Etc., Human Rights

Joema the Filibuster

IF A SURVEY were made today regarding who Pinoys think is the most influential fellow Pinoy in the past century, the name José Maria ‘Joema’ Sison would probably fill a huge chunk of ballots.

You’d likely disagree and say no way can an aging communist exiled thousands of miles away from the Philippines ever be more popular than, say, a Nora Aunor or Sharon Cuneta. Influence, however, is far different from popularity. If we are to ask generations of Filipinos whose actions and words affected their generation the most, it would probably be the Ilocano poet-turned-rebel leader.

After all, I have yet to hear anyone being influenced into changing careers or taking up arms against the government after watching Himala or after hearing Bituing Walang Ningning. Joema’s writings and actions had exactly that effect, from the First Quarter Storm to the EDSA Dos generation.

Sure, many disagree with his ideas of Philippine society. But Joema’s compassion for the millions of disenfranchized Filipinos is unquestionable when confronted with the fact that the man gave up so much for the peole. He gave up his wealth, a future in traditional politics, a budding academic and literary career. Joema also endured nine years of mental and physical torture and solitary incarceration in the hands of the military from 1977 to 1986.

I’m sure military officials and national security pundits would agree that Joema had tremendous influence in recent history. The former University of the Philippines (UP) professor, after all, has been the number one enemy of the state for ages. One can even say he enormously influenced decades of military and foreign policy by founding the longest running insurgency in Asia.

From Marcos’ regime to Macapagal-Arroyo’s, Joema has always been, shall we say, a royal pain in their bureaucratic necks. Administrations have constantly blamed the insurgency for their failure to raise the country from economic ruin. Joema, in their minds, played a huge role in those failures. What they probably didn’t realize is that it has always been the other way around. Rebellions certainly don’t last that long if not fuelled by deep-seated poverty and decades of government ineptitude in the first

Indeed, even those who may not agree with his politics cannot deny the extent of influence Joema had on generations of Filipino youth, from the 60s to the present. In 1959, after graduating in AB English cum laude in UP, Joema spearheaded the 60s nationalist ferment when he founded the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in 1964. Years later, after “reestablishing” the Communist Pary in 1968, Joema allegedly wrote Philippine Society and Revolution. This book may very well be the best-selling outlawed book in history, next perhaps to Rizal’s El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere during the national hero’s heyday.

Recently, however, his detractors have been upping the ante in their decades-old vilification campaign against Joema.

After U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s pompous appearance in Malacañang to promote his country’s “war on terror” last August, Joema, the Communist Party, and the New People’s Army (NPA) found themselves in the US, Canadian, Dutch, and – just weeks ago – European “terrrorist list”. Now demonized as the Pinoy Osama bin Laden, Joema’s housing and health care privileges as a political refugee in the Netherlands were immediately stripped off him. He has also been targeted for extradition to the U.S., should Uncle Sam decide to further flout international law and ask for his head.

The “terrorist tag”, of course, makes no sense when Philippine and international laws are considered. In Arpil 1998, the Philippine Justice Department certified that there are no pending criminal charge against the communist leader. Joema also does not have any pending case in the U.S.

According to Powell, the NPA’s inclusion in the terrorist list is based on the latter’s “[strong opposition to] any US presence in the Philippines.” The NPA, added Powell, “has killed US citizens there,” alluding to the killing of U.S. military adviser Col. James Rowe in Manila in April 1989. Yet even if Joema (already in exile during the killing) was somehow involved, international law nevertheless states that military advisers are legitimate targets in a war. Such actions cannot be called “terrorist”.

Nevertheless, last October 28, the European Council went on to brand Joema exactly as such. Rightly so, Joema’s listing drew strong reactions from militant organizations, church leaders, and well-meaning politicians, who viewed the labelling as a drawback to peace efforts. They fear that the Arroyo administration and the U.S. would soon target them because like Joema they also happen to be critical of government policies.

Even Vice President Teofisto Guingona expressed that he didn’t believe Joema was a terrorist. He said, “One needs to make a distinction between a rebel who is fighting because of hunger and perceived injustice, and a terrorist who seeks to sow terror and hatred.”
The dubious “terrorist” listing of Joema leads one to suspect the nature of this so-called “war on terror.” No doubt, his incisive criticism of U.S. foreign policies irked the Bush Administration and, by deduction, the Macapagal-Arroyo government. Such declaration obviously had nothing to do with fighting terrorism and everything to do with squashing dissent and terrorizing perceived enemies of the state.

Such “state terrorism” targeted against Joema and militant oranizations, though, may yet further amplify their influence among generations of Filipinos. And like Rizal’s heroism outliving his “filibustero” label, Joema’s pro-people reputation will likely far outlive Bush and Macapagal-Arroyo’s vindictive “war of terror”.

11 Nov. 2002 , published in “Migrante” (Migrante International’s official publication) and in


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