Jose María Sisón, father of the Filipino revolution

Tribute to a long life lived in the service of the liberation of humanity.

During the long years of his exile, Comrade Joma’s office in the Netherlands was a meeting place for anti-revisionists from all over the world. Despite his huge stature in the Filipino revolution, Comrade Joma was well-known for his modesty and openness in discussing political differences, his willingness to listen, his unshakable belief in the cause of socialism, and his great devotion to the service of humanity.

The veteran Filipino revolutionary anti-imperialist fighter, Comrade Jose María Sisón, passed away on 16 December 2022. Our party sends its condolences to his family, comrades and friends.

Comrade Joma’s life and his work are best summed up in his own words, uttered during an interview he gave in January 2021 to Comrade Steve Sweeney. On being asked to explain about his background, how he became politically active, and his subsequent life, he answered:

“While I was a graduate student and instructor in English language and literature at the University of the Philippines in 1959, I opposed the McCarthyite witch-hunt being conducted by reactionary members of Congress.

“Faculty members and students were accused of violating the anti-subversion law because they published supposedly pro-communist articles. These were actually critical of US imperialist domination and the ruling system of big compradors, landlords and bureaucrat capitalists in the Philippines.

“I felt challenged to defy the witch-hunt and thus I took the initiative of forming the Student Cultural Association of the UP (SCAUP). Its general line was to defend academic freedom and the separation of church and state against the combined threats of anticommunism and religious bigotry, and to promote the study of and struggle for the national and social liberation of the Filipino people against the semi-colonial and semi-feudal conditions in the Philippines.

“At the same time, we studied Marxism-Leninism discreetly for guidance in the current struggle in the direction of socialism.

“The SCAUP was historically significant for being able to organise a demonstration of 5,000 students, which walked into Congress and literally scuttled the anticommunist hearings of the Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities on 15 March 1961.

“After this event, I was among the student activists who proceeded to promote the line of anti-imperialism and democracy in national student organisations. I was able to go to Indonesia on a scholarship grant to study the Indonesian language and the mass movement led by the Communist Party of Indonesia in the first half of 1962.

“After I returned to Manila in the second half of 1962, I joined the research and education staff of the Workers Party (Lapiang Manggagawa). I organised the seminars and edited publications for major labour federations, as well as for the national peasant association, MASAKA. I became the vice-chairman for education of the Workers Party from 1964 onward. I edited the Progressive Review newspaper from 1963 to 1967.

“I was one of the founders and became the chairman of the Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth), a comprehensive youth organisation of students, workers, peasants and professionals, from 1964 onward. I was a professorial lecturer in political science at the Lyceum of the Philippines from 1964 to early 1968. It was during this period that Rodrigo Duterte became one of my students.

“It was in December 1962 when I was invited to join the old Communist Party of the Philippines, and became in 1963 a member of the executive committee directly under then-general secretary Jesus Lava. The old CPP had a few active members and no branches. Thus, we built the branches among the workers, peasants and youth through ideological, political and organisational work.

“Ideological and political differences arose in 1966 over the history, the circumstances, and the direction of the old party, as well as over the Sino-Soviet ideological debate. The majority of party cadres and members joined me in the reestablishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines on 26 December 1968 and in the founding of the New People’s Army on 29 March 1969.

“We adopted and carried out the general line of people’s democratic revolution under the leadership of the proletariat and with a socialist perspective, and waged the people’s war in accordance with the strategic line of encircling the cities from the countryside. The people’s war grew in strength and advanced as the regime of Ferdinand Marcos increasingly used brutal methods of suppression from 1969 onward, imposing fascist dictatorship on the people from 1972 to 1986.

“I was captured by the military minions of the Marcos fascist regime on 10 November 1977. I was subjected to physical and mental torture and I was in solitary confinement for more than five years out of nine years of imprisonment.

“The fascist dictatorship unwittingly drove the people to wage both armed and legal forms of resistance. I was released from prison on 5 March 1986, some ten days after the downfall of Marcos. All the charges against me for subversion and rebellion were nullified.”

After his release from jail, Comrade Sisón, affectionately known as Joma, went to the Netherlands, but his struggles were by no means over. After the Corazon Aquino government cancelled his passport, Joma was obliged to apply for political asylum.

In 2002, at the request of then-Philippine president Gloria Arroyo, the US government designated the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and Joma as foreign terrorists. The Dutch authorities followed the USA in declaring him, the CPP and the NPA to be terrorists. It took Joma seven years of struggle to have his name removed from the terrorist list through a decision of the European Court of Justice in 2008. 

During his long stay in the Netherlands he continued his political activities, serving as chief political consultant to the National Democratic Front in peace negotiations with the Manila government, which were finally cancelled by the government of Rodrigo Duterte.

Joma was a theoretician who wrote several books, among them Philippine Society and Revolution, which he wrote under the pseudonym Amado Guerrero. He emphasised that the Philippines are ruled by the comprador big bourgeoisie, in alliance with corporate and traditional landlords. This class supported the Marcos dictatorship and since then has given its backing to every dictatorial administration.

Characterising Philippine society as semi-colonial and semi-feudal, the Communist Party of the Philippines, under his guidance and inspiration, waged guerrilla warfare for the establishment of a people’s democratic revolution as a prelude to socialism.

Over the years, great progress has been made by the CPP’s fighting forces. Starting with only nine automatic rifles, inferior firearms, and an organised mass base of just 80,000, the armed strength of the NPA has reached 10,000 soldiers, supplemented by tens of thousands in the people’s militia, and hundreds of thousands in the revolutionary mass organisations.

The CPP has successfully integrated armed struggle with the agrarian revolution and built a mass base, following the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare according to the teachings of Mao Zedong. It has carried out a land reform programme on a wide scale, confiscating the land of the big landlords and distributing it among landless peasants.

The CPP’s guerrilla fronts cover large portions of 73 of the 81 provinces of the Philippines. In addition, mass organisations of peasants, farm workers, women, youth, and cultural squads have been successfully built in these areas.

It is greatly to the credit of the CPP and Comrade Joma that these successes have been accomplished.

Some of our comrades who had the privilege of meeting him in his offices in Utrecht, which had become a centre for the gathering of anti-imperialists from all over the world, were impressed by the calm manner in which he discussed important differences that we have had with him.

Comrade Joma was a thoroughgoing revolutionary, who never lost his ardent faith in the future of the Philippines revolution, the future of the anti-imperialist national-liberation movements, and the worldwide revolutionary movement for socialism.

Joma was a dedicated Marxist-Leninist who fought against Khrushchevite revisionism and did not allow the counter-revolutions in eastern Europe and the USSR to dampen his revolutionary enthusiasm and his belief in the bright future of humanity under socialism.

He shall be remembered for his lifelong services to the Philippines revolution, to the worldwide national-liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples against imperialism, and the proletarian revolutionary movements everywhere to rid humanity from the blood-drenched clutches of the capitalist system of production and imperialist domination.

Farewell Comrade Joma! We bow our head to you for your services to the cause of liberation of humanity!
You will be greatly missed by the revolutionary proletariat and the vast masses of the Philippines and elsewhere.