By Kristine Angeli Sabillo
“He has many nice things to say about me and I also have many nice things to say about him,” Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, the exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, in a two-hour interview with the Inquirer in December.
In the end, however, Sison said he “wouldn’t gamble” and say that Duterte, his former student at the Lyceum University, is “the best President the Philippines can have since Marcos.”
Duterte, said the 77-year-old Utrecht-based CPP leader, has often been misinterpreted because of his jokes.
“For example, (when) a reporter asked, ‘Is it true you killed 700 people?’ (He answered) ‘No. It’s 1,700.’ He makes sarcastic remarks,” Sison said. “But Duterte’s a lawyer. You call that [reductio ad absurdum]. If you presume that the accusation is unbelievable, give a more preposterous answer.”
Added Sison: “Duterte is careful. If a police arrests a carnapper or a kidnapper from Bulacan and he asks Duterte what to do, he would say, ‘Kill him if you want to.’ That way, no one would say that he gave the order to kill.”
But even Sison admitted that the tough-talking mayor has flip-flopped in his stated support for the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed partisans of the CPP.
“He said that when he becomes President, the NPA will have one foot in Malacañang … But he has also said that he wants the NPA to be disarmed, otherwise they will have to fight,” Sison said, adding that the armed group will lay down its arms only when it signs a mutually satisfactory agreement with the government.
Duterte, the communist leader said, has a “loose mouth,” evident when he cursed Pope Francis because of Manila’s traffic, and told media that putting up his girlfriends in boarding houses showed that he was not corrupt.
Despite that, he has “strength of character,” Sison said, referring to Duterte’s rejection of the US proposal to make Davao City a base for its drone operations.
Sison, who has spent almost three decades in exile in the Netherlands as a legally recognized political refugee, spends his every waking moment looking toward his homeland, and making sure he remains updated on its political scene.
The chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDF) appeared sprightly despite being hard of hearing and having just had a cataract operation. Laughing easily at what he described was the absurdity of Philippine politics, he lightly pounded the table to stress a point as he discussed the peace process, the upcoming national elections, climate change and the plight of lumads in Mindanao.
Sison said he is still optimistic that he can return to the Philippines, “as long as the next President is good (matino), … the likes of Duterte or (Sen. Grace) Poe.”
The chances of him going home would be high if the next President is willing to negotiate with the NDF, Sison said, adding however that it’s easier and safer to conduct peace negotiations abroad, on neutral ground.
Sison initially declined to talk about this year’s presidential candidates, saying that the NDF “cannot support anyone” since it is a revolutionary organization fighting against the ruling system.
He admitted however that the results of the elections would have a major impact on the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDF, the political arm of the CPP, which has been waging Asia’s longest running insurgency.
Sison, who refused to reveal his preferred presidential candidate lest it be interpreted as an endorsement, eventually shared his thoughts on the five aspirants, and how they would fare as President and future partner in the peace talks with the NDF.
Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas would most likely be a “copy cat” to President Benigno Aquino III, though “he might be more intelligent than Noynoy,” the CPP founder said.
Quality of debate
“When (he gets) the power, we don’t know if he will try to differentiate himself from Noynoy,” Sison said.
While he expressed no interest on questions about Roxas’ Wharton degree nor in the possibility of TV host Korina Sanchez becoming first lady, Sison zeroed in on the ongoing squabble between Duterte and the former interior secretary, “an indication of the low quality of debate,” he said.
Sison added that Roxas’ attempts to identify himself with the poor—by portraying himself in campaign advertisements as carrying sacks of rice or driving a sidecar—only put him in a bad light.
The CPP leader has kinder words for Vice President Jejomar Binay, whom he described as a former activist. This, he said, can result in something good as long as Binay does not aspire for wealth.
“If he is really a nationalist, an anti-imperialist … and he has ambition, within 6 years the Philippines will see development,” he predicted.
At the same time, he cautioned Binay against pursuing development alongside cronyism, as in the case of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos who became extremely rich using dummies.
Sison pointed out that while accusations of corruption have negatively affected Binay’s rating, the rating also revealed that he has a big and stable following “in any weather.”
For being a partner of the progressive party-list bloc Makabayan, Sen. Grace Poe “is ahead of all the other candidates,” the exiled leader said.
But, he cautioned, “it’s easy to say that you are for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, though when it comes to details it would be different.”
Sison acknowledged as well that Poe faces an uphill fight because of the disqualification cases filed against her, which the Supreme Court still had to rule on.
He did not have much to say about Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, except that the feisty senator would be among those left should Poe and Duterte be out of the picture.
But she “does not have the organization and everybody suspects that she has not yet overcome her health problems,” Sison said of the senator who chose Sen. Bongbong Marcos, the son of the former dictator, as her running mate.