Vancouver, B.C. - Delegates to an international Filipino youth conference in Vancouver held last weekend
concluded Filipino youth play a crucial role in changing society.
In his keynote address from the Netherlands where he has been living in exile since the early 90's, Prof. Jose Maria Sison said "It is of great significance and far-reaching consequence for the Filipino youth in Canada to link up with the youth in the motherland." Sison is the founding chairman of Kabataang Makabayan and Emeritus Chairperson of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) Movement.
Sison said the Filipino youth in Canada must understand that the "crisis conditions that brought about the FQS drove their parents out of the Philippines and delivered them to another set of crisis conditions in Canada."
The conference "Ipagpatuloy - Living the Storm" was organized by Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada - Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance - Vancouver (UKPC) to mark the 35th anniversary of the First Quarter Storm and to celebrate UKPC's 10th anniversary. The Storm refers to the events during the first three months of 1970 when thousands of youths and students stormed the streets of Manila to protest against what they called the U.S.- puppet regime of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Starting in January 1970, the student-led demonstrations grew from 50,000 to 100,000 and continued relentlessly every week until March 1970.
The movement marked the beginning of the renewed struggle to end the stranglehold of the ruling classes in a country mired in the semi-colonial and semi-feudal system of subservience to U.S. imperialism. Marcos declared martial law two years after FQS in 1972 and hundreds of the FQS participants went underground to join the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army (NPA). Hundreds of them died as martyrs to the cause of freedom, a commitment today's youth hope to recapture and continue.
The goal of the conference was to deepen the youth's understanding of the revolutionary history of the Philippines and the role of youth and students in the pursuit for social justice in Canada and national democracy in the Philippines. Over 80 delegates from Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and the United States attended the three-day conference held at the Russian Hall in the downtown eastside.
Two veterans of the FQS and a youth activist from the Philippines also addressed the youth summit to share experiences and update the delegates on the current situation of the country.
Famed playwright and screenwriter Bonifacio Ilagan who was 17 years old at the time reminded delegates that the FQS did not just happened in a flash. While a "quarter of a year is just a glint in the span of history, " Ilagan said the making of the Storm dated back to decades previous to 1970. While unplanned, it followed a course and a commitment, he recalls.
Ilagan told conference delegates how he was arrested twice during the martial law regime and suffered torture from the Marcos military. He is best known for co-writing the screenplay, The Flor Contemplacion Story. He is now chair of the FQS Movement. Founded in 2001 by activists of the 1960s and 1970s, its purpose is to keep alive the genuine spirit of the FQS.
Feminist and FQS pioneer Prof. Judy Taguiwalo of the University of the Philippines told of the founding of the militant women's organization MAKIBAKA which sought to advance the struggle for women's liberation and national liberation of the Philippines.
"The new Filipina's ultimate destination is not to be "ilaw ng tahanan" but as equal of men in the struggle to end foreign and feudal exploitation and oppression. She is first and foremost a militant," Taguiwalo said. Quoting Makibaka's martryed founding chair, Ma. Lorena Barros, she says that women are "engaged in the making of history" by opting to part of the national democratic struggle.
The Philippine youth and student movement in the 70's was inextricably linked with the world-wide ferment of youth at the time, said Emmanuel Sayo of the Kalayaan Resource and Training Centre, another speaker at the conference.
"But the youth movement in the Philippines had to root itself in the Philippine society for it to become relevant and an effective movement for social change and education," Sayo emphasized. He said that Filipino youth continues to be in the forefront of the propaganda movement not only in the homeland but also in their adopted countries.
Two youths - one from the Philippines and one Canadian-born, shared their journies from being students of exclusive schools to being students of the people and ultimately serving them.
Cherry Clemente, Secretary General of Anakpawis political party was less than a year old when martial law was declared in 1972. Her parents feared that sending her to the University of the Philippines would transform her to be an activist so she ended up at the exclusive girl's school St. Scholastica College where she quickly rose to become the school's magazine editor. After her studies, she worked full time for the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).
"Filipino youth is an active political force and component of the broad movement to oust Arroyo," said Clemente. "But most importantly, they are a potent political force needed in waging the national democratic revolution in the country." She said the youth comprise more than 30.2 million or more than 40 percent of the Philippine population, a majority of whom lives in the countryside.
But Clemente warned her audience that while the youth is an effective force in the struggle for national freedom and democracy "we cannot carry out this struggle to victory by ourselves. We have to integrate ourselves with the lives and struggles of the basic masses of workers and peasants as well as of fishermen and urban poor." To this end, she issued an open invitation to Filipino youth in Canada to "go home" and integrate with the people.
Like Clemente, Hetty Alcuitas was a "martial law baby" born in Winnipeg to immigrant parents. And like Clemente, her parents also dreamed of her becoming a lawyer or a doctor but ended up an 'activist'. She moved from Winnipeg to Vancouver and was one of the founding members of UKPC.
Tracing the history of organizing among Filipino youth in Canada, she identified racism, identity crisis, class domination and exploitation and gender oppression as among the major issues confronting Filipino-Canadian youth.
"Today, more than ever the Filipino people needs the youth's enthusiasm, dynamism and revolutionary commitment in order to achieve our genuine equality in Canada and a just and lasting peace in the Philippines," she said.
Neil Gapuz, a delegate from Kabataang Montreal said the conference was a "good oppourtunity to learn together though we had differences in our level of understanding, differences in gender, we were united in one source of inspiration - the First Quarter Storm. It was an inspiring weekend for me as the lessons of FQS connected the issues back home and the issues we face here as youth in Canada."
Jill Laxamana of UKPC - Vancouver echoed Gapuz' sentiments by saying that the connection was clearly understood despite the differences in the level of involvement. She said that while she has been long involved in the work of UKPC, she feels 'disconnected' because of the lack of understanding of the Philippine situation. "The conference greatly helped in bridging that gap," she said.
"Of course there is still the need to fully integrate with the Filipino people and to go back to the homeland to live and experience with them their lives of desperation," she added.
Ching Esguerra from UKPC - Toronto said the conference was inspiring "kasi maraming first hand experiences sa mga veterans sa FQS. At saka nakita ko ang commonalities at laging may pinaglalaban. Maganda at nakita sa ibang grupo sa Canada ang common realities sa issues na hinaharap natin."
Delegate Riya Ortiz from Ugnayan New York, thought the conference was a success and "a rare oppourtunity to exchange ideas." She says Joma's message was clear - to respond to the call of our times.
Conference delegates also further deepened the issues Filipino youth in Canada face in workshop discussions and vowed to heighten their commitment to apply the lessons of the FQS in changing their current reality.
Participants are optimistic that a national organization of Filipino youth will be formed next year as a result of this conference.