Anti-Marcos activists mark 40th anniversary of struggle

“The challenge is for us to truly see, closely analyze and scrutinize the current situation in the Philippines, the state of human rights, the corruption of those in power and the poverty of the Filipino people. We remember martial law and the sacrifices fighting it entailed… Forty-years after, we affirm it’s greatest lesson: to serve the people in all ways possible.” – Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, Bayan


MANILA — It was a reunion of old friends and comrades in the struggle against the Marcos fascist dictatorship, and it was an affirmation of their commitment to the cause of national democracy and the ideals of genuine freedom and social justice.

On September 18, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) held “Paggunita at Panata” at the Palma Hall lobby of the University of the Philippines (UP) to mark the 40th anniversary of the Filipino people’s struggle against martial law. The former dictator and deposed president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, and the following14 years saw an upsurge of massive protests, the development of the people’s legal democratic mass movement in the urban centers and the growth of the armed revolution in the countryside. The fight against martial law, activists said, began the second it was declared.

Dangerous times

Bayan chairperson Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo recollected how the program’s venue – the main lobby of what used to be the College of Arts and Science building or Palma Hall – was the scene of many discussion groups and protest assemblies in the months that preceded martial law and especially after. She was then a student of medicine and the vice-president of the student council.

“Those were dangerous times where even making the slightest negative or critical comment against the Marcos government or Imelda could have you arrested, tortured or even killed. It was called rumour-mongering. The clampdown on all forms of protests was systematic, so we had to come up with the most creative yet furtive ways to denounce Marcos, like pasting stickers on walls, writing poetry or holding lightning rallies,” she said.

Seemingly addressing those who believed that all is well in the Philippines and that activism is already passé, Araullo said, the reasons for activism and for the revolution remain.

“The challenge is for us to truly see, closely analyze and scrutinize the current situation in the Philippines, the state of human rights, the corruption of those in power and the poverty of the Filipino people. We remember martial law and the sacrifices fighting it entailed. We remember martial law and the lessons of the people’s struggle against it. Forty-years after, we affirm it’s greatest lesson: to serve the people in all ways possible,” she said.

Former vice-president of the Philippines and patriotic senator Teofisto Guingona in a spirited speech said martial law planted the seeds of its own destruction.

“It destroyed political institutions, the legislative branch and the judiciary. Civil servants were demobilized and ordered to obey only Malacañang. People were reduced to being like meek sheep, forced to follow a wolf. But while fear seized some people in the beginning, not everyone was cowed, and the anti-dictatorship struggle birthed so many heroes,” he said. He then singled out former Bayan Muna congressman and renowned former political detainee Satur Ocampo and Workers Assistance Center executive director and activist priest Fr. Joe Dizon.

“The day martial law was declared was a day of infamy. We should not forget it but remember it and tell future generations about what happened in those years. We need a real, objective historical record of martial law and name those who were responsible for the arrests, the abductions, the tortures and the deaths. We should also tell the young generations about the heroes, the people who chose to fight for the common man and the country. We must teach about what happened during martial law so our sons will not forget, so our daughters will remember. Perhaps we will be able to forgive, but we must never ever forget. This is why we always say ‘never again to martial law,'”, Guingona said.

Known faces in the country’s film, music and theatre community also lent their artistry to the event.

Theatre luminary and film actor John Arcilla sang a favorite during the days of the dictatorship, “Bayan Ko.” A protege of the late great Lino Brocka, he said he was a member of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and the group Brocka founded himself, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP).

Poet and musician Jess Santiago accompanied himself on an electric guitar as he sang a song he had not sung in many years and which, he said, was actually the first one he wrote. The song’s lyrics appealed to listeners to let his guitar speak because the instrument spoke of hope and freedom.

Writer and social activist Bibeth Orteza read Jose ‘Pete’ Lacaba’s “Prometheus Unbound,” his subtly subversive poem of six stanzas with six lines each, the first of letters of each line when read from top to bottom spells “Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta.” She ended her reading by raising a fist and declaring “Freedom for poet Ericson Acosta and all political detainees.” Acosta is political detainee in Samar who has been imprisoned since February 2011 on trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms.

Tambisan sa Sining’s Louie Eslao sang “Manggagawa” from the movie “Sister Stella L.” and the audience was unable to resist singing along to the chorus that went “Panahon na, panahon na mga kasama, ipakita ang lakas ng ating pagkakaisa, at nang makamtan ng bayan ang tunay na kalayaan…”

The Church and workers unite in the anti-fascist struggle

The important and even crucial role of the church and church people in the anti-dictatorship movement was highlighted by Sr. Emellita Villegas of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She traced what she said was the religious’ “baptism of fire” when the workers of La Tondeña launched their strike and directly defied Marcos’ edict banning strikes and other collective labor action.

“When martial law was imposed, there was a temporary silence as the church tried to observe and understand the situation. When the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines commissioned a paper on the effects of martial law on the people, it was declared that martial law, for all of Marcos’ assertion that it was for the people’s good, went against the interests and welfare of the workers and the working people,” she said. “The involvement of the church people in the anti-fascist struggle was a response to the call of workers, their appeal for help in their resistance against the labor rights violations and the attacks against their human rights.”?

Sr.Villegas said that among those who helped the workers of La Tondeña in their strike (which opened the floodgates for other strikes all over the National Capital Region and everywhere else in the country) were Edgar Jopson and the chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the peace talks with the Philippine government former priest Luis Jalandoni.

“Now, 40 years after, we see that the plight of workers remain unchanged, and the victories they won through hard struggle in the picketlines and the negotiating tables are being eroded away. The Church and church people should continue their involvement in the issues and concerns of the poor, the farmers and the workers. Bawal matakot, tuloy ang pakikibaka,” (We could not be afraid, continue with the struggle) she said.

The Filipino peasantry and the indigenous peoples

In the meantime, not even non-activists could have missed seeing how the Filipino peasantry also fought against martial law after Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano shared a short history of peasant activism during the dark years of the dictatorship. “It was to the countryside where many student activists went; they involved themselves in the even-then strong campaign of peasants to expose the government’s fake agrarian reform program. Many farmers became politicized, and formed organizations that defied the dictatorship even as it pushed for reforms for the peasantry. Among the first of these peasant organisations was the Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), ” he said.

The struggle of the indigenous peoples against the dictatorship was shared by Joanna Cariño of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA). A former political detainee herself , Cariño said the cold-blooded killing of Cordillera tribal leader Macliing Dulag was only one of the blows the indigenous peoples suffered in their defense of their ancestral lands and their struggle against the dictatorship and its abuses.

In 1974, the Marcos dictatorship wanted to build a 1,000-hydroelectric power project along Chico River. The project involved the construction of four dams that would have inundated 1,400 sq. kms. of Kalinga homes, rice terraces, orchards, and graveyards. As many as 100,000 people living in villages along the river, including Dulag’s village, would have been affected by the project. For strongly opposing the project, Dulag was assassinated on April 24, 1980. Soldiers raided his house and killed him with a rain of bullets. His assassination, however, solidified the opposition to the dam, which had won sympathizers from all over the country and even from the international community.

“Martial law bred resistance and activism. The indigenous peoples relied on their strong sense of community and their collective strength to defend their culture and ancestral land, and in that way defied the dictatorship. This is what they continue to do today against the anti-environment mining policies of the government,” she said.

Emancipation against social injustice

Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Rep. Emmi de Jesus gave her own insight on the role of women in the anti-fascist struggle. Women, she said, were not spared during martial law, many were subjected to sexual harassment and rape. Many others were brutally tortured and killed.

“Women must involve themselves in the struggle for genuine freedom and democracy because it is also there that we women can secure our own emancipation. This is the lesson that I have learned, the message that I want to impart.The reasons for revolution are always present, they have not disappeared.

Former congressman Ocampo narrated some stories from life as a political detainee that totalled nine years and three months, and said that not even martial law could break the spirit and commitment of those who embraced the ideals of genuine national liberation.

“The main goal of all political detainees is to escape and to rejoin the Movement. This is true then, and I believe this is true now.The struggle of political prisoners played an important part in exposing the atrocities of the dictatorship. If estimates were true, 50,000 were arrested in the first sweep of martial law, and in the next decade over 300,000 had also been arrested and detained at varying lengths of time. This affirms the brutality and fascism of the Marcos dictatorship, and we should never let down our guard lest attacks of such magnitude against the Filipino people’s civil, political and human rights happen again. We should always be vigilant in our defense of human rights, and expose and oppose all those who attempt to curtail them, and condemn those who violate them,” he said.

Two major highlights of the evening were the veterans of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) gathering on stage and singing “Ang Masa” and Prof. Jose Ma. Sison reading his own account of the years that led to martial law.

Sison himself was a political detainee for over a decade and a much-prized prisoner of the Marcos dictatorship. It was his “Philippine Society and Revolution” that served as a guide, a roadmap for many activists in the years before and during martial law, and even up to the present. The PSR marked its 40th year anniversary of being printed in 2010.

Challenge to the youth accepted

After the martial law veterans, it was the turn of the current generation of activists.

Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo delivered a short but fiery message of acceptance to what he said was the “great challenge to the youth” presented by the older generation of activists.

“We will not forget your greatness, your great contribution to the fight for freedom, and your sacrifices. We will not allow the dark days of martial law to return, and we will do all that we can to defeat those who attempt to impose it or any other attacks against the Filipino people’s rights,” he said.

The program which started at 4:30 ended around 7:45pm. Both old and new activists went out to the AS building front steps and carried a banner which read “Never again to martial law! Tuloy ang laban para sa katarungan! (continue the fight for justice).” Student leader and lawyer Terry Ridon and Prof. Judy Taguiwalo – herself a former political detainee and a personality in activist circles -– emceed the program. (

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