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State of UP activism during your time

by Reyna Tabbada, Bulatlat
Interview with Professor Jose Maria Sison
January 8, 2008

Reyna Tabbada (RT): Describe the atmosphere of activism in UP during your time: what are the major beliefs or ideologies that fuel the student protest movement? How did the different elements of society, from the masses to the well-off families, embrace and/or reject these developments?

Professor Jose Maria Sison (JMS): From the time that I entered the UP in 1956 up to 1959, there was mass apathy among the students. McCarthyism and ultra-reaction prevailed because of the defeat of the armed revolution in the early fifties and the intensification of the cold war. Through the active machinations of the US embassy and the American Jesuits behind the scenes, the Anti-Subversion Law was enacted in 1957 to suppress Marxism and the revolutionary movement.

But there were sporadic outbursts of the contradictions between liberalism and religio-sectarianism on and off the campus. Among the most significant of such outbursts were the controversies over Teodoro Agoncillo's Revolt of the Masses and the Noli-Fili law. The anti-imperialist bourgeois nationalism of Recto influenced certain student leaders and faculty members.

Anti-communism was used by the US and the local reactionary rulers to justify the suppression of the toiling masses and the revolutionary movement and to intimidate and deceive the intelligentsia and the rest of the middle class. The intellectual atmosphere in the UP reflected mainly the dominant ideology and politics of anti-communism and conservative liberalism in Philippine semicolonial and semi-feudal society.

RT: The 60's signaled a rise in militant undertakings, especially among the youth, as nationalist sentiments became a force that imperialist elements had to reckon with. What are the reasons that prompted you and your colleagues to be part of this struggle?

JMS: In 1959 we organized the Student Cultural Association of the UP. We at first raised cultural nationalism as a rallying cry. But in fact we were moved by a number of reasons, which are expressible in the following tasks:

First, we wanted to elevate the level of campus debate from one between liberalism and religio-sectarianism to one between the Left and Right over the basic social issues and we of the Left core offered alliance to the anti-imperialist progressive liberals against the pro-imperialist conservative liberals.

Second, we propagated the line of continuing the unfinished national democratic revolution of 1896 and proposed that the working class lead the revolution, while relying on the combination of the working class, peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie as the most progressive forces.

Third, we undertook studies in the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism in connection with Philippine history, the semi-colonial and semi-feudal conditions and what is to be done in the Philippine revolution.

RT: How can you describe the role that you played, both as a UP student and as an activist, during these tumultuous and defining times?

JMS: As a UP student and as an activist, I tried to play the role of combining with other willing students in the SCAUP and then in Kabataang Makabayan for the purpose of arousing, organizing and mobilizing the student masses.

Regarding the aspect of arousing, I had to study Philippine history and conditions and the relevant revolutionary theory and practice in the world. I needed to study in order to learn the basic facts and ideas that I must communicate to other students in written articles, study meetings and protest rallies.

I learned from books and periodicals but most importantly from discussions with progressive professors, revolutionary veterans and my peers in the student and youth movement. I expressed the ideas of the national democratic movement through lectures, speeches and written articles in the Philippine Collegian and then in national publications.

Regarding the aspect of organizing the students, I joined up with other students to form the SCAUP and I became the founding chairman, We wanted to have members and then chapters in various colleges and departments of the university. We also aspired to organize students in other universities. Soon enough the SCAUP became the base for organizing the Kabataang Makabayan and the KM chapters in other universities in Manila and then on a national scale.

Regarding the aspect of mobilizing the students, the SCAUP succeeded in bringing about the anti-CAFA demonstration of March 15, 1961, with 5000 students, by having an alliance with the fraternities and sororities. This was the first significant student mass action with an anti-imperialist and democratic character even as the call was for the defense of academic freedom against witch hunting under the Anti-Subversion Law.

In trying to mobilize the students, I relied heavily on the UP activists when I was chairman of KM and secretary general of the Socialist Party of the Philippines and the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism. In general and in many instances, the UP Student Council and the Philippine Collegian contributed to the education, agitation and mobilization of the UP students.

The UP students played an even greater role in the mass movement by taking up student sectoral issues as well as multi-sectoral issues on a nationwide scale. The sixties involved many protest mass actions against US economic and military domination, the exploitation and oppression of students, the US war of aggression in Vietnam and on so many other issues.

RT: Identify the challenges that confronted the radical movement in UP during your stay. How were these issues resolved? If not, why was it not rectified?

JMS: The radical student movement in UP faced challenges and issues that arose from the objective conditions, from policies of the UP administration and the national government and from problems within the student movement itself. There are too many of such challenges and issues for me to cover in one interview. But I can mention only some of the most significant ones which continue to this day.

The student radical movement will continue to face challenges and issues from the semicolonial and semi-feudal conditions in Philippine society and in the UP so long as the national democratic revolution has not yet won victory and has not yet instituted a people's democratic republic and a national, scientific and democratic kind of cultural and educational system.

Because of the predominant petty bourgeios class character of the general social standing and mentality of students, the student radical movement will continue to face problems within it and around it. There will be ups and downs and zigs and zags in the development of the movement. But there will be revolutionary spikes as well as steady rise from one level to a new and higher one until the ripening and complete victory of the Philippine revolution.

State of UP activism at present

RT: How can you characterize the present state of activism in UP?

JMS: This is a question that the progressive UP student organizations and current activists can best answer after their own assessment and evaluation. However, I am aware that they are doing their best in arousing, organizing and mobilizing the students against the US and Arroyo regime and their running dogs in the UP. I am also aware that many UP students have become so revolutionary that they have opted to do mass work in the countryside or join the people's army.

Some people are not satisfied with the present state of activism in UP because the progressive student organizations and student masses have not yet succeeded in mobilizing themselves in great numbers to ignite and help in the ouster of the Arroyo regime or at the least to stop the Roman administration in the UP from pushing its adoration of the 'free market"--its privatization and commercialization policy. Everyone expects the UP students to rise up in greater numbers.

RT: What are the similarities between the activist movement today and the one during the 60's? Are there any disparities? If so, what are these differences?

JMS: The most conscious, the largest and most potent student organizations and movements are still those that take the national democratic line against the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of Philippine society and educational system. In any movement, there are ups and down and zigs and zags. But we can observe higher peaks of development from period to period.

The student movement in the sixties reached its highest peak in the First Quarter Storm of 1970. Subsequent peaks were the student risings in 1986 and 2001 against the Marcos and Estrada regimes, respectively. With so much experience to learn from, the student movement of today should be able to muster greater strength in order to fight and oust the Arroyo regime. Last November 30, the students had a significant part in the effort to revitalize the oust Arroyo movement.

I always expect later generations of students to make greater achievements in their movement. They have the advantage of benefitting from the moral and material legacy of their predecessors. They have a better footing in everything and should be able to move up to a new and higher level. It is the pride of predecessors when their successors make greater achievements.

RT: What are the strengths of UP activists today? What are their weaknesses?

JMS: The strengths of the UP activists should include the accumulated and easily accessible experience and knowledge about the national democratic movement, the continuity of the mass movement, their talents and skills in various disciplines of study and the new technology available for faster communication, education, agitation, organization and mobilization.

The weaknesses include the inability to learn from the available experience and knowledge and current conditions, the attractions of careerism and the comforts of bourgeois life, the waning of the revolutionary spirit of serving the people and mass distraction from the most important issues by the new technology.

RT: In your view, what are the immediate issues and concerns that present UP activist should pursue and undertake?

JMS: On the campus, the UP students are confronted by the worship of the neoliberal dogma, the depreciation of national liberation and people's democracy and the drive to commercialize and privatize the UP. On the national scene, they are confronted by the imperialist plunder and the puppetry, corruption, mendacity and cruelty of the US-directed Arroyo regime.

UP at its centennial

RT: Comment on the activities prepared by the Roman administration to celebrate the centennial of the university, particularly on the grand opening last January 8 at UP Diliman.

JMS: I have read about the car convoys and the fireworks to mark the grand opening of the centennial. But I have not come across anything more significant from the Roman administration. It is to be expected that the Philistines in the UP administration would celebrate most the kind of professional and political leadership in the service of foreign monopoly capitalism, domestic feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.

RT: What is the impact of the 300% increase in tuition and other fee increases to UP during its centennial year?

JMS: The 300 per cent increase in tuition and other fee increases announce to the entire nation that the UP is on the road of commercialization and veering away from the role of a public institution serving the people. They are the harbinger of further increases that will favor the entry of the children of the upper classes and upper middle class and will make the UP more inaccessible to the children of the toiling masses of workers and peasants.

RT: How should UP position itself as an educational institution as it commemorate 100 years of existence as the country's "premier state university"?

JMS: As it celebrates its centennial, the UP should underscore its character as a public institution in the service of the people in various fields. It should honor the alumni who have contributed to the struggle for national liberation and democracy against foreign and feudal domination. It should express adherence to a national, scientific and democratic type of culture and education. It should aim at making the UP the school of the brightest children of the workers, peasants and lower middle class.###

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