The Role of Jose Maria Sison in the Peace Process

Joma not only laid down the theoretical framework and guidelines for the peace negotiations. As chief political consultant, he has masterfully steered the negotiations to where they are now. We can spend hours, even days, relating those instances where Joma, broke a deadlock or an impasse, or reconciled two seemingly diametrically opposed positions.

By Rey Claro Casambre*
Philippine Peace Center
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Who can now say that twelve years ago (that was in 1992, when the movement was rumored or believed by many, in deep internal crisis, and the government was claiming strategic victory over the New People’s Army) you actually believed or could imagine that the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) would sit across each other on the negotiating table as two equal entities, hold peace talks abroad with a foreign government as a neutral third party, and sign formal agreements, such as an agreement to respect human rights and international humanitarian law?

In 1991, Jose Maria Sison or Joma wrote two important articles, “History and Circumstances Relevant to the Question of Peace“ (May 10, 1991), and “The NDF Framework in Contrast with the GRP Framework“ (May 15, 1991). These two articles laid down the NDF’s basic position and the bottom line, so to speak, for the peace negotiations and for achieving a just and lasting peace. They describe under what conditions peace talks could be held between the government and the NDFP, leading to the resolution of the armed conflict by addressing and eradicating its roots.

A little more than a year later, in 1992, the views expressed in these two articles would be distilled into a single page of text that would be known as The Hague Joint Declaration. Since then, this first major bilateral agreement would serve as the framework agreement that would guide the conduct of the GRP-NDFP talks. The talks would falter or prosper depending on how firmly both parties agree to uphold this agreement. Without it, there would be no peace negotiations.

In September 1992, when the Hague Joint Declaration was approved by President Ramos and NDFP Chair Manuel Romero, very few believed that the negotiations would ever get to the stage of holding formal talks. And when the formal talks began in 1995, very few believed that the Philippine government and the NDFP would ever arrive at any formal agreement. And yet now, ten bilateral agreements and at least three major joint statements have been crafted and signed by the two parties, including the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

And on June 4, the office of the Joint Secretariat of the Joint Monitoring Committee was opened in Cubao to receive complaints of human rights violations and international humanitarian law against government and/or NDFP forces.

Joma not only laid down the theoretical framework and guidelines for the peace negotiations. As chief political consultant, he has masterfully steered the negotiations to where they are now. We can spend hours, even days, relating those instances where Joma, broke a deadlock or an impasse, or reconciled two seemingly diametrically opposed positions. Whenever an impasse is reached, the two panels would call on Joma to find a compromise or a way out, sometimes with some skillful “language engineering,“ oftentimes by looking at things in a creatively different way, always with broader perspective, with daring, and with the larger goals paramount.

All these bring to mind an anecdote on a historic event 35 years ago. Somewhere in Pangasinan, in 1968, where a group of young people were meeting clandestinely to discuss nothing less than the question of how to lead the Filipino people in the struggle for national freedom, genuine democracy and social justice. As the anecdote goes, the presiding officer, barely thirty years old, was talking animatedly and enthusiastically about building a people’s army, waging a protracted people’s war, seizing political power, and proceeding to build socialism in the Philippines. The rest of the group listened quietly, occasionally nodding but having only the vaguest notion of how exactly they could achieve this, when they didn’t have a single rifle in their hands nor a single trained soldier, while the AFP had comparatively formidable armaments, and training.

The presiding officer, of course, was Joma, and the meeting was the founding or re-establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The story may have gone through some exaggeration with each retelling. Through such are legends formed. But no one can deny that Joma, more than anybody else then, was equipped with a most powerful microscope that allowed him to dissect the past and the present, a telescope that allowed him to see far into the future, and a heart that always stood for the interests of the masses.

How is this related to Joma’s role in the peace talks? Joma has written repeatedly that genuine peace cannot be achieved through peace talks or peace negotiations alone. The strength of the NDFP negotiating panel derives from the strength forged in other arenas, especially through armed struggle in the countryside, and through the democratic mass movement in the cities. The NDFP’s basic stand or general line is that genuine peace can only be achieved by eradicating the roots of the armed conflict.

The NDFP has clearly turned the peace negotiations into an arena for struggle for national freedom, democracy and social justice. In this light, one can see why the US and other foreign powers who are interested in maintaining the status quo in the Philippines have unjustly branded the CPP, NPA and Joma Sison as “terrorists“. They aim to throw a monkey wrench at the peace negotiations, and then pressure the NDFP and Joma to enter into a negotiated capitulation. The “terrorist“ tag is thus an attack not only against the CPP, NPA and Joma, but on the people’s aspirations for a just and lasting peace.

Undaunted, Joma has defied and fought this terrorist tag and turned it into another arena of struggle for democracy and sovereignty. In another clear instance of breaking an impasse, Joma, in the most recent round of talks, stressed that in addressing the “terrorist“ listing, the GRP and NDFP could uphold their agreement on the principle of national sovereignty and, using positive, non-accusatory and non-confrontational language, “take a common patriotic stand in welcoming the positive role of foreign governments while negating foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs.“

Let me end by asking a final question. How many of us here actually believe that some day in the not too distant future, the roots of the armed conflict – foreign domination, backwardness, exploitation and oppression – would one day be removed, and genuine peace would reign in our country? Can we please raise our hands?

I don’t see any hands either.

(Somebody from the audience shouts, “Everyone here!“)

Yes, everyone here. Thanks to you, Joma. Now everyone here believes this. Posted by (

(*This piece was delivered by the author during the third showing of Kalibre .45 which is intended to raise funds for the defense Jose Maria Sison, on June 10 at Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City.)

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