CPP founder Joma Sison dies at 83

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 17) — Jose Maria "Joma" Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has died at the age of 83, the CPP announced on Saturday.

The communist leader died Friday, Dec. 16, at around 8:40 p.m. (Philippine time) after two weeks of confinement in a hospital in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the party said in a statement.

"The entire Communist Party of the Philippines gives the highest possible tribute to its founding chairman, great Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thinker, patriot, internationalist and revolutionary leader," the CPP wrote.

"Even as we mourn, we vow [to] continue to give all our strength and determination to carry the revolution forward guided by the memory and teachings of the people's beloved Ka Joma," it added.

As of press time, the communist party has not released other details about its leader's passing.

Sison founded the CPP on Dec. 26, 1968.

He was captured by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in November 1977 under the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and was later released in March 1986 after the EDSA revolution.

In 1988, Sison applied as a political refugee in the Netherlands after the Philippine government canceled his passport while he was in the country. He lived there until he died.

Mixed wishes

The announcement of his death has been received in different ways, with some — including progressive lawmakers — paying their respects, while others welcomed the news.

Among those who expressed grief were members of the Makabayan bloc in Congress, who also renewed their call for the resumption of peace talks between the government and communist rebels.

"Prof. Sison was a patriot and revolutionary who stood with the Filipino people against oppression, exploitation, and fascism during the Marcos dictatorship, was jailed and tortured as a dissident, but continued to side with the poor and marginalized until his death," the group said in a statement.

According to the lawmakers, Sison's call for an armed revolution "continues to resonate with the current generation of Filipinos," showing the government has "failed" to address the social injustice that pushes its citizens to take up arms.

In a separate statement, Atty. Edre Olalia — Sison's longtime friend and president of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers — also highlighted what he described as the CPP founder's "unflinching passion to always uphold and defend the people's interests."

"You are many things to many people and your inimitable legacy and venerable place in history and in the peoples' struggle are embedded in our minds and hearts," Olalia wrote.

But for the Department of National Defense (DND), Sison's death is "a symbol of the crumbling hierarchy of the CPP-NPA-NDF (New People's Army-National Democratic Front), which he founded to violently put himself in power."

"The greatest stumbling block to peace in the Philippines is gone; let us now give peace a chance," the DND said.

AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar also expressed belief the development will weaken the underground movement in the country.

Senator Imee Marcos expressed hope Sison's death will mark the end of one of the world's longest-running insurgencies. She also quoted the Bible: "Love your enemies and love those who persecute you."

Vice President Sara Duterte, meanwhile, issued a short statement: "May God have mercy on his soul."

Joma and Rodrigo Duterte

Former President Rodrigo Duterte also issued a statement on the death of his former teacher at Lyceum University in the 1960s.

"While Mr. Sison and I have had many disagreements - especially in the ways in which he chose to pursue and effect change in the country - I would like to believe that, at the end of the day, we shared the same dream of creating a better future for every Filipino," he said.

When he assumed office in 2016, Duterte prioritized resolving the conflict, even broaching the possibility of Sison's return to the country. 

But he abandoned the peace talks with the communist group due to rebel attacks during the negotiations.