MANILA, Philippines – Following the death of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison, the Department of National Defense (DND) said his demise removed the “greatest stumbling block [to] peace” in the country.
“A new era without Jose Maria Sison dawns for the Philippines, and we will all be the better for it. The greatest stumbling block [to] peace for the Philippines is gone; let us now give peace a chance,” the defense department said on Saturday, December 17.
Sison, 83, died on Friday night, December 16, but his death was only announced by the CPP on Saturday. He died exactly 10 days before the 54th founding anniversary of the communist group.
The DND added that Sison’s death is a “symbol of the crumbling hierarchy” of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), adding that his demise caused the Filipinos to be deprived of justice for the so-called crimes of the communist rebels.
The DND oversees the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which serves as the government’s main force in fighting rebellion.
“His death deprived the Filipino people of the opportunity to bring this fugitive to justice under our country’s laws. Sison was responsible for the deaths of thousands of our countrymen. Innocent civilians, soldiers, police, child and youth combatants died because of his bidding,” the agency said.
Vice President Sara Duterte, the country’s second highest public official, released a short statement, following Sison’s death: “May God have mercy on his soul.”
The vice president’s father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, held peace talks with rebels, which ended only a year into his presidency. In canceling the peace talks, Duterte claimed the communists “failed to show its sincerity and commitment in pursuing genuine and meaningful peace negotiations as it engaged in acts of violence and hostilities.”
After failing to solve the decades-long problem with insurgency and botching the talks, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70, which sought a whole-of-nation approach against insurgency. But the order only worsened the red-tagging and crackdown on progressive individuals. (READ: Bloody Sunday: 9 dead, 6 arrested in Calabarzon crackdown on activists)
Former president Duterte said that despite his disagreements with Sison, he and the CPP founding chairperson “shared the same dream” of aspiring for a better future for Filipinos.
“While Mr. Sison and I have had many disagreements – especially in the ways in which he chose to pursue and effect change in the country – I would like to believe that, at the end of the day, we shared the same dream of creating a better future for every Filipino,” Duterte said in a Facebook post.
Duterte added that Sison’s death “marks the end of an era.”
“His death certainly marks the end of an era, and it is my hope that, with it, the end of insurgencies in the Philippines and the revolutionary movement that he has founded as well. As we move on from his passing, let us carry on the work of building a more harmonious and more united country for the present and future generations,” he added.
In a message to reporters, AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar said that with Sison’s death, the CPP will “hopefully” make reforms “away from armed struggle.”
“It’s an opportunity for his successor, if there will be, to chart a new direction in promoting reforms. Hopefully, away from armed struggle,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar said Sison’s death will also weaken the underground movement: “The loss of a ‘teacher’ and ‘guiding light’ leaves the organization with no purpose and clear direction. But the organization needs to have a good teacher and guiding light who will lead its members away from violence and destruction.”
Sison was among the political prisoners released by late former president Corazon Aquino shortly after the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986. While in Netherlands, his passport was canceled by the Aquino government after his relentless attack against the then-president.
Before he became a political refugee, he founded the Maoist CPP in 1969. Under the 1957 anti-subversion law, the CPP and any affiliation to it was illegal, but late former president Fidel V. Ramos repealed the law during his time as part of the peace talks with the NDF.
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said Sison left two legacies: the exposition of society’s problems and a movement that will address them.
“What would be Prof. Joma Sison’s legacy? First is the profound understanding and exposition of the problems of [Philippine society]. Second is establishing a movement that would address those social issues. It was never enough to interpret the world. The point, always, was to change it,” Reyes shared in a tweet.
The progressive Makabayan bloc in a statement condoled with Sison’s family. The group, consisting of progressive party lists in Congress, called Sison a “patriot,” who stood with the Filipino people.
“Professor Sison was a patriot and revolutionary who stood with the Filipino people against oppression, exploitation, and fascism during the Marcos dictatorship, was jailed and tortured as a dissident but continued to side with the poor and marginalized until his death.”
The Makabayan bloc also called for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF.
“We take this opportunity to once again renew the call for the resumption of peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF and the implementation of genuine socioeconomic and political reforms so that the Philippines may attain a just and lasting peace,” the group said.
Former senatorial candidate and Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino president Luke Espiritu also reacted to Sison’s death: “Not farewell. Salute. And oh, I piss on all red-taggers.” – Rappler.com