Revolutionary Jose Maria Sison on US Imperialism and a Way Forward for the Philippines
In 2002, seemingly out of nowhere, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the USA henceforth considered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and their armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), to be terrorist organizations. Additionally, they labeled a long-time Philippine revolutionary leader and theorist—Jose Maria Sison—to be a supporter of terrorism. Sison had been living in exile in the Netherlands. This labeling, denounced immediately by civil liberties advocates in the USA, the Philippines and other parts of the world, has resulted in myriad of legal ramblings and complications for all those associated with the NDFP and CPP. What made this announcement by Powell so odd was that the conflict in the Philippines represented a long-running—and internationally recognized—civil war and the NDFP (and Sison) had been engaged in peace negotiations, a process that was certainly harmed by the Bush administration’s allegations. These allegations also emerged at a time of increasing usage by the US government of the label of “terrorist” or “supporter of terrorism” to describe opponents.
The following is drawn from a longer interview with Professor Sison. This component focuses upon his analysis of the current situation in the Philippines, negotiations with the Philippine government and the question of the terrorist label used by the US government against various forces.
If you apply your search engine to research Professor Sison you will find a considerable number of references, including his own website which provides biographical background (see:www.josemariasison.org). Sison, born in 1939, has been a major leader in Philippine radical politics since the 1960s. He served as the founding chair of the revamped Communist Party of the Philippines in 1968 and helped in the creation of the New People’s Army the following year. He was captured by the government forces of then dictator Ferdinand Marcos at which time he was both imprisoned and tortured. He gained release in 1986 when Marcos was overthrown in the famous “People Power” uprising. He then attempted to assist in negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (the broad umbrella group coordinating the insurrection in which the CPP and NPA can be found) and the government of President Corazon Aquino, but these came to nothing as the government moved more to the Right and repression was imposed on opponents of the government. Sison found himself in exile when he was traveling and his passport was cancelled.
Though in exile, Sison was tapped to serve as the chief political consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. As a result he has been very much in touch with the unfolding of the struggle on that archipelago, a struggle that includes the armed insurrection led by the CPP/NPA, as well as a secessionist movement on the southern island of Mindanao among the largely Muslim Moro people (a movement supported by the NDFP).
Despite the length of the immediate insurrection, and the long-term struggle that the Philippine people have conducted to achieve genuine freedom from US domination—a struggle dating back to the Spanish-American War—the Philippines rarely receives much attention except when the US government discusses alleged Muslim terrorism on Mindanao. For that reason it is useful for US audiences to understand the point of view of the insurrectionists irrespective of whether one agrees with their objectives and/or means.
1. You have described the Philippines as semi-colonial/semi-feudal. Please explain what this means in practical terms. We are in the early years of the 21st century. How could there be a semi-feudal situation in the Philippines? The Philippines seems, for all intents and purposes, to be tied into global capitalism.
You can say bluntly that the Philippines is capitalist and has long been capitalist since the 19th century if you mean that the commodity system of production and exchange through money has come on top of the natural economy of feudalism when local communities could subsist on a diversified agriculture and engage mainly in barter. The specialization in crops for domestic food (rice and corn) and for export (tobacco, hemp and sugar) and the import of a certain amount of manufactures from Europe for consumption pushed the domestic commodity system of production as well as integration with global capitalism through colonialism as a part of the primitive accumulation of capital in Europe and subsequently under the banner of colonial free trade.
But it is utterly wrong to say that the Philippines is industrial capitalist or even semi-industrial capitalist. The Philippines does not have an industrial foundation. Its floating kind of industry consists of imported equipment paid for by the export of raw materials and by foreign loans necessitated by the chronic trade deficits. It is most precise to describe the Philippine economy as semi-feudal to denote the persistence of the large vestiges of feudalism in the form of disguised and undisguised landlord- tenant relations and usury at the base of the economy, the peasant class constituting 75 per cent of the population and the combination of the big compradors and landlords as the main exploiting classes. The big compradors are the chief financial and trading agents of the foreign monopolies and are often big landlords themselves, especially on land producing crops for export.
Global capitalism under the neoliberal policy of "free trade" globalization has not changed but has aggravated and deepened the pre-industrial and underdeveloped semi-feudal character of the Philippine economy. The share of manufacturing with the use of imported equipment and raw materials under the policy of low-value added export-oriented manufacturing in the last three decades has decreased in comparison to that share under the previous policy of import substitution. The illusion of industrial development has been conjured by excessive foreign borrowing for consumption of foreign manufactures, by conspicuous private construction projects and by the sweat shops that engage in the fringe-processing of imported manufactured components and yield little net export income.
Neither the series of bogus land reform programs since decades ago nor the neoliberal policy of imperialist globalization has broken up feudalism completely and given way to a well-founded industrialization. The backward agrarian and semi-feudal character of the Philippine economy is now increasingly exposed by its depression and ruination due to the decreasing demand for its type of exports, the closure of many sweatshops of semi-manufacturing for export, the tightening of international credit and the decrease of remittances by overseas contract workers in the current prolonged global economic and financial crisis in this 21st century of desperate, barbaric and imploding global capitalism. The conditions have become more fertile for people's war in the Philippines.
In the 1980s, certain elements in the Philippines pushed the notion that the Philippine economy was no longer semi-feudal but semi-capitalist or semi-industrial capitalist in order to glorify the Marcos fascist dictatorship as having industrialized the Philippines. This notion also aimed to undercut the Communist Party's strategic line of protracted people’s war involving the encirclement of the cities from the countryside by the armed revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants until such time that they have accumulated enough politico-military strength to seize the cities on a nationwide scale in a strategic offensive.
The bureaucratic big comprador Ferdinand Marcos conjured the illusion of industrial development by borrowing heavily from abroad and by importing consumption goods and luxuries and construction equipment and structural steel in order to build roads, bridges, hotels and other tourist facilities. The profligate spending of foreign loans only served to maintain the agrarian and pre-industrial character of the Philippine economy. Cognizant of the persistent semi-feudal reality, the New People's Army under CPP leadership has been able to wage people's war successfully with the main support of the peasantry and under the class leadership of the working class.
2. When one talks of the Philippine working class, what are the main sectors in which it is found and how is neo-liberalism affecting it?
The Philippine working class is found in such main sectors as the following: food and beverages, hotels and restaurants, public utilities (power generation, water and sewage system), mining and quarrying, metal fabrication (imported metals), car assembly, ship assembly, transportation, communications, mass media, assembly of electronic and electrical products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil refining, construction, construction materials (cement and wood), banks and other financial institutions and public sector services (education, health, etc.).
In the Philippines, the neoliberal policy has favored certain enterprises away from industrial development and has expanded employment in such enterprises during boom periods. The favored enterprises include those in mining and export-crop plantations, the assembly of electronic and electrical products, the semi-manufacturing of garments, shoes and other low-value added products for re-export, car assembly, construction of office and residential towers, cement production, hotels and restaurants, business call centers and financial services. They are vulnerable to the ups and downs characteristic of global capitalism under neoliberal policy and now to the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Closures and reduction of production have resulted in a high rate of unemployment and the further immiseration of the people.
Under the neoliberal policy, the working class has been subjected to wage freezes and reductions, loss of job security, flexibilization or casualization (reducing the number of regular employees and increasing the number of temporaries or casuals), systematic prevention or break up of workers' unions and ceaseless attack on union rights and other democratic rights. The kinds of enterprises generated by the neoliberal policy involve cheap labor and the most tiring and health-damaging processes and conditions. They also limit the number of regular employees and expand the ranks of the casuals subjected to a series of short-term employment contracts in order to circumvent the law on regular employment. The scarcity of employment opportunities in the Philippines has compelled nearly 10 per cent of the population to seek employment abroad as overseas contract workers and undocumented workers with practically no rights. This fact proves the lack of national industrial development.
3. Would you sum-up the situation in the Philippines, particularly the state of negotiations between the NDFP and the government; the situation facing workers and farmers; the overall economy; and fighting that may be taking place?
The Philippines is severely stricken by crisis because of the rotting semi-colonial and semi-feudal ruling system and the growing impact of the crisis of the US and global capitalist system. The prices of the raw materials and semi-manufactures produced for export by the Philippines are depressed and foreign loans to cover the trade deficits and debt service are becoming more onerous than before. There is now less demand for overseas contract workers and thus their remittances are decreasing. The global economic and financial crisis is hitting hard the Philippines. The growing public deficits (budgetary and trade) and the public debt are growing and exposing the bankruptcy of the big comprador-landlord state.
Various forms of popular resistance, including people's war, are ever growing because of the extreme and ever worsening conditions of exploitation and oppression of more than 90 per cent of the people, the toiling masses of workers and peasants. Like preceding regimes, the Aquino regime wants to destroy the armed revolutionary movement. It is implementing the US-designed Oplan Bayanihan, which is the same dog as Arroyo's Oplan Bantay Laya but which tries to be different by dressing up brutal military operations as peace and development operations and maintaining human rights desks in the reactionary army and national police for the purpose of shifting the blame for human rights violations to the revolutionaries. On the other hand, the New People's Army led by the Communist Party of the Party is carrying out a five-year plan to advance from the strategic defensive to strategic stalemate in the people's war, increasing the number of guerrilla fronts from 120 to 180.
While their respective armed forces continue to fight, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are supposed to engage in peace negotiations in order to address the roots of the armed conflict by forging agreements on social, economic and political reforms. But the GPH has paralyzed the peace negotiations by refusing to release a few political prisoners who are NDFP consultants in the negotiations and thus violating the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). The GPH is also grossly violating the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIL) by refusing to release more than 350 political prisoners who are imprisoned on false charges of common crimes.
4. What have been the chief obstacles to a negotiated settlement between the NDFP and the government?
The Manila government and NDFP have their respective constitutions, governments and armies. To lay the ground for peace negotiations, they issued The Hague Joint Declaration to define the framework for peace negotiations. They agreed to address the roots of the armed conflict or the civil war by negotiating and forging agreements on human rights and international humanitarian law and on social, economic and political reforms. They also agreed that they are guided by the mutually acceptable principles of national sovereignty, democracy and social justice and that no precondition shall be made by any side to negate the inherent character and purpose of peace negotiations, i.e. no side can demand the surrender of the other side.
Under the current Aquino regime, his presidential adviser and his negotiating panel want to undermine and nullify the aforesaid declaration by asserting that it is a document of perpetual division. They are practically demanding the immediate surrender of the revolutionary movement. They do not respect the agreement on the sequence, formation and operationalization of the reciprocal working committees that are to negotiate and work out the agreements on reforms. The question of what kind of authority will be formed to implement the comprehensive agreements on reforms shall be settled when the time comes for negotiating the political and constitutional reforms.
The Benigno Aquino III regime has shown no respect for and has in fact violated the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) by refusing to release some 14 political prisoners who are NDFP negotiating personnel and are therefore JASIG-protected. It has not called to account those military and police personnel who have abducted, tortured and murdered NDFP consultants who are JASIG-protected. Also, it has violated the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law by condoning violations of human rights of suspected revolutionaries and sympathizers by the Arroyo regime and by his own troops and by refusing to release 350 political prisoners who are unjustly imprisoned on trumped up charges of common crimes.
The regime keeps on demanding ceasefire in order to distract public attention from the agreement to address the roots of the civil war though basic reforms. The NDFP has offered truce and alliance on the basis of a general declaration on common intent on ten points, including the assertion of national independence, empowerment of the working people, land reform and national industrialization, immediate assistance and employment for the impoverished and unemployed, promotion of a patriotic, scientific and popular culture, self-determination of national minorities and independent foreign policy for peace and development.
The biggest obstacle to the peace negotiations is US political and military intervention. The US has upset the peace negotiations by unjustly designating the CPP, the NPA and the NDFP chief political consultant as terrorists. It has dictated upon the Aquino regime to draw up Oplan Bayanihan under the US Counterinsurgency Guide, which considers peace negotiations as a mere psy-war2device for outwitting, isolating and destroying the revolutionary movement. Oplan Bayanihan is a campaign plan of military suppression. But it masquerades as a peace and development plan. It regards peace negotiations only as a means to enhance the triad of psy-war, intelligence-gathering and combat operations. Many people think that the US does not allow the puppet regime to make the overall agreement for a just and lasting peace with the NDFP.
5. Are you optimistic that negotiations can result in a just settlement?
Frankly speaking, I am not optimistic that negotiations can result in a just settlement. Like its predecessors, the Aquino regime is too servile to US imperialism and stands as the current chief representative of the local exploiting classes, the comprador big bourgeoisie and landlord class. It has shown no inclination to assert national independence and undo unequal treaties, agreements and arrangements that keep the Philippines semi-colonial. It also has shown no inclination to realize democracy through significant representation of workers and peasants in government and through land reform and national industrialization.
It has become clear that the reactionary government is not seriously interested in peace negotiations as a way of addressing the roots of the armed conflict through agreements on basic reforms. Especially under the Aquino regime, the negotiators are always trying to lay aside the substantive agenda and to push the NDFP towards capitulation and pacification. Failing to accomplish their vile objective, they paralyze the peace negotiations by refusing to comply with obligations under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.
6. What has been the role of the USA? And, have US policies towards the Philippines changed under President Obama? If so, how? What is your overall assessment of the Obama administration?
The USA has not been helpful to the peace negotiations. In fact, it has obstructed these. The US designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and myself (the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ chief political consultant) as terrorists is meant to intimidate and put pressure on the NDFP in the peace negotiations. The US Counterinsurgency Guide actually tells the Philippine reactionary government that peace negotiations are dispensable but are useful only for purposes of psy-war to mislead the people, possibly split the revolutionary forces and make the reactionary killing machine more efficient. But the US policy against peace negotiations with the NDFP has served to make the revolutionary force and people more vigilant and more resolute in opposing US intervention in the internal affairs of the Philippines.
From the Bush II to the Obama regime, there has been no change in US policy towards the Philippines. Obama continues the policy of serving the interests of the US imperialists in the economic, political, military and cultural fields, collaborating with the big compradors and landlords, manipulating the puppet regime and its military forces, preventing land reform and national industrialization, controlling the fundamentals and direction of the Philippine cultural and educational system and stationing US troops in the Philippines and maintaining a permanent relay of US military forces under the US-RP3Mutual Defense Pact and the Visiting Forces Agreement. Obama is a good servant of US imperialism. He used his glibness to make himself look better than the brazenly brutal Bush. But he is using the same glibness to cover many acts as bad as or even worse than those that made Bush infamous.
7. How did the CPP and NPA end up on a list of terrorist organizations? How did you end up on a list of supporters of terrorism? What steps are being taken to remove this label from you, the CPP and the NPA?
During the November 2001 visit of then Philippine president Gloria M. Arroyo to Washington, she requested then US President Bush to have the US agencies (State Department and the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the Treasury Department) designate the CPP, NPA and myself as "terrorists". When US state secretary Colin Powell visited the Philippines in the early days of August 2002, he was reminded of the request and he assured Arroyo that he would act on It immediately upon his return to the US. Indeed, within August 2002 the CPP, NPA and I were designated as "terrorists."
The Philippine and U.S. governments connived to take advantage of the terrorism scare that followed 9-11. They themselves engaged in terrorism by deciding to undertake harmful actions against the CPP, NPA and myself. The designation of the CPP and NPA as "terrorist" is absolutely absurd because they [the NPA—interviewer] have carried out revolutionary actions strictly within the Philippines, have not engaged in any cross-border attacks against the US and up to now have not been discovered to keep bank accounts in the US or anywhere else outside of the Philippines.
In my case, I have been falsely accused of being the current CPP chairman and being responsible for the alleged terrorist acts, in fact the revolutionary actions, of the NPA despite the fact that I have been out of the Philippines since 1986 when I was released from nearly a decade of detention under the Marcos fascist dictatorship. The malicious intention of the US and Philippine governments is to pressure the entire NDFP negotiating panel and me as its chief political consultant. Like the Arroyo regime, the Aquino regime uses the terrorist designation as a kind of lever against the NDFP in the peace negotiations.
It is impossible for the CPP, NPA or myself to begin any legal process for undoing the terrorist designation in the US or in any other country tailing after the US in the so-called war on terror, without proving first the legal personality and material interest of the plaintiff. In my case, I could take legal action against the Dutch government for putting me in the terrorist list because I live in The Netherlands. After my administrative complaint, the Dutch government repealed its decision to put me in its terrorist list but took the initiative in having me put in the terrorist list of the European Union in October 2002. I went to the European Court of Justice and I succeeded in having my name removed from the EU terrorist list in December 2010 after eight years of legal struggle.
8. Do you think that the US media has consciously mischaracterized the situation in the Philippines by focusing on groups like Abu Sayyaf4?
Yes, the US media drum up US policy and corporate interests and consciously misrepresent the Philippine situation, as in the focusing on the Abu Sayyaf. This small bandit gang, whose origin can be traced to the CIA and intelligence operatives of the Philippine army who organized and used it against the Moro revolutionaries (MNLF and then MILF),is magnified as an extension of Al Qaeda in order to serve the false claim of [President] Bush that the Philippines is the second front of a global war on terror as well as to rationalize state terrorism and US military intervention in the Philippines.
Through the mass media, the US has spread the scare about terrorism in order to justify a whole range of actions: the curtailment of democratic rights in the US and on a global scale, the stepping up of war production to please the military-industrial complex and the unleashing of wars of aggression
9. Has the "terrorism" designation made it difficult for NDFP supporters in the Philippines and in other parts of the world? If so, how? Have civilian political activists faced increased government-inspired violence as a result of this terrorism designation?
The "terrorism" designation is an incitation to hatred and violence and various forms of discrimination and harassment against known or suspected NDFP supporters in the Philippines and other parts of the world. Although the NDFP is not designated as terrorist, everyone knows that the CPP and NPA are the most important components of the NDFP. In the Philippines, the incitation to hatred and violence is quite deadly because the military, police and their death squads are emboldened to go on terrorist-hunting and are assured that they can abduct, torture and kill people with impunity…
The Dutch authorities have advised the Norwegian government not to give any assistance to the NDFP negotiating panel for maintaining office and staff in The Netherlands on the claim that such assistance would be for building the infrastructure of "terrorists". They have also raided the NDFP office and houses of NDFP panelists and consultants and seized documents and equipment needed in the peace negotiations.
10. Periodically the US media discuss alleged Muslim fundamentalist terrorism in the Philippines. What is the situation? In Mindanao there have been efforts at autonomy and self-determination. What has been the stand of the NDFP on these efforts? What is your take on allegations of Muslim terrorism?
The NDFP supports the Moro people's struggle for self-determination, including the right to secede from an oppressive state or opt for regional autonomy in a non-oppressive political system. The Moro people have long been oppressed by the Manila government and by local reactionary agents. They are not free in their own homeland and are victims of Christian chauvinism and discrimination. They have been deprived of their ancestral domain. They have been robbed of agricultural land as well as forest, mineral and marine resources.
The Moro people have all the right to fight for national and social liberation. The NDFP has therefore found common ground for alliance with the Moro National Liberation Front(MNLF) and subsequently with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the MNLF capitulated to the Ramos regime in 1996. By fighting well against their common enemy, the NDFP and the MILF gain better conditions for growing in strength and advancing in their respective struggles.
The US government and the US media exaggerate the threat of Muslim fundamentalist terrorism because they wish to promote the entry of US corporations for the purpose of plundering the rich natural resources of Mindanao, especially oil, gold and deuterium. They also wish to justify the current stationing of US military forces and eventually the basing of larger US military forces for the purpose of strategic control over Islamic countries in Southeast Asia and strategic countervailing of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea] in Northeast Asia.
Like Al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf was originally a creature of CIA and the intelligence agency of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to counteract the MNLF. It has become a bandit gang since the capitulation of MNLF. It has also been convenient for the US and Manila government to depict the Abu Sayyaf as a Muslim fundamentalist group and as an extension of the Al Qaeda, since 2001 when Bush declared Moro land as the second front in the so-called global war on terror. There are indications that the US and Philippine governments continue to arm and finance the Abu Sayyaf in order to block the advance of the MILF in Sulu and to provide the pretext for US military intervention in the Philippines.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time racial justice, labor and international writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com, and a Visiting Scholar with the City University of New York Graduate Center. For a lengthy biography of Jose Maria Sison, one source can be found in a biographical sketch at: http://www.josemariasison.org/?p=2560.