Joma Sison can do the Cha-Cha


The first time I talked to Jose Maria (Joma) Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), in Utrecht, Netherlands in 2005, he mentioned that he yearns for mangoes, those that are unripe and you line with ‘bagoong’.  He also said that he loves to do Karaoke and his favorite song is ‘My Way’ were he punctuates the signature line as ‘Mao’s Way’. Furthermore, he said that he loves dancing and can do the boogie and the cha-cha.

For one who considers him just a commie chattering terrorist or for another who considers him the ultimate proletarian ideologue that guides revolutions, it could be hard to imagine him munching mangoes, singing, or dancing.

I, for one, just had to take his word for those he told me in 2005 that he could do.

Fast forward to a wintry New Year’s Eve with 2018 being supplanted by 2019 at the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Research and Study Center Office in Utrecht, there was Joma, first opening the office party saying, “Tonight no politics. Let’s celebrate and relax. Let’s invigorate ourselves to be ready for the coming year.” Then he peppered the Karaoke singing along with the other enthusiasts. He blurted ‘Guantanamera’ and other songs. And yes, he sang ‘My Way’. Often his voice was in the key of ‘G’ when the accompaniment was in ‘F’. He was also often timing off but, it must be his ‘Mao’s Way’. Yes, apart from what we know as ‘maski pops’ or maski papaano, he gyrated to the disco beats. He also did the swing and, as he said, he could really cha-cha. He had missteps and tempo off but that’s because his hearing often does not catch the beat.

Nonetheless, he partied with gusto. Clearly, he was the most senior among the celebrants with a sprinkling of old guards of the movement and with mostly millennials crowding close to him whenever they could – taking selfies with him or having him sign books that he has written. Come raffle times, those near him had to help him decipher the numbers on his tickets whenever a ticket is drawn. Whenever he won, he jumped like a kid, enthused to claim his prize.

He was, after all, human. And those around him love him.

They love him as other revolutionaries around the world love him for his guiding thoughts on how to wage war against exploiters of the oppressed.  They love him while those who hate him tag him as terrorist, a provocateur, a spent revolutionary who is no longer relevant. Those who hate him tag him as an arm chair warrior living in luxury in The Netherlands while guerrillas of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) in the Philippines wage a war, suffering and enduring all the hardships in the mountains.

Far from it.

After the New Year fireworks simmered and dawn of the first day of 2019 crept, Joma had to go back to his flat he shares with Julie. The flat, within what is branded as Utrecht’s ghetto, contains but the bare essentials. There, according to Julie, “as early as 4 or 5, nasa computer na yan,” answering and making emails, posting and responding to Facebook posts, following the news and providing analysis of events on Philippine national and international scenes.

That new year day would be in the middle of the dreary season in Amsterdam where winter stretches from November to March and dark clouds blanket the days apart from intermittent rain and snow. The sun rarely peeps and when it does, only for a window of 5 to 15 minutes. Within these, Joma survives with the meager social benefit received by Julie.

If this is Joma living in luxury, so be it. Just don’t forget that he had his share of hardships in the mountains during the early stages of Philippine revolution after he, with 11 others, reestablished the CPP on December 26, 1968. Moreover, he spent nine years in prison. He was in isolation, shackled to an uncomfortable bed.

Joma could have opted to live a ‘normal’ life after being released from prison when Ferdinand E. Marcos was toppled from his dictatorship. Joma chose to continue hitting the status quo and was invited to lecture in other countries until his Philippine passport was revoked and he had, not really to his liking, to seek asylum in the Netherlands. He had been invited to return home several times by past administrations and President Rodrigo Duterte but CPP comrades had advised for him not to come due to strongly assumed danger to his life.

Thus, he ‘comfortably’ remains as a political consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Endearingly addressed as Professor, he is also regarded not only by the CPP but other communist parties and socialist solidarity groups in the world as an inspiration for revolutionary movements. Jested as the great communist thinker after Marx, Lenin, and Mao Tse Tung, thus, MLMTTJMS, he smiles saying, ‘buhay pa ako’.

Within the orbit of being an octogenarian, Joma spent the first day of 2019 posting news releases on the 50th Year Anniversary of the founding of the CPP. With no respite, on the second day, he resumed full force, sharing a news item headlined “NDFP to work for Duterte’s ouster – Joma”. The lead sentences read: “While it is still open to peace talks should the Manila government decide to resume the canceled negotiations, the main task of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is to work for Rodrigo Duterte’s ouster, Prof. Jose Maria Sison said.

“In a statement, Sison said the NDFP is authorized to be open to peace negotiations with either the current government or its replacement, but ‘its principal work now is to work for the ouster of the Duterte regime’ and help bring an end to the country’s worsening social, economic and political crises.”

And every day since the New Year, as in yesteryears, the professor who could also do the cha-cha had continued to write, post, and address organizations, with his thoughts.

By the way, although Joma said that the office New Year party was non-political, he donned a hat, a gift, emblazoned with Mao Tse Tung’s portrait.

And yes, he still yearns for unripe mangoes lined with bagoong.#


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