By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — On February 22, a gathering of more than a hundred witnessed the launching of a book celebrating the life and struggle of Prof. Jose Maria Sison.
The launch itself was a celebration. The program opened with a speech by Prof. Luis Teodoro, former dean of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Mass Communications and chairman of Aklat ng Bayan, publisher of the Jose Maria Sison: A Celebration.
Related story: Jose Maria Sison: A Good Man Worth Defending
Teodoro, National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera and literary critic Dr. Elmer Ordoñez, talked about their experiences with Sison in the ’60s and ’70s. On the other hand, Kabataan Representative Raymond Palatino discussed how Sison’s life has taught and inspired the youth to take on the struggle for national democracy.
Ordoñez said Teodoro Agoncillo named Sison as one of the three most influential revolutionary leaders of the Philippines, next to Andres Bonifacio and Crisanto Evangelista, founder of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. Despite being demonized, Ordoñez said “Sison remained whole and has proven the bourgeois propagandists wrong.” He called Sison an “authentic revolutionary.”
National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera says Sison made the masses the center of his brand of intellectualism. (Photo by Sarah Raymundo / bulatlat.com)
Sison: The Poet
Lumbera discussed Sison’s role in influencing the intellectual ferment in the Philippines. Unlike other intellectuals who see themselves as special individuals and who are detached from the masses, Sison, according to Lumbera, made the masses the center of the ideology he espoused.
“To the intellectuals before Sison, the masses or the polpoloy have no culture, no role in society other than to imbibe the ideas of the higher ups,” Lumbera said. “The art and culture in Sison’s intellectualism have had political content that is being practiced by all believers of national democracy.”
A poet himself, Sison repudiated what he calls “bourgeois poems” in Brothers, his early collection of poems, published in 1962. His second collection Prison and Beyond: Selected Poems showcases poetry for the masses.
Dr. Elmer Ordonez said Sison’s writings serve as inspiration for all those who seek genuine societal change. (Photo by Sarah Raymundo / bulatlat.com)
Sison: The Political Thinker
Ordoñez recounted Sison’s transformation from a progressive liberal to a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionary. Ordoñez met Sison in the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1956, at the height of the McCarthyist witch-hunt. Then a teaching fellow at the Department of English, Sison was eased out because of his radical views. “Sison belonged to a new breed of radical students who were never intimidated by the witch-hunt.” Ordoñez said.
While Sison could have read Cold War materials, he discovered Marxist classics in the UP library, Ordoñez said. Sison was also influenced by readings on the peasant wars in the Philippines and anti-American writings of that time. Sison then initiated study groups on two topics: nationalist liberal topics and Marxism and the Philippine revolution.
In the early ’60s, Sison went to Indonesia and came into contact with the Communist party there. Sison was inspired by how Mao Zedong applied Marxism to a semifeudal and semicolonial society like China and applied the same theories to the concrete conditions of the Philippine society.
Ordoñez cited the articles and books Sison wrote and his political activities. Sison wrote “Rectify Errors, Rebuild the Party” which exposed the errors of the old Partido ng Komunista ng Pilipinas led by the Lava brothers. Because the Lava brothers could not accept his criticisms, he was expelled from the party. This compelled him to establish the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on December 26, 1968, under the theoretical guidance of the Marxism, Leninism and Maoism.
In 1969, Ordoñez said, he invited Sison to teach again at the UP English Department. “He just laughed. I didn’t know he already founded the CPP in 1968 and then the New People’s Army (NPA) in March 1969,” Ordonez recalled.
His collection of essays Struggle for Nationalism and Democracy, published in 1967, became a primer for youth activists. The collection included a speech he delivered before graduates of the Philippine Military Academy about the mercenary tradition of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The Philippine Society and Revolution was published in the Philippine Collegian, UP’s student publication, in 1969. The book form was released a year later. Strategic Characteristics of the People’s War came out in 1973 while Our Urgent Tasks, guidelines in the conduct of the people’s war, was written in 1975.
In 1986, Sison founded the Partido ng Bayan that fielded candidates to the 1987 elections. The party, however, became the center of attacks by the military. In 1988, Sison applied for political asylum after his passport was cancelled. “During the Cory administration, the oppressive state apparatus of Marcos remained,” Ordonez said and so, Sison, after his release from prison, went on to lecture about the conditions of the Philippine society. His lectures are being compiled by Aklat ng Bayan in four volumes of books. Two had been released.
Ordoñez said Sison’s writings serve as inspiration for all those who seek genuine societal change.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino regard Sison as “one of the unmentionable greats of Philippine politics. (Photo by Karl Ramirez / bulatlat.com)
Sison: The Youthful Revolutionary Leader
Palatino gave a tribute to Sison and his generation of activists who developed the national democratic movement with a socialist perspective.
“Joma’s [Sison] generation and the FQS [First Quarter Storm] veterans are a special breed of senior citizens of the republic. They are old dissenters who are espousing a new kind of politics. They are old warriors who refused to give up the good fight. They might still have an oversupply of idealism and revolutionary optimism, but they are already old and tired (and literally, tortured) bodies,” Palatino said.
Palatino said Sison is “one of the unmentionable greats of Philippine politics.” The youth activist underscored that Sison became Joma during his youth, having established the Kabataang Makabayan, the CPP and the NPA before he reached 30 years old.
“Our generation is fortunate because we came in contact with the Sison and the FQS generation. Thank you for teaching us how to fight, from your youthful days until you have grown old. Thank you for showing us that if we are one with the masses, we can change history,” Palatino said.
“Jose Ma. Sison: A Celebration” was launched on Feb. 22 at the Balay Kalinaw in UP DIliman. (Photo by Aklat ng Bayan / bulatlat.com)
In his message read by Teodoro, Sison said the selections in the book reflect and are a good representation of his life and works — from the time he was a young student activist through laying the ideological, political and organizational foundations of the national democratic movement, through founding and leading the party, his life in prison and eventually as an exile.
“It is both heartening and reassuring to see that the contributors — as well as our audience today — span at least three generations, come from different nationalities, professions and walks of life, and belong to a broad spectrum of political and even ideological persuasions,” Sison said.
To order a copy of the book, write to firstname.lastname@example.org