MANILA (UPDATED) — Jose Maria "Joma" Sison, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has died after two weeks of confinement in the hospital, the rebel group said Saturday. He was 83.
The communist leader and former university professor passed away at 8:40 p.m. on Friday (Philippine time) in The Netherlands, where he had lived in self-imposed exile, CPP Chief Information Officer Marco Valbuena said in a statement, without specifying the cause of death.
"The greatest Filipino of the past century bereaved us peacefully last night," Valbuena said of Sison, who established the CPP in December 1968.
"The entire Communist Party of the Philippines gives the highest possible tribute to its founding chairman, great Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thinker, patriot, internationalist, and revolutionary leader."
Following the death of Sison, Valbuena said the group will continue to give all its "strength and determination to carry the revolution forward."
Meanwhile, the Department of National Defense (DND) said the death of Sison is a "symbol of the crumbling hierarchy of the CPP-NPA-NDF."
It called on the communist fighters "to turn their backs on the violent and false ideology" of the revolutionary organization.
"A new era without Jose Maria Sison dawns for the Philippines, and we will all be the better for it. The greatest stumbling block of peace for the Philippines is gone; let us now give peace a chance," the DND said in a statement.
The conflict between the communist rebels, through CPP's armed wing New People's Army (NPA), and the Philippine government has been ongoing for over 5 decades now.
It is considered one of the longest insurgencies in the world.
Sison had described himself as a "recognized political refugee" but with no "legal admission" in The Netherlands, where he had been in exile since 1987 when the Philippine government canceled his passport following the collapse of peace talks.
"Someday I will return, physically or in ashes after my cremation but I always consider myself being in the Philippines," Sison said in an interview on ANC in 2018.
"I am with the people. I have many comrades, friends in the Philippines so I don't really care when I shall be able to return to the Philippines," he added.
In 2019, former President Rodrigo Duterte terminated all peace negotiations with the communist rebels and instead created a task force in a bid to quash the insurgency.
Before leaving his office, Duterte said it is up to the next president whether the government will pursue another round of peace talks with the CPP.
Edre Olalia, the chairperson of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, paid tribute to the communist leader.
"You are many things to many people and your inimitable legacy and venerable place in history and in the peoples' struggle are embedded in our minds and hearts," Olalia said in a statement.
Makabayan lawmakers, meanwhile, called on the Philippine government to resume peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF & implement genuine reforms following Sison's death.
They described him as a patriot whose call for armed revolt “continues to resonate” with Filipinos.
"It cannot be denied that his call for armed revolution to attain social justice and national liberation continues to resonate with the current generation of Filipinos, signifying that government has failed to address the social injustice that drives our people to take up arms," the Makabayan bloc said.
"Prof. Sison was a patriot and revolutionary who stood with the Filipino people against oppression, exploitation, and fascism during the Marcos dictarorship, was jailed and tortured as a dissident, but continued to side with the poor and marginalized until his death," they added.
Sison had hoped to overthrow the government and establish a Maoist-style communist regime that would end "US imperialism" in the former American colony.
The ongoing armed struggle, launched in 1969, grew out of the global communist movement, finding fertile soil in the Philippines' stark rich-poor divide.
The rebellion also benefited from Ferdinand Marcos's 1972-1986 dictatorship, when the legislature was shuttered, the free press muzzled and thousands of opponents tortured or killed.
At its peak in the 1980s, the group boasted about 26,000 fighters, a number the military says has now dwindled to a few thousand.
Since 1986, successive Philippine administrations have held peace talks with the communists through their Netherlands-based political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF).
—with a report from Agence France-Presse; Rowegie Abanto, Anjo Bagaoisan and Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News