Sison photo by Fritzie Rodriguez, Cardema photo from NYC
National Youth Commission (NYC) Chairman Ronald Cardema, now controversial for his aggressive stance against Leftist groups, had once reached out to communist leader Joma Sison himself for help in Duterte Youth projects.
His communication with Sison was in 2016, or before Cardema was appointed NYC commissioner in 2017. Cardema was then the leader of the pro-administration Duterte Youth. It was also a time when the Duterte government and the Left were developing warm ties.
In the first year of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, Cardema had consulted Sison if the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) would be interested in some Duterte Youth projects, one of which was the formation of a "patriotic" paramilitary group.
Sison confirmed to Rappler on Thursday, February 21, that he received such a message. Cardema also confirmed to Rappler that he made such overtures to Sison. This was through Facebook Messenger. Since Sison is now based in the Netherlands, he has become more reachable through the social networking site's messaging platform.
Cardema began his message to Sison by saying Duterte Youth is ramping up recruitment all over the country.
Cardema then said the larger and more empowered Duterte Youth would help the Duterte administration in several ways.
It would, for instance, provide information to barangays about all the drug addicts and criminals in their area.
This organization, he said, would also form a "paramilitary group" that would have as its foundation "nationalism and patriotism" and even "Leftist indoctrination."
Cardema told Sison of his vision for the organization to train young Filipinos in "paramilitary methods" in "preparation for warfare, disaster relief, and rescue."
A paramilitary group is an armed group that is organized like a military unit but is not formally recognized as belonging to the armed forces of a nation.
Lastly, Cardema said he wanted a youth organization composed of "500,000 young male Filipinos" who would hold an annual parade in honor of Sison and Duterte in iconic Rizal Park, Manila.
He then asked Sison if he was okay with the Duterte Youth adopting a certain song as its "patriotic hymn."
Cardema, in a message on Thursday, said that he spoke with Sison in 2016 since "President Rodrigo Duterte was also talking to him."
"I thought it was a time when left and right will be joining forces together under the Duterte administration and I was thinking of how we can mix both leftist and rightist ideals for the Filipino youth," he said.
He had also been thinking back then of mobilizing Boy Scouts and high school Citizens Army Training cadets for disaster response.
But Cardema said he eventually "lost faith" in the CPP.
"After seeing what the Leftist Cabinet members have done to forcibly occupy military or police housing units in Bulacan, how they continuously attacked government forces during peace talks, I lost faith in their sincerity," he said.
'I pity him,' says Sison
Sison said he did receive Cardema's message in 2016 but that his response to Cardema was non-committal.
"You will see in my message that I only noted it for study and consideration," he told Rappler in a message.
Sison's response back then had been to say Cardema's plans were good but that he had to consult with leaders of the National Democratic Front, Anakbayan, and former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, one of Duterte's Leftist Cabinet officials back then.
Sison, acknowledging Cardema's overtures to him before, said he "pities" the NYC chairman for his apparent 180-degree turn. Cardema himself, said Sison, had been a victim of red-tagging once.
"I pity him because I strongly sympathized with him and became a friend of his when he himself was a victim of red-tagging. He was dismissed from the PMA (Philippine Military Academy) as a cadet because he called for justice for his uncle who had been murdered by a military death squad," said Sison.
PMA officials had supposedly accused Cardema of communicating with Sison about his uncle's case, said Sison.
The CPP leader said he too opposes Cardema's suggestion to strip "anti-government" students of their scholarships.
"Cardema has been carried away by the anti-communist and anti-democratic witchhunt under Duterte regime. He has become such a zealot for Duterte that he even tries to outstrip his boss in talking and acting against democratic principles and rights in the Constitution," said Sison.
Opposition to Cardema's proposal stretched across the political spectrum, with both opposition lawmakers and Duterte Cabinet members disagreeing with him.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.