September 07, 2007

Justice? (I)

Dutch Ambassador Robert Vornis and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales are one in dismissing reports of inhumane treatment of revolutionary leader, Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, while under incommunicado detention in a Dutch prison as “propaganda”. Mr. Vornis invoked the “fair and competent” Dutch legal system and the reputation of the Netherlands as a haven for political refugees in order to pooh-pooh such complaints by Mr. Sison’s family and supporters. He even expressed surprise and amusement “to hear criticisms of the Dutch system (from) those who have embraced that system” obviously referring to Mr. Sison and his associates who have sought political asylum in that country.

Rather than invoke the Dutch state’s reputation as one friendly to politically persecuted individuals (a reputation that, as we will show, did not manifest itself in Mr. Sison’s case) Mr. Vornis could have easily checked the truth of the complaints for they are serious ones and deserve a forthright answer rather than a smug and taunting reply. The latter we expect from Mr. Gonzales, whose all-consuming obsession is to see to Mr. Sison’s destruction and the revolutionary movement’s defeat, but not from the ambassador of a state whose justice system he claims to be above reproach.

For how could Mr. Sison’s lawyers and family falsely claim such readily verifiable facts surrounding the conditions of his detention -- the denial of his right to be seen by a physician of his choice and to receive his medications, the right to visitation by a member of his family, the right not to be held incommunicado, a condition that is universally regarded as constituting cruel and unusual punishment – and hope to get away with it once an honest investigation of the complaints are undertaken.

To add insult to injury, the Presidential Spokesman, hypocritically talks about the Philippine government extending legal and other assistance to Mr. Sison, should he ask for it, but it cannot take the simple and expedient move of officially inquiring into Mr. Sison’s actual situation under detention. Whatever subsequent improvement has taken place with regard to this matter cannot be attributed at all to the efforts of the Arroyo government, for they are nil, nor to the belated benevolence of the Dutch government, but to the international protest generated by his unjust arrest and detention.

Mr. Vornis also tries to cover-up the real track record of the Dutch government in persecuting Mr. Sison during his entire twenty year stay in Utrecht, first in relation to his asylum petition and second his unwarranted listing as a “terrorist”.

For the record, Mr. Sison was stranded in the Netherlands when the Aquino government cancelled his passport in 1988 and launched the all-out war against the communist-led revolutionary movement. With his background of suffering extreme deprivations, torture and prolonged detention as a political prisoner under the Marcos dictatorship and the continuing threat to his life by military and paramilitary death squads under the supposedly democratic post-Marcos regimes, Mr. Sison should have been a shoo-in as a political refugee and been immediately granted asylum by the Dutch government.

But that was not to be. In the excellently researched study by the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), “Laws, Labels and Liberation: the Case of Jose Ma. Sison” ( the story of his long-running personal and political persecution by three governments – the government of his home country (Philippines), the government of his host country (The Netherlands) and the government to whom these two governments are subservient (United States) – is recounted in full. For the purpose of this elucidation, however, we shall focus on the role of the purportedly beneficent Dutch government.

According to PILC, in October 1988, Prof. Sison applied to be admitted and to stay in the Netherlands as a political refugee. In 1990, this was denied by the Dutch Justice Ministry forcing Prof. Sison to go to court. In 1992, the court nullified the Justice Ministry’s decision. Nevertheless, the Justice Ministry refused Mr. Sison’s request and invoked its so-called “freedom of policy “in asylum cases.

Repeatedly, the Justice Ministry claimed that Mr. Sison could not invoke protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention because he had committed a “crime against humanity” as described in international agreements or he had committed “serious nonpolitical crimes”. These unsubstantiated claims were made not just in pleadings submitted by the Dutch government to the court but also in its press releases circulated in the mass media.

Intent to debunk such malicious claims, Mr. Sison went to the highest Dutch court with jurisdiction over asylum cases, the Raad van State, in 1993. In its 1995 decision, the Raad van State held that there is “no sufficient evidence” showing that Mr. Sison was involved even by way of “giving direction” to the perpetrators of the criminal activities alleged by the Dutch government. In contrast, Mr. Sison was able to establish in court a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of his political beliefs”, and accordingly his status as a political refugee was recognized by that court.

Still the Dutch executive authorities refuse to grant admission and a permit to stay to Mr. Sison. According to PILC, even before the “terrorist” listing, the situation of Mr. Sison has been “a cruelly peculiar one”. He has been living on Dutch soil for twenty years but in legal fiction he has not yet been admitted to the Netherlands. His lawyers say Mr. Sison is in some sort of “limbo”. “He is publicly referred to as a ‘tolerated alien’ by the Dutch government though it is more accurate to say that he is a victim of intolerable treatment by an alien host that is even willing to disrespect the decisions of its own court just to make Prof. Sison unwelcome.”

An immediate consequence of this ”neither here nor there” status is that Mr. Sison is not allowed to have gainful employment despite his qualifications and is reduced to dependence on social benefits, health and other insurance provided by the government that were subsequently removed when he was listed as a “terrorist”.

Contrary to what some media commentators say was the “generous hosting” by the Dutch government of Mr. Sison, the latter continued its persecutory stance and, notwithstanding the favorable 1995 Raad van State decision, the Justice Ministry issued in June 4, 1996 an expulsion order requiring Mr. Sison to leave within four weeks time. This led to another case filed before the newly-created Law Unity Chamber of the Aliens Court (REK).

In the end, the Dutch government succeeded in using a vague provision in the Dutch statute books that provides an exception (“weighty considerations derived from the general interest”) to the state’s duty to grant admission to a political refugee. What are those “weighty considerations”? The Dutch government argued that allowing Mr. Sison to be admitted and to reside in the country “shall damage a serious interest of the Dutch state, to wit the integrity and the credibility of the Netherlands as a sovereign state, in particular in relation to its responsibilities to other states.” (Boldface supplied.) Shorn of legalese, Mr. Sison’s human rights were thrown out in favor of the Dutch government’s diplomatic interests, with the Philippine government and, more importantly, with the US government.

Why did the Dutch government not expel Mr. Sison at this point? The REK held that it would not be in violation of Mr. Sison’s rights if he is not admitted to the Netherlands or permitted to stay therein so long as he is not actually expelled. With the further deterioration of the human rights record of the Arroyo regime as horrendously exemplified by the close to 900 unsolved cases of extrajudicial killings and 200 involuntary disappearances with state forces implicated and the command responsibility of Mrs. Arroyo raised, the Dutch government would have appeared exceedingly oppressive towards Mr. Sison and grossly violative of its international commitments to uphold human rights.

So much for Dutch treats, Mr. Sison only asked for the recognition of his basic rights as a political refugee. We shall see in a subsequent column how the Dutch government, this time in active collusion with the US, Philippine and European Union governments, uses the “terrorist” label on Mr. Sison to further harass, repress and wantonly trample on his fundamental rights as a human being.#

Published in Business World
7 - 8 September 2007


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