FULL TEXT: INQ&A with CPP founder Joma Sison
Taking a break from the first round of peace talks with the president, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison granted INQUIRER.net a live interview via INQ&A last August 23.
Sison once told INQUIRER.net that he sees the continuation of the peace process if then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte or Senator Grace Poe won the presidential elections. Now that Duterte is in power, both the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have declared unilateral ceasefires and returned to the negotiating table.
These days, the NDF chief political consultant is busy with the peace negotiations, which both sides have deemed an initial success.
In this INQ&A interview, hosted by INQUIRER.net Editor in Chief John Nery and Chief of Reporters Kristine Sabillo, Sison talked about the prospects of the peace process, the Marcoses and the president.
INQ&A is broadcast live every Tuesday, 8 to 9 p.m. via INQ 990 Television (Digital Terrestrial Television), Radyo Inquirer 990AM, and INQUIRER.net’s Facebook and other social media accounts. Inquirer 990 TV can be viewed on ABS-CBN’s TV Plus, RCA and Godan digital TV boxes.
Below is the full transcript of the interview with Sison.
Kristine Sabillo, INQUIRER.net Chief of Reporters: Our interview this evening is very timely and relevant especially with yesterday’s opening of the formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF). Before we start with the interview, we would like to share three things that you might not know about our guest. The first one is that – I don’t know if, John, you know this already, but he previously released an album of poetry in songs titled “Songs of Love and Struggle.” He sang in that album, which was set to music by several artists. The second trivia is that he was President Duterte’s professor at the Lyceum of the Philippines University. And I think a lot of people know this already, but can you guess what subject it was?
John Nery, INQUIRER.net Editor in Chief: Political Science.
Sabillo: Yeah. It’s Political Science, but actually during my first interview with our guest, he said it was Political Thought. The last one is that, and this is a giveaway, his nom de guerre was Amado Guerrero when he wrote the book Philippine Society and Revolution or Lipunan at Rebolusyong Pilipino, which has become the manifesto of the Philippine revolutionary movement.
Our guest, ladies and gentlemen, is no other than Communist Party [of the Philippines] (CPP) Founder Joma Sison, who is now in Oslo, Norway for the formal peace talks.
Unfortunately our guest could not join us for the full hour today because they are in the middle of the talks actually in Norway.
Nery: Yes, right now it’s 8:18 pm in the Philippines. It’s 2:18 pm in Oslo. The royal Norwegian government is once again hosting the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front. Our guest left his place of exile in the Netherlands to join the rest of the NDF peace panel in Oslo.
Sabillo: We have been actually seeing a lot of videos and photos from Norway from the account of the government and the representatives of the NDF as well. And it seems that they are having a good time actually, meeting members of the peace panel, both sides were actually members of peace panel from previous talks as well. That’t one of the things that we would talk about later when we talk to Ka Joma, about what he thinks is the prospect of the peace process now that is ongoing again after being stalled for several years.
Nery: What excites us this particular INQ&A is that we are talking to this member of the peace panel who is taking some time away from the peace panel to talk to us. So, right now they are in that hotel in talk sponsored by Norwegian government. Last December, Tine was able to interview Ka Joma in the Netherlands.
Sabillo: Actually if you remember we were in Paris to cover the climate change negotiation, and after that we went to the Netherlands to have a quick interview with the CPP founder. A lot of the things I would ask today would be a follow up to the things that we discuss then. The time that elections was still a couple of months off and we asked him about what he thought about the different presidential candidates and one of them is President Duterte who eventually won.
Nery: Good afternoon, Ka Joma.
Joma Sison: Good evening po diyan.
Sabillo: Good afternoon.
Nery: Maraming salamat for taking time out from the peace negotiations. If we can go straight to our questions, I know you don’t have all the time. How was the first day and a half of the negotiations?
ON PEACE TALKS
Sison: The ceremony yesterday was very successful and then we started the, what you might call the work meeting. We were able to finish three of the five items and the agenda that set na yung (joint) na statement. We are running very well. But of course items four, five concerning amnesty and a mode of ceasefire will be more complex I suppose. What we have just finished doing is reaffirming the existing agreements between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines or GRP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
At the second item that we were able to finish was the submission of the reconstituted list of the document holders who are entitled to the protection of the joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantees. And the third item concerns the accelerated plan in the peace negotiations and the panel-to-panel decision was to let the reciprocal working committees on social and economic reforms and the working groups on political and constitutional reforms and the working groups on end of hostilities and disposition of forces to hold a meeting this afternoon. And submit later the technical details of the scheduled plan of work.
Nery: Ka Joma, thank you. Yung sa agreement on the accelerated timetable sounds exciting. The last time there were negotiations, I think five or six years ago, there was also an attempt to have an 18-month timetable and so on. But they quickly ran aground. What makes this particular agreement now more solid?
Sison: President Duterte, in comparison to previous presidents, is more open to really accelerating the peace negotiations. The previous ones were more interested in the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces under the guys of the protracted ceasefire. That was the problem. Now there seems to be greater determination on the part of the Manila government to make substantive agreements.
Sabillo: Ka Joma just going back to what you mentioned already. So, you have already finalized the list of the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees)-protected consultants. Has the government panel accepted it? Because I remember that was one of the reasons why the peace talks were stalled in the past. They had problems with the list. So now we have a new list it’s final?
Sison: Previously the other side before, during the time of Aquino, stood or took a position rather that the JASIG was inoperative and therefore did not serve to protect the NDF personnel involved in the peace negotiation. But there is now a reconstitution of the list of those who are entitled to the protection of JASIG and this was what the NDFP is asking from the so-called GPH side, from the side of the Manila government and the negotiators of Aquino they simply said JASIG was inoperative and that was a big obstacle to the peace negotiation, but now JASIG is considered as valid and operative and the NDFP has just submitted the reconstituted list and so those involved in the peace negotiation in the side of the NDFP enjoyed the protection of JASIG.
Nery: Ka Joma, yung sa accelerated timetable I know you started by saying while some agreements, marami pang kailangang pag-usapan. Gusto ko lang sna maintindihan talaga, how long does this process take?
Sison: Ang pinagkasunduan na the reciprocal committees is working to draft the comprehensive agreement on social economic reforms or CASER will try to finish their drafting job within the next six months. So there’s definite timeline and then at the same time the reciprocal working groups on political and constitutional reforms and on the end of hostilities would work at the same time. And one of the other, the reciprocal working committees shall be formed accordingly and in order to finalize what would be ready made draft agreements prepared by the reciprocal working groups, so more or less within six months you have the drafts of the comprehensive on the social and economic reform as well as preliminary drafts on political and constitutional reforms and end comprehensive agreement on the end of hostilities.
Nery: If I would try to understand that in simpler fashion, Ka Joma, when can we expect you back in the Philippines?
Sison: My going to the Philippines?
Nery: Yes, for a lot of people that’s a sign that the peace agreement is progressing.
Sison: The panels are supposed to meet in Oslo either on their own account or the supervision of their bodies that are responsible for drafting the comprehensive agreements. So, paspasan ang trabaho so I suppose I will be in Europe for the next six months to participate in the drafting work so there is no hurry and I was supposed to go the Philippines to attend the premier showing of Tibak, the story of Kabataang Makabayan. President Duterte and I supposed to attend the premier showing in order to receive the Gawad Supremo but that has to be postponed and instead I sent a video message, and I don’t know if President Duterte would be able to attend. So there was a definite target for my going to the Philippines but of course I give priority to the peace negotiations in Oslo.
Sabillo: Ka Joma how are the peace panels now? We’ve been seeing a lot of videos, it seems the two sides even if they are coming from the different parties, and they get along. I believe a lot of them have been involved in peace talks previously.
Sison: They’re laughing and well half of the time I suppose. And they manage to agree in the serious matter between exchanges of jokes. That’s the atmosphere. So anyway there is the spirit prevailing to make the agreements according to the time schedule.
Sabillo: When is the next round of talks and when can we expect after the six months when the agreements are finally drafted. The full agreements are represented.
Sison: I think the next meeting would be a meeting to draft the compressive agreements and I suppose after this meeting in Oslo, there is going to be another formal meeting next month or early October.
ON DUTERTE AND THE MILITARY
Nery: Ka Joma if you don’t mind we’ll talk about something not directly related to the peace talks. But may have an impact on them. I’m sure you heard reports that the Philippine military, some of the rank and file, are feeling a little restive especially with the release of the Tiamzon couple. How do you read?
Sison: You know in any army, the first rule is to obey all orders of the command. And so the commander in chief, the president of the Philippines, President Duterte made the decision that the army, the military, has to follow. There has been no objection and legal processes had been followed. And at the same time, the joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantees had been involved to justify the releases. Because indeed the consultants of the NDFP had been imprisoned for quite some time, had been arrested in violation of the JASIG. So it’s very important that the GRP side, the Manila government side, accepts the validity of the JASIG and in accordance with JASIG, the release had been made.
Sabillo: Ka Joma we have a question from Facebook. We’ve been getting questions from social media. This is not directly involved in the peace talks. But I think a lot of the young people, the young people involved in the political discourse right now especially online, they didn’t live through Martial law for example. They weren’t able to see how the revolutionary movement prospered at that time. So this question is from Jojo Castillo, he’s asking is the arm struggle still necessary?
ON ARMED STRUGGLE
Sison: The arm struggle is necessary, has been necessary, because of what President Duterte has described for himself as corrupt character, rottenness of the system. And you know he’s not far from the left in saying that the oligarchs have oppressed and exploited the people and of course he recognizes that the oligarchs are servile to foreign power like US. So he himself says that he is the first left president. So, that explains why he has a political will that goes along with the political will of the NDFP in the resuming the formal talks of the peace negotiations. It seems that he is determined and so we can hoe for better results and then previously, because the previous administrations were only interested in the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces. President Duterte has expressly declared that he’s for justice. He’s against the oppression and exploitations suffered by the people. So along this time the peace negotiations are being conducted and so the first comprehensive agreement that will be worked out in the time of President Duterte concerns social and economic reforms to be followed by political and constitutional reforms.
Nery: Ka Joma, the revolutionary movement was born in a particular context and that context was defined by the presidency of Marcos. I know that you already…
Sison: The most brutal form of oppressive government was the fascist dictatorship of Marcos. Instead of this fascist dictatorship succeeding in suppressing the revolutionary movement, it stimulated it. It laid the ground. We used to call Marcos the chief transport and supply officer, the chief recruiter of the New People’s Army because of his oppressive rule, extremely oppressive rule, the people rose up and the New People’s Army became strong. But even after Marcos, even after the pseudo-democratic regimes from Cory Aquino to Noynoy Aquino came, there was only a masquerade that went on. There was the facade of democracy but in fact are behind it are the other worms of the rocking system. There is a continuous process of rotting and worsening of the prices, and the naturally because the people continue to suffer, exploitation and oppression. The New People’s Army has managed to become strong and forced to be reckoned with. There would be no peace negotiations if in the first place the New People’s government has no value whatsoever. The […] tribes among the people as an instrument for justice against oppression and exploitation. So you have peace negotiations. In other words, the pseudo, the false democratic regimes that followed the outrightly brutal anti-democratic regime of Marcos were not really democratic, especially in the very substantive terms. Peasants continued to be exploited. Land problem continue to be worse.
Nery: But it’s the same pseudo-democratic government system that elected you are now conducting peace negotiations with.
Sison: But you know this is a president that you might call that beat the system too. He is a product of the system, but he beat the system with much less money with other wealthier candidates. He won by properly adopting the campaign line. I’m not saying that he’s a sure fire perfect president, but you know among the candidates he was the one who effectively attacked the rotten Aquino regime and the candidate Mar Roxas. And then he adopted the campaign methods he would characterize a mass movement, and of course he availed of the social media.
Nery: Ka Joma, speaking of rotten regimes. You did classify the Marcos regime as the worst, and yet it is okay with you for Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani?
Sison: I said that my bottomline is Marcos should be buried in the Batac, because the real remains are already buried there beside the mother as he wish. What is going to be brought to the Libingan ng mga ‘Traydor’ at mga Bayani to be more precise about the Libingan ng mga Bayani, don’t just say it is an exclusive cemetery for heroes. It includes a lot of non-heroes. Most likely you’re going to have the wax here with a big mausoleum to be built to sort of to make a monument for the dictator.
ON RELATIONSHIP WITH DUTERTE
Sabillo: Ka Joma you mentioned a while ago that President Duterte is not the perfect president. I remember when I interviewed you in the Netherlands at the time I think Duterte wasn’t leading in the surveys yet. The two of you had a long relationship. He was your student and you said you don’t think he is the best president but you liked that he has strength of character but at the same time he has a loose mouth. And the past few months were a bit of a rollercoaster for the two of you. You were trading barbs for a while because of the unilateral ceasefire issue. And the last statement I read from is that you have reaffirmed you friendship. How is your relationship with the president with those controversial kinds of issues?
Sison: There was a miscommunication. I call it a communication leech so frankly our friendship that grew out of our student-teacher relationship has been able to prevail over the communications leech. I would say that President Duterte has been concerned anyway about the public welfare, what’s good for the people and that is the line that I also take. We’ve come to continue pushing the peace process forward. I’m the pointed out in the many instances that Duterte is a mixed bag, but he has shown in Davao city that for some three decades he was to able to cooperate with the revolutionary movement as well as the legal progressive forces and so he knows how to mix his fallacies. He tries to be inclusive and of course as I said he is not perfect. He is still born out of the system and what we have is the promise too fundamentally better than the previous presidents. Let us see. He’s only 5o days in his office. As far as the peace process is concerned, he beats the previous presidents except probably Ramos, because Ramos in his time, allowed some agreements to be made including the framework agreement, the […] declaration in 1992 and the comprehensive agreement on respect for the human rights and international humanitarian law. We still have to see whether during the time of Duterte we can have comprehensive agreement on social and economic reform. We still have to see if we can go further than that and really establish the ground for a just and lasting peace.
Nery: Ka Joma, if I can go back to our earlier conversation about Marcos, about rotten system, pseudo-democracy that you say we are living in. My question really has to with apprehension of people who support the peace process fully, who still fear that is it is precisely by statements like this by you that will undermine support for both the peace process and by the Duterte administration. Statements like – I’ll give two examples – one, that this os just a pseudo-democracy and two, that maybe we should rename the Libingan ng mga Traydor at ng mga Bayani that is not a popular idea, I can tell you. How do you respond to this? Just to recap, the apprehensions of the people who support the peace agreement who are happy that the first day and half of talks have gone so well. And then they here statements like this, and they wonder is this just a continuation of the revolution by other means?
Sison: The revolutionary movement is open to the possibility of achieving […] democratic reforms. And what do I mean by […] democratic reforms? National independence and doing away with unequal treaties and arrangements; having democracy; empowering the working people; economic development through national industrialization and land reforms; expanded free education at all levels – public; a patriotic and progressive culture and international solidarity; trained and diplomatic relations at all countries. So, what is there that is not possible. Duterte himself says he is a socialist, but you know in the Philippines you cannot be a socialist without first accomplishing the […] democratic reforms. As what I’ve already stated, what is the content of the […] democratic reforms, those are not impossible in a combination of what you might call left and middle forces that is not impossible and even when the left and the middle combine, maybe the right can even be split and give them the chance. Some of them can have the chance to participate in the process of accomplishing what we have always called national democracy. It would be possible to even buy out the landlords at a fair expropriation price and their […] with industrial bounds they participate in industrialization. Those are […] democratic reforms adopted in other countries. So now you have a president, quite different from all the other presidents. He said he is going to revolutionize the government. I haven’t heard of other president saying that.
Nery: Except Marcos. Marcos did proclaim himself to be the architect of the revolution from the center.
Sison: Marcos, one of a master of deception. He said revolution is democracy; he is making revolution from the center and so on and so forth. But Marcos wasn’t acquisitive man even as a congressman, we came from the same region. I know exactly how he built a mansion in Batac. He built his mansion by making money on Chinese immigration and on the foreign exchange control. That’s Marcos and of course when he became the president, he accelerated the spending of […] and got the big cut. So people are impressed with big public works projects, but Marcos made unprecedented cuts from those projects. That’s Marcos and of course when he said he would make the country great again, it would be at the price of suppressing the patriotic and progressive forces that’s why there was immediately a clash between his ambitions and attempt to put up a dictatorship on one side and the patriotic and progressive forces in the country as well as the entire Filipino people.
ON DRUG KILLINGS
Sabillo: Ka Joma, I’ll go straight to the issue of drug killings, I think this issue has divided the Filipino people. Some are welcoming what has been happening with the drug campaign, with the anti-illegal drug campaign, while others are questioning the rising number of supposed extrajudicial killings. What is your stand on this?
Sison: I go along with the progressive forces. They have a critical views of this because when the numbers are rising, let’s say, you get standard explanation that they are resisting arrest but their family say that these people are being hit arbitrarily on the streets and on urban poor areas while the big drug lords get better treatment and they don’t get killed that way. Well that is something that Mr. Duterte has to answer for and he should answer you. I’m not his spokesman. But of course, honestly speaking you were asking me my opinion. My opinion is in the peace negotiations, we try to resolve radically different ideas and programs. And we try to seek common ground by evoking the interest of the Filipino people. Even in the peace process you must be able to recognize that it exist because of the armed conflict no less. The strongest kind of opposition to any government of the Philippines up to the time of Duterte is still the arm revolution. This matter, the arm conflict, can be settled only if you address the roots. And so the revolutionary forces with which I’m more associated more than anything else in the Philippines would stand its ground anywhere in any arena, debate and as well as in the arena of peace negotiations – peace negotiation is not a process so we’ll be into those in power, remember that.
Nery: Can you give us an example, Ka Joma, for instance sa usaping political and constitutional reforms. Can you give us an example of an issue that will be taken up in that particular category, that will be subject to negotiation sa political and constitutional.
Sison: There are two constitutions. There are two governments in the Philippines right now. You must recognize that there are two – the People’s Democratic government of workers and peasants; and the government of the big […] and landlords. So despite the talk of President Duterte against all the oligarchs so far he has not yet revolutionized really the existing state. So , there is a lot of hard work attend in trying in arrive possibly in something new. I think when it comes to political and constitutional reforms, then there will have to be an agreement. What’s the working paper? Is it the constitution of the […] and landlords or the constitution of the workers and the peasants. The third working paper remains to be same because we because we haven’t really began the negotiations. Duterte’s interested in radically changing the constitution in favor of federalism and most likely parliamentary system.
Nery: For instance Ka Joma, he wants to do away with the party list innovation. What are your views on this?
Sison: As a concession to supposedly the marginalized, it’s a […] expression to refer actually to the majority of oppressed people. There are parties that stand for workers and peasants who don’t much say really within the system. So the party list should supposed to be an opening, but you look at the Congress now and there are so few of them. I don’t know how much better would be that Congress of […] and landlords agents, political agents of the oligarchy, would look if you remove the few party list progressives. If you remove the party list progressives, you may not hear anymore any patriotic and progressive sound. At least you get some of that sound now. We have to see what better system the Duterte government is trying to offer by doing away with the party list. But anyway I heard his argument; the party list system is now being taken over by the dynasties. That’s also a valid criticism. As a matter of fact there was concern on the part of the progressive party list groups that the dynasties might wipe the mouth and it remains to be seen whether the progressive can maintain their existence over time.
ON PEACE TALKS
Sabillo: My last question, Ka Joma, would be that some of the people are asking what are your bottomlines in the negotiating table? What are your non-negotiables? What are the things that will make you leave the negotiating table? And related to that maybe you could just answer, you already mentioned the party list groups. Some of the former party list representatives are with the Cabinet of President Duterte right now. What do you think would make them leave eventually? It’s the same with the peace talks, parang parallel lang to that. What should make them leave the administration, if ever, in the future?
Sison: If for instance the Duterte government is only interested in the prolonged ceasefire, so that it can forget the demand of the people for social, economic and political reforms, then the revolutionary movement has to consider whether it is still useful to go on with the peace process. As what I have already told you, the reforms being demanded are really attainable if those negotiating on both sides have the interest of the people in mind. What is wrong about national independence and the doing away with unequal treaties and agreements? What is wrong with giving more leeway to the workers and peasants to empower themselves? What is wrong with economic development through national industrialization or land reforms? If those things are clearly impossible in the peace negotiations then there’s no reason really for pursuing it. Peace negotiation is not a process of surrendering, just having peace and peace of oppression, exploitation – that cannot be, because so long as oppression and exploitation continue, then there is always fertile ground for arm resistance by the people.
Nery: Ka Joma, thank you very much for spending more time than we though we would have with you. Maraming salamat po. We hope to have more conversation with you.
Sison: Maraming salamat po sa ating mga kababayan. Sa inyong mga tagapakinig, sa inyong binigay na pagkakataon sa akin magpaliwanag.
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