Trajectories of Dissent: Potting the Philippine Student Movement

History illustrates that the youth is a critical catalyst of the revolution. Now that the Establishment has intensified its coercion, the students are called upon to formulate new modes of engagement. For the world is still characterized by dialectical contradictions; to remain passive is a grave transgression.

Philippine Collegian
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 36, October 14-20, 2007

“Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The spiraling dialectical contradictions had brought the world’s socio-political arena in the throes of ferment.

Two contending superpowers, the United States (U.S.) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), mapped a bipolar world order. To curb the “communist threat,” U.S. bases were established in strategic locations around China’s periphery, of which Philippines is a part.

Meanwhile, Washington fueled its imperialist war against the Vietnamese people even as the civil rights movement called for social justice. Reminiscent of today’s War on Iraq, thousands of American youth came back in body bags while thousands more were drafted to fight a war controlled by select policy-makers miles away from the battlefront. Students across the world held antiwar and anti-imperialism protests, a novel phenomenon now known as the Student Movement.

The world crisis was manifest in the domestic front: a burgeoning national debt, rampant inflation and depressed wages. The restlessness was simultaneously contained and aggravated by then
President Ferdinand Marcos, who permitted state agents to roam the streets unrestrained. Even then, more students linked with the broader masses; their exhortations against the local elite increasing in vehemence. On September 23, 1972, Marcos declared Martial Law as a solution to the “social volcano.”

More than three decades later, however, the social ferment remains.

“The upsurge of the student movement will inevitably promote an upsurge of the whole people’s movement.” -Mao Zedong

The air was electric with an impending turbulence. In the midst of the conservative-liberal debate within the University of the Philippines (UP), a lanky, chinky-eyed student extolled the revolutionary literature of Renato Constantino, Karl Marx and Mao Zedong. Jose Maria Sison, founder of Kabataang Makabayan (KM), led protests against a host of issues, from the tuition increase to the Vietnam War, thus alerting the youth to the moribund system. Journalist Luis Teodoro states that the ensuing discourse was never tame. Students became impassioned with radical ideas – propositions aimed, not merely at reformation but at the complete dismantling of the “hegemonic order.” Thus, KM expanded at a phenomenal rate, fanning from UP to the university belt, where the slogan “Serve the People” found advocates even in exclusive, sectarian schools.

Bonifacio Ilagan, former chairperson of KM-UP, shares that the discourse provided a consciousness that contested the prevailing order. Yet, the status quo still held sway over a segment of the populace. They called themselves “social democrats,” reform-minded individuals opposed to KM’s militant stance, most notably National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) Chairperson Edgar Jopson. Joint protests meant an uneasy gathering between “moderates” and “radicals.”

On one hand, there was the polite lot of NUSP, whose sectarian education from Ateneo and La Salle trained them to be always courteous, law abiding and respectful; on the other, there was the rowdy, loud and irreverent crowd from KM who chanted derisively “Marcos! Puppet!”

From such terse gatherings began the First Quarter Storm (FQS), an unprecedented period of intense student resistance.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” -John F. Kennedy

Violence erupted like a chain of convulsions.

According to Ilagan, the FQS was a manifestation of the students’ rebellion against the establishment, which “maintained the oppressive system” through physical and symbolic violence. For instance, police and military brutality were condoned by Marcos, so long as his regime was protected from the “subversives.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. launched an anti-communist propaganda to monopolize the world order. Thus, the students learned, emancipation can only be realized through violent retaliation. By the time Marcos declared Martial Law, the NUSP turned “radical,” and Edjop, became a revolutionary.

At the height of the FQS, students identified the root causes of the country’s backwardness: imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. From such criticism arose the movement for national democracy, which aims to eradicate foreign intervention and oligarchy, and empower the national majority – the peasants and workers. Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo asserts that national democracy can be achieved through “the revolution of the…political and economic conditions.”

By undauntingly confronting the challenges of their age, the FQS generation has become an exemplar for the succeeding generations.

“Every generation needs a new revolution.” -Thomas Jefferson

Today, the semifeudal and semicolonial conditions continue to perpetuate an oppressive system.

Parallelisms have been drawn between the Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regimes: fascist rule, systemic repression, and systematic deception. Victims of political killings have reached exactly 888, the pace of assassinations unmatched even by Marcos. Yet, Ilagan concedes, the current student movement has failed to match the ferocity of the FQS resistance, owing to the unique considerations of the times.

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