FOR three decades, Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has lived in self-exile, in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The outspoken communist leader, now 78 years old, has not been in his homeland since 1987.
In photographs, the communist leader who talks of revolution looks well fed and comfortable—often in sweaters that emphasize he is far away from Manila’s sweltering heat. Occasionally, communist websites show him in the company of young women, as was the case when his cadres celebrated his 75th birthday in February 2014 in Amsterdam. In 2017, his own website posted a photo of him dancing with a sexy Filipino actress in Amsterdam—giving the military ammunition with which to criticize him for living it up abroad, while his New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, on the run, lack food and shelter.
Although Sison dismissed this as propaganda, the impression nonetheless remains that he is out of touch, not only with the rebels in the countryside, but also with Philippine society as a whole, which has since moved on after 1987.
In his latest pronouncements, Sison predicted that the extension of martial law in Mindanao and its possible implementation nationwide would lead the military and the police to withdraw their support from President Rodrigo Duterte and overthrow him in the same way that former presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada were removed from power.
“In such an eventuality, the CPP and NPA [New People’s Army] would be happy with the limitation of bloodshed and with the resumption of peace negotiations … under a new president or a transitory people’s commission,” Sison said.
But this pronouncement too, is yet another example of how out of touch Sison really is. That he would choose to predict the actions of the military is particularly ironic, given that he cannot even get the NPA on the ground to stop its attacks on government forces while peace negotiations were under way.
Sitting from his perch in the Netherlands, Sison may believe he has all the answers. But there are two sides to being the titular head of Asia’s longest running insurgency. The CPP-NPA may celebrate every year of their existence—but if they have been unable to achieve their goals after almost five decades of trying, it might just mean that not enough people believe in their cause.
While Mr. Sison tries to remotely engineer a revolution from Utrecht, he might ponder Chairman Mao’s words: “If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.”