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Fortress Europe Circular Letter (FECL) No.  47 October 1996
by Nicholas Busch


The Dutch Ministry of Justice is stubbornly seeking to deport a prominent Filipino communist leader, Jose Maria Sison, in spite of his recognition by the Raad van State (Highest Court) as a refugee under the Geneva Convention. It is widely believed that the Dutch government is acting upon pressure from "friendly governments" in Washington and Manila, and out of concern for important Dutch economic interests in the Philippines.

Jose Maria Sison has long been a prominent figure in Filipino politics. Born in 1939, he became a lecturer in political science and literature at the University of the Philippines in the early 1960s and was a co-founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in 1968. After an assassination attempt against him the same year, he went underground. In 1977, he was arrested by the Marcos Regime, and subjected to eight months of torture and serious ill-treatment on the orders of General Fidel Ramos, now President of the Philippines. After nine years of imprisonment, Sison was set free following the overthrow of the Marcos regime in 1986 and was reinstated as a professor of political science. However, in 1988, the Filipino government cancelled Sisonís passport on false charges under the Anti-Subversion Law and offered a bounty of 1 Million pesos on his head.


A bizarre asylum procedure

Fearing for his life, Mr Sison sought asylum in the Netherlands. His first application was rejected in 1990 by the Justice Ministry. In 1992, the Raad van State (the highest administrative court of the Netherlands) annulled this decision, whereupon the Justice Ministry simply made a second negative decision, based on new motives. The Justice Ministry based its decision mainly on a dossier of the Dutch Internal Secret Service, BVD, alleging Sisonís involvement in terrorist activities in his home country. Sison appealed again.

In its verdict of February 1995, the Raad van State, found

- that there was no sufficient proof for the accusation of terrorism of the BVD;

- that Article 1 F of the Geneva Convention excluding refugee status for persons guilty of particularly serious crimes was not applicable in Mr Sisonís case;

- that Mr Sison must be recognised as a refugee according to Article 1 A of the Convention; and

- that his forcible return to the Philippines would breach Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the deportation of a person to a country where he is threatened with torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Justice reiterated its rejection of Mr Sisonís asylum application and ordered his expulsion in July 1996.


Recognition does not imply admission

In doing so, the Ministry of Justice is making use of what many regard as a loophole in the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. Although the Convention establishes the criteria making a person eligible for refugee status, it does not establish an obligation for a state to actually admit a recognised refugee to its territory.

In the Netherlands this question of admission is regulated in Article 15 ß2 of the foreigners law, according to which the admission of a recognised refugee may be refused, if he can be sent to a third country. A person may even be sent directly to his country of origin if there are "serious reasons" derivable from the "general interests" of the Netherlands. However, according to Mr Sisonís lawyer, Robert van As, this latter rule does not stand on its own, but must be invoked in combination with the Geneva Conventionís Articles 1 F (denial of refugee status for perpetrators of very serious crimes) or 33.2 (exception to the principle of non-refoulement for refugees whom there are "reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the [host] country).

Since the Raad van State has unequivocally established that none of these two provisions applies to Mr Sisonís case, he cannot be deported to the Philippines, but - although he is a recognised refugee - he may be deported to a third country willing to admit him.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said in July: "In the first place, Sison himself must look for a country to go to. Eventually, and only in the second place, would the Ministry of Justice look for a country for him".

Supporters of Mr Sison now are concerned that the Dutch authorities might order him detained "pending deportation", in order to press him into finding another country of asylum.

Through his Dutch lawyer, Robert van As, Mr Sison has appealed against the expulsion measure. Pending a final decision on his appeal, he cannot be deported.

Most observers believe it is unlikely that a country willing to admit Mr Sison can actually be found. Thus, even if his appeal is dismissed, he is likely to remain in the Netherlands. But his lawyer, Robert van As, points out that in this event Mr Sison would find himself in a "semi-legal situation", without the rights of a recognised refugee. "I know of no previous case where a recognised refugee is only tolerated in the host country", says Mr van As.

Roel Fernhout, professor of asylum law at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, says that the Dutch judiciary will have to decide on a matter of principle: "The question is whether you can say: `We are not expelling Sison to the Philippines, but he has to leave our countryí".


Pressure from a "friendly government"?

The Dutch authoritiesí handling of the Sison case is remarkable and seems contradictory at first sight. On the one hand, they have de facto tolerated the presence of Jose Maria Sison, his wife, and his son on Dutch soil for eight years. In doing so, they were fully aware of Sisonís role within the NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines), a coalition of leftist parties and organisations representing approximately 10 per cent of the Filipino population. Sison is the chief political consultant of the NDFP in its long-standing peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). The NDFP-GRP negotiation panel has long been hosted by the Netherlands. The most recent round of talks actually took place in June 1996.

Although the Filipino government has recently reiterated claims that Mr Sison is responsible for a number of killings in the Philippines in 1985, 1989, and 1991, there are at present no charges against him. Mr Sison for his part has repeatedly pointed to the fact that he was in prison in the Philippines in 1985, and was living in the Netherlands in 1989 and 1991. He has firmly denied any involvement in any of the killings.

According to Mr Sison, as early as 1989/99, "US diplomatic sources" leaked information to the Dutch press suggesting that the US Government had "advised" the Dutch Government to deny him asylum. In 1991, a Dutch TV crew filmed a joint attempt by the American CIA and the Dutch BVD to recruit another Filipino asylum seeker in the Netherlands, Nathan Quimpo, for spying on Sison and other Filipino opposition figures (see FECL No.2, p.4). At that time, the Dutch Interior Ministry sought to justify the operation with threats of terrorist attacks against Dutch and American targets in the Netherlands, allegedly planned by the "New Peopleís Army" (the armed wing of the CPP and a member organisation of the NDFP), but never substantiated these accusations.

At the court hearing preceding the first verdict of the Raad van State in 1992, the representative of the Dutch Ministry of Justice openly declared that a government friendly to both the Dutch and the Filipino governments would be "displeased and offended", if Sison were granted asylum in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Secretary of State of Justice, Ms Schmitz, is continuing to depict Mr Sison as a terrorist suspect. Defending her decision to deport Mr Sison, she argued that the Netherlands did not want to be a "host country for future terrorist activities". Commenting on the accusation of the Dutch Ministry of Justice that he had "contacts" with terrorist movements, Mr Sison said: "I attend international conferences. There I talk to people from other liberation movements, like the Kurds or the ANC. Dutch ministers also do that. Are they also terrorists?"

Indeed, the Dutch governmentís accusations against Sison appear increasingly untenable, not to say absurd: The second verdict of the Raad van State, has actually cleared Mr Sison from being involved in terrorism. The charges against him in the Philippines were dropped some years ago. Most recently, President Ramos spectacularly invited Sison to come home, offering him a senatorship. Irrespective of General Ramosí true intentions, the offer stands in stark contrast with the Dutch accusations of terrorism.

Mr Sison for his part has declined the invitation which he considers a trap. Stressing that there is still a bounty on his head, he says: "They will not murder me upon arrival in Manila, like the opposition leader Aquino in 1983, but they will hit me somewhat later".

Moreover, Mr Sison feels that leaving the Netherlands now would amount to "running away" from the serious accusations of the Dutch government.


Sources: International Campaign for Asylum of the Sison Family, c/o P.O.Box 2041, NL-3800 Amersfort; Tel/Fax: +31/33 4723084, E-mail:; Our interview with Robert van As, lawyer, 30.9.96; Trouw, 23.7.96; Het Parool, 27.7.96.




The clumsy, if not outrageous, handling of the Sison case by the Dutch authorities, suggests that weighty political interests are interfering with the due course of justice. Indeed, there are strong reasons to believe, that, after years of exile, Jose Maria Sison continues to be considered a nuisance by powerful circles inside and outside the Philippines.

Sison has a reputation of being an orthodox Communist hard-liner, representing the most radical and confrontational tendencies within the NDFP. As opposed to Nur Misuari, the leader of the Muslim Moro National Liberation Front, who signed a peace agreement with the Ramos Government in early September, and who is now running for elections in the Party of Mr Ramos, there is nothing to suggest that Mr Sison intends to give up his uncompromising opposition against the Government. Consequently, he might now be regarded as a major obstacle to progress in the NDPF-GRP peace negotiations. Together with the determination of the US Government to eradicate all remnants of communism in the fast expanding Eastern Asian economic area, and the strong presence of Dutch based international companies such as Shell, Unilever, ING-Barring and Philips in the Philippines, this could well be the explanation for the Dutch governmentís obstinacy in trying to get rid of Sison now, even at the price of undermining the credibility of Dutch and, eventually, European asylum policy. This is, indeed, what is at a stake. For, whether one sympathises with Mr Sisonís ideological stances or not, it is hard to imagine a political refugee more genuine in the sense of the Geneva Convention than the Filipino Communist leader.


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