Download In his mind, Jose Maria Sison is never too far from his homeland.
But the outspoken critic of the government who has spent time in jail, and was once named on the United States’ terrorist list, hasn’t been home for decades.
Jofelle Tesorio meets the renowned activist who has carved a new life in exile in the Netherlands.
Jose Maria Sison opens the door personally.
This is his office in Utrecht, the Netherlands: the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
He is only at the office occasionally, whenever there’s a meeting, a social gathering or an interview...like now. He spends most of his days at home, writing.
72-year-old Sison is probably one of the most celebrated Filipinos in exile in recent history.
“They call me many paradoxical names. They say I am a refugee in orbit but in fact, I have landed long time ago. Then there’s refugee in limbo or refugee in purgatory because I am in neither in hell or in heaven.”
A prolific writer and an activist, Sison reorganized the Communist Party of the Philippines and added elements of Maoism to its philosophy.
Under Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, he was jailed for 9 years on charges of rebellion.
After Marcos fell, he was released from prison in 1987 under the new democratic government led by Corazon Aquino.
He says he was then forced to live in exile.
“I have stayed here because then President Corazon Aquino cancelled my passport in 1988. It’s part of the military plan to force me to go home. In the press, they say self-exile, it’s not true. I’m forced to stay in the Netherlands because I have no way to evade the military or the airports.”
In Europe, Sison presented a series of lectures on human rights violations and military torture – a move that upset Corazon Aquino’s government.
He was later charged with subversion and threatened with arbitrary arrest upon his return.
Sison has remained in the Netherlands since, but here, his status remains unclear.
A Dutch court initially recognized him as a political refugee in 1992 and 1995. Although he received some benefits initially, the Dutch government has refused to grant him asylum and residence.
When the US government included his name on a terrorist list in 2002, his benefits were withdrawn.
“The essential thing in being admitted, you can accept employment and if you are not employed, you receive social benefits. As a result of the terrorist listing, my benefits have been stopped, including housing, social insurance, health insurance and third-party liability insurance.”
A European court eventually overturned Sison’s terrorist listing, but the Dutch government has not restored his benefits.
Now Sison survives on the benefits of his wife, who has accompanied him since the beginning of his exile.
Their youngest son joined them when he reached high-school age and their eldest daughter came as a graduate student.
“My life is placid except when there are unusual impositions on me.”
Sison remains the chief political advisor of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which is involved in peace negotiations with the Philippine government.
He has also written a dozen books and poetry and politics.
Being away in exile, the Philippine military occasionally picks on his social life.
“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they used to call me ‘disco king’. But it died down already because I don’t go out anymore. I don’t like smoke and I don’t like spending.”
Sison admits he rarely eats out because it’s too expensive. He also limits his other social activities.
But there is one thing that he cannot resist...
In this video, Sison is singing “La Vie En Rose” during a party in Oslo, Norway, when he attended a peace negotiation.
“In 2002, someone from New York gave me a videoke microphone. Now I’m called a ‘Karaoke King’. But in fact, I enjoy karaoke because even if you don’t have the talent for singing, you’re getting the illusion that you are a good singer.”
One of his favorite songs to sing at karaoke is “My Way”...but he usually changes the lyrics to “Mao’s way.”
Sison even released a couple of CDs of his songs about patriotism like this one about love for the country. The songs were released in the Philippines through members of National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
Sison remains dedicated to his political work. But these days he plans to concentrate more on poetry and singing.