The North Star


Jose Maria Sison – 1939-2022

Filipino revolutionary leader passes away at 83

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Jose Maria Sison, one of the leading figure in a half-century long revolutionary movement in the Philippines, passed away on December 16, 2022 of heart failure, after being hospitalized for two weeks in the Netherlands. On the subject of his death, the Filipino Defense Department said "A new era without Jose Maria Sison dawns for the Philippines, and we will all be the better for it.”. But many Filipinos in the country and abroad are saying otherwise.

Professor Sison - or "Joma" as he was often referred to - was both an intellectual and an activist, who committed his life to learning about, and educating others on the origins of Filipino society's problems. North Star spoke to Joey Calugay, a Filipino organizer in Montreal about Sison's legacy and influence on the Filipino history. 

Born to prominent land-owning parents, at a young age Sison found his position within society challenged when he started attending public school. He became friends with the children of landless peasants and farmers who had to work and live on land owned by his parents and family. This would be influential later on in his life when he co-founded Kabataang Makabayan (KM), or Patriotic Youth, a militant youth-led organization that fought against this "landlordism", as well as the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos and U.S. domination.

As KM grew in popularity and strength throughout the late 1960s, it was established as the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) - also founded through the initiative of Sison. Under Sison's direction, the CPP founded the National Democratic Front (NDF) - a alliance of unions, parties, and organizations for national democracy. In response to this growing progressive force, Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, raising claims of a growing "communist threat." This brutal 14-year period was marked by 3,257 known extrajudicial killings as well as 35,000 documented tortures, and 70,000 incarcerations - Sison being among the latter group of victims.

After almost 9 years in prison, most of which was spent in solitary confinment, Sison was released after the fall of the Marcos regime in 1986. Still committed to the movement, he went abroad to gain support for the ongoing Filipino revolution but had his passport revoked by the Corey Aquino government that took power after Marcos. He was granted asylum in the Netherlands, where the office of the National Democratic Front (NDF) was later established. Calugay provided North Star insight into some of the work Sison did out of this office. 

In 2022, the 50th anniversary of Marcos' declaration of martial law, the past dictator's son Ferdinand Marcos Jr, was inaugurated as President of the Philippines with Sara Duterte by his side as Vice President. Duterte is the daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, the former President who was notorious for his "war on drugs," claiming he would be "happy to slaughter" three million drug addicts. This is the new political situation that the Filipino people are faced with today, yet Calugay claims that the struggle for democracy in the Phillipines is not over.

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