Interview with Prof. Jose Maria Sison
on the University of the Philippines
By Prof. Roland G. Simbulan
Professor in Development Studies and Public Management
July 9, 2007
Professor Roland G. Simbulan (RGS): What makes a U.P. graduate unique? Or, what is, "Tatak U.P.?"
Professor Jose Maria Sison (JMS): The U.P. graduate is unique by being part of the cream of the educated
elite. He or she is among the brightest and most competent in his or her profession.
He or she is supposed to be often at least patriotic and liberal-minded in a conservative
or progressive way or sometimes a revolutionary activist along the line of the national
democratic revolution, especially since the militant mass actions of the 1960s. Tatak
UP na pinakamatingkad ay matalino, mahusay, makabayan at progresibo. (Translation:
The most outstanding mark of the the UP is: Intelligent, competent, patriotic and
(RGS): What is it in U.P.'s curriculum or atmosphere that has an enduring impact on its
students and graduates?
(JMS): The official ideology of the U.P. is a conservative and pro-imperialist type
of bourgeois liberalism. Even as this is the case, the U.P. is still relatively the most
progressive university in the semi-colonial and semi-feudal Philippine society. At any
rate, there is a constant struggle of progressive and reactionary ideas in the university.
These conflicting ideas are reflected in the curriculum, especially in courses of study
that allow debate on social issues.
Since my time in the U.P., the Marxists have advocated the national democratic revolution
under the leadership of the working class in alliance with the peasantry and the urban
petty bourgeosie. They propagated on the campus the alliance of Marxism-Leninism and
the progressive type of nationalism and liberalism in order to make a further new
democratic advance against the persistence and growth of reactionary ideas which
are pro-imperialist and pro-exploiting classes and are opposed to a patriotic, scientific
and pro--people kind of education and culture.
(RGS): In your time, who among your Professors influenced you the most, and why?
(JMS): Prof. Teodoro Agoncillo was never my teacher in the classroom. But I was
deeply influenced by his works, like Revolt of the Masses and the textbook Brief History
of the Filipino People. He was a nationalist in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist sense
and was for the national sovereignty of the Filipino people and for the realization of
democracy by their own sovereign will and revolutionary efforts. I became close to
him after he became an adviser of the Student Cultural Association of the U.P. He
wrote the introduction to my Struggle for National Democracy in 1966.
Prof. Leopoldo Yabes was my classroom teacher in graduate school. He was also
nationalist and progressive liberal in his orientation and he encouraged me to further
read and write papers on Marxist works when he noticed my interest in these. Dean
Jose Lansang was not teaching in the UP but he was a UP alumnus and lived on the
Diliman campus. I used to visit him on weekends and we exchanged ideas on a
wide range of philosophical and political subjects. I was fond of exchanging views
and developing friendship with professors who were much older than me.
I learned much by debating with professors who had conservative and religio-sectarian
ideas. In the Philippine Collegian, I debated with the head of the English Department
and demanded that a subject on world ideas should not be overloaded with the writings
of Cardinal Newman and other Catholic writers and should include the writings of Marx,
Engels, Stalin, Lenin and Mao. I also learned much by debating with Dean Ricardo
Pascual who was a logical positivist. I joined his study group of professors and graduate
students and I enjoyed most my debates with him by testing and sharpening my
understanding of Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.
We in the SCAUP had our own study sessions at two levels: the national democratic
level and the Marxist-Leninist level. The participants were SCAUP members who were
young faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students. The SCAUP was
instrumental in raising the level of debate and struggle in the UP from one between
bourgeois liberalism and religio-sectarianism to a higher one between the Right and
the Left, with the Left taking into account comprehensively the problems of foreign
monopoly capitalism, domestic feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism and proposing
the class leadership of the working class in the national democratic revolution.
(RGS): What are your views concerning social activism and excellence in U.P.? Do they
complement or hinder each other in advancing the goals of the University?
(JMS): I think that social activism and academic excellence can go together very
well and complement each other, even as the two are distinguishable from each
other and involve contradictions in the realization of both among individuals and
groups with differing interests and capabilities.
I knew many individuals who could combine social activism and academic excellence
very well and still have time time for other types of serious activity and fun. I could
attend all the regular classroom sessions, the official colloquium , the study circle of
Dean Pascual and SCAUP study sessions and I still had time for student organizing,
writing articles for the Collegian, reading books and bantering sessions at the
greenhouse, basement or Little Quiapo.
A student organization like the League of Filipino Students (LFS)can combine students
with high academic marks, leaders of other campus organizations, journalists and
writers and the general run of students whose marks are below 2.0. It is fine to
combine talents with mass strength along the line of struggle for national liberation
U.P. students make their own well-rounded education and advance the goals of
the university by combining social activism and academic excellence. Those who
become resolutely and militantly patriotic and progressive and who further become
revolutionary are usually developed not by the official curricula but by extracurricular
study and activities in opposition to the status quo and in connection with the
burning social issues resulting from the oppressive and exploitative conditions of
(RGS): Where has U.P. failed its principal sponsors, the Filipino people?
(JMS): The U.P. fails to serve the Filipino people by having an ideology that is
contrary to their national and democratic rights and interests and by producing
professionals who have a high opinion of themselves and are self-interested but
who serve mainly the interests of foreign powers, multinational firms and banks,
the reactionary government and the local exploiting classes. It is fine that since
the sixties a considerable number of patriotic and progressive teachers and students
have arisen to contest pro-imperialist and conservative ideas. They have developed
mainly as a result of social activism along the line of the people's struggle for national
liberation and democracy.
The UP also fails to serve the Filipino people as it continues to favor the admission
of students from the upper classes. Since my time in the UP, the proportion of
students coming from the public school system and the toiling masses has become
reduced by the heavy inflow of students from the upper classes. There should be
reforms to address this problem. Otherwise the U.P. will continue to fail its principal
sponsors, the Filipino people who predominantly belong to the working class and
More than 70 per cent of the UP students should be the brightest from the exploited
classes. The upper classes are overrepresented in the U.P. They will continue to
overrun the UP and push out those coming from the lower classes if there are less
and less funds from the government and the tuition fees go higher and higher.
(RGS): What has U.P. really contributed to Philippine society? And what was its high point
in its 100 years of existence?
(JMS): The U.P. has contributed a lot to Philippine society in various fields. UP
graduates are outstanding in government and various professions. In the main,
they have contributed to the maintenance of the reactionary government and to
the provision of professional services to their private clients. Quite a number of UP
graduates have also gone abroad because of scarce economic opportunities in the
In terms of doing the best possible in the country and hoping for a new and better
social system, I consider as high point in the 100 years of U.P. existence the involvement
and participation of UP students, faculty members and graduates in the rise of the
people's revolutionary mass movement against the regime of the UP alumnus Ferdinand
Marcos who became Philippine president and fascist dictator with the support of a
retinue recruited mainly from the ranks of UP graduates. The UP will continue to
supply personnel to both sides: revolution and counterrevolution.
(RGS): In the next 100 years, what more can U.P. do to make it truly a University of
the (Filipino) People?
(JMS): In the next one hundred years, the U.P. should become a center of patriotic,
scientific and people's democratic education. It should be at the forefront of the
people's struggle to uphold and defend national sovereignty and democracy, realize
economic development through national industrialization and land reform, achieve
social justice, promote the national cultural heritage and use science for the benefit
of the people and develop international solidarity among the peoples and countries
of the world for world peace and development.
The enrolment of UP students should reflect the composition of the people. The
overwhelming majority of the students should come from the working people, even
to the extent of at least 90 per cent. The students from the middle class can also
be accommodated. The university faculty and facilities should be expanded and
upgraded several times with the full support of a people's democratic state.###