Rizal in Jose Ma. Sison’s Writings (Part 1)

SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. is a municipal-level judge covering three rural towns in Camarines Sur.  He once taught an undergraduate subject on Rizal while he was still a law student at the University of Nueva Caceres. His continuing interest in Philippine history is reflected in his work. Among others, he and literature professor Paz Verdades Martinez-Santos were co-editors of Militant But Groovy: Stories of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (2008) and co-authors of Primed and Purposeful: Armed Groups and Human Security Efforts in the Philippines (2010). This piece was published in the June 20, 2011 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.


Reading Jose Ma. Sison’s essays of the 1960s, one is struck by his frequent references to Jose Rizal, his works and characters.  This can be readily seen in Sison’s first book Struggle for National Democracy (New Edition 1972), a collection of his essays of the 1960s and messages for the 1970s.

The very first article in SND is “Rizal the Social Critic”, originally entitled “Rizal the ‘Subversive’.” There are references to Rizal, his works and characters in 11 out of 29 selections.  These are Kabataang Makabayan Founding Speech,  “The October 24th Movement,” Message to the Third National Congress Kabataang Makabayan, Message to MAKIBAKA on the Women’s Liberation Movement, “The National Democratic Movement and the Political Activist,” “On the Standard Issues of the Day,”  “Land Reform and National Democracy,”  “The Sophism of the Christian Social Movement,”  “The Need for a Cultural Revolution,”  “The Tasks of the Second Propaganda Movement,”  “Towards a National Democratic Teacher’s Movement,” and “The Mercenary Tradition in the AFP.”

The briefest reference is in “Sophism” which mentions the Noli-Fili Law.  The lengthiest reference is in “Land Reform” which relates the story of Cabesang Tales, Juli, Tano/Carolino, Tandang Selo and Matanglawin.  Sison, in fact, is at his best when alluding to Rizal’s characters.  Perhaps the most controversial reference to Rizal is in Sison’s Message to the Third National Congress Kabataang Makabayan:  “What has come to be known as the Second Propaganda Movement makes its antecedent – that of Rizal, Lopez Jaena, del Pilar and the Lunas – a mere dinner party of exiles….The incarceration of Nilo Tayag is richer in implications than the exile of Jose Rizal to Dapitan.” Perhaps the unkindest cut is the very closing phrase in Sison’s above-said main article on Rizal: “…he was led like a lamb to Bagumbayan to be killed.”  To the extent that the lamb is a symbol of meekness, this passage is unfair to Rizal as well as his supreme sacrifice.

The other book attributed to Sison is Philippine Society and Revolution (PSR) by Amado Guerrero, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).  Shortly after Sison’s capture in 1977, Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas reported that “Sison had signed earlier an affidavit identifying himself as chairman of the CPP.” Shortly Joma’s release in 1986, he admitted having been chairman of the CPP.  In PSR, Rizal was treated in only one paragraph. The last word on him there was that “he betrayed it (the Philippine Revolution of 1896) by calling on the people to lay down their arms a few days before his execution.”  But such “betrayal” would be premised on one’s being part of the revolutionary movement,  though all indications are that Rizal was not.

Many of Sison’s late-1980s essays were written under noms de plume, or, if you will, noms de guerre.  In “Tribute to Edgar M. Jopson”, Sison compared Jopson to Rizal, noting that both were outstanding alumni of the Ateneo:

Rizal contributed much to the emergence of the national democratic revolution and died for it.  Jopson has also contributed much to the resurgent national democratic revolution and died for it.

But I think Jopson surpasses Rizal in certain aspects.  Jopson had the advantage of coming into a later era, learning from lessons of the past and grasping more progressive ideas for the realization of the national democratic revolution… Jopson was able to reach a higher level of revolutionary theory and practice than Rizal.

In “Aquino: Martyr and Patriot”, using the pen-name Alma Rason, Sison  said:

Aquino was like Rizal.  Despite the threats to his life by the enemy, he returned to the country with the honest desire of working for the improvement of the political, economic and social conditions of the people.

Aquino was reformist and was for non-violent change.  He held the idea that the fascist regime could be persuaded to depart from its evil ways and reconcile with the people.

x x x

Like Rizal, Aquino while alive could not realize his noble objectives under the shadow of the enemy but was persecuted and finally martyred.  By his martyrdom, however, his name has become a battle cry for the entire Filipino people.

After his release in 1986 (Cory), Sison undertook a series of lectures on “Philippine Crisis and Revolution”.  The first in the series of ten dealt with the “Historical Roots of the Philippine Crisis”.  Here Rizal is referred to as among “the best of the reformists” for his role in the reform movement.

Evidently, Rizal the reformist has had quite an impact on Sison the revolutionary. In Sison’s own life story to Sunday Inquirer Magazine, he narrates that:  “In Grade IV, I became very receptive to stories about our national revolutionary heroes in social studies.  Those stories found fertile ground in my mind…”

How does Sison rate Rizal?  While categorizing Rizal as a liberal reformist, Sison, in “Rizal the Social Critic”, refers to him as “a leading representative of the enlightened stratum or ‘left wing’ of the middle class and “a progressive and radical of his own time”.  Sison further stated:  “When we consider the anti-colonial and anti-clerical writings of Rizal, we immediately perceive that national democracy of the old type, that is to say, of the now outmoded liberal cast, developed in the process of struggle.”   So, Rizal was a national democrat in that he contributed to the advancement of the national democratic revolution, albeit of the old type.

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