#KaJomaLives | Progressives immortalize Sison’s legacy in people’s movement for change

Photo by Carlo Manalansan / Bulatlat


MANILA — “We gather today not just to mourn but to pay tribute.”

This is how longtime labor leader Elmer Labog opened the program at the University of the Philippines Film Center as progressives paid tribute to the late founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines Jose Maria Sison, who passed away last Dec. 18, 2022.

Those who joined marched from the Commission of Human Rights, chanting “Ka Joma lives.”

Short clips of Sison’s previously recorded interviews were played during the program, giving snippets of his life in exile in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

A young Joma

In one of the short video clips, Sison revealed he once dreamed of becoming a lawyer and eventually a politician. But he said that as he studied Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism, this dream waned. It was clear to him, he said, that revolution was the answer.

He said that it took two years to be able to build the new Communist Party of the Philippines. He was only 23 years old when he became part of the Executive Committee of the old Communist party.

Being part of the old party allowed him to know and earn the trust of the people, to recognize the mistakes of the old party, rectify these and be better.

Francisco Nemenzo, former UP president, described Sison as a dear friend. Though their friendship turned sour when Nemenzo chose to stay in the old Communist party, he said that he eventually saw that he was on the “wrong side of history” when Marcos Sr. declared martial law.

Nemenzo said their friendship was reignited when Sison was released from prison in 1986. He then described Sison as an “amiable human being” whom he said will be defined in his place in history by his great organizing skills and commitment to national liberation.

Political prisoner Adelberto Silva, in a message read by women rights activist and wife Sharon Cabusao, shared that he was once a student of Sison when the latter taught at the Lyceum of the Philippines University.

“He liked to joke. He was never boastful,” Silva said of his late literature professor.

Silva also remembered how there were always coffee and biscuits in the rented apartment of then young couple Sison and Julie de Lima, who is now the interim chairperson of the peace panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

On establishing the NPA

Political prisoner Rey Claro Casambre, in a message read by his daughter Xandra, recognized the role that Sison played in establishing the New People’s Army.

This he referred to as Sison’s second most important contribution to the people’s aspirations for change, next to the establishment of the CPP.

Casambre said Sison did not only find armed struggle as apt but essential to the struggle of the people. From a handful of arms in the first guerilla front in Tarlac, the armed movement soon spread in many provinces, he said.

“We have nothing but a copy of the PSR,” the early NPA members were quoted as saying as they referred to the Philippine Society and Revolution written by Amado Guerrero, Sison’s nom de guerre.

“What we know is that we have to immerse ourselves in the masses,” Casambre said.

While Sison contributed greatly to the establishment of the NPA, Casambre said he was also among the first to call out mistakes as he did in 1985.

The NPA leadership then initially did not heed Sison’s advice, said Casambre, but this was later corrected that led to the Second Great Rectification Movement.

Erin Tañada said three generations of Tañada worked with Sison in pursuing the cause of nationalism.

“Many may love him. Many may hate him… But one cannot deny one fact, he loved the country in his own way,” Tañada said during the program.

Bibeth Orteza, chairperson of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, said Sison deserves to be a National Artist not only because he was a poet but because he inspired many artists and cultural workers to use their art in advancing people’s interests and welfare.

As a warrior of peace, optimism

Many speakers during the nearly three-hour program shared how they appreciated Sison’s sense of optimism.

Lawyer Antonio La Viña, then a student, said he was among those who listened to Sison’s speech, following his 1986 release from prison.

People, he noted, expected him to be angry. But La Viña said he was not, and that he was funny and optimistic in his first speech as a free man.

His colleagues in the peace talks also noted how he was a problem solver and the “North Star” in the course of the negotiations.

“There will be no capitulation or surrender, especially since there is a DDR paradigm that the United Nations is propagating,” Luis Jalandoni, senior adviser of the NDFP Negotiating Panel said. DDR refers to Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration which has been applied to national liberation movements in other countries.

Jalandoni added that Sison’s sharp analyses also helped revolutionaries in other countries.

Meanwhile, Elisabeth Slattum, former special envoy of the Norwegian government in the peace talks, described Sison as a constant during her tenure.

“He has the gift of being ideologically firm but also pragmatic,” she said in a video message.

In a statement, a joint statement of political prisoners in Camp Bagong Diwa paid tribute to Sison. “As political prisoners, we were able to reflect on the depth and scope that Sison has made for the people.”

They added that state forces will never be able to understand that the movement will continue even with Sison’s passing.

They said, “they will never be able to understand that Joma spent his entire life ensuring that the revolution will continue even without him.” (RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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