Philippine Communist Party founder Sison dies in exile at 83

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Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, whose armed wing has been waging one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies, has died. He was 83.

Sison died peacefully late Friday after two weeks of confinement in a hospital in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the party’s spokesman, Marco Val-buena, said in a statement on Saturday. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Sison had lived in self-exile in The Netherlands since then-President Corazon Aquino released him from detention in 1986, shortly after the “People Power” revolt overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the father and namesake of the current Philippine president.

Sison died 10 days before the party he founded in 1968 was marking its 54th anniversary on Dec. 26. Its armed wing, the New People’s Army, was established months later in March 1969, numbering only about 60 Maoist fighters armed with nine automatic rifles and 26 single-shot rifles and pistols. But the movement gradually grew and expanded across the impoverished nation.

Battle setbacks, surrenders and infighting, how-ever, have weakened the guerrilla group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and remains a major Philippine security threat. The communist rebellion has left about 40,000 combatants and civilians dead. It also has stunted economic development, especially in the countryside, where the military says about 2,000 insurgents are still active.

Past administrations had engaged in on and off peace negotiations with communist rebels represented by the umbrella organization National Democratic Front of the Philippines, where Sison served as chief political consultant.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte ended peace talks in March 2019, and negotiations have not re-sumed.

“The Filipino proletariat and toiling people grieve the death of their teacher and guiding light,” the party’s statement said.

“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,” the statement added, referring to Sison by his nickname.

Vice President Sara Duterte, daughter of the former president, issued a brief statement on Sison’s death, saying: “May God have mercy on his soul.”—AP