Why Joma Sison backs critical Left 'honeymoon' with Duterte

Inday Espina-Varona, Special to ABS-CBNNews

It's the first time 'progressives' will have a president as ally, says CPP founder

Why Joma Sison backs critical Left 'honeymoon' with Duterte 1
Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Jose Ma. Sison. File/Composite

Both the legal national democratic movement and underground leftist groups should welcome a honeymoon with the country’s next president, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Ma. Sison told a big gathering of progressive forces Tuesday afternoon.

Sison, an exile in the Netherlands for decades, spoke soon after the CPP central committee released a statement saying there would be no honeymoon with Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, winner by a landslide of the May 2016 presidential election.

In a Skype forum, to which this reporter gained access, Sison praised Duterte on many fronts and urged the legal Left to grab overtures, including the offer of four Cabinet positions, saying these represent inroads for long-term solutions to roots of conflict.

National Democratic Front (NDF) chief negotiating officer Luis Jalandoni echoed Sison’s points Wednesday morning in an interview with Ted Failon over dzMM.

Duterte to grant amnesty to political prisoners: NDF

Jalandoni said, while the CPP and the NDF focuses on forging a final peace with the Duterte presidency, it could help recommend progressive and qualified legal personalities to fill positions at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).


“You don’t expect a perfectly anti-imperialist and anti-feudal president,” Sison told the 200-strong gathering, which included groups that had criticized the published 8-point agenda of Duterte’s transition team.

“For the first time, there is an opportunity for the progressive movement to have a president as ally. For the first time there is a president who opens his government to progressive and nationalist forces,” Sison said, referring to Duterte as “Ka Digong.”

He pointed that with the oligarch allies of outgoing President Benigno S. Aquino III preparing to undermine the first Mindanawon president, the Left should work on many major points of unity with Duterte.

“He needs to create a coalition with other forces,” Sison stressed, citing threats of impeachment from Aquino’s allies.

“May bahagi na dapat naging minor,” Sison said. (There are areas of disagreements that can be considered minor.)

"At kailangan ng konting kompromiso sa mga hindi uring anakpawis.” (We need to make some compromise with those who do not belong to the proletariat.)

Referring to Duterte’s economic adviser, Carlos Dominguez, of a big landed and mining clan, and who served under former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Sison pointed out Duterte’s openness to discussing the Left’s economic positions.

Sison emphasized that progressive forces should be critical and that nationalist groups are independent of the CCP and the NDF.

He urged activists, “let us struggle with restraint.”

“Kausapin muna.” (Talk to them first.) “Lampas sa Facebook at dyaryo, pwede mag-usap.” (Outside of Facebook and the media, we can always talk.)


Sison challenged legal activists on Duterte’s offer.

“Handa na ba kayo paano punuan?” he asked. (Are you ready to rise to the challenge?) He said nominees for the offered government posts do not have to be communist personalities.

But where progressives are needed, he stressed, they must step in.

“Kesa naman ahente ng oligarchs,” he quipped to laughter from his audience. (You don’t want agents of oligarchs there.)

Both Sison and Jalandoni said they would concentrate on advancing peace talks stalled during the six years of the Aquino presidency.

“We need time for peace negotiations to advance substantially,” Sison pointed out.

Jalandoni told dzMM that personnel of the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) and the NDF would not join the government immediately.

But he said they would give a list of “qualified and competent” personalities from the legal democratic movement.

He said Duterte has given the green light for delegations from both sides to start the process of resuming peace talks.

Sison said progressives should work to set the foundations of national industrialization and complete the agrarian reform process, for higher wages and better work conditions, for livelihood opportunities that would ease the poor’s dependence on political patronage.

These reforms, he stressed, must also benefit the small and middle entrepreneurs.

“You don’t just attack capitalists,” he said. “We can work with nationalist capitalists even as we talk to and persuade kompradors (agents of foreign capitalists) to invest funds and talents in national industrialization.”


“The most important thing to me is for the release of more than 500 political prisoners,” Sison said. “That will be a challenge to Duterte.”

He urged, for a start, the release of aging and ailing and women political prisoners.

But Sison said “si Ka Digong matapang,” and would probably match the gestures of Mrs. Aquino and former President Fidel V. Ramos, who both opened the gates of political detention centers.

Sison and Jalandoni welcomed the promised ceasefire but stressed rebels would give up arms only after the signing of a final peace agreement.

When someone asked what the NPA would do during the ceasefire, Sison said guerrillas would remain in their “natural habitat.”

While rebels would welcome the rest from fighting, he stressed, “wag masyadong mag-relax.” (Don’t relax too much.)

Firearms must remain with the NPA for now, Sison said, who also pointed out the many pressures exerted by the right on Duterte.

The NDF wants completion of the economic rights document, which includes national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform.

Sison praised Duterte’s wisdom in his long years of recognizing the legal and underground leftist movements as important social

“Of the different left groups, it is the CPP, NPA and NDF that has consistently grown its underground machinery. The force of the legal mass movement cannot be ignored, nor the underground armed movement, where the CPP leads millions of masses and 120 guerrilla fronts in 71 provinces.”

While traditional thought sees power emanating only from the center, the Left’s strategy of continuing to focus on the poor of the countryside has paid fruits, Sison said.


Sison was asked about the harsher tone of the CPP central committee’s statement, published before Duterte made the offer.

He stressed that the Davao mayor’s offers were unilateral and umprompted.

“I think the central committee will open up a bit and be more open now because of the statements and actions of Ka Digong,” Sison said. “May konting itutuwid.” (There is room for improvement of its position.)

He said the central committee was right to lay down revolutionary principles and world views and to recognize the plus and minuses “as they see the situation.”

But, “masyadong nagaabante,” he opined of the central committee statement. (They moved too fast.)”

“Nagumpisa na nga ang honeymoon. Kinakausap natin. Nag-offer ng positions. Tinanggap ang offer ng mutual ceasefire.” (The honeymoon has started. We are talking. He has offered positions and accepted the need for a mutual ceasefire.)

On Wednesday, the CPP leadership released a new, more conciliatory statement.

"The CPP and the revolutionary forces welcome the possibility of joining presumptive president Duterte in an alliance government, whether in the form of assigning cabinet positions to the CPP or its endorsees or some other more radical form of unity government which the maverick new president might be open to consider," said the CPP in an email sent to journalists.

"While the CPP is not averse to being assigned cabinet positions under certain conditions, incoming president Duterte knows fully well that what is more important to the revolutionary forces are the necessary changes in the policies and programs that govern these departments and the entire government," it elaborated.

"A u-turn in the neoliberal policies of the past three decades, to say the least, must be carried out," said the CPP.

"For instance, a DOLE secretary can only effectively serve the interests of the labor sector when there are laws prohibiting contractualization, promoting unions, establishing a national wage system and substantially raising wages to decent levels."

"A DAR secretary will only be able to serve the interests of the peasant masses when there is a genuine land reform program that upholds the social justice tenet of free distribution of land to the tillers and which prohibit landlords, plantations and contract-growers from grabbing and monopolizing lands."

Vigilance remains a critical need, said Sison. “But criticalness must come with restraint. Let us be open because we need to be flexible when dealing with allies,” he added, warning of enemies waiting to break the Left’s unity with Duterte.

What is crucial, Sison said, is that progressive forces constantly re-examine their selves so they are “not weakened and absorbed by the power center.”

Point of reference for the left must always be for the benefit of the people, Sison said. “Ka Digong is frank. He says because he is with the government, he is technically an enemy, but he is offering the hand of peace, with a desire to unite as conditions of peace.”