Interview with Jose Ma. Sison, Utrecht, The Netherlands
HEADLINE NEWS, The Philippine Star January 15, 2004
(The following is a transcription of the interview with Sison. — Editors)
STAR (Vi Massart, chief European correspondent, The Philippine Star): Why did you choose Utrecht, instead of say, London or Paris where famous revolutionaries like Ho Chi Minh, Marx among others sojourned? Or Amsterdam?
JOMA: I happened to be here then. The Netherlands was my base for going to some 20 countries so I kept coming back here. The NDF and solidarity organizations here were strong compared to other places. There are several advantages in Utrecht, it's a university town, it's quiet, you can walk around even after midnight, there are no murders, a city of only two hundred fifty thousand.
STAR: Aren't these advantages the very bourgeois niceties that contradict your principle of armed struggle against the capitalist system?
JOMA: Of course. But even when you are a revolutionary, you don't like a life of constant bang, bang, bang. Even the NPA spends less than ten percent of its time fighting, otherwise there'll be offensives all the time. A red fighter would put more time doing some political work among the people, for their social benefit because without the mass work, the NPA won't have a mass base.
The masses are the inexhaustible source of NPA strength. The best sons and daughters of the people are there and of course, if they don't have a cultural activity, that army will die of boredom, it will become dull. For someone like me who is forced to be here, a placent situation is good for reading, research and writing.
STAR: You like your life here?
JOMA: Yes. You have to make the best out of the situation you are in. I'm leading a relatively spartan kind of life.
STAR: How do you subsist?
JOMA: In economic terms, quite insecure, as a consequence of the terrorist listing by the US and European governments. My social benefits for food, clothing, health insurance and housing have been withdrawn by the Dutch more than a year ago. I'm not allowed to work. I have to borrow money in order to subsist. All kinds of tricks have been used to prevent me from getting any grant as a refugee which is inherent to the fact that I have a well grounded fear of persecution.
I'm a de facto refugee but through legal means and hair splitting ways, I am not legally here. Based on Article 3 of the European Convention, the Dutch Government cannot throw me out because my rights against torture, inhuman and degrading treatment would be put at risk. But there is a hair splitting distinction between recognition and admission as a refugee.. These Dutch are crazy! They make these stupid distinctions and because of the US pressure, they are forced to be stupid. Do you know that it is against the Refugee Convention for a signatory government to intervene in another country? But a representative of the Dutch Justice Ministry would appear stupid if he says in court, "A government, other than the Philippine government would take offense if we granted Mr Sison asylum."
STAR: What about the contributions you receive?
JOMA: It doesn't look good to me if I use them. I have 29 lawyers who are all pro-bono but there are basic, unavoidable expenses. I would rather that any money collected by the Defend Sison Campaign went to my legal defense which is administered by a committee headed by Archbishop Joris of Utrecht.
STAR: Why don't you go home now? What is stopping you? Who or what are you afraid of?
JOMA: You know the reasons are compelling but they differ from time to time. Let's talk of 1988 when my passport was cancelled. The military, upon the cancellation of my passport expected me to go home, they would just "receive" me. I don't think I'll be assasinated at the airport but there are sacrifices one should not make. Martyrdom is supposed to be rewarded by going to heaven but no Christian priest will tell you to kill yourself to rush your meeting with God – I can go under other circumstances. I wouldn't like the military or those interested in extra-judicial operations to have an easy. While alive and abroad, I can do certain things.
The next reason is that since becoming the political consultant of the NDF, I cannot return to the Philippines because it would influence the venue. People would say that if you could return to the Philippines so why don't we just talk in the Philippines? NDF has been careful about shifting the venue of the peace negotiations to Asia as well because the Philippines can easily say, well, okay, why not have the talks in China. It's just a few hundred miles away, why not go over there?
One must understand why the NDF would like to have a neutral ground. The Philippine government is quite smart... in 1986, it put friends of people on the NDF side in it's panel like Diokno, Mitra and so on. Diokno, the head of the negotiating panel was sick, so the NDF was accomodating to him and talks were held in Manila but it was so easy for the military intelligence to surveil the talks. When the talks broke down, both Ramos and Ileto boasted of 20% increase in their surveillance tax. There were unhappy consequences... killings of those involved in the peace negotiations. Some said why not in the countryside but there were major deployment of forces on both sides. Held abroad, nobody is armed and even if there is a breakdown in talks, we would all be friendly, happily go to the same restaurant (chuckles), nobody is armed.
Well, after all Rizal stayed abroad for a while... even Lenin stayed abroad for a while. The power of the pen rather than the power of the sword is my specialty. The people's army is the most important focus. It is with reference to seizure of political power but when it comes to having lasting influence at the cerebral, philosophical and cultural level, maybe a song writer would be more potent.
STAR: Why didn't you take advantage of Speaker Joe de Venecia's offer last year for you to join the National Unity Government?
JOMA: I said it was good when it was first announced in the sense it indicated the willingness of the other side to resume the peace negotiations. I was waiting for further developments with regard to the peace negotiations because abroad, a united front was developing against Gloria. She seemed believable when she announced that she would not run in the presidential elections but at the same time there was that hidden aspect that she was simply trying to disarm those who were ready to pounce on her.
STAR: Can you travel today, meaning do you have a passport?
JOMA: It's already invalidated. In 1998, the Philippine government wanted me to go to Manila for the public signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). The Manila government said I had to get a Philippine passport, that technically, getting a passport did not mean that I would be surrendering to the Philippine government. So I went to the Philippine Embassy with Atty. Romy Capulong and I got the passport.
I was expected to go to the Philippines so I said: "Release all political prisoners; it would be one way of celebrating the signing of the CARHRIHL." They haggled. At the time we were already able to reduce the number of prisoners to 130 or so. Joe de Venecia who was then a presidential candidate said, "Fifty na lang...I will release the rest when I become president." Both Ramos and de Venecia were expecting to capitalize on my return to the Philippines. I was already inclined to agree with the release of only 50 political prisoners although some of the prisoners were saying, "Please don't come. We would rather stay here than for you to take the risk." Anyway, I have relatives in government and would have had security all the way.
You know what? Some Estrada people were inside the Ramos government like former National Security Adviser Aguirre who delayed things. He didn't communicate with Foreign Affairs Secretary Siazon so that when Siazon got hold of the notification that the Dutch government should be requested to grant me the return visum – because I wanted the option of returning – there were delays. The plan for me to go to the Philippines in 1998 was practially sabotaged.
STAR: You know that there is no longer any border control in mainland Europe...
JOMA: Yes, but my lawyer told me to be careful. I'm still in "prison".... On one hand, the Dutch state tells me, "We don't want you. You are just a tolerated alien, you are recognized as a refugee, but we don't admit you as a refugee." At the same time, it would prevent me from going to another country. But as a consequence of the US terrorist listing, an order was given to border and customs police to be on the lookout for me. This is the problem in this regime of creeping fascism in Europe. If I cross the border I might be charged with going against those regulations on terrorism.
Once upon a time, I felt very secure moving across the border because if you were not wanted on a criminal charge, the Interpol would not issue a warrant of arrest because some member states of the Interpol would not allow it to be used for political purposes. But with this mongrel of a charge...
STAR: But your running battle is against the Americans?
JOMA: Yes it is actually the powerful force. The Philippine government is not that influential in Holland. In 1995, I won a favorable decision from the Dutch government to stay. Perhaps because they didn't want to embarass Ramos who came here, we were even allowed to hold a press conference at the Dutch Parliament. That was when the Ducth government was very happy with the Philippine government because of the Malampaya pipeline. It's supposed to be a purely 500-million dollar investment by the Dutch. It turned out that it is actually a 45-45 % US-Dutch investment, 10% Philippine government. That's the tie up between the US and the Dutch. The US is very powerful and has a stong influence on the Dutch government which is the most pro-US government in mainland Europe.
The Dutch govt. is a free rider in South East Asia. They do not have a big military so they ride on the US force. Although the US got a beating in the Indochina, they US made a big killing in Indonesia using Suharto; they wiped out the Communists but what economic interests prevailed there? US and Dutch oil interests. What I am trying to point out is the combination of the two. But the Dutch people have a good side, they are hospitable, friendly, they drink but they don't look for trouble.
STAR: Let"s talk about your capture. Who turned you in leading to your arrest in 1977?
JOMA: I don't know who turned me in. In the course of criticism and sub criticism someone possibly feared that he might be investigated so ran away and went to Camp Olivas, HQ of then Philippine Constabulary.
STAR: How were you captured?
JOMA: In July 1977, I was in the mountanous border area of Zambales, Bataan, Tarlac and Pampanga attending the Central Luzon Regional Conference of the Communist Party. From their informant, the military must have gotten the idea that I always went back to my home region. They laid a dragnet there for months. My tactical error on the night of my capture was when I started from Pangasinan at11 PM, which was a violation of the rules I had set for myself - no movement after 10 PM. I rode on a motorcycle in tandem and was carrying a bag which attracted attention.
I was spotted eventually passing through two gasoline stations between Bawang Town and Naguillan Road. The surveillance team must have radioed my location and while I was looking for the house to go to down the road, I noticed a van was coming up. I didnt know that the van was the enemy. The people in the van thought that I recognized the van because it had been confiscated in Manila although I didn't know anything about it.
At exactly 5 minutes after midnight when we were in the house already, I looked out from the window and saw the same van stopped at the curb. I noticed a guy looking at me. After we were arrested and on the way to Manila, they said that they were only guessing that it could be me but became sure when I looked out of the window - that's how I was definitely recognized.
STAR: Was there a gun battle?
JOMA: There was no gun battle because we were deeply asleep when at around 2:15 AM there was rapping on the walls, they were already moving to the door, kicking it, so I had no chance besides, I had no gun. If I had had a gun, I would have fought it out naturally. When I came out of the bedroom I even tried to take control of the situation by asking "Are you policemen?" They only smirked. Actually, when they were kicking the door, I yelled "magnanakaw" thinking that the coming of the police could offset the situation. Major Rodrigo who was obviously the head of the raiding team pointed a gun at me "a la FBI" saying "You shut up or I'll shoot you between the eyes".
You know, I was surprised because they didn't take away the money from my bag. They only took my driver's license and you know what my name was in it? Miguel Ramos Edralin. I was that confident because if stopped only by a policeman, I could speak to him in Ilocano.
STAR: Your release was ordered by Pres. Cory Aquino with whom you had an amiable start. Why didn't that fluorish?
JOMA: Aquino ordered me released on March 5, 1986. I was the last one of the last four to be released, one week after the fall of Marcos. Relations on the personal level were never destroyed. She was pressured by military officials headed by Ramos and seconded by the media at the time to cancel my passport thinking that if my passport was cancelled, I would be forced to return. They didn't like what I was saying in my lectures abroad. Aquino succumbed to the pressure and the PNP trumped up a charge of subversion against me. You see, all the charges raised by Marcos against me had been wiped out based on the fact that the military tribunals were in themselves invalidated. A new subversion charge was made on Sept. 14, 1988.
That was my reason for applying for asylum. It frustrated the military's hope to catch me at the airport.
But by some discreet line, Aquino sent word to me asking me to have patience. She would ask Congressman Jose Yap if he still was still in touch with "our friends". So Yap came here in August 1990 to offer peace negotiations. There was some preliminary meetings in mid-1989 or early part of 1990 while Aquino and I were having a word war. Dr Enson, a member of the Pampanga provincial board was sent by Gov. Ben Guiao who was close to the Aquinos. Cory was compelled to send Yap at the risk of making the offer open because she was already in a fix - her policies were a social catastrophe. So she felt the need to revive the peace negotiations.
From August to December 1990, I think Yap made three trips here but Ramos, who was the Defense Secretary then was always fouling up the approach. Ramos is "balat sibuyas" (onion skinned), "pikon" (sensitive). He set conditions like "There is only one goverment and one army; goodwill measures like releasing political prisoners will not include the NPA fighters." Naturally, when those conditions were set, talks would be difficult to start. Also, Aquino got frightened because of the Noble mutiny so the approach did not proceed until the end of her term. But when Ramos became president in 1992, he sent Yap as his emissary officially. He was not afraid maybe because he was a military man. He also sent people I knew like Buscayno and Fortuna, the journalist. I think Yap came here for a preliminary meeting so that by Sept. 1, 1992 it was possible to sign the declaration.
Yap came with his aide-de-camp who became Chief of the Armed Forces, Gen. Benjie Defensor... I cannot forget an incident when we were talking about the prospects of 1992 and of his sister Miriam, who was a former friend of mine although several years my junior. Somebody said that Miriam could be a presidential candidate but Benjie said, "That sister of mine is crazy", probably a sibling joke but we had a good laugh.
STAR: What is your connection with the current NPA?
JOMA: No connection. My function is that of Chief Political Consultant for the NDF particularly in connection with the peace negotiations.
STAR: So do you still wield enough influence on the NPA to perhaps cease all hostilities at least in relation to ongoing peace negotiations ?
JOMA: Let's put it this way. All these forces, elements in the NDFP, the NPA, the roots of all conflicts must be adressed. There might be a way to move in towards a just and lasting peace. I don't expect overnight solution. As matter of fact, a very modest term has been used - reform. We now have a Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Right and International Humanitarian Law. Next for discussion and agreement is social and economic reform.
STAR: If the roots of the armed conflict are addressed, you say that there will be just and lasting peace but before that can happen you have to come to the negotiating table...
JOMA: You know the Philippine Peace Center made a study; it found that it was GRP that has been more responsible for the breakdown (of talks). Not once has NDF called for collapse or set a suspension or termination. In 1994, Howard Dee, Panel Chair then was the one that declared the collapse of the talks and he did not even consult Ramos who got mad at him. That practically cost the talks one year. Then political prisoners who had safety and immunity guarantees were arrested and it was DND Sec. de Villa this time who was blocking their release.
It was reported in the press that I was the cause and was responsible for the collapse because of the the fracas over the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement).
No! The NDF had reason to terminate but did not declare termination. It was Estrada who made the order to terminate the joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantee on May 29, 1999 although he signed the CARHRIHL in August. But he had second thoughts and in October, sent Senator Drilon here to push for a suplementary agreement which would require the NDF to capitulate because they were afraid that certain provisions would equalize the two (GRP and NDF) so we said no.
Not once did the NDF declare collapse, suspension or termination, not even an indefinite recess. It's all on the side of the GRP.
The delay became an indefinite suspension even under Gloria Macapagal. In June 2001 something dramatic happened. While we were eating, the report on the killing of Congressman Aguinaldo came. I was asked if I thought the killing would upset the talks? I said I didn't think so. Fidel Agcaoili (NDF Spokesman), Panel Chair Silvestre Bello and Chito Gaston, a member of the panel were talking happily. Chito said "It's high time...". There were people who were happy because during the time of Marcos, Aguinaldo was one of the most notorious human rights violators.
A version says that Bello was trying to show that he was protective of the interests of the State but eventually, Gloria Macpagal would say, "There is no ceasefire agreement, this sort of thing happens."
That's why I told Bello who was a human rights lawyer, "It's rather unfortunate for you that you invoked the name of a son of a gun." Another version is that a call came from Malacanang... I think it was on June 12 when Aguinaldo was killed.
We had a happy night together with the Norweigians. It was only in the morning when we noticed a change in their attitude. Bello and Yap came up to me and Hernani Braganza saying "We are going to declare a recess to show that we don't agree with the killing".. I said, "There is no ceasefire so why don't you just protest?" But they said, "No, we'll have recess, we got word from Manila." They wanted an assurance from me that there would be no word war in the press. We gave our word but Press Undersecretary Remonte was hyperactive. He started it, so up went the word war.
STAR: I called Secretary Lina of DILG on Jan. 2 and asked him about the latest murder charges against you. He said that they are suspended because of the ongoing peace negotiations.
JOMA: Actually, they cannot go beyond the preliminary stages. They will foul up their case because they have made arrests connected to the killing of Congressman Aguinaldo. If they try to inject a conspiracy where I am involved, they will destroy their case against those arrested.
In legal terms, pointing to a mastermind and proving that he is the mastermind is very difficult. More so if the one you accuse has actually nothing to do with it. A good lawyer would puncture the testimony of anyone who would say, "Mr Sison wrote me a letter or called me on the phone or that he came to the Philippines secretly." If they claim to have caught people who had something to do directly with the killing, then they will ruin their case. The one caught will be very happy if they try to prove a conspiracy and it can't be proven.
STAR: Who ordered Colonel Aguinaldo killed?
JOMA: I deny vehemently that I had anything to do with the killing. The NPA did it and I vehemently deny that I have anything to do with the NPA. The NPA is a full grown entity and it can make its own decisions independent of someone, who from 1969-77 had something to do with the NPA. I would even be proud that Aguinaldo was killed but I had nothing to do with it.
STAR: Why did the NPA hit Congressman Aguinaldo precisely when the peace talks were actually ongoing? What was the motive? To imperil the peace talks?
JOMA: I don't think so. The opportunity just presented itself. Cagayan is relatively far. It took sometime for those who did the assault to prepare and it was probably the judgement of the team that it was the best time.
STAR: Who is the Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines now?
JOMA: Well, it's Armando Liwanag... (chuckling)
STAR: And you are Liwanag!
JOMA: No (laughing)! The only title I have agreed to having is founding chairperson.
STAR: Are you formally denying that you are Armando Liwanag?
JOMA: Yes. And we say so in court. I was long in prison and have been out of the country too long (grinning).
STAR: If I were to write what I see now, it would go like this, "When a reporter asked JOMA Sison if he was Armando Liwanag, his face broke into a wide grin. He visibly was not going to tell the reporter the truth....."
JOMA: (chuckling...) You see, how long was I in prison? From '77 to '86, nearly 9 years! I stayed in the Philippines when I got employed by UP for only 6 months Then I went out of the country so I've been out of the country from '86 to present.
STAR: The AFP believes that you are Armando Liwanag, so by virtue of being Armando Liwanag, you are therefore the CPP Chairman and have a direct hand in the operations of the NPA?
JOMA: The CPP and the NPA are very collective organizations, their leadership is very collective.
STAR: Going back to the Estrada regime, the toppling of Estrada....you claim that the NDF and the CPP indirectly or directly had a hand in toppling Estrada when they joined the EDSA II revolution. You also are virulently anti-American. In June 2000, it was reported that a a US Undersecretary of Defense had bragged in a meeting with high level officials (in the West) the imminent collapse of the Estrada Administration and was reported to have said: "WHEN Estrada is impeached, we will go back (to the Philippines)..." he did not say "IF" so isn't it ironical that you and your avowed enemies might just have worked together?
JOMA: It is indeed ironical and if that happened but at the same time CPP and other forces not necessarily very close to CPP or even in contradiction with CPP could have had a convergence of intentions and even plans. Even Marcos, who was more clever than Estrada, was a factor against himself. Before the Bayan conference in Baguio City in December 1998, I said - to the great laughter of Bayan - that "El Bobo will be like El Loco". The latter was a former town mayor, a well-known womanizer who could sing on stage like Estrada and who became Ecuador President for only 60 days.
Actually, we had good relations with Estrada before he became president. His representative, Ronnie Zamora came over here and made a commitment that peace negotiations would proceed and indeed in August 1998, Estrada signed the agreement. Luis Jalandoni would be met by Estrada in his house. My letter to Estrada carried by Fidel Agcaoili was answered by Estrada. But Erap was like a little boy when the word war started. He would say, "They come to my house, I feed them...", parang bata. I knew his weakness. The Marcos burial issue was the first one that riled us. We also got irritated by the Drilon mission pushing a supplement to this CAHRHIL so by December, we were already ready to fight Estrada. We had a quarrel with Estrada over the question of releasing political prisoners.
Despite that quarrel, in February 1999, Sen. Loren Legarda and Bishop Varela came over here. They talked to Estrada who was adamant about doing the release procedures because of Angelo Reyes, who before Chavit Singson was the pahamak. The Philippines had been advised by the IMF not to go beyond a certain level in the deficit spending. But when the attack was made on Camp Abu Bhakar, 20 billion pesos more had to be spent. Reyes made "pahamak" of Estrada to IMF and also made pahamak of him to the Muslim population because they ate baboy and drunk alcohol in Abu Bhakar.
STAR: Just goes to show that at some point, you cannot continue fighting the Establishment ...
JOMA: Not even if you are president... not even the CPP, either way?
JOMA: Well, the CPP and the MILF are two tough fighters. The big loss for Estrada when he fought the CPP is this: he wanted to be seen as man of the masses, the defender of the poor but when he fought the CPP, he was told that he was not really for the poor so his pretext for the poor got lost.. Estrada is also a taray. If somebody criticizes him, he will say "Mag-presidente ka muna." Ano 'yon? It's insulting...When Estrada was already in trouble, he was persuaded to send Mike Romero to arrange a resumption of talks but it was too late.
STAR: Let's talk about Victor Corpuz, now a Major General... how did you recruit him?
JOMA: (laughing) He defected in 1970 and reached the highest position in the NPA Command as Head of the Training Department. We had two sources of leaders - you will be surprised - one was through a student cultural association which we established in UP. We started with 25 leaders and planned to penetrate government to change the system. We did not know so much about Marxism then. Many went high up in the Marcos regime and in every succeeding regime, there was somebody from that group. KM (Kabataang Makabayan), during the time of Marcos, came from the same group too. I was in the Communist Party. Nur Misuari was in the Moro National Liberation Front. Heherson Alvarez who became Senator was working with Manglapuz under Marcos. Jimmy Laya became Central Bank Governor. The Education Secretary and the Chief Economic adviser of Marcos all came from our group.
After the establishment of KM in 1964, we made it a point to recruit from the young people wishing to enter the military academy and we followed them up in the PMA. We came to know Victor Corpuz because Major Simbulan, who was in charge of the Social Science Dept. of the PMA was my friend. Corpuz was a very religious person. In 1965-66, he would bring the Bible and started as a Christian Socialist. I personally took care of his education. They had a big fight in the PMA because some cadets wanted to join the KM conference in Manila but the PMA Superintendent would not allow it. Ramos went to the PMA and was fried by cadets who were members of the KM.
We became best friends because the girl he was running after was a neighbor of mine so he would pass by my place and would go together to the place of the girl he was courting but eventually, he married someone else who also belonged to the Student Cultural Association of UP. I don't think Corpuz was a penetrator, I believe he was sincere. A classmate of mine who was president of a mining corporation wanted to get him as a VP for personnel. I was impressed with Corpuz because he told me, "I don't want to take the job because he only wants to use me in areas where the NPA is."
STAR: How did you raid the PMA armory with Gen. Corpuz?
JOMA: Okay...The story runs this way... I wasn't there during the raid but an NPA squad was already inside the barracks of the PMA. Corpuz was already disgusted with the corruption inside the PMA. Gen. Ugarte, then PMA Superintendent didn't like what Corpuz was teaching and assigned him to the kitchen. There he came directly upon the corruption - the officers were cheating the cadets! As a way out of the military, he wanted to run for the Constitutional Convention.
He was already a First Lieutenant. He consulted me so I told him that either we took the arms in the armory right then or he stayed put until he became a general so we could take more. Corpuz, a classic militarist then was very apprehensive, worried about how we would take out all those arms and ammos. I simply told him, "We will time it when you are the Officer of the Day so you can give orders and nobody will ask questions or suspect."
The raid on the PMA armory was a very well-timed operation because the NPA really got a big blow in 1970 when the military came upon a force of 60 NPA men and all the 60 rifles were lost so we needed new arms.
Incidentally, Marcos, who was on his way to Baguio, had already been informed of the raid. He was met by the poor, unsuspecting PMA Superintendent. When Marcos asked him how it was at the PMA, he said, "Everything alright Sir!." In fact, the custodians of the Armory were begging to be tied very tightly so they wouldn't be suspected of collaborating.
From Pinkian Road, the arms were brought all the way to Isabela. People were "mad" at the NPA for not bringing out the canons as well. They were very heavy and useless to the guerillas. The story that we brought out armalites is wrong. We only had 43 Browning automatic rifles, some machine guns, a few bazookas because the vehicles were not big enough.
STAR: What did Corpuz do once in Isabela?
JOMA: He had to go to school again (laughter). He came from La Salle and only had a very scholastic type of training in philosophy. He had a particular problem with Mao on contradictions.
STAR: In line with hard line Marxist-Mao, Communist dogma, isn't Victor Corpuz considered a traitor to the "cause" and could be meted the extreme punishment?
JOMA: I knew you would ask that question. Should I respond to that in a figurative way or in a legalistic way. It's not for me to judge Corpuz, that's all I can say.
To simplify things, Vic put himself in a situation so he could surrender although at the same time, they pounced on him. He was in prison up to the fall of Marcos. The military really worked on him made many concessions to the children who were living in the military intelligence compound. They were brought to school at Don Bosco every day.
Ramos himself tried to court him and offered him colonel's rank because his classmates were already in that position and Ramos wanted to use him for propaganda in the Civil Relations Service. We told him to accept the colonel rank but should ask to be assigned back to PMA, however Ramos counter-offered captain's rank but Corpuz didn't like it.
He received some money his classmates in La Salle and used it to build an extension to the house of the parents... I think his wife had a quarrel with his mother and wanted to get out of his parents' house but the fees he received from the movie producers on his life were not enough because he did not get expert advice - he only received some half a million pesos for the right, so was in dire need. The movie producer offered a big amount to change the story rights and the conclusion. Ramos told him to say something against me with regards to Plaza Miranda, that he would be taken back (by the military) and would receive a house and lot in Alabang Hills.
STAR: How do you feel about Corpuz today?
JOMA: He was arrested in 1976 or one year before I was arrested. I don't hold any grudges against him because he really contributed something to the movement. But I don't know whether he has offended other people.
At the time I left Manila, I had good relations with him. He got into trouble and had to make choices. The military really worked on him when he was detained but I don't think he turned me in.
Some people say that he placed himself in an ambiguous situation. His wife was detained and there was no reason why his wife should be detained any longer so he asked his classmates to take his wife to his parents' house. But he was kind. One day, Louie (Jalandoni) went to visit an NPA member in the custody of ISAFP and Vic was nice to Louie, very gentlemanly. I heard he has been talking against me but I really don't care about those so long as there are no physical...
STAR: Do you think Corpuz contributed hugely to NPA setbacks in the country when he came back to government service? He had been after all NPA Chief of Training so the military could have used his broad knowledge of the NPA.
JOMA: Not much because he was already driven out of certain parts of Cagayan Valley. His morale was going down. When he was in Nueva Vizcaya, he fell and for a long while he thought his leg was broken but it wasn't, it was psychosomatic. When he recovered, hierarchy prevailed so he was allowed to take away a full platoon from Aurora to Nueva Ecija. There was a decision to place him in the Mountain Province but those in charge said no, so it was decided to send him to Mindanao but it was far from his wife whom he loved very much. All I could say is that there are proper organs of the NPA that could deal with any problem arising from that.
STAR: So what is the sentiment of the CPP vis-a-vis Corpuz today?
JOMA: You know, Victor Corpuz faces charges not only from the movement but also from his fellow "tribesmen", the military officers, i..e., the July 28, which I call a protest action and not a mutiny, accusing Corpuz and Angie Reyes of doing the terrorist bombings in Mindanao. Some people ask me why I don't do anything about Corpuz but you see I don't call the shots (laughing). I no longer have direct personal knowledge of Corpuz after I left Manila.
STAR: This has been on my mind, why didn't Marcos have you killed, why were you kept alive?
JOMA: Actually, it was debated whether I should be killed or not. But a certain Colonel Lopez opined that I should be kept alive as a kind of trophy and that was also my estimate before I was captured because Marcos had shown it in many cases - he would rather keep his opponents alive.
STAR: In other words, you are saying that Marcos was not a blood-thirsty dicatator after all...
JOMA: He was a blood-thirsty dictator! Marcos was also afraid... You know, it's more dangerous when a sergeant catches you. He may improvise but when it's commissioned officers, they have had some form of training. They may torture you, beat you but to use their own words, they are professionals. You don't kill someone whom you have already disabled in a fighting. So when you are president and someone is arrested and officers of different types are looking into the arrest, someone might come back and blow the whistle if you play loosely with the rules. When an officer comes from PMA he usually knows what constitutes a professional.
STAR: But Marcos was not from the PMA...
JOMA: Well, Marcos pretended that he also was a soldier. There might be another aspect. Marcos came from the same region as I did. You see as children in Ilocos, boys played opponents' games and we used to mark a demarcation line with our "pee" to denote the limit...
STAR: Did you attempt to escape?
JOMA: I thought of it when I was captured. The two officers seemed to be sleepy and I could have made a split-second grab of the driver and jump out but I was deterred from doing that because I had other companions and it wasn't just a question of my life if I had made a bad judgement call to escape then. Also, I estimated too that Marcos would keep me alive because he liked to put forward trophies.
STAR: You a trophy? It doesn't make sense because he kept you incommunicado anyway so nobody knew whether you were really dead or alive?
JOMA: Oh yes but he had already talked to me, people knew that he had seen me. Actually, I am the only witness linking Marcos to torture.
STAR: By the way, what happened to your appeal for damages against the Marcos estate?
JOMA: I won. On paper I won a little more than a million dollars but how to collect is a problem.
I won in the Court of Appeals in the 9th Circuit in the US. The problem is I have to get the compensation from the Marcos Estate in Manila. As an individual plaintiff, the award to me was far bigger than the class plaintiffs. Imagine, taking the interest into account and compensation for the disappearance of my brother, that's more than one million dollars in compensations altogether! It was reported that I had already gotten the money but it's not true, I suffer further injustice.
STAR: How do you expect to get paid compensation? You realize that the Marcos money from Switzerland is purported to have been released to the Philippines, money which Judge Real of Hawaii ruled should be used to pay compensation to the Marcos torture victims.
JOMA: I am pessimistic. When the money goes to the General Funds, then it's practically bye-bye. Right now, what Congress should do is to make a one-page amendatory to amend the CARP law so that all the money recovered from Marcos and his cronies could go to CARP. But there are so many of provisions.
The Marcoses, their lawyers and the powers that be are clever because they say that Aquino, Ramos also committed human rights violations so they say money should go to everyone supposedly as victims of human rights violations and not only under the Marcos regime but the problem is how would you decide? In the US, it is the judge who decides. But I don't think I will get anything in my lifetime, my heirs probably.
STAR: Isn't it paradoxical that the US State Department tags you a terrorist while the US Justice Court recognizes you as a human rights violations victim?
JOMA: It's a repeat paradox of history. In the colony, someone like Rizal would be killed right away but if he went to Spain, he would enjoy some freedom. A rebel in Malaya might get freedom in England.
The US judge declared that "Whoever talked in this court against the plaintiffs as being communists will be thrown out of this court because a whatever a person is, whether he is Communist or not should not be tortured."
The issue was all about human rights violations and not affiliations.
STAR: Are you defending the American justice system?
JOMA: (laughs) In a way, the American system is better than the system in the Philippines. Has there been any officer beyond the rank of Sergeant taken into account by the Philippine justice system for violations of human rights? None! But in the US, no less than Marcos was charged.
STAR: Talking of human rights, the NPA has been committed scores of violations of human rights... thanks to victims who have come out in the open, the public now knows of its purges.
JOMA: The precise expression is that elements in the NPA and the CPP committed human rights violations which was the subject of a six-part series in a Manila broadsheet but the entity as a whole has nothing more to do with those elements and as a matter of fact, those that committed the most grievous crimes and those that are most unremorseful have now fled.
There has been a rectification movement as an education movement to root out those elements since 1992.
STAR: And the human rights violations committed by the NPA outside its ranks?
JOMA: In war, there is a tendency to treat badly those that are considered spies or informers. But definitely, there must be an attempt to test evidence against anyone anyway. Of course you may consider that there have been human rights violations because even spies are entitled to due process but in war, the process is shorter.
STAR: But during the Christmas ceasefire, the NPA killed a military man and his family in Samar...
JOMA: We don't know whether that was really an NPA assault whether there were actually two feuding families involved. Anyway, one might say that there could have been a violation of the ceasefire but we don't know. If there's only that one, then you may say that the ceasefire has held in general.
STAR: Senator Loren Legarda declared in a press statement that you have been good friends since your UP days and that she could never hate you. For her to be effective or have reasonable clout in future talks, she must be the VP to a winning running mate which is FPJ. What exactly do you expect from her in the event the tandem wins?
JOMA: When you are VP and you don't like the policies being pursued by the President, you can have your own way and you have all the time to campaign for what you think are the right policies. So I would say that she will find it easy to support the peace negotiations.
Fernando Poe is seen by his rivals as the king, a stand in for Estrada, the Marcoses but I am aware that he would be willing to do a good turn for Erap but not as far as ruining himself. In other words, he can learn lessons from the experience of Estrada. I don't know if it's true but I heard that he is a friend who doesn't ask for anything, who doesn't impose himself. FPJ has his own means so long as he has enough beer.... (laughs).
STAR: Do you think FPJ will make a good president?
JOMA: Ah that's another question. You know he may not be so brilliant personally but he might have enough intelligence to listen to other people speak. It didn't work out well with Estrada.
Some people in his cabinet were disappointed because he didn't pay much attention to them.
Fernando Poe would learn from the experience of Estrada but his lifestyle could be a problem like keeping away from public functions... I don't really know how well he keeps his beer (laughs).
STAR: There's a five-way presidential campaign going on and analysts are saying that if the opposition is split, Macapagal will definitely win...
JOMA: Macapagal appears strong because her propaganda machine is over-confident and can cut down Fernando Poe but Roco is the most intelligent or the most cultivated among them, he being a lawyer. By tradition there have been more lawyers as president. But Roco's problem is how much money he has.
STAR: And Ping Lacson?
JOMA: He is dangerous, a fascist!
STAR: Brother Villanueva?
JOMA: I know the guy. I know nothing about him that is offensive. As a matter of fact, he came to visit me here claiming to be KM when he was a student at the Philippine College of Commerce and blessed me at the office (laughs). He has been helpful to the mass organization when the Flor Contemplacion case came up, he went all out in her support.
STAR: So who will the CPP "proletariat class" vote for?
JOMA: Well, as Louis (Jalandoni) said we have no hope for the candidates at the national level even on the senatorial. Maybe the progressives can gain more seats on the Congressional level through party lists and the local executive offices.
STAR: What do you have to say about the NPA's so-called revolutionary tax or permit to campaign fees, which to me is plain extortion...
JOMA: The press is clever in asking about that (laughs). The movement which is really serious in relating to politicians would rather talk about how to help people. It is best that the candidates talk to the movement – they might be able to help the people and they might also want to ensure the safety of their campaigning.
They must set a common understanding with the NPA because they should not bring around people in uniform or plainclothes men with guns. I don't speak for the NPA but money is not the first thing to talk about. They should not allow themselves to be baited into talking about money first.
The NPA is a political force that asks how politicians could help the people and does not announce how much money they would take from the politicians.
STAR: Why should people be required to pay "double taxation" in their own country?
JOMA: The power of taxation belongs to government and there's a people's democratic government to finance health, social services ... But number one is how to serve the people. Politicians compete for support and the NPA is not just a coercive force. They can do the mass organizing. There is a mass base and there are votes there. Politicians also approach the NPA for other favors and don't just give money or whatever away! I don't think they just act out of fear...
STAR: When will the peace negotiations resume?
JOMA: Resumption of formal talks is set for the last week of January or first week of February.
STAR: No more backchanelling?
JOMA: The NDF will no longer go for further backchanelling because the difference remaining now is so small and is about some phrase regarding compensation for the victims of the human rights violations. More difficult provisions have been resolved so why not this one?
STAR: What about that requirement of yours that you and the CPP should be stricken out of the US list of designated terrorists first before any final peace agreement could be signed?
JOMA: That's not true. The Manila government keeps on saying that it has no power to push for the delisting. At least the GMA administration and the NDF can start singing the same song together according to the agreement signed by the two - for as long as the GRP acclaims together with the NDF the part that national sovereignity has something to do with jurisdiction. The US has no business claiming jurisdiction over me or over any charges against me concerning events in the Philippines.
The Philippine government must be dignified or self-respecting enough not to deliver one it claims to be its own citizen – I'm using GRP's own legal language here because you know, there's a people's government I am more impressed with.
Anyway, that's in the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees. One actively involved in the peace negotiations should not be bothered by whatever charges, i.e., if a man doesn't do anything visible, one cannot charge him with rebellion while the negotiations are going on.
Then there's the political offense doctrine or the Hernandez Political Doctrine, from the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence: A political offender can be charged at most with rebellion which is not a capital offense, a bailable offense not subject to the death penalty. You cannot chop up events under rebellion, charge you with so many offenses like you are guilty of so many arsons, of so many murders, of so many rapes, etc. It should be a simple case of rebellion.
All that the Philippine government has to do is to uphold that. I challenge the GMA regime to resume the peace negotiations in accordance with the Hague joint declaration and for us to avail of the little time left in her regime - to do as much as we can before the end of her administration's term.
STAR: Are you implying that GMA might not win?
JOMA: It is better that people know that she is still interested in the peace negotiations because it can become an issue against her so it would be good if the talks are resumed.
STAR: Would it be better for the peace negotiations if Macapagal were elected?
JOMA: Let's see how much can be achieved in the peace negotiations before the elections and we will see whether more can be done if Gloria is to be elected. Gloria has the resources to wage a good campaign but it will all depend on the wares that she will offer to the people.
STAR: Which people and what wares?
JOMA: To workers and peasants. Wares in terms of land reforms, social justice and developments.