Confidential and secret cables released by Wikileaks from the US embassies in Manila and The Hague in the Netherlands show how three governments worked together to designate as “terrorist” Jose Maria Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in peace talks with the Manila government. The move may have been part of Philippine government’s pressure tactics on the NDFP during peace negotiations. However, the move would not yield the Philippine government’s desired results.
Sison, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army were included in the US terror list in August 2002, right after the Manila visit of then Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was soon after also included on the EU “terrorist list” of organizations and individuals upon the requests of the US and PH governments. His bank account was subsequently frozen, denying him social benefits accorded to refugees living in the Netherlands.
Terrorist-listing as leverage
The US, Dutch and Philippine governments engaged in acts that were inimical to the peace talks between the NDFP and the Philippine government. The Philippine government used the terrorist listing as leverage against the NDFP. There was intense pressure was brought to bear on Sison: from the deprivation of social benefits, threats to his life, and even arrest and detention. The matter of the terrorist listing became a prejudicial question in the peace talks.
In a 2005 meeting with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said that the NPA’s “delisting as a foreign terrorist organization depended on a demonstration or proof of sincerity… such as entering into a cease-fire or new peace talks.”
The same leveraging tactic was echoed by Presidential Peace Adviser Annabelle Abaya in a discussion with US Ambassador Kristie Kenney in November 2009. Abaya noted that Sison’s delisting by the EU “would eliminate some of the GRP’s leverage over him” and that “the GRP preferred Sison to remain designated as a terrorist” but admitted that “talks had not succeeded during his time in the EU list”.
US intervention, through the terrorist listing, had a very negative impact on the peace talks. It was a move that was aimed at forcing the NDFP to surrender to the Philippine government, even without addressing the roots of the armed conflict. This negates the inherent character of the talks which were primarily aimed at finding solutions to the root causes of the armed struggle. Arroyo appeared more interested in getting the NDFP to surrender than in addressing the substantial issues in the peace negotiations. These issue include human rights, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the disposition of forces.
After a long legal battle, Sison was eventually removed from the EU “terrorist list” in November 2009 based on a ruling by the European Court of First Instance. It appeared that the Dutch “terrorist listing” was done only in relation to asylum proceedings and was not based on actual crimes or terrorist activities.
Prior to the delisting, the US and Dutch governments did everything they could to keep Sison on the list, according to the secret cables.
Sison was arrested and detained by the Dutch government in 2007 on suspicion of ordering the killings of two people in the Philippines. Sison was eventually released and the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. As revealed in previous news, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo told the US ambassador in Manila that Philippine and Dutch governments reportedly collaborated for years to build a case against Sison, but even this could not stand judicial scrutiny.
US opposed de-listing despite lack of evidence
In a confidential 2009 cable from the US embassy in Manila, US ambassador Kristie Kenney vehemently opposed the delisting of Sison by the EU, even if no new information or evidence was available to support his retention in the list.
“The absence of new information does not negate the very significant information we have had for some time regarding Sison. If Sison and the NPA were to reject their past actions and pledge not to engage in such activity again, there might be some grounds for revisiting their designations, but on the contrary they refuse to agree to a ceasefire and continue to carry out kidnappings and killings. Under the circumstances, removal of Sison’s terrorist designation is inadvisable,” Kenney said.
In a secret cable from the Netherlands in May 2009, the US embassy in The Hague sought advice from the US State Department on how keep Sison on the terror list amid the looming decision of the EU Court of First Instance nullifying his inclusion in the list. The cable said that the Dutch government was seeking US assistance because Sison was included in the terror list upon the request of the US government.
The US embassy in The Hague cited the inability of the Dutch police, intelligence services and the US embassy in Manila to provide any new information that would justify keeping Sison in the list.
The absence of new evidence or information came despite the massive seizure of NDF documents and equipment during the raids on the NDF office and houses of NDF personnel in the Netherlands by the Dutch authorities in August 2007. The Dutch police seized everything they could get their hands on–computers, disks, papers related to the peace process, personal belongings– and still they could not produce a shred of evidence to support the terrorist listing. Sison was also arrested and detained in this raid.
In another cable from The Hague dated October 2009, the US embassy again sought new information that could justify the retention of Sison in the terrorist list. The cable described a bilateral meeting between US and Dutch officials in Brussels where they discussed how to appeal an adverse EU ruling. The Dutch and US officials feared that the UK and German governments opposed the Dutch position and that majority of countries in the EU would not likely support a Dutch appeal.
The US embassy in The Hague also said that information provided by the Philippine government linking Sison to money-laundering activities was “insufficient to support prosecution in the Netherlands”.
In a separate cable issued from the US embassy in Manila, US authorities hinted at the possibility of rendition or deportation of Sison from the Netherlands to the Philippines, but cited as a stumbling block Sison’s status as a judicially recognized political refugee under the Refugee Convention and Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. ###