Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Old Man & The Dutch

It’s like what Obi Wan Kenobi said to Darth Vader, at the moment of their final confrontation: “the more you strike me down, the stronger I become.” In this case, the more he is persecuted, the stronger he is.

I refer, of course, to Jose Ma. Sison, chair of the International League of Peoples Struggles and chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front's negotiating panel in peace talks with the Philippine government. He has other accomplishments, among them leading the re-establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1960s. Before exile in 1987, he had spent nearly a decade imprisoned under the Marcos Dictatorship, in isolation and heavily tortured. When he was elected ILPS chair two years ago, Joma made the side comment that perhaps this would be a last office for him.

The third generation of Filipino activists calls him with affection, in Tagalog, the old man. He will, likely, never forgive me for using the phrase myself. Occasionally, through the years – and lord knows how long I’ve known the man – I’d wondered whether he had had a year, a month, a week even, when he wasn’t under some kind of persecution or threat, whether he had had moments when he could breathe freely, not look over his shoulder as it were, or cease to think of how to respond to a new barrage of verbal and/or possible physical assault on his person. Or even if he had ever wished for such a moment, such an instant.

In the past week, there’s been such a barrage, as enemies, many not even knowing him, gloat over his incarceration. On August 28, 2007, the Dutch police tricked him into going to the police station, ostensibly to discuss an assassination plot against him, and then promptly handcuffed and placed him under arrest, whisked him forthwith to the Scheveningen Penitential Facility. The people of Holland should appreciate the irony; this prison was used by the Nazis to hold and torture Dutch resistance fighters. It kind of boggles the mind how the country of Anne Frank could follow the model of their hated occupiers and keep Joma in isolation, not allowing him his medicine and clothes, nor access to reading materials, radio or television, and incommunicado to family and friends. This, for the Dutch, is “adherence to international standards” of imprisonment.

We tend to think of the Dutch as mild-mannered liberals but the histories of the Dutch East Indies Company and of Dutch colonialism refute that image. The Dutch waged war for 17 years against the natives of Padri, Indonesia; five years against the Javanese; 30 years against the people of Aceh. In Bali, Dutch invasion caused nearly 300 of the royal family and retainers to commit suicide, since Hinduism would not allow them to kill. Then there are the Boers, later Afrikaners, who held South Africa for centuries and perfected the apartheid policy, so they may continue to own diamond mines and other treasures of the country. The Dutch also maintained slave trade hubs in both East Africa and South and Southeast Asia. The Asian slave trade under the Dutch East Indies Company has been overshadowed by the African slave trade, but in 1659-1661 alone, the Company bought and sold between 8,000-10,000 “slaves” from India.

Much of the vaunted Dutch liberalism, it would seem, extends only to money-making decadence. Sure, drugs, liquor and prostitution are open and legal in Holland but try political dissent and activism. Rotterdam has been known these last two decades as a hub of the traffic of women into the sex farms and brothels of Europe. “Illegal” or “undocumented” aliens comprise nearly 70% of women prostituted in Amsterdam. And Holland leads European countries in investments in the Philippines.

Dutch interest in the archipelago is not of recent vintage. The La Naval de Manila religious festival arose from five bloody confrontations in 1646 between Spanish-Philippine forces and Dutch invaders/pirates, who wanted the islands as part of the territory of the Dutch East Indies. Before each of the sea battles, Catholic churches in Manila had the rosary and masses said to a small statue of an Asian Virgin Mary created by a Chinese sculptor, housed in the old Dominican Church near the Pasig River. After the Dutch were defeated, the victory was ascribed to this Virgin’s intercession. For three centuries thereafter, annual processions were held in her honor, which begun the rite of the block rosary, during which a statue of the Virgin was moved from house to house, to the accompaniment of rosary recitals. When they say their prayers, Filipinos should remember that the block rosary was a thank-you to Virgin Mary for keeping the Dutch away from the Philippines.

The old man and the Dutch have had a checkered relationship in the 20 years of his exile in the rather lackluster city of Utrecht. He has fought the Dutch government in one court after another, forcing the Dutch into a conundrum. On the one hand, the Dutch government accepts the validity of his contention of persecution and possible murder in the Philippines; on the other, the Dutch government refuses to grant him refugee status. Recently, the EU court of First Instance in Luxemburg ordered his assets unfrozen, because it found that the Dutch government had violated procedure when Joma was arbitrarily listed as a “terrorist.” In such a manner has the old man been exposing the gap between Holland’s reputation and action, between the image of “democratic” liberality and the reality for peoples of color and activists in The Netherlands.

Joma’s arrest will have long-term impact, not on the revolutionary movement in the Philippines, but on the ability and inclination of Filipinos overseas to self-organize, to work collectively for better job and living conditions, for legalization of their presence and for protection against sexual violence and sexual exploitation. If the Philippine government can buy, with mining and oil exploration licenses, the cooperation of a host counry like Holland in its policy of political repression against political dissent, how then can overseas Filipinos struggle against economic abuse, racism, sexual abuse and gender exploitation? The horrendous impact of this arrest is better understood in the context of the fact that 85% of the Filipino community in Europe is female. -- ###

17 comments:

ks said...

thank you for shattering the myth of Dutch neutrality and liberalism.

too often young fil-ams have asked "Dutch and the P.I.? i don't get it..."

a bloody colonial past often spills into a dark present for the women already silenced. i needed this reminder.

my family is bewildered, "i didn't know the philippine government's powers extended beyond its borders"

its frightening to see how easily our lives are bought and sold in this post 9/11 world.

please write more often. your writing is a defiance to all that seeks to intimidate us.

kiita said...

Thank you for making this event even more pressing and relevant to Filipinos all over the world. And thank you for the historical context.

Anonymous said...

But Sison was arrested for ordering the killings of two of his former colleagues, not for political activism in Holland. Should political activism excuse murder?

Anonymous said...

I keep telling people, it's not solitary confinement....it's right to privacy! Prisoners don't share cells in holland, even when the gov't was thinking of inmates sharing cells, there were protests from inmates themselves!!! The dutch value this right to privacy....and as for medicines, I also keep telling people that medicines not being allowed inside are standard procedures....eh, baka nga naman mag-suicide ka sa loob. What happens is a doctor will check him up and his medicines provided if necessary.....please give me a break, dutch prisons are like hotel rooms...it;'s not like the US. So give it up!

Anonymous said...

I can understand your anger but not all the Dutch agree with what was done.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

To Anonymous#1: Even a third-rate journalist knows that no one man/woman "orders" the New Peoples Army to do anything. It has complex procedures and processes. And the NPA accepted responsibility for the two deaths now being blamed on Joma.
To Anonymous#2: His wife has not been allowed to visit him. His own doctor has not been allowed to visit him. His son has not been allowed to visit him. Only one lawyer for one hour each day has been allowed to visit him. Isn't this too much privacy? His medicine can be doled out to him in prescribed doses. He can be allowed books, newspapers, a tiny black and white television. Instead, he's left likely staring at walls and without his medicine, or with medicine prescribed by a prison doctor who doesn't know his medical history. I'm sure the Nazis did not keep the Dutch resistance fighters in this particular prison because it's "like a hotel room."
To anonymous#3: You're right; not all the Dutch agree with what has been done. But I did not see 10,000 Dutch banging pots and pans at the noise barrage and rally at Amsterdam. So how many Dutch do you think do not agree with what the Dutch government did -- a hundred, two hundred, three??? Let's hear it from a country where one in ten is a member of Amnesty International.

Anonymous said...

okay, maybe I don't know enough details...if what you write is true then he's been put in the same jail and treatment as the other democratic leaders like milosevic and charles taylor among others.

anonymous #2

pvh said...

Mrs. Rosca is trying to create the impression that "the old man" has been arrested as the result of a dutch attitude and mentality that has pertained through the centuries. Then she continues to draw lines from that mentality to the exploitation of Philipinos living overseas. I appreciate the effort, but also believe that reality is slightly different from that. Joma IS listed as the president of a terrorist organisation, which is justifiably disputed, but that is the reason of his detention protocol. There is no relation with Anne Frank, Nazi's or the fact that the Dutch attacked a harbour in the Phiipines in sixteen hunderd something. Portraying Joma as the one benevolent that has only known persecution in his life is showing one aspect of his history only. I am sure that there are also some less flattering things to tell if you would want to. Saying that his arrest will have repercussions all over the world in how people are frustrated in organising themselves, is slightly overdrawing the importance of his person in the wold of today. The world has changed over the last 400 years and changed enormously over the last 40 years. As a longtime supporter and strong believer of fair distribution of wealth, social justice and equal opportunities I would not bet my money any longer on the stagnated ideology of some dinosaurs who fail to develop along with the context. A changing world needs a changing approach. Even the Chinese politburo has realised that. The reason that Joma was arrested just now, at this moment of time, is likely the result of manipulations we can only guess about. Probably something to do with war against terror, Americans, Dutch bussiness deals and so on. Maybe this is a reason to be angry, but not a ground to deny Joma's involvement in the murders he is accused of. Whether it be directly or indirectly. Likewise Philipinos overseas are likely exploited, this doesn't mean that they are not exploited in their homeland. Perhaps it is more fruitful to analyse the contemporary reason why so many have left the Philipines than to rant randomly about mentalities of the past.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Not Dutch mentality/attitudes, PVH. Rather Dutch economic interests, like oil in Bicol Province.

And it's Ms. Rosca. Talk about dinosaurs.

Anonymous said...

I am confused. The 2 men who were gunned down in Manila -- weren't they also members of the NPA? Did they order killings as well? Or were they pacifist guerrillas? And if it's in Manila, what has Holland got to do with it?

Anonymous said...

those shameful dutch!

unless it is verified that the detainee does not get his usual dose of medicine or even a different brand, the worldwide prescribed propaganda (globalisation of a different kind) that the detainee is denied his medicine does not seem to hold ground. a case trumped up charges against the dutch?

yes, the prison was used during wartime, the so called oranjehotel, but has undergone continuous upgrades ever since, and does not have a 500%
occupation rate like the Manila City Jail which is still in its original condition and after holding Japanese war criminals is now holding the marginalised people of the Philippines who do not have the money to run
for senator. Likewise the Scheveningen prison it is not run by organised gangs but by prison authorities who undoubtedly do vaguely remember a guest called Milosevic and are probably not very eager to see the matter
repeated. I also remember the lwayer Pestman (what's in a name) that his client was in high spirits, and I doubt the lawyer was referring to the use of marihuana by the detainee, but more likely to his good condition
probably because of prison medication.

It is nice to see that all evil form Dutch society is summoned. Apart from wondering what the free selling of soft drugs, prostitutes with social security and legal status have to do with this case, let me help the Mrs. Carol Araullo's and the Ms. Ninotschka Rosca's of this world by
remembering the one thing they forgot: euthanasia! State sponsored
killings! A golden opportunity missed to label the dutch as even more infamous!

And abortion! What a wonderful world it would have been without some of the columnists, if only their parents had been able to avail themselves of a dutch clinic.

I can understand the frustrations but let us keep a few things clear:
nobody forced Mr. Luis Jalandoni to become a Dutch citizen, nobody
forced the NDF to set up their office in Utrecht. Yet in this
monstruous country they all resided for decades without complaining. Yes, occasional statements that "not much love was lost" with The Netherlands
were released once in a while. But the benefits that the imperialist
Dutch state was supplying were eagerly accepted and when they were
taken away numerous court suits followed to get them back. A line of principle in the stand against perceived Dutch imperialism has never been in place it seems.

If the charges are so trumped up it would appear to me the competent
judges will throw the case out. Even if they will not do that and it will come to a trial: there is always an acquittal. So if the detainee is as innocent of the murders he is charged with as authors claim justice will happen soon enough.

Until then: refrain from libelous statements against the Dutch and
their people, I saw no Dutch make reference to the character of the Filipino or anything so far based on the character of the detainee!

A citizen of the world

P.S. as of writing access to media and own doctor has been given, not due to public pressure, but due to lack of attention. the son of a landowner and a political dynasty is old.... old news....

Anonymous said...

Why don't people stop "understanding" our frustrations and do something about it -- instead of terming "libelous" criticisms against the Dutch law enforcement system? -- A Salvadoran

Ninotchka Rosca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ninotchka Rosca said...

Dear Citizen of The World:

Luis Jalandoni et al did not approve the laws/policies/procedures of Holland re: political asylum, refugees, political activism and migration. I presume that the Dutch people did. Hence,you should not take umbrage when people expect those laws to be applied even-handedly, untinged by classicsm, racism and sexism. Certainly, because those laws are expressive of the Dutch people's will, they should not be sacrificed for the economic interests of Dutch multinational corporations.

And if you find the 500% occupancy rate in Manila prisons totally disgusting, then you should be banging pots and pans in support of people like Joma who are against the fascist, corrupt and criminal people currently ruling the Philippines and killing/jailing/disappearing critics and dissenters.

9:27 AM

Anonymous said...

well, now that Mr Sison is out of jail. Why doesn't he go back to the Philippines and face his accusers in court there? As a "Professor" he will probably get better treatment in the Manila City Jail than in that rotten Dutch jail.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Wasn't the case filed by Dutch prosecutors?

The case in the Philippines against Prof. Sison was dismissed by the Philippine Supreme Court even before Dutch prosecutors filed their case at The Hague.

Look at Sison as simply a man, a Filipino, who was kept in isolation and incommunicado for two weeks, on the basis of an alleged case subsequently thrown out by the Dutch courts.

Don't be so blinded by your hatred for what the man represents that you become an accomplice to the violation of his human rights. There's no conditional clause to the phrase "human rights" -- which means everyone is entitled to such rights.

Is it fair to be punished even before the courts hear the case? Even before a verdict?

Anonymous said...

I would love to see an Asian Virgin Mary. I remember my professor bring up the idea of a Chinese Jesus and my classmates laughed.