“The Eezham people have a very direct obligation of fighting for their own sovereignty against a state that presumes to have a unitary power over them,” stressed veteran Filipino left ideologue, Prof. Jose Maria Sison. In an exclusive interview to TamilNet on Sunday, Prof. Sison spoke on the questions of sovereignty of the Eezham Tamil nation, the protracted nature of genocide that Sri Lanka imposes on Tamils in their homelands, the principled position of leftists on the national question, and on the imperative to look beyond both the human rights and reconciliation paradigm. Prof. Sison, a long standing activist of the left movement in Philippines, criticised the Sri Lankan government’s military strategy as ‘barbaric’ and western governments for supporting this, and welcomed the Tamil Sovereignty Cognition declaration that aims to build solidarity among progressive forces.
The 72-year-old Marxist-Leninist also spoke positively of the way in which the LTTE handled the peace-process facilitated by the West despite various pressures, while also pointing out the consequences when the aggressor state adamantly refuses to recognize the legitimate demands of the people in the context of such agreements.
In the case of the conflict between the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the Philippines government, the National Democratic Front of Philippines (NDFP), a coalition of far left parties, churches and trade unions, was representing the CPP. The last peace talks between the two sides were held in Oslo in February 2011. The CPP has an armed wing called New People’s Army (NPA).
The earlier peace talks, also facilitated by Norway in 2001, were stalled soon after the US designated the NPA and CPP as terrorist organizations in 2002, a move that was quickly followed in the EU.
In a similar move to curb the activities of the NDF, Sison was designated as a “person supporting terrorism” by the USA in 2002 and subsequent attempts were made in the Netherlands to crack down on his movements, allegedly with influence from the pro-US Philippines government. Prof Sison was also arrested by the Dutch authorities in August 2007 and detained for about two weeks.
After almost seven years of legal battles, Prof. Sison was removed from this so-called blacklist by judgement of the European Court of First instance on 30th September, 2009. A press release by DEFEND on 11th December 2009 said “The 30 September judgment of the European court in favor of Prof. Sison is a brilliant landmark decision. It is a standard for preventing the arbitrariness of European governments in blacklisting individuals, organizations and other entities as terrorists and for upholding and respecting their human rights.”
Wikileaks cables from 2009 revealed that the USA opposed the delisting of Sison by the EU, even if there was no proof to continue having him on the blacklist.
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Observing similarities between the struggles of the Filipino people and the Eezham Tamil people in the interview, he said “both fight for national liberation and democracy.” He added that reactionary states like Philippines and Sri Lanka are instruments of repression against the people and that struggles for national liberation flows from the sovereign will of the concerned peoples to liberate themselves and to achieve national independence, democracy, development and social justice.
“In a sense every revolutionary movement is a movement that separates from an oppressive state,” he said. Noting that in the case of Philippines the people waged struggle to rid themselves off the Manila-centred government of big compradors and landlords, he said that in the case of the Eelam Tamils, “you have a people that is practically under colonial domination by the Sinhala government, who tries to impose a unitary state to subordinate the Eezham Tamil people.”
Stressing the need for a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam, Prof. Sison said that Eezham Tamils have their own language, history, culture, clear homeland and its aspiration for national and social liberation from a chauvinistic state that deprives them and attacks their right to national self-determination. “The Eezham people have a very direct obligation of fighting for their own sovereignty against a state that presumes to have a unitary power over them.”
Answering a question on the role of peace negotiations brokered by international actors, he was of the opinion that such moves are beneficial if handled properly and if the dominant side is willing to come to a fair settlement.
“Peace negotiations offer the revolutionaries the opportunity to broadcast what they stand for. They have the chance to tell the whole world what is their programme and to enhance the people’s understanding of what they are fighting for.”
He also said that when the other side proves itself to be hostile, as in the case of the repeated violation of the clauses of the CFA by the Sri Lankan government, it only enhances the argument for national self-determination of the Eezham Tamils.
Talking on the principled position that leftists should take on the national question, he said that parties that adhered to Marxist-Leninist principles have no choice but to support people’s struggle for national and social liberation. He also said that some countries considered to be left who were supporting the Sri Lankan government were doing so only out of diplomatic considerations.
“We may say in general that if the Sri Lankan government is considered anti-colonial or even anti-imperialist that is because in certain issues it takes certain postures that certain governments known to be left would appreciate. So in that distinctive world of diplomacy, you don’t find any consistent support for revolutionary movements.”
On the question of the military occupation of the homeland of the Eezham Tamils, Prof. Sison remarked that the Sri Lankan government has carried out a genocidal war against the Tamils, terming its strategy as barbaric and extremely brutal.
Referring to the Sri Lankan government’s military operations as “base denial”, wherein extremely violent measures are deployed to separate people from the LTTE’s struggle, he commented on how the military campaign on the LTTE required placing the Eezham Tamil people in strategic hamlets and terrorizing them. “The enemy tries to drain the water in which the fish, meaning the people’s army, can swim.”
He also pointed out how technological help from the West, including satellite information, surveillance and weaponry, aided the Sri Lankan government in its war on the Tamil people, referring also to the usage of cluster bombs and chemical weapons.
Terming the ongoing repression in Tamil Eelam as a “genocidal war which is protracted to eliminate completely the Eezham Tamil identity” he also said that the pretences of human rights are just moves to make the Tamils kneel down before the Sinhala government.
Prof. Sison criticized the paradigms of human rights and reconciliation “insofar as they are used to prettify the ugly face of fascism and chauvinism of the Sri Lankan government” and stressed that for the Eezham Tamil people the main thing is sovereignty as “That is a democratic right. That is a human right.”
He also observed that mere usage of these terms like reconciliation would not lead to any genuine punishment of those guilty of war crimes against the Tamil people but that the Sri Lankan government would use these phrases to prettify their faces and while at the same time enforcing their authority on the Eezham Tamil people.
“When the Sri Lankan government has achieved its purpose of misleading and pacifying people, these pretences of respecting human rights and going for reconciliation would disappear. These are temporary catchphrases.”
Welcoming the spirit of the Tamil Sovereignty Cognition Declaration that was released on Heroes’ Day 2011, Prof. Sison said that the most important thing now is for consciousness on Tamil sovereignty to spread.
“The wish of the Eezham Tamil people to have their own state, to assert their sovereignty, cannot be suppressed. The defeat suffered in May 2009 is only a temporary thing because the Eezham Tamil people will keep on fighting for what is their right.”
Prof. Sison also read out an inspiring poem directed to the Tamil people titled ‘The Guerilla is like a poet’ which he had originally composed in 1968, a year before the commencing of the struggle of the NPA in Philippines.
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Prof. Sison, who is one of the leading political and intellectual figures in the communist movement in Philippines, was instrumental in the formation of Communist Party of Philippines (CPP), an organization based on Maoist principles, in 1968. The next year, the New People’s Army (NPA) was organized to wage armed struggle against the state and its activities are continuing to this day despite heavy repression ever since it was formed.
He was arrested in 1977 under the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos and spent about 9 years in prison in very inhumane conditions. Prof. Sison went into exile to Netherlands in 1986 and has continued to remain politically active with the National Democratic Front of Philippines despite legal and political pressures from the Dutch government.
Prof. Sison’s major work ‘Philippine Society and Revolution’, which he had written under the nom de guerre Amado Guerrero in 1970, is still considered by many activists in his country and elsewhere as a necessary reading for understanding social conditions in the Philippines.
In addition to authoring many other books and articles, Prof. Sison is also a prolific poet. A selection of his poems published as the book ‘Prison and Beyond’ won the Southeast Asia WRITE award in 1986.