Prof. Jose Maria Sison at 80: I am at Home in the World

February 8, 2019

Joma, who turns 80 today, on prospects of his return to his homeland, the Philippines.

(First of a Series)

Prof. Jose Maria Sison left the Philippines on August 31, 1986, soon after his release from detention in the same year.

He set off for a world speaking tour right after the founding of Partido ng Bayan. He went to Australia first, then the New Zealand as part of his tour’s Asia-Pacific leg. Speaking engagements were already arranged in different universities in Asia, Europe and the US.

He has not returned to the Philippines since.

“I could not return even if I wanted to,” said Prof. Jose Ma. Sison.

He and his wife Juliet De Lima Sison were already in Japan when they heard about the murder of Filipino lawyer and labor leader Rolando “Ka Lando” Olalia and his driver Leonor Alay-ay in November 1986.

“I wanted to return to the Philippines, soon after Ka Lando was killed. It was Julie who went back to the Philippines to seek news and ask whether I could come home.”

Prof. Sison was hoping that he could return to the country, thinking the military must be ‘busog’ after killing Lando.

“But comrades said, ‘No, they are after you in the first place.’ Julie came back with the advice that I should not return, and instead just complete my tour,” narrated Prof. Sison.

They proceeded to Europe after the Asia-Pacific tour. In September 1988, the Philippine government upon the prompt of military officials cancelled Prof. Sison’s passport. This forced him to apply for political asylum in The Netherlands the following month.

Prof. Sison with the author.

Breaking News in the Philippines

While Prof. Sison is now thousands of miles away from the Philippines, he does not miss out on important developments in the country. How he keeps track of all the burning issues such as the elections, corruption, Chinese intervention in Philippine waters, trade deals with China, human rights violations under the Duterte regime, even Duterte’s medical condition, to name just a few, is just astounding.

He pays attention to economic, social, political issues in the Philippines, the relations of exploiting and exploited classes, how the Philippine struggle is being carried out, and how the US imperialist power remains dominant and influential in the direction of Philippine economy and politics.

“I have an outline knowledge of the Philippines, but that outline changes from one situation to another. I keep on filling up this outline with information from personal contact with visitors. When comrades, allies or simply friends from the Philippines come to visit, I always try to squeeze as much as I can get,” Prof. Sison explains.

Sometimes, some of us in the Philippines even hear news from Prof. Sison first. He is quite amused himself that he gets news ahead of us.

“I also get news through the internet. I get ahead of all the Filipinos of what has been printed for the consumption of the public. I get the news ahead because the newspapers are prepared before the Filipinos at home wake up,” Prof. Sison said with light laughs in between.

Prof. Sison who came from big universities in the Philippines as a student and an instructor, however, still reminds us that learning is not and should not be confined in the halls of academe.

“You may have all the high learning from the University, but you still have to learn first hand from the peasants, if you want to do work for the peasants, you must learn from them, and not just impose what you learn from the academe,” Prof. Sison said

Sometimes the Heart Yearns for Mangoes

When asked whether he misses the Philippines, Prof. Sison instantly replied, “Of course, I miss the Philippines: comrades, friends and relatives, and the masses in the course of revolutionary activity.”

Prof. Sison said he uses the metaphor mangoes for his homeland and what he misses most about it. He wants to come home to the Philippines, but whether he has plans to or when will this happen, is another question.

“I desire that the revolutionary movement would advance to such an extent that my return would become possible. Even if the prospect is there with regard to the peace negotiations, that’s still dependent on how far the revolutionary movement strengthens itself that it can make agreements that would make safe my return to the Philippines,” Prof. Sison explains.

He does not regret not being able to return for now.

“The enemy, it seems — as it turns out even from someone like Duterte who pretends to be very open or very desirous for my return — they have their own plans of capturing the peace negotiations by possibly putting myself into their hands, and I would not allow myself to be put into a situation completely under the control of the enemy,” he said.

Even if Prof. Sison misses the Philippines, his family and friends, comrades and the masses in the struggle, even if sometimes his heart yearns for mangoes, he is comforted by the fact that the revolutionary movement grows stronger by the day.

“I am like the farm worker or the migrant worker who seems to be immune to homesickness because he needs to leave his village and find a living elsewhere,” he added.

Prof. Jose Maria Sison’s dedication to the revolutionary cause and engagements in struggles at all fronts since his youth, in the Philippines and internationally, turned him into the great man that he is.

“I am not just a patriot. I am also an internationalist. I am engaged not only with the revolutionary movement in the Philippines but with the international working class movement. I am at home in the world,” he said.