‘Revolutionaries are not terrorists’

Community News & Features Mar 1, 2005 at 4:46 pm

A Review: Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World, Portrait of a Revolutionary, Ninotchka Rosca. 2004. Greensboro, North Carolina: Open Hand Publishing,LLC. 260 pp. ISBN 0-940880-72-5, U.S.$16.00.1

By Ligaya Lindio-McGovern

To understand the contemporary Philippine revolutionary movement with a human face is to understand it from its shakers and movers and the victims of counter reactionaries. Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World, Portrait of a Revolutionary leads the reader to do just that. When read with a sociological imagination—seeing the connection between biography and history or individual experience and the larger society— one vividly sees the intricate connection between the lives of visionary activists and revolutionaries and the society that produces them.

In this book one gets a glimpse of the revolutionary movement in the Philippines from an insider’s view. From the subject’s (Jose Maria Sison) narratives, as responses to Ninotchka Rosca’s well-chosen and appropriately sequenced interview questions, one gets a picture of the human person, the intellectual activist, and the revolutionary as well as the Philippine national liberation movement that he has helped shape and sustain. Sison has played a significant role in providing an ideology for the revolutionary movement that gives it direction and basis for action and strategy. Foremost in his vision is the importance of organizing the peasants and workers that comprise the bulk of the Philippine population in the national liberation movement. It is in the painstaking organizing of the collective power of these sectors that will provide the life-blood of the revolutionary movement as well as ensure they become the beneficiaries of change. He firmly believes that arm struggle alone without the mass organization of peasants and workers will not create a successful revolutionary movement that will bring fundamental structural change of Philippine society. This is an ideology that he infused in the New People’s Army, the revolutionary army of the national liberation movement in the Philippines, which he has helped come into existence. This is what makes the New People’s Army different from the Philippine Armed Forces or the American imperial army that is used as a violent instrument of imperial plunder and wars of conquest and control.

Although Sison had a landlord-class origins, his grassroots orientation is a product both of his intellectual awakening and his personal witness of the exploitation, repression, and oppression in Philippine society that shaped his political consciousness. He himself was a victim of state repression: he was a political prisoner under Marcos dictatorship which was supported by the U.S. government. As an intellectual activist he immersed himself in the revolutionary movement and inspired so many young people, especially students, to challenge the repressive government, nurture nationalist sentiments, and seriously study the fundamental contradictions in Philippine society which intricately intertwine in the national structures and global dynamics of imperialism and neocolonialism. He gives importance to the role of the “subjective forces”— referring to the people who are oppressed and exploited by the objective material conditions— in beginning and sustaining a movement. The Philippine revolutionary and national liberation movements experienced some gains as well as setbacks. His emphasis on criticism and self-criticism—to be able to humbly reflect on one’s mistakes, pruning one’s ego in the service of the larger movement—played a role in the rectification moments in the Philippine movement.
As a person with a flair for poetry, he also had an influence in the shaping of cultural forms of resistance in the people’s movement — which have a role in constructing Philippine national identity in the world of nations where imperialism subverts poor nations’ self-determination and wrecks terror in its conquests for economic plunder under monopoly capitalism. As a nationalist and an internationalist, he has not only shaped a national movement in the Philippines but also brought to life international solidarity among struggling peoples of other nations.

This book also gives insights into the workings of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. Under the guise of its war on terror, George W. Bush, Jr. had labeled, Jose Maria Sison, the National Democratic Front, and the New Peoples’ Army as “terrorists” and placed them as targets. This labeling erases the U.S. historical record of terrorism — such as the massacre of nearly 10% of the Filipino people in the course of the Filipino-American war, massive massacre of Japanese civilians in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in Korea, Indonesia, Indochina during the course of the Cold War, and thousands of civilian casualties in the recent occupation of Iraq.

Revolutionary activists are not terrorists. Professor Jose Maria Sison is not a terrorist. The National Democratic Front consisting of a broad national coalition of progressive forces leading the national liberation movement in the Philippines is not a terrorist. The Philippine revolutionary New People’s Army is not a terrorist. This is the counter discursive resistance of Filipino activists and others around the world. The National Democratic Front, the leading organization of the national liberation movement in the Philippines, has conducted peace negotiations with the Philippine government. Its demands for just peace in the Philippines is for the Philippine government to implement genuine land reform, nationalist industrialization, end military repression, and seek alternative policies to alter the negative impact of the neo-liberal structural adjustment policies imposed on Philippine development. Under the pressure of American influence these demands have not been heeded, thus the failure of the peace negotiations. By labeling the revolutionary movement in the Philippines as a “terrorist” clearly reveals the intention of U.S. imperial design: to suppress dissent anywhere in the world that challenges American economic and military dominance in the global dynamics of monopoly capitalism and neoliberal globalization.

Intended for general readership, this book is an important contribution in the literature on social movements, Asian studies, and Philippine studies. The academic reader is left to shift the narratives for theoretical threads and conceptual themes that will stimulate his/her sociological imagination.
(This review is forthcoming in Pilipinas, the International Journal of Philippine Studies. More information about this Journal can be accessed through http://psg.csusb.edu.)