominees with praises and made at least three appointments.
Make no mistake: Sison and the CPP are aspiring for power, but not the kind traditional politicians are known for. The armed revolution they are waging is precisely aimed at seizing political power – but with crystal-clear goals: Establish a new people’s democratic government, preside over national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform, and implement the rest of its national and democratic program and then lead the country to socialism. These people are not kawatan or tulisan.
Since 1986, the CPP had shown it is prepared to negotiate a political solution to the armed revolution by asking the NDF to negotiate in its behalf. Sison would soon serve as the rebel negotiator’s chief political consultant.
Much has happened since 1986: On one hand, there have been the counter-insurgency operation-plans that always proudly proclaimed the impending defeat of the CPP ahead of shootings, massacres, and displacement of civilians and civilian populations. This had been the go-to strategy of most post-Marcos governments. This has proven to be a costly and failed strategy. On the other hand, there have been talks, on and off, that have produced nearly a dozen bilateral agreements. The negotiators of both the government and the rebel movement deserve the credit for hammering out those agreements.
Sison has long said that a political settlement is possible if the national and democratic demands of the people are met by the Philippine government. In practical terms, this means forging agreements on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law; social and economic reforms; and political and constitutional reforms. In practical terms, if such agreements need to be forged and implemented, there would be strong basis for cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces.
Anything less, Sison and other rebel leaders have also stressed, would make the talks aim for mere capitulation and surrender.
Nine years after his arrest and detention, people witnessed an ebullient Sison speak in Oslo at the start of formal peace negotiations between the Duterte government and the NDF, with the Royal Norwegian Government as facilitator.
The man who a malicious few thought was politically dead in 2007 was back at the centerstage of Philippine politics in 2016. It is a position he attained through his own brilliance, political acumen and revolutionary persistence, and also side-by-side with the revolutionary movement he helped create and nurture.
A former political detainee himself, Sison insisted on the release of NDF consultants to the peace process, on humanitarian and political grounds, aside from the fact that their arrests were in violation of an agreement on safety and immunity guarantees.
Duterte deserves credit for overseeing the release of the NDF consultants, and helping pave the way to their participation in the Oslo talks. A general amnesty is next on his plate. Such an amnesty will help undo the damage done against more than 500 Filipinos, rebels and activists, sent to prisons by governments from Corazon Aquino to BS Aquino. They are still in prison, made to the face trumped-up charges.
We have never seen Sison this hopeful about the peace process, and we could only hope he is right that the conditions towards a political settlement are best nowadays. News coming out of Oslo spoke of the friendliest negotiators and most patient facilitators. We now have indefinite unilateral ceasefires by both the NPA and the AFP – a historic first.
There are difficult days ahead for the negotiators of both parties, when the parties start to talk about details – basically how to identify and confront the social, political, and constitutional reasons why people become rebels and dissenters. But if they manage to forge agreements and – more importantly – to implement them, we just might see better days and witness changes that are truly progressive, national, and democratic.
Compromises would have to be made by the parties, if they decide to seek a political settlement: The rebels have to honor its 47-year history, the biggest revolutionary army since the first revolution, the provisional revolutionary government they have helped form, the mass support they have in the cities and the provinces, and their political program. The Duterte government has a constitutional framework to defend, a system too corrupt and too resistant to change, and forces from within and without that have not been interested in reforms.
Sison believes a just peace is possible under the Duterte administration. We could only hope that he is right and that Duterte would surprise himself and the nation by being the peacemaker.
Let’s read and know more about the peace process, support the proposed general amnesty, push both parties to work harder, and make sure our issues are discussed in the talks. Yes, let us spread the Sison’s greetings of peace – based on justice – and make it ring across the Philippines.
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Read more at http://www.mb.com.ph/sisons-greetings/#p06SqwkC8cMcbcbe.99