Human Rights, journalism

Jailing Joma

He had been talking about it for years, but it seemed that outside the movement that he had led, few were listening. In 2001, Jose Maria Sison — the exiled Filipino revolutionary leader, poet and radical intellectual — talked of a supposed assassination plot against him by Philippine state security agents that was operationalized on May 2000 and, at the time of his revelation, was still in operation. Later, a Filipino police official, Col. Reynaldo Berroya, admitted to media that the government had indeed dispatched a team to liquidate Sison in 2000.

The leader of the team, it was later revealed, was Romulo Kintanar, former head of the New People’s Army who in 1992 became an intelligence agent for the military. Along with Arturo Tabara and Nilo dela Cruz, Kintanar went to the Netherlands to carry out the plan. It was botched, according to Sison, when a “backup triggerman” was arrested by the Dutch police in an earlier separate incident. “The hit team floundered until December when once more it made a last desperate assassination attempt,” said Sison. “But I did not appear at the spot where I had been anticipated.”

All these have been underreported in media, even after Kintanar himself was killed by NPA partisans in 2003. According to the government and Kintanar’s widow, it was plain murder. Gregorio Rosal, Communist Party spokesman, however, explained that the killing was a punitive action against an armed and dangerous man. News reports indicated Kintanar was heavily armed (“45 caliber pistol, an HK machine pistol and a Glock 9mm pistol,” reported the Inquirer) at the time of his killing. (1)

Last Tuesday, August 28, the Dutch police arrested Sison. In an interview with ANC, Julie de Lima, Sison’s wife, recounted how a Dutch police officer called the NDFP International Office and asked for an appointment with Sison. He requested the exiled revolutionary to go to the Police office to “pickup some documents” which, Sison assumed, were about the Dutch authorities’ investigation on the 2000 assassination plot. Upon arrival at the police station, he was ordered under arrest and whisked away to the Dutch capital, The Hague, where he was held — in Guantanamo Bay prison style — incommunicado for charges of ordering the murder of Kintanar and Tabara in 2003 while in Dutch soil. This, according to reports, was the same prison used by the Nazis to encarcerate Jews during the Second World War.

Did Sison order the “retaliatory” assassination of Kintanar and Tabara? Reason points to the contrary. The NPA, which operates in the Philippines, had claimed responsibility of “punishing” the two military assets. It also denies that Sison has any operational control over the armed revolutionary group. Common sense would dictate that there would absolutely be no reason for Sison to be directly involved in the killing of Kintanar and Tabara. Although he is the chief political consultant for the NDFP in the negotiations, Sison is “aboveground” (as opposed to “underground”, the term referred to actions outside the ambit of the legal system). By all intents and purposes, he is a public personality. And as the chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle, he is a towering figure in international radical politics.

Sison is constantly under direct scrutiny from the media, who time and again asks him for opinion on Philippine matters. Filipino residents who had met him in the Netherlands and Europe say he is readily accessible to anybody who wants to meet him. It is to be assumed, too, of course, that he is under constant surveillance from the Arroyo, the Dutch and the US governments — all of which brand him a terrorist.

Which brings me to one conclusion alone: that Sison’s arrest is purely symbolic on so many levels. First, there are Kintanar and Tabara’s widows, who as former revolutionary partisans should know very well the decision-making processes involved when the NPA applies “revolutionary justice” to its enemies. The Communist Party makes no secret of the fact that no single individual within its organization decides who to “punish”. It is a “collective”, an “organ” within the revolutionary movement, but never based on the whim of a single person, much less someone outside the country.

Second, because it takes a great stretch of imagination to conclusively pin Kintanar and Tabara’s killings on Sison, the arrest and persecution is symbolic of the Philippine government’s desire to put an end to the insurgency. This is revealed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s statement to the effect that the government sees the weakening of the NPA after Sison’s arrest: “You can imagine a person who is suffering from [a] headache, when the head is adversely affected, you can see what happens to the rest of the body. It’s the same thing in an organization.”

Third, as an international “revolutionary” figure, Sison is a thorn to the US government’s foreign policy of economic, political and military expansionism, of which he is a fierce critic. Years ago, at the onset of the US-led war on terror, it has been reported that the US government lobbied to have Sison arrested and held in custody by the US government, possibly in Guantanamo Bay prison. Today, the US government is under fire for its inhumane treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo where — New Yorker magazine investigative journalist Jane Mayer reports, citing an internal CIA study — more than half of the prisoners are probably innocent of the charges of terrorism and “are not even supposed to be there.”

One can reasonably conclude, therefore, that Sison’s arrest is a political move, calculated to weaken the revolutionary movement in the Philippines and stifle a strong voice against US “imperialism”.

The Inquirer editorial,  sometimes eloquently libertarian and often hopelessly naive, says in its August 31 piece that “If Sison did order the deaths of Kintanar and Tabara, no amount of revolutionary rationalization or ideological rhetoric can mask his liability.” The Inquirer seems to be willing to bend logic to accomodate a long-existing prejudice against Sison (2). It is willing to believe that the Dutch government acted in good faith in arresting Sison, when in fact it has for years actively participated in denying Sison his rights as a political refugee, and even seconded the European Union in branding Sison as terrorist. Contrary to the Inquirer’s claim, it is not the Dutch government, which had been trying to get rid of Sison for years, but the Filipino migrants and progressive Dutch libertarians (lawyers, politicians, activists, etc.) who have provided sanctuary to Sison.

Tragically, the editorial likewise reveals a deep distrust of the national democratic movement: that this revolution is still led, and its nefarious operations micromanaged, by no less than Sison himself, thousands of miles away from the country. And that the NPA guerrillas, its cadres and partisans are mere pawns in the game that Sison plays.

“This is the exact kind of justice, the same kind of truth-revealing investigation, that opposition politicians like [Satur] Ocampo have sought to apply to the President since the “Hello, Garci” scandal erupted over two years ago. Why, in effect, would they deny Sison his day in court?,” says the editorial. In fact, there is an ocean of difference between both instances. Arroyo is still free as a bird, and, with the resources of the entire state at her disposal, wants truth stifled by suppressing evidence in Congress (i.e. EO 464 and the prohibition on playing the Hello Garci tapes), the streets (CPR), at the media (Proclamation 1017 and the libel suits). Sison, on the other hand, had previously spent a good nine years in solitary confinement for fighting the Marcos dictatorship, and today is being politically persecuted for holding fast to his principles and never backing down.



(1) Under the Geneva Convention, Kintanar qualifies as a “lawful combatant” in the armed conflict between the Philippine government and the revolutionary movement of the CPP-NPA-NDFP.

Article 44.3 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions states that:

“Recognizing, however, that there are situations in armed conflicts where, owing to the nature of the hostilities an armed combatant cannot so distinguish himself, he shall retain his status as a combatant, provided that, in such situations, he carries his arms openly::

( a ) During each military engagement, and
( b ) During such time as he is visible to the adversary while he is engaged in a military deployment preceding the launching of an attack in which he is to participate. “

(2) The Inquirer has been branding Sison a “self-exile”; columnist Luis Teodoro points out that there is no such word in the English language. Its use, too, betrays a prejudice against a man who did not voluntarily “exile” himself, but was forced to live abroad because of the Philippine government’s cancellation of his passport and the subsequent threats to his life.


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