Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume IV,  Number 5              February 29 - March 6, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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In Political Activism, Age Does not Matter
FQS Veterans Link Up Arms Once More

Most of the persons who gathered last Feb. 15 at the De Meester Auditorium of the St. Theresa’s College in Quezon City needed the help of prescription glasses in reading the papers that were in their kits. Others complained of stiff backs and muscle cramps for having to sit at the same place for several hours. But while age may have started to affect them physically, the almost a hundred activists of the ‘70s, now in their 50’s and 60’s, boisterously discussed how they could continue to contribute to the progressive movement, proving that in political activism, age truly does not matter.


Bonifacio Ilagan, Boni to activists of his and the present generation, still vividly recalls how his high school teacher warned their class of the communists “na gagala-gala, nagrerekrut.” He remembers the rallies at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna where he finished high school, that paralyzed not just the campus but also nearby establishments and even the national highway.

“I was astounded by the political events in the campus,” he said in an interview with Bulatlat.com. “I attended the rallies and listened but what really caught my attention were the speakers. Despite the blood shot eyes and voice hoarse from shouting, they continued to speak and lambaste the administration and government. I was too young to fully appreciate their demands but I felt their fervor. And I saw the changes in the political landscape of UPLB,” said Boni in an interview with Bulatlat.com.

It was while in college at UP’s Diliman campus though that he became more deeply involved in the student movement. But in the summer before he left Los Baños, he attended a secret meeting of around 15 youths.  “We talked of nationalism. The leaders gave out pamphlets and books on Recto and (Hernando) Abaya. And I felt that something in me was being aroused,” recalled Boni.

After the summer, he went on to enroll in Diliman.  Boni looked for a Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth) chapter in UP but finding none, joined instead the Student Cultural Association of UP (SCAUP), also an activist organization. KM, founded in 1964, was known for radical activism and attracted many student leaders. But unknown to him at the time, he and two other students, would be the ones to establish the KM-UP chapter a year later.

The raised clenched fist and a sea of agitated anti-establishment protesters symbolize the First Quarter Storm, seen here in a rally in Plaza Miranda, Manila in 1971.  

Photo courtesy of Lopez Foundation

Cultural work

Because he had a bit of theater background, Boni joined the SCAUP’s mobile theater and soon became involved in cultural work. Later, he would be tasked with reviving the defunct KM cultural bureau.

Yung imbitasyon sa amin magpalabas ay abot-abot,” said Boni. “Kung saan-saang probinsya.  Hanggang sa di ko namalayan, di na pala ako pumapasok.”

“Pagdating ng 1968, bawat raling ipatawag, nadadagdagan nang nadadagdagan. Ang nirerent ng student council na bus na pumaparada sa kahabaan ng kalye sa harap ng Palma Hall ay di na magkasya. Sampung bus, lalakad di pa puno. Sa susunod na rali, sa sampung bus, marami nang nakatayo. Sa susunod na rali, 15 bus na. Hanggang sa wala nang bus na masakyan. Yung iba kanya-kanyang lakad. Ganyan kabilis ang pagkakaorganisa ng mga tao.  Sa communities, ganun din. Without even us knowing it, may mga nao-organize.”

According to Boni, when UP had set up its own KM chapter, people from different places would come and ask for help regarding education and organizing materials or lectures for the organizations they had established.

Nakakarating ako ng San Pablo, Laguna hindi dahil pinili ko o may kontak kami kundi dahil nagpupunta ang mga tao. Kung nangyayari yan sa UP, gaano pa sa national headquarters ng KM?”

One could say then that the first quarter storm, the period of massive student actions from January to March 1970, was inevitable. The period witnessed a storm of student protests, the size and intensity of which have not been replicated yet. Among them were the protest actions of Jan. 26 and 30-31, including the famous “Battle of Mendiola” that raged till the small hours of the following morning.

The tempest that raged became aptly known as the First Quarter Storm or, to its surviving participants and the present generation of activists who look up to its proud tradition, simply FQS.


Boni stresses however that the FQS was not only about demonstrations, as many are wont to associate with the historic era.

“More than the rallies, more than the front page stuff, the more important and long-term legacy of the FQS was the organizing. Nangangahulugan ito ng pag-aaral sa kalagayan, pagkakaroon ng pagbabago ng pagtingin sa lipunan at daigdig. At bunga ng pagbabagong iyan, pumapayag na sumama sa isang organisasyon at bilang myembro ng mga organisasyon ay naglulunsad ng kongkretong political actions,” said Boni. 

The FQS was undeniably a watershed for the progressive movement that gained impetus in the 1960s. Mainly responsible was the revitalized youth and student movement led by KM. By the second half of the 1960s, it had successfully linked up with the worker and peasant movements, propelling the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal mass movement onwards.

What energized it however was the newfound scientific and democratic worldview and revolutionary theory and practice called Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.

Boni agrees: “Ang talagang naging susi riyan para sa mass movement ay ang ideology nito. Had the movement not been guided and strengthened by a definitive ideology, yung tindi ng banat ng gobyerno, wasak yan. Look at what happened to the movement of the social democrats. Wala! Di nagtagal kasi di nila nakayanan yung hambalos…So susi iyon.

Reviving the FQS spirit

More than three decades later, most of the rally veterans have become teachers, barangay captains, NGO workers, accountants and even government bureaucrats. Their days of marches and DGs (discussion groups) are slowly becoming a mere memory, in the minds of the former activists themselves and in public consciousness as well. Those who realize the importance of the FQS in the nation’s history however refused to allow this to happen. Thus, in 2001, at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila, the FQSM was born, an organization of “those who served and survived.” Boni became its first president.

The FQSM aims to bring together once again the activists of the ‘70s and link them up with the mainstream mass movement for a thorough transformation of society. Last Feb. 15, it held its second national congress, boasting of regional and provincial chapters just after three years.

“It is interesting to note that people in our age bracket – 50s, 60s – are now the ones in the policy-making levels in government; they are now also big businessmen if they built their own businesses, or are in executive positions in transnational corporations.” 

"In other words," said Boni, "if the FQSM could find creative ways of mobilizing these people, they can help in the complex task of social transformation.”

According to Boni, the stress of the first three years of FQSM was in contacting and reviving FQS activists, leading to the expansion of the organization. However, the organization also devoted a lot of time and effort in the mobilization of members and contacts for mass actions and failed to give time for the group’s equally important task of reconstructing the history of the FQS.

Nagkaroon kami ng realization na hindi na pwedeng ang emphasis ay mass actions. Unang una, marami nang masasakitin. Hindi naman iiwanan ang mobilisasyon pero magkakaroon ng pantay na pagsisikap para ayusin ang tinawag na ‘Heritage Center’.

The Heritage Center, said Boni, will include documentation of the lives and struggles of FQS leaders and members. Boni said they intend to interview everyone they could, not just the well-known leaders, and compile their stories into books and film documentaries.

“I feel the importance of this whenever I write historical plays. Ang ganda-ganda palang reference material ng obscure na talambuhay ng isang di kilalang Katipunero… it substantiates the claims of the leaders. It also demonstrates the truth that the real heroes are the masses, not the few leaders.  This is what we want to achieve — isang mayamang kalipunan ng karanasan ng karaniwang aktibista.”

In defense of the people’s movement

Aside from the Heritage Center, the congress also approved another resolution that intends to tackle head on the issue of the controversial anti-infiltration campaigns launched by the CPP and which resulted in the death of innocent Party cadres and members.

The congress participants also agreed to document incidents and individual cases of such campaigns, reach out to victims and their families, pay tribute to the victims, and give whatever assistance the FQSM and its members could give.

The objective, said Boni, is to clarify to the public what really happened. “Wala kaming sinasabi na hindi nangyari ang ganoon pero ang tinututulan namin ay ang pagsasabing yun ay nasa kalikasan ng kilusan at mauulit nang mauulit, na kakainin daw nito ang sariling pwersa.

“Let us tell the stories so we could put them in their proper perspective,” said Boni. Bulatlat.com

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