Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3, Number 1              February 2 - 8, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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The Sison Way

The governments of Europe, US, Canada and the Philippines keep trying to bury Jose Maria Sison. They only succeed in having songs sung in his praise. Because in the midst of whatever adversity, Joma Sison constantly gives Filipinos a reason to affirm and celebrate themselves. They should continue to do so, the Sison way.

By Ninotchka Rosca
Education for Development Magazine
Reposted by Bulatlat.com

It seems too absurd for words: one man at the cross-hairs of the state powers of the United States, Canada, Europe and the Philippines. A man who has been deprived of a home and a country for the past decade; whose time has been largely occupied with writing, speaking, discussing… But once in a rare while, someone so different from the common pale that includes you and me manages to compel governments and organizations to reveal their true character.

In this case, by labeling Jose Maria Sison a “terrorist” – sans proof, sans process – freezing his and his wife’s bank account (containing $1,000), and cutting off the pathetic Dutch government subsidy intended to keep him and his family at subsistence-level existence – all these actions were so palpably unjust and unwarranted, and so grossly insulting of the Filipino people, that they unmasked those who advocated them as anti-democratic, violators of human and civil rights, and just plain fascists.

As soon as Mr. Sison’s most recent troubles became public, a flood of inquiries came my way: Does he need help? What kind of help? Shall we start a collection? How about a medical team? One batch of students wanted to send a monthly food-care package.

 Many who offered help were non-political. Some I hadn’t even met. Underlying their concern was a feeling of deep personal insult, as though they themselves had been labeled “terrorist.” Mr. Sison, after all, was symbol for a people’s stellar resistance against a dictatorship, against the tyrannical socio-economic system which had weighed and continues to weigh down the Philippine archipelago. He is one of the few living legends of the Philippines.

Knowing the man

Who is he? One could list down a chronicle of his life: born February 8, 1939, same day as Claro M. Recto, so that whenever students held the C.M. Recto lecture series at the University of the Philippines, they also celebrated Sison’s birthday; cum laude, major in English – i.e., literature (not political science, as many assume); founded the Kabataang Makabayan (KM, Patriotic Youth), thus creating both the idea and the reality of people’s organizations for the Philippine archipelago; founded or co-founded a host of other organizations; inspired the founding of still more organizations; re-established the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1968 and directly led it until his capture in 1977; spent more than eight years in prison; was heavily tortured and held incommunicado. Released in 1986, he founded the Partido ng Bayan (People’s Party) and was then forced into exile in Holland where he has spent the last decade. He is the author of the seminal books Struggle for National Democracy and under the nom de guerre Amado Guerrero, Philippine Society and Revolution, Specific Characteristics of Our People’s War, and Our Urgent Tasks.

Or one could list down some personal items: he is married to Julieta de Lima; they have four children together; he likes to dance; he likes to do karaoke, Frank Sinatra’s My Way in particular, which he sings “Mao’s way,” he likes to play pranks on old friends; he has a very strong sense of pride matched by an occasional disregard for his own safety; he is restless but can focus for hours on work to be done; he has strengths; he has weaknesses – he would be the first to admit both, objectively.

But a person is not reducible to a simple recitation of bio-data or an accounting of what he/she is like as an individual. A person’s true measure comes from an amalgam of what he/she has done, what he/she is and the impact of his/her being and activities on the community, on humankind, as it were, plus how he is perceived by that community. One has to sum up both on the individual and collective level, summarizing both the objective (what he/she accomplished) and the subjective (how were those activities received by others) impact of his/her existence.

A legacy to his people

Jose Maria Sison’s growth and practice as a Marxist and revolutionary endowed the Philippine people’s movement with characteristics unique and indelible to this day. In 1961, he led university students in overrunning the congressional witchhunt of the UP faculty members, scattering the congressmen and bringing the proceedings to a halt. Multiplied a thousand times over, this method of protest would translate itself into People Power, strong enough to overthrow two presidents, though not yet, as he himself warns, an entire political system.

The vital role that youth organizations – growing from Prof. Sison’s tiny SCAUP in 1959 to the KM in 1964 to the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MDP) in 1970 – played in the country’s near-instant politicization meant that the young would always have a special place in the country’s political evolution. As he himself says, a movement without young people was in trouble. By the time he went underground in 1969, the KM was 20,000 strong. It was also center and core of interlocking alliances, both formal and informal, of student and youth organizations. At its full strength in the 1970-1972 period, the youth movement could mobilize up to 150,000 for demonstrations and rallies in Manila alone. More than this, it was the young who read, wrote, debated and discussed, who went to factories and fields to organize, ignoring danger and difficulties, all on a matter of principle. Under Prof. Sison’s inspiration, they created a lexicon – “the three isms,” “tuta” (puppet), and even “ingat” (be careful) which replaced the feudal “sige” – instantly understandable in the 7,100 islands, despite 150 languages.

Because he was himself a voracious reader and prodigious writer, Prof. Sison conferred an almost tradition of scholarship on radical Filipinos. As in no other place in the world has a people meticulously documented their own political development. Organizations churned out statements, flyers, press releases, etc., at the first hint of an issue or controversy. For a while, every organization had a comprehensive program or vision-mission-goal document, plus a welter of explicatory materials. Where books were a luxury and where the tradition was oral, this was a new and intense thing. The educational materials created a clarity of politics and political intent, where hitherto obscurantism and obtuse language had prevailed.

Because he was a poet, Prof. Sison also left the mass movement a tradition of culture-making. The KM had its own cultural arm, starting as a Cultural Bureau which eventually metamorphosed into the Panday Sining (Art Smithy). All basic organizations, especially those of workers, peasants, women and the youth, would have their own cultural groups. Writers and artists also self-organized to participate in the people’s movement. To this day, most of the country’s leading writers and artists arose out of or still belong to the national democratic movement. The drive to know one’s historical self created the artistic impulse to integrate modern content with traditional art forms and music. Given that as “serfs” of imperialism, Filipinos were supposed to be consumers of culture created elsewhere, this insistence on creativity helped consolidate the people’s sense of self and self-respect.

When Prof. Sison submitted a draft political report in the early 1960s evaluating the leadership of the old Communist Party of the Philippines, the act had a subtext: errors and mishaps were sources of lessons. Pride, ego and “face” could not be allowed to stop any revolutionary from learning those lessons, in the interest of advancing the movement. To date, assessment and evaluation, small and large summing-ups, remain integral to the activist life, as strengths and weaknesses are identified and methodologies refined.

The involvement of Julieta de Lima in all of his undertakings undoubtedly inspired the idea of women's formal involvement in politics and the revolution. The KM had its women’s bureau, designed to recruit and train women for activism and leadership. This was both new and yet a continuance of tradition. The Philippines had a women’s political movement long before anyone else and the babaylan (local priestesses) led the first resistance against Spanish colonialism and Christianity. By formally acknowledging the critical value of women to a political movement, indeed to a revolutionary movement, Sison paved the way for women’s historic strength to emerge from feudal/patriarchal suppression. The KM Women’s Bureau is generally acknowledged as ancestress of both the underground Makibaka (Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan, Free Movement of New Womanhood) and Gabriela, the largest and most militant open women’s alliance in the archipelago.

By giving up a life of comfort, by electing to go underground, by involving himself not only in leading but also immersing himself in revolutionary armed struggle, Prof. Sison hammered home the ideal of praxis: as you say life should be lived, so should your own life be lived. His life and work exemplified the unity of theory and practice. Armchair or cappuccino political theorists have not been held in any kind of respect in the Philippines ever since.

By his life as well, Prof. Sison made vivid the truth that even as circumstances forged a person, so could a person forge circumstances. Among a people brainwashed into fatalism, one of whose constant phrases was bahala na (it’s up to god), this lesson was profound.

These unique characteristics would evolve and become the hallmarks of Philippine militancy. The organizations he led – from the KM to the CPP to the NPA – summed up these virtues in succinct phrases (“serve the people”, “dare to struggle”, etc.) and spread them throughout the archipelago. Such clarity of purpose and clarity of action enabled the people to weather decades of the Marcoses as well as demoralization over succeeding Philippine regimes. They helped the revolutionary movement weather four decades of repression and suppression.

No Dutch treats

 The minute we learned that Holland was placing the squeeze on Prof. Sison and Filipino exiles in the country, we stopped buying Dutch products. So no queso de bola (gouda or edam) for the holidays; no flights on KLM; no Philips appliances; no Shell gasoline for cars. Heck, I wouldn’t even go Dutch treat!
The subtext to labeling Jose Maria Sison a “terrorist” was that to have a modicum of relief from repression and persecution even in our late years, we Filipinos would have to tread the imperialist way – i.e., survive through corruption and betrayal, never being true to ourselves and our people, without dignity and self-respect, without originality and creativity. In short, we would have to slave ourselves to imperialism and live at the fringe of society, turning ourselves into junior versions (which are never quite good enough) of our colonizers.
Otherwise, what was done to Prof. Sison could be – and will be – done to every foreign-born person in The Netherlands, or Europe, or the United States or Canada.
And how does one counter the combined threat from the governments of the US, Canada and the whole of Europe? Being a simple storyteller, a hamak na manunulat, I can only offer a small tale. This happened recently, in the midst of a northeast autumn, in the alienating environment of a New Jersey suburb where a group of Filipino expatriates were hanging out in one of the houses. They were just having a good time, doing karaoke in the basement, pretending to be James Morrison, Madonna, Led Zeppelin. Then someone punched in the “My Way” number. Myself not being a Sinatra fan, I voiced objections. But someone replied: “For JMS!” Instant silence, instant focus. And the whole group sang with feeling: “the record shows, he took the blows and did it OUR way!”
The governments of Europe, US, Canada and the Philippines keep trying to bury Jose Maria Sison. They only succeed in having songs sung in his praise. Because in the midst of whatever adversity, Joma Sison constantly gives Filipinos a reason to affirm and celebrate themselves. They should continue to do so, the Sison way.
Education for Development Magazine/Reposted by Bulatlat.com

Ninotchka Rosca is recipient of the 1993 American Book Award for excellence in literature. She has written five books, including the two highly acclaimed novels, State of War and Twice Blessed. Her next book, Jose Ma. Sison: At Home in The World, is scheduled for release in May 2003 by the Open Hand Publishing House. Based in New York, she was founding chair of Gabriela Network, a Philippine-US women’s organization fighting against trafficking of women.

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