MANILA — Jose Maria Sison, the Philippine Communist Party founder, is lecturing at Rotary clubs and church lunches these days, and looks forward to his first U.S. visit and a Beverly Hills vacation.
But Sison, newly freed from a long imprisonment, remains a dedicated revolutionary.
He predicts that the Communist guerrilla war here may soon spread to the cities. And he says the fighting will end only if the Communists are taken into a coalition government.
"The semifeudal, semicolonial system in the Philippines is dying," he said in a recent interview.
Four months after his release, the 47-year-old former Communist Party chairman has become a political enigma in the Philippines.
His continuing influence within the party--and its influence over him--is unclear.
He says that an implied condition for his freedom was that he engage only in non-Communist activity. He is helping organize a new People's Party and insists that he has no contact with the Communists. But he talks openly of Communist strategy.
Some Filipinos suggest that the new party will be merely a legal front for the outlawed Communists and that Sison will be an above-ground link in the underground network.
Sison sounds ambivalent too on President Corazon Aquino, who freed him and 500 other political prisoners in early March, just days after she took over from deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
The ex-Communist chief says he hopes that Aquino will produce promised reforms. On the other hand, he dismisses her government as consisting of military and upper-class Filipinos masquerading as the middle class.
"Mrs. Aquino is not a Blessed Virgin Mary, immune from any criticism and accountability," he said.
In the two-hour interview, Sison laughed easily and talked incessantly, playing with the English language in a way befitting a one-time scholar of writer William Faulkner and an internationally recognized poet who has long admired the verse of Chinese Communist Party founder Mao Tse-tung.
Change in Tone
But the relaxed ex-professor, whose boyish face sports a modest mustache and thick eyeglasses, took on a stern tone when he shifted into the rhetoric of revolution.
Like many Marxist revolutionaries, Sison comes from the privileged classes himself, born to a landlord father in northern Luzon, the Philippines' main island.
He studied English literature at the University of the Philippines in Manila and "read all the available Marxist books in the library. It became a powerful motivating force impelling me to act."
In 1959, he formed a leftist student association. Three years later, while teaching at the university, he joined the Moscow-oriented Communist Party.
In 1968 he and his followers broke away from the old-line party to establish a new Maoist-oriented Communist Party of the Philippines. A few months later, he began the guerrilla New People's Army (NPA). The old party largely disintegrated.
For nine years, the young Communist chairman clandestinely crisscrossed this island nation, building up insurgent strength in a hit-and-run conflict with the U.S.-backed Marcos government.
The NPA today has at least 16,500 fighters. The Philippine Community Party--now under Rodolfo Salas--claims more than 10,000 members. But they have achieved no more than a stalemate with the Philippine military.
Sison, who met with a reporter in a open-air university lounge, was asked what mistakes he made in waging revolutionary war.
He refused to discuss the party's inner workings, but added with a laugh, "I would admit the mistake of being arrested."
He was captured on Nov. 10, 1977, as he slept in a house in northern Luzon. He spent the next 8 1/2 years in the maximum-security Military Security Unit compound in Manila. For the first 18 months, he said, he was shackled to a cot, tortured and often deprived of light.
In prison, he managed to smuggle out poems. Some appear in a new volume, "Prison and Beyond," for which he will be awarded a Southeast Asian literary prize in Thailand this October.
Later, he is scheduled to deliver 10 lectures in the United States, although he is prepared for a fight with the U.S. State Department over obtaining a visa.
Sison, who holds a visiting fellowship at the University of the Philippines' Asian Center, also plans to visit his widowed mother and physician brother in Beverly Hills.
"I look forward to establishing relations with the American people," Sison said.
The Philippine Communists contend that they now receive no international Communist help, but Sison said, "There are already preparations for expanding the international horizons of the party because the United States might turn the Philippines into another Vietnam."
He was pessimistic about planned cease-fire talks between the Aquino government and the rebels.
"The reactionary classes want a temporary cease-fire to consolidate their forces in the belief that the ever-worsening economic and political problems will blow over," Sison said.
He said he doubted that this impoverished nation's underlying problems would be addressed, and "in three to five years . . . the revolutionary movement will have reached a higher level of development."
For one thing, Sison said, "I would expect that the possibility of urban uprisings is something already being considered."