José María Canlás Sison (1939) is a Philippine poet and writer, founder, leader and leading theoretician of the Communist Party of the Philippines of the ideas of Mao and the New People’s Army.
In 1962, young Jose Maria Sison served as executive secretary of the Philippines-Indonesia Society. While in this post, he visited Indonesia, where he got acquainted with the activities of the local Maoist Communist Party of Indonesia. In 1966, Jose Maria Sison traveled to Beijing, where he was finally inspired by the ideas of Maoism and, returning to his homeland, set about creating the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines. In 1967, a group of pro-Maoist activists was expelled from the Communist Party. They began to create an alternative party.
The official history of the CPP (Maoist) is counted from 1968 and is connected precisely with the political activities of Jose Maria Sison. In 1969, at the initiative of Sison, the New People’s Army of the Philippines was created as the armed wing of the Maoist Communist Party. Jose Maria Sison himself was forced to leave the country and settle in the Netherlands, which has not prevented from speaking on current events and issues in the Philippines as Chief Political Consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as well as on global events and issues as Chairman Emeritus of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle.
He has written dozens of books, the most famous of which are:
“US Terrorism and War in the Philippines”
“The Philippine Revolution”
“Philippine Economy and Politics”
“Prison and Beyond: Selected Poems, 1958-1983”
“For Democracy and Socialism Against Imperialist Globalization”
“For Justice, Socialism and Peace”
“Struggle for National Democracy”
“Specific Characteristics Of Our People’s War”
“The Guerrilla Is Like a Poet”
“Reflections on Revolution and Prospects”
“Strengthen the People’s Struggle against Imperialism and Reaction”
“People’s Resistance to Greed and Terror”
“Combat Tyranny and Fascism”
GS: At the outset, dear Comrade Joma, to thank you for accepting this interview for my website, and to ask you immediately, do you see an end to this state terror by President Duterte?
JMS: You are always welcome. Of course, there will be an end to the state terror unleashed by Duterte, like everything else that is malignant and offensive to the people. Nothing is permanent but change. Duterte is a bumbling kind of mimic to the Marcos fascist dictatorship which lasted for 14 years (from 1972 to 1986) and was overthrown by the Filipino people.
The broad masses of the people are outraged by the grave crimes of Duterte and are calling for his ouster. The legal democratic forces of the people are rising up against the law recently signed by Duterte to enable himself and his civilian-military junta to engage in unlimited state terrorism against social activists, critics and the legal opposition. The armed revolutionary movement of the people is also rapidly growing. The Duterte regime is goading the people to engage in all kinds of resistance.
Thus, the downfall of Duterte is foreseeable even as he seeks to rule beyond 2022 as a fascist dictator or at least choose a successor who can protect him from charges of human rights violations and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court as well as from the people’s court of the revolutionary movement. According to his own bootlickers, he is prepared to flee to China.
GS: Duterte next to Bolsonaro is today considered one of the most authoritarian statesmen in the world, and his actions increasingly resemble those of the fascists from before World War II. Proof of this is the recent closure of the ABS – CBN TV station, which took place on May 5th this year. How do you view these actions of Duterte’s regime?
JMS: I agree with you that Duterte like Bolsonaro is authoritarian or tyrannical and resembles the fascists before World War II like Mussolini, Hitler and Tojo as well as the fascist puppet leaders put up by the US in South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, especially during the Cold War. They are all brutal anti-democratic agents of the big bourgeoisie, who spout demagogic slogans to mislead the people and bring great harm to them.
The biggest crimes that have been committed by the Duterte regime are those against the masses of workers, peasants and indigenous people, the middle social strata and the various social sectors.
In the process, the regime has gained notoriety for being tyrannical, treasonous, genocidal and extremely corrupt. The closure of ABS-CBN TV station is to silence the reporting of facts about the Philippines, disemploy thousands of employees and broadcast talents and force the owners of the station to sell their station to Dennis Uy, a business crony of Duterte who collects bribes for him and launders his ill-gotten wealth.
GS: Another important thing that Duterte carries out is the complete control of the judicial system of the state, so that out of 15 members of the High Court, as many as 11 judges are under his control. Can this trend of judicial control be stopped at all?
JMS: If Duterte is ousted from power, there is a chance for ending his complete control over the judiciary. You are correct that as many 11 justices of the Supreme Court are under Duterte’s control. His control is not just the result of appointing them to their positions. He and they collaborate in getting bribes from the favored party in big money cases. Their most scandalous kind of collaboration involves the release of convicted big plunderers and dismissal of the plunder cases against them. The big plunderers include members of previous presidential families like the Marcoses, Estradas and Arroyos who supported the presidential campaign of Duterte in 2016.
So long as Duterte is president, corruption will thrive in the Supreme Court and the lower courts. The cases are being rigged in the lower courts in favor of the Duterte loyalists and partisan to save them from longer processes in higher courts. Duterte retains the loyalty of his bureaucratic and military subalterns at various levels by emboldening them to commit various types of lucrative crimes, from taking part in the illegal drug trade to stealing from the public treasury, and by assuring them of his protection.
GS: Duterte also, for many years controls every aspect of public administration and there is no verification and balance in its power. Where does such complete control of state institutions lead unlimited power in relation of the legislative, executive and judicial power in the country?
JMS: Aside from controlling the judiciary by appointing judges loyal to him and corrupting them, he has gained control over the Senate and Lower House of Congress by rigging the 2019 mid-term elections. The officials of the Commission on Elections are his appointees and rabid loyalists. The Philippine TIM corporation as partner of the foreign computer firm Smartmatic is now owned by a Duterte crony. The electronic transmission of the election results for both houses of Congress were rigged by reconfiguring them during a seven-hour glitch.
Thus, the entire Congress, which is servile to Duterte, has railroaded his state terror bill, which he has just signed into law. This fascist law nullifies the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution, Amendments are also ready to change the 1987 Constitution supposedly for shifting the system of government to federalism but in fact to a highly centralized fascist dictatorship. By way of pleasing the US and other foreign investors, a major constitutional amendment is set to allow foreign corporations unlimited ownership of Philippine land, natural resources, public utilities and all kinds of businesses.
GS: Since Duterte launched the “war on drugs”, more than 29,000 people have been killed, of whom as many as 23,000 victims have been classified as “investigative homicides”, while official figures say there are only 3,257 victims. Does this war have a different background, and what is the involvement of the Chinese Triads in it?
JMS: As a result of Duterte’s bogus war on illegal drugs, he has become the supreme lord of all the drug lords smuggling and distributing illegal drugs all over the Philippines. His own son and his son-in-law are his chief operatives in dealing with the Davao-based Chinese agents of the Chinese criminal triads, which are masterminding the drug and casino operations in the Philippines. There is now a monopoly of the illegal drug trade by the Duterte crime family.
Just to convince the people that he is serious about combatting the illegal drug trade, Duterte has ordered his police agents and death squads to murder already more than 30,000 poor people suspected of being drug users and street level pushers. He ordered the killing of only a few local officials in control of smuggling points and their own independent drug kingdoms. Thus, the Duterte crime family has gained a monopoly over the drug smuggling and distribution. The Philippines is now more than ever flooded by illegal drugs from the Chinese criminal triads.
GS: Death squads in the city of Davao, where Duterte was mayor before coming to the presidency, increasingly reveal a picture similar to that Colombian Medellín during the ’80s and ’90s, or Mexico’s Sinaloa during the 2000s. Is there any indication that this terror will end in the near future?
JMS: The drug monopoly of Duterte in Davao City, involving drug laboratories, smuggling and distribution in Mindanao, while he was long-time mayor, has spread nationwide since he became president. The same military and police officers whom he ordered to kill street-level drug users and peddlers just to conjure the illusion of being tough on illegal drugs and cover up his interest in the illegal drug trade are the same officers he has put into high positions in order to kill tens of thousands of poor people and realize the nationwide Duterte monopoly of illegal drugs. The terror arising from the criminal regime of Duterte can end only if he is ousted from power.
GS: Duterte asked Congress to pass a bill to introduce compulsory military training in schools the so-called ROTC programme. Is this his attempt to completely militarised Philippine society that would later allow him to introduce martial law as Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972?
JMS: Yes, you are correct. The bill pushed by Duterte and his military adjutants to introduce compulsory military training in schools the so-called ROTC programme is a major part of his scheme to completely militarize Philippine society and is intended to help pave the way for him to impose martial law on the Philippines as Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972.
GS: What has been talked about a lot in the Philippine public is the enactment of the so-called Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB), which is actually a bill to carry out of state terrorism against the people as in the Marcos era. How different is this law from the already established martial law, and how much does such a law allow imperialist powers to conduct witchhunts, in the case of the Americans, whose US Department of State in 2008 ranked the CPP and NPA in a group of 44 terrorist organisations in the world, dangerous to their security?
JMS: The so-called Anti-Terrorism Bill, which Duterte has already signed into law last July 3 , is in fact a law of unlimited state terrorism. It nullifies the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution and all other provisions pertinent to human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is far worse than the martial law proclamation of Marcos in 1972, which was based on the so-called commander-in-chief provision in the Constitution and left the Bill of Rights intact but circumvented anyway.
The unconstitutional and anti-democratic character of the Duterte state terrorism is so flagrant that all respected personages, institutions and organizations have joined up with the forces of the Left in opposing this fascist law. Duterte intends to use this law to engage in witchhunts, mass arrests and mass killing and to confiscate the properties of those labelled as communists and terrorists, including the social activists, critics and even the rivals of the Duterte faction among the oligarchs.
In November 2017, Duterte promised to Trump that he would terminate the peace negotiations with the National democratic Front of the Philippines, escalate his all-out war against the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army and do everything to wipe them out and to make a constitutional amendment to allow US corporations unlimited ownership of Philippine land, natural resources, public utilities and all kinds of businesses. Thus, US imperialism has given to Duterte the license to engage in state terrorism and impose a fascist dictatorship on the Filipino people.
GS: Duterte’s fascist rhetoric, which transcends the boundaries of far-right populism, is often prone to calls such as that the military and the police units must learn the “art of assassination” in order to fight NPA units effectively, called them “sparrows”. To what extent does this kind of rhetoric allow Duterte’s populism to stay in power today?
JMS: The methods of mass murder and destruction of evidence used in Oplan Tokhang in order to kill with impunity more than 30,000 poor people, suspected of being drug users and peddlers, are increasingly being used in military and police campaigns against individuals and organizations that are anti-imperialist and democratic in character but are being labelled as communists and terrorists. Duterte’s new law of state terrorism enables his military and police death squads to engage in abductions, torture, assassinations and seizure of properties without any legal restraint and with far more impunity than ever before.
Before and after this new law, Duterte has publicly called on his military and police to master the art of assassination and has emboldened them to commit murders and plant false evidence. He misrepresents the NPA in order to push his own armed minions to abuse their authority and to commit murders. So-called sparrow operations of the NPA are legitimate combat operations against armed units or elements of its enemy or are acts of self-defense against armed resistance of suspects who are subject to arrest upon the warrant of the people’s court of the revolutionary movement.
GS: Who do you see as Duterte’s successor, and is it at all realistic to think about this topic at the moment, while foreign imperialists and the domestic bourgeoisie support him?
JMS: There are anti-Duterte groups of officers and enlisted personnel within the reactionary military and police forces who are now planning to withdraw support from Duterte for committing treason by selling out Philippine sovereign and maritime rights to China in the West Philippine Sea and by allowing China to control the national power grid and China Telecom to put up cell towers in Philippine military, for criminalizing and corrupting the military and police through the system of rewards in the murder of suspects and in the faking of surrenders and projects and for plundering the public treasury. The corruption of the Duterte regime has been widely exposed during the COVID-19 lockdowns for misappropriating hundreds of billions of pesos of public funds, while depriving the people of livelihood, food assistance and economic relief .
As in the 1986 overthrow of Marcos, these military and police officers are mainly pro-US but describe themselves as democratic-minded and wish to invoke the constitutional provision for withdrawing support from a president who has become physically and mentally incompetent. They also invoke the provision for constitutional succession by the vice president. The withdrawal of support can be coordinated with the gigantic mass actions of the people, as in the overthrow of Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001. The NDFP does not oppose the plan of the aforesaid officers to oust Duterte. The ouster of Duterte can be a relief for the people.
The revolutionary forces of the people in the countryside, including the CPP, NPA, the mass organizations and the local organs of political power which constitute the people’s democratic government are rapidly expanding and gaining strength. But they need to grow further before they can launch the strategic offensive to seize political power in Manila and other cities. They need to accumulate enough political and armed strength to be sure of overthrowing the ruling system. In the meantime, they are sure of winning in the countryside by expanding the scope of the people’s democratic government in more than 110 guerrilla fronts, thousands of villages, hundreds of municipalities and 74 of 81 Philippine provinces.
GS: China, in the fight for complete domination in the South East Region of Asia, has more and more territorial aspirations towards some countries, such as Vietnam and Philippines. To what extent are such undisguised aspirations passed on by China’s aggressive economic policy, which is the result of the technocratic power of existing state capitalism, dangerous to the sovereignty of the Philippine state today, and can it successfully defend itself against such attacks?
JMS: China claims more than 90 percent of the South China Sea as its sovereign property in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 judgment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of he Philippines against China. China is committing acts of aggression against the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia by taking over islands and other maritime features in their exclusive economic zones and extended continental shelves. The so-called historic claim of China over the South China Sea is as absurd and spurious as India claiming the entire Indian Ocean just because of the name of the ocean or Italy invoking the Roman empire to claim the entire Mediterranean Sea.
Particularly in the West Philippine Sea, China has built and militarized several artificial islands in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal. These are rich in marine resources worth at least USD 1.5 trillion as well in gas and oil resources worth at least USD 26 trillion. As an imperialist or monopoly capitalist power, China covet these natural resources and is engaged in acts of aggression in order to acquire them. In the process, they are prohibiting the Filipino people from availing of these resources that belong to them. And the big traitor Duterte allows China to violate the sovereign rights of the Filipino people and damage the marine environment.
GS: Today reformist European left has completely abandoned Marx’s thought and taken a liberal form from which the revolutionary idea has been excluded. That is why more and more space is being opened for counter-revolutionary and subversive elements such as Trotskyism, which work exclusively in the interests of imperialism. How are we going to suppress such degenerative phenomena like a Trotskyites IMT in the ranks of the modern left, which is slowly becoming saloon, excluded from historical reality?
JMS: The crisis of the the world capitalist system keeps on worsening. Before the imperialist powers can fix the crisis that resulted in the so-called Great Recession from 2008 onwards a still graver crisis has arisen called the Great Lockout which is supposed to be far worse than the Great Depression of 1930s which led to fascist regimes, World War II and the eventual victory of several socialist countries and national liberation movements all over the world.
Right now the neoliberal policy of imperialist globalization has become bankrupt. The public debt bubble in most countries have begun to burst. The main partners in neoliberal globalization, the US and China, are beset by their respective crises and by the crisis of the world capitalist system and have become the chief competitors and rivals in the sharpening contradictions among the capitalist powers. The proletariat and people are undergoing so much suffering and are already rising up and shaking off the setbacks of Marxist parties and revolutionary movement since the years of 1989 to 1991. The anti-imperialist and democratic struggles of the proletariat and people are coming to the fore and are paving the way for the resurgence of the world proletarian-socialist revolution.
As regards to anti-Marxist groups, liberal reformists, revisionist, Trotskyites, anarchists and otherwise, let them exercise the freedom of expression with their pens and mouths. They can wallow in their own shit. There is no need to suppress them. As you yourself say, they are further degenerating. They are becoming more irrelevant and smaller. If you have spare time from serious revolutionary study and work, you can write your own article to debunk their false claims and wrong ideas. That’s what I have done recently in dealing with some Trotskyites writing and talking against the revolutionary movement of the Filipino people. Attached hereto is an interview I did recently concerning Trotskyites. You may publish it if you wish.
GS: In the end, I would like to greet you and wish you a further revolutionary struggle and your return to your homeland as soon as possible, with the hope that Marx’s famous maxim “that history is the judge and the proletariat the executor of judgment” will come true.
Have a nice day and good luck!
JMS: Thank you.
This interview was taken by Gordan Stosevic