Holding the fort: The spirit of the barricades lives on

The barricaders didn’t retreat to their classrooms but embraced the streets, marching arm-in-arm with farmers, workers, jeepney drivers, echoing their call for national democracy.


Fifty years ago under the Marcos regime, truckloads of police, military and Metrocom troops stormed the barricades UP students built in solidarity with striking jeepney workers in what was called the “Diliman Commune.” Guns were fired, lives were endangered and rights were trampled upon.

But the communards always consolidated their lines and went back to their post after every chase and dispersal, carrying with them logs, branches, chairs and tables to replace what had been destroyed. And even after the barricade was dismantled, the student movement didn’t dissipate. Just as it didn’t appear out of thin air.

When Defense Secretary Lorenzana terminated the UP-DND accord, he was carrying out the mission of instilling fear and weakening the spirit of youth activism, which has gained traction amid the worsening crisis of pandemic, poverty, and tyranny under Duterte.

In his letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion, Lorenzana calls the agreement “a hindrance in providing security, safety and welfare of the students, faculty and employees of UP” as it is used by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) as a “shield or propaganda.”

Consistent with the state and military’s widespread use of red-tagging to discredit dissent, Lorenzana claims there are “ongoing clandestine recruitments” in UP campuses by the CPP-NPA.

But we know this is nothing but a pathetic attempt at justifying another attack on hard-won democratic rights and freedoms. As former College of Mass Communication Dean Armando Malay wrote in the Diliman Commune Diary, “a government that is not sure of the loyalty of its constituents would retaliate readily and in force against any manifestation of protest or discontent.”

The Duterte administration is such as one, insecure and anxious at the growing opposition to his regime. His incompetence and loyalty to the ruling elite have only been highlighted by the raging pandemic. And so he resorts to further repression, just as what happened in 1971 in the barricades erected by the students to protest against rising oil prices, then as a physical barrier against the charging troops, and ultimately as the community’s declaration of indignation and defiance against the fascist state.

Photo courtesy of Arkibong Bayan

After student Pastor Mesina was shot by a professor at the barricades on February 1, 1971, events quickly unraveled.

It was no longer just the barricades of the students. As state forces intervened, an alliance was built among UP students, faculty members, non-academic employees and even the UP administration under the common banner of academic freedom. Professors confronted and pleaded with the fuming police officers. Then-UP President Salvador Lopez negotiated with government and military officials and at one point, Marcos himself, to stall further military action. Residents and members of the UP community also came to the barricaders’ aid, offering them food and other supplies.

Within a span of a few days, the communards established an independent and organized community with different functions and a core team called the “provisional directorate.”

Photo courtesy of Arkibong Bayan

The DZUP was also seized and used to broadcast updates from the barricades and programs criticizing the Marcos regime. It was followed by the takeover of the UP Press through which Bandilang Pula, the official newsletter of the Diliman Commune, was published.

The youth then knew their power lies in communion of their struggles with that of the masses. The very act of setting up a barricade to rally the cause of jeepney drivers sealed the students’ allegiance to the marginalized sectors and snowballed into greater unities, with the entire UP community rallying behind them upon the realization that their interests were intertwined with each other.

Photo courtesy of Arkibong Bayan

When the military gave the UP President Lopez an ultimatum and threatened to enter the campus again, this time in full force, Lopez was compelled to announce he would resign if the barricades would not be taken down. So the University Avenue was cleared of makeshift barriers and chairs and tables were hauled back to the buildings. Still painted on their walls, unabashed and unyielding, were the communards’ slogans ‘Mabuhay and barikada’ and ‘Long live the commune.’

Photo courtesy of Arkibong Bayan

The barricaders didn’t retreat to their classrooms but embraced the streets, marching arm-in-arm with farmers, workers, jeepney drivers, echoing their call for national democracy. When Marcos placed the country under martial law on September 21, 1972, the youth readily took their place in the frontlines, and together with the oppressed masses worked hard for the eventual ouster of a dictator.

The Diliman Commune wasn’t just a spontaneous and isolated event but a culmination of tensions that had built up over decades of chronic poverty and oppression under what the activists called US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. The deteriorating social conditions that time necessitated it. The very same conditions still cripple the Philippine society today.

With the threat of military intrusion looming before the UP community, the students and youth must channel the same courage and militancy of the communards. But beyond the fight for academic freedom, they are faced with the challenge of integrating and struggling with the masses against a fascist regime and the system that nurtures it. As the events of February 1971 had proved, it is when they join forces with the people that they build the most formidable resistance. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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