Prof. Jose Maria Sison, or Ka Joma as he is fondly called, was a staunch fighter for the rights and welfare of Filipino overseas workers. As Chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) and as Chief Political Consultant of the NDFP Panel for peace negotiations he never failed to uphold the interest of the migrant Filipino workers.
His writings on the cause of migration, the struggle against exploitation and oppression suffered by migrant workers, the important role they play in the struggle for national liberation and democracy and in building a genuinely free and prosperous Philippines developed the ideological and political consciousness of our kababayans (compatriots) working abroad. Ka Joma was a tireless resource person accepting invitations from different organizations, not only Filipinos but other nationalities, to discuss the various concerns faced by migrant workers.
In 2007, the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime filed trumped up murder charges against Ka Joma and instigated the Netherlands government to arrest and imprison him. During his interrogation by Dutch authorities, one of his interrogators told Ka Joma that he must have been a very important person because people were demonstrating in front of Dutch embassies in different countries demanding his release from prison. Migrant workers were a constant part of these protest actions.
Upon his release after being proven innocent, he was given a warm welcome by the Filipinos and other foreign friends who gathered at the NDFP International Office. Kababayans were carrying banners and placards saying, “Ka Joma is not a terrorist!” “Long live Ka Joma” “We love you Tito Joma!”
A kababayan said: “Ako simpleng tao lang ako. Pero tanong ko lang, bakit ang isang taong lumalaban para sa kapayapaan at karapatan ng taong tulad ko ay tatawaging isang terorista? Basta ang alam ko si Tito Joma ay hindi terorista!” (I am just a simple person. But my question is why a person who fights for peace and rights of people like me is called a terrorist? What I know is Tito Joma is not a terrorist!)
Indeed, the Filipino migrants never believed Ka Joma was a criminal. They know who he is and what kind of a person he was. He was Ka Joma, Tito Joe, Kuya Joma, Lolo (Grandfather) Joe. They are very at home with him, and he was at home with his beloved Kababayans. He enjoyed talking to the youth and sharing his experiences with them, teaching summer political schools, joking and singing with them. He even tried jamming, rapping and doing some hip-hop routines with the youth.
During a gathering that celebrated his long service to the Filipino people, one of the speakers explained why the terrorist tag never stuck on Ka Joma and why the cacophonous slander fell on deaf ears. She said “Ka Joma always welcomed the presence of our Kababayans. He would listen to their stories, their problems, explained to them the reason for their leaving the Philippines and their family and suffer the pain of separation, the loneliness of being far away from family and friends. He would always explain the need and importance for them to organize themselves and fight for their rights as migrant workers. For our kababayans, Ka Joma was one of them.”
Kababayans would often consult their problems to Ka Joma – from family and financial problems, their heavy responsibilities as a migrant worker, legalization, advise on forming organizations, how to protect the rights and welfare of migrant workers and sometimes even about their love life.
It was not difficult nor were they afraid to approach Ka Joma because he was always friendly, easy to talk with and always had time for them. They also knew he would listen intently to what they will say.
Ka Joma, on the other hand, enjoyed being in the company of Kababayans that he always accepted invitations to their gatherings whether this was a celebration of the Christmas holidays, birthdays, summer picnics, fundraising, political gatherings and of course those karaoke nights that he so adored. He was at ease with them and he really belonged.
Like our kababayans, he also suffered the pangs of loneliness for being so far from his beloved Philippines, his family and his kasamas (comrades). He suffered the injustice of the ruling system, as a refugee who was persecuted and prosecuted, charged with crimes he never committed imprisoned and deprived of income. But he persevered for he knew his country and his kababayans are worth fighting for.
In his poem “Sometimes the Heart Yearns for Mangoes”, one could feel the pain of loneliness and longing emanating from the words of his poetry, just like the loneliness and longing felt by his millions of kababayans outside the Philippines.
Sometimes, the Heart Yearns for Mangoes
Sometimes, the heart yearns
For mangoes where there are apples,
For orchids where there are tulips,
For warmth, where it is cold,
For mountainous islands,
Where there is flatland.
Far less than the home,
And the flow of kith and kin,
Unfamiliar and now familiar
Things and places trigger
The pain of sundered relations,
Of losses by delays and default.
Direct dialing, fax machines,
Computer discs and video casettes
And visitors on jumbo jets,
Fail to close the gap
Between rehearsed appearances
And the unrehearsed life at home.
That make a strange land loveable.
But they have their routines,
Their own lives to live,
Beyond the comprehension
And pertinence of the stranger.
Those who seek to rob the exile
Of home, kith and kin,
Of life, limb and liberty
Are the loudest to mock at him
Who is helplessly at sea,
Uprooted from his soil.
The well-purposed exile continues
To fight for his motherland
Against those who banished him,
The unwelcomed exploiters of his people,
And is certain that he is at home
In his own country and the world.
Jose Maria Sison
Utrecht, 30 March 1994