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Successful Day of Action for the democratic rights of Prof. Sison in Brussels

by Bert De Belder

Brussels, 5 February – Today, the Initiative Committee to Defend Filipino Progressives in Europe (DEFEND) held a successful Day of Action in Brussels. The Committee was able to mobilize a broad array of people for the defense of the democratic rights of Prof. Jose Maria Sison, who has been put on the EU ‘terrorist’ list. At a well-attended Forum, Prof. Sison’s defense lawyers explained the grounds on which they will challenge their client’s listing before the European Court in Luxemburg. During a brief protest action in front of the offices of the European Council, a delegation of DEFEND handed over more than 27,600 petitions to Greek EU officials.

The Forum was attended by members of the Filipino communities in Belgium and the Netherlands, solidarity workers of the Philippine Solidarity Groups in Belgium (FGB), several young lawyers, NGO and human rights workers, trade unionists, members of the Workers’ Party of Belgium and… two representatives of the Philippine embassy in Brussels.

Jose Maria Sison himself could not be present at the Forum, precisely because the limitation of his freedom of movement is one of the repressive measures resulting from his being on the EU ‘terrorist’ list. Coni Ledesma of DEFEND read a statement by ‘Joma’, as Prof. Sison is fondly called. Louie Jalandoni, Vice-Chairman of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), explained the role of Prof. Sison as the chief political consultant of the NDFP in ten years of peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). "His contributions, in the formulating of the agreements and in overcoming obstacles and difficulties have played a crucial role in advancing the peace negotiations." Jalandoni could not but conclude that the ‘terror listing’ of Prof. Sison was "directed at destroying the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations."

Attorney Romeo Capulong, of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, has been Prof. Sison’s defense lawyer since the late 80s. He stressed that throughout the years, all criminal charges against his client have been dismissed for lack of merit. Once a court even criticized the prosecutors because their case was "based on sheer speculation". Atty. Capulong highlighted the strategic agenda of the United States in the Philippines, and explained how this is behind the criminalization of the Philippine people’s movement, of which Prof. Sison is considered to be the most respected theoretician and guide. "The US will re-establish its military bases in the Philippines", Capulong said, "and it considers the progressive movement as the main obstacle to that." The attorney chided the Council of the EU for being at the same time Prof. Sison’s accusers, false witnesses, prosecutors, judges and executioners. He explained that the Council has completely violated the right to due process of his client: he was not given notice of the decision, he was not given the opportunity to confront his accusers nor to refute the accusations, before an impartial court.

Attorney Jayson Lamchek is a correspondent lawyer for the legal appeal that a team of European human rights lawyers will file before the European Court of Luxemburg later this week. "We will demand the annulment of the Council Decision", Lamchek explained, "because it is not based on any evidence or on any objective criteria". He accused the Council of having "gravely misused its power".

The lead attorney in the defense of Prof. Sison is Jan Fermon from Belgium. He cited four grounds for challenging the EU Council Decision. First, the decision is absolutely without any motivation. The only ‘motivation’ used in the written decision is that "it is desirable to adopt a new list", on which Prof. Sison’s name appears. "But it does not say why it is desirable, on which basis it is desirable and to whom it is desirable", Fermon said. "We are supposed to accept as motivation just that ‘it is desirable’!" "Second", Fermon continued, "there is a patent error of judgment, as the decision arbitrarily lumps together the efforts to help achieve national liberation and acts of terrorism. And what are considered acts of terrorism, is not at all clear. Recently, Philippine Foreign Affairs Minister said that if Mr. Sison would sign a peace agreement unilaterally imposed on the NDFP, he would no longer be considered a terrorist." Atty. Fermon laughed: "That’s the strangest definition of terrorism that I have ever come across: being a terrorist or not just depends on signing a paper or not." Another principle that is violated in Prof. Sison’s ‘terrorist’ listing, is that of proportionality. "The blocking of my client’s bank accounts", Fermon said, "does not concern the transfer of large amounts of money. It is about the social benefits my client received as a recognized refugee: a measly 201 euros a month! Well, if that’s the amounts of money that would be spent on terrorism, we can all sleep safely!"

At 2:00 pm, some 30 people held a brief protest action in Brussels European quarters. They were joined by Ferdy Willems, a Belgian member of parliament for Agalev (Greens). They were dressed in the now famous ‘Joma jackets’, shouted slogans and held streamers saying "Bush, hands off Sison! Remove Prof. Sison from the EU ‘terrorist’ list!". A delegation, consisting of Coni Ledesma and Bert De Belder of DEFEND and of MP Ferdy Willems, was received by Mr. Constantin Chalastanis, of the Permanent Representation of the Greek Presidency of the European Union. Coni Ledesma handed him a letter of Defend and no less than 27,600 signatures from 34 countries, demanding that Prof. Sison be removed from the EU ‘terrorist’ list. Mr. Chalastanis took note of the demand and accepted the letter and the signatures. The protesters, from their part, promised to continue their campaign, with the help of as many democratic and progressive groups and personalities as possible, to obtain justice for Prof. Sison.

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