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The Storm of Our Youth
Remembrances and Lessons of the First Quarter Storm of 1970 in the Philippines
By Bonifacio P. Ilagan
Chair, First Quarter Storm Movement
Paper delivered on the occasion of the Filipino Youth and Student Conference (Ipagpatuloy: Living the Storm/ First Quarter Storm Campaign)
organized by the Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/ Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance
Russian Hall, 600 Campbell Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
November 25-27, 2005

I HAVE BEEN asked to talk about a political Storm in the Philippines that happened 35 years ago. I was in that Storm. I was 19. It was a time to be bold and daring for a cause that became my generation's badge of courage. Like most of the youth activists of the time, the experience was all I needed to affirm for life a dictum: To rebel is justified!

After the Storm, there was no turning back. I joined the underground of the people's movement for national freedom and democracy. Four years later, I would be in prison, incommunicado, where I found time to contemplate the Storm and the occurrences surrounding it.

It was the second day of my detention. Martial law was barely on its second year. In the garage of the intelligence unit of the dreaded Philippine Constabulary in Camp Crame, I found myself at the center of a merry-making. I had my pants down, literally. And my underwear, too. I was ordered to hold my penis. A guard stood by, ready to hit me again if I disobeyed. Another one was applying soap to a barbeque stick. I had been weakened by a previous beating. The soldiers were laughing and mocking me.

"Let us see how it feels to be a communist this time!" said the soldier with the stick. He aimed.

I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and waited for the pain to surge in.

Then a voice thundered from nowhere. "What are you doing? Explain this to me!"

The revelry stopped. Everyone stood at attention, except me. The man who spoke came to view. He was a genteel-looking fellow with a salt-and-pepper moustache. He was wearing a cowboy hat.

"Sir," the stick-wielder said, "he refuses to answer questions, sir!"

"You shouldn't be doing this to the boy, damn you!" The cowboy looked at me, and said, "Maybe he really doesn't know..! Come with me, hijo."

I raised my underwear and pants and followed him. As we climbed the stairs to his office, he was profuse in his apology for the "overzealousness" of his men.

"You see, you shouldn't be here today, were it not for your recklessness. Or is it the idealism of the young," the man obviously wanted me to warm up to him. In his office, he took off his cowboy hat. "Take a seat," he said. "What do you want, soft drinks? Coffee?"

I sat down and said no, I did not want anything. I would have wanted to tell him, though, to please stop his men from hitting me every time they'd ask me a question.

"You failed your parents! You are wasting your youth!" he boomed. "Do you not regret joining the movement?"

For a moment there, I hesitated. "No, sir," I answered. I anticipated him swinging at me for that impertinent and subversive reply.

The man, who was a colonel in the intelligence, sighed like a crestfallen father. Then he embarked on a lecture about politics and ideologies, stressing that he was well-travelled and knew the different systems of governance in the world. He allowed me to speak. He did not get mad whenever I disagreed with him.

Afterwards, he called an escort to take me back to my cell, saying to me, "Think about it, boy. Let's talk again. Call for me."

Well, I thought about it - long and hard. But I did not call for the colonel who wore a cowboy hat. Maybe he became tired of waiting, because the beatings soon resumed. When I was released two years later, I rejoined the movement. In 1994, I was arrested and tortured again.

Having been invited now by the Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/ Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance to talk about it, I have a reason to contemplate the Storm of my youth once again.

The First Quarter Storm (FQS) Movement

I now lead an organization that has been named after the Storm.

Upon its founding on April 22, 2001, a joke went around about the First Quarter Storm (FQS) Movement being a veterans' organization, similar to the one of the Katipuneros who fought in the Revolution of 1896. Dressed in their fading rayadillo, the aging Katipuneros paraded at the Rizal Park every year during the so-called Philippine Independence Day, until no one could make it anymore.

On the other hand, the FQS Movement was founded by the activists of the 1960s and 1970s for the purpose of "keeping alive the genuine spirit of the First Quarter Storm of 1970."

If there is a genuine spirit, could there be a fake one? Indeed, there is. I cite, for instance, a foundation sporting the name FQS, but betraying it by espousing everything that it is not. Last I heard, one of its top honchos has just been appointed ambassador to Greece.

The FQS Movement is an exclusive society. Among its standard requirements is age: One must be old enough to claim that he or she was an activist in the 1960s and 1970s. But not every ancient activist may come in as a member: One must possess the commitment to continue to live the Storm, notwithstanding his or her arthritis and diabetes and heaven knows what other ailments old people are prone to.

The FQS Movement is unique in many ways. It is about the only people's organization in the Philippines that does not welcome the young. And it is the only one that anticipates its membership to dwindle with the passing of time.

Our members do have a checkered past, if you may call it that. Many of us have been in and out of prison camps. But we also have professionals and entrepreneurs who observe the ethics of activism learned long ago. And we are particularly proud of our members who remain unwavering in their posts in the various fields and levels of the people's movement throughout the country.

All told, there is a call that impels us, activists in their golden 50s, to march, arms interlinked with the generations that came after us, in the mainstream of the people's continuing struggle for freedom, justice and democracy: Keep alive the Spirit of the First Quarter Storm of 1970!

To be able to comprehend that Spirit, we must understand how the Storm came to be, and what it was all about.

Prelude to the Storm

It did not happen in a flash, even if a quarter of a year is just a glint in the span of history. The making of the Storm dated back to decades previous to 1970. While the Storm was unplanned in its entirety, it followed a course, or should I say, a commitment.

Two years before 1970, I was a 17-year old provinciano who came to the University of the Philippines in the big city hoping to become a lawyer and make it big. The university already had a reputation for being a hotbed of activism. The activists whom I saw in 1968, however, were a minority in the campus, just one group among the numerous student circles that competed for the attention of the majority. But when they spoke, many listened. They were good speakers, and they talked intelligently about the issues, of which they never seemed to run out -- academic freedom, the colonial policies and programs of the university, the puppetry of the Philippine government to the U.S., the Vietnam War, graft and corruption, mass poverty. I would find myself taking time out and listening to them.

One day, an activist-leader approached me and invited me to join Kabataang Makabayan or KM. It was the organization that epitomized the radical student movement. KM wore a militant brand of nationalism that was so entirely different from the docile "barong tagalog" and "sampaguita" nationalism that most Filipinos were accustomed to.

"I'd think it over," I told the KM leader. I dilly-dallied. I was content with listening to their speakers, reading their manifestoes and feeling sympathetic for their cause in an academic sense.

The activists competed for supremacy in the student government and the student paper. The got it. Now they utilized these campus institutions as their podium from which they mounted their agitation. From agitating in the campus, they agitated in the streets of the metropolis, in front of Congress, the presidential palace, the U.S. embassy. But they remained relatively a handful. In fact, compared to the bigness of their cause, they were such a small group. But the media covered their rallies and quoted them in the same breath as the politicians and government officials. They were spewing fire in their condemnation of imperialism and the socio-political system that they said was the apparatus of the oppressors and exploiters. They mercilessly assaulted the powers-that-be. They were causing shock waves in the lethargy of the Philippine political culture of the late 1960s.

But perhaps "lethargic" does not fully describe the Philippine political scene in the 1960s. In 1950, the government of President Elpidio Quirino succeeded in cutting down the leadership of the old and bankrupt Communist Party of the Philippines. This party had misled the people in its program of militarist misadventures. As a consequence, its ranks were decimated and its mass base in the countryside became vulnerable to attacks and enticements by government. Under the presidency of another American boy, Ramon Magsaysay, the military proceeded to implicate even the legal opposition in a witch-hunt that was designed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and implemented by its resident advisers in the country. Critics of government, including writers and human rights advocates, were hauled off to prison and charged with crimes that were not even in the penal code. Finally, in 1957, under another president, Carlos P. Garcia, an infamous bill became law, Republic Act 1700, the anti-subversion law, which pre cribed a whole range of punishments against protestors and critics of government, and imposed the penalty of death on leaders of the communist party.

With no organized movement to raise even the bread-and-butter issues of the masses, the ruling elite of Philippine democracy rode roughshod over the people. But it was not to stay that way for long. Unknown to me and the rest of the students on the fringes of activism, a young revolutionary intellectual, not quite out of his teens, had previously embarked on a vision to put the people's movement for national freedom and democracy back on course. He was the founding chair of KM, which was officially inaugurated on November 30, 1964. Even before that historic date, however, Jose Maria Sison had already done much of the spade work in the resurgence of the struggle, as attested to by his book which I noticed the activists to be carrying all the time. It was entitled Struggle for National Democracy.

Eventually, I became a demonstrator, one among an increasing number of students who were drawn in by the justness of the cause and the validity of reason. Every so often, I witnessed the armed police assaulting the unarmed activists. The violence occurred in an increasing tempo. But I still did not dare pick up a rock to hurl at the police. I was content with simply watching others do it. When someone did, I cheered.

It was 1969. Another rally was violently dispersed by the police. The demonstrators broke up, and a girl fell to the ground. I stepped back to give her a hand. But this crash-helmeted riot police rushed at me, swinging his truncheon. It hit my forearm, and it swelled like hell in minutes.

I sought out the KM leader in the activists' hangout. He was happy to see me. I'd like to be a member, I declared. As I expressed my anger over the incident of the previous day, he gave me books to read, including the Struggle for National Democracy. I filled up a form, was interviewed by a member of the screening committee, and immediately assigned a discussion group. It was to be my gang for a whole semester.

The discussion group met regularly. We followed a syllabus that was devoted to the study of history and the basic problems of the people. I unlearned much of what Filipinos were being taught since time immemorial: That there was absolutely no way of looking at our colonial past other than that the Philippines was benefited by the coming of Spain and America, and especially by America; that Filipinos owed their freedom and progress to America; that America was there like a big brother who was only too willing to assist the natives in their quest for progress and democracy and against terrorists and communists; that without America, who would have taught us that A stood for apple and that there was a modern way to brush our teeth?

I suffered the anguish of my forebears when, on the verge of their freedom from the 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, America came marching by and snatched it away through double talk and outright slaughter of our people, be they armed or unarmed, men or women, old or young.

I came to understand how America manipulated the mentality of my people and controlled the wealth of my country. America did extremely well by maintaining a system of elite rule over the masses, in a triangular structure that consigned the workers and the peasants at the bottom. And America had the gall to call it tutelage in democracy, the best training there could be.

In my KM discussion group, I grasped the true meaning of the terms being bandied about by the activists, and which the reactionaries and fence-sitters dismissed as clichés or communist jargon - nationalism and national democracy, imperialism, feudalism, bureaucrat-capitalism, class analysis, people's war. And yes, how to serve the people by fighting for their interest.

I understood how the Philippines became the "sick old man of Asia" and why our people remained mired in ignorance and poverty while a handful of families with linkages to foreign corporations owned vast tracks of hacienda lands, profited from mining and logging and ran the factories where the poor were exploited and subjected to inhuman working conditions. These were the same families that always got elected and appointed in government, or else served as patrons of politicians who owed allegiance to them and not to the people.

I came to learn why the bureaucracy and the military were corrupt to the hilt, and why the rest of the social institutions such as the church and the schools were there to preserve the status quo.

Everywhere, people groaned under the weight of a staggering foreign debt and an uncontrolled inflation. In the cities, the workers were being arrested whenever they struck for a just wage. In the countryside, the children were dying of hunger and disease while the military and the private armies of the hacenderos and politicos kept the protesting peasants and agricultural workers at bay with arms supplied by the U.S. Pentagon.

In the U.S. military bases, women were being raped and children shot at because, to the American servicemen, they looked like pigs.

"The Philippines is a volcano at the throes of a violent eruption," said a priest in Negros after having blessed the corpse of a boy who died of malnutrition. In Manila, meanwhile, champagne was flowing from a fountain as the city's high society partied.

And Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos said nothing was amiss in the country, save for the rabble-rousing of the activists.

This was the reality that confronted the activists of my generation. We took it upon ourselves to announce it to the world. On the eve of the Storm, the small circle of dissenters that I chanced upon in UP had already burgeoned into a big army of fearless agitators of the Second Propaganda Movement.

What was happening at the UP was also happening in many campuses in the metropolis and the provinces, including the expensive and exclusive schools run by the church. With KM at the forefront, the youths from a multitude of activist organizations also fanned out to organize in communities and factories. The succeeding rallies became not only bigger and bolder, but represented a blending of many sectors in society. As 1969 drew to a close, Marcos dismissed the activists' tirades as Maoist rhetoric of those who wanted to sow chaos and dissension and grab power. The year ended with dire prophecies of a revolution. And we welcomed it only too gladly.

The Storm

By January 1970, the stage had been set. "Finish the Unfinished Revolution!" screamed our placards that echoed the cry of Juan Matapang Cruz, Macario Sakay, Lucio de Vega, Artemio Ricarte -- stragglers of a bygone revolution against colonialism.

By this time, KM and a host of other activist organizations had cut across the breadth and width of the lower and middle classes. They were one in "arousing, organizing and mobilizing" the people.

In January, too, the mimeographed version of the seminal book Society and Philippine Revolution, then entitled The Philippine Crisis, came out. It was authored by Amado Guerrero, the chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines which was re-established on December 26, 1968. We assiduously studied it.

January 1970 offered a great opportunity for activists of all shades to get together in a show of force against the Marcos regime. Marcos was set to deliver his "State of the Nation Address" on the 26th. We prepared to present our own version. On that day, about 50,000 students, joined by workers, peasants and the middle class trooped to Congress to give Marcos the lie. It was also an occasion for the national-democrats to reject once again the forthcoming constitutional convention. On the other hand, the social-democrats, led by their own firebrand Edgar Jopson, proclaimed that it was the only remaining hope for national reformation. (Edgar Jopson would eventually become a national-democrat. He was murdered by the military during a raid on a Communist Party underground house in Davao in Mindanao in 1982.)

The violence that ensued after Marcos had delivered his fairy tale in Congress was a most graphic show of police brutality, which the media dutifully reported. Against a force of some 7,000 policemen and soldiers, the demonstrators stood their ground for hours. Scores were hurt, some badly. Marcos again issued his standard line: It was a mob instigated by the communists to sow anarchy.

While activist organizations mapped out their actions, Marcos met with his generals to prepare for a war scenario. Meanwhile, smaller protest actions kept alive the tension in the air. In less than a week, the activists mounted another massive rally to protest state fascism and reiterate the people's demands for social change. January 30-31, 1970 turned into a seesaw battle between the activists and the combined forces of the police and combat troopers of the various service units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Starting early in the evening of January 30, a melee broke out on the street fronting the presidential palace. Poison crept in the air. Tear gas blinded our eyes and made breathing painful. We scampered for water to wash off the chemical. We attacked, nevertheless, and the police retreated; the police attacked, we took a retreat. The metropolitan police were unable to control the situation. Marcos called in the jungle fighters and special forces trained by the U.S. Now we had to dodge bullets as bodies started falling to the ground.

All in all, some 12,000 government forces were thrown in the battle that spread through a big part of downtown Manila and lasted until the wee hours of January 31.

People's support in the communities where the fighting erupted sustained the courage of the activists. We pitted sticks and stones, improvised bombs and projectiles against the tear gas, water cannons and assault rifles of the government troopers, all courtesy of the U.S.

During the night, four students died of multiple bullets wounds. Hundreds, maybe thousands, were injured. I came out of it unscathed, but I shared in the collective leap in consciousness. All the discussion about history and society and the basic problems of the people redounded to only one singular course of concrete action: Be with the people and fight, and fight some more.

February saw an almost weekly demonstration in Manila, often ending in a battle with the police. By March, we were launching not only public meetings but also six-hour marches all over the metropolis. We brought the burning issues of the day right where the most impoverished of the people were -- in slum areas, in factories where the workers eked out a living, in side streets where the dregs of the city throve. Meanwhile, rallies and marches were also happening in the urban and town centers in Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Northern Luzon, Bikol, Visayas and Mindanao.

Shortly after January, I became the chair of the Kabataang Makabayan chapter in the UP. Then, KM assigned me to organize its theater group, Panday-Sining, and eventually, its cultural bureau. Together with some of the most selfless and finest people I've known, we succeeded in this exciting sphere of activist cultural work.

After the FQS, I attended school less and less. My ambition of becoming a lawyer had become a foreign thought. A year after the FQS, we would occupy the UP and establish a Diliman Commune. That same year, even before the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus by Marcos, I would finally leave school to join the underground. By 1972, when Marcos declared martial law, I had completely adjusted to life incognito - until a military raid in April 1974 ended my first stint in the underground.

"Welcome home," the intelligence agent said as the cruiser bearing me and my fellow detainee, the journalist Jose F. Lacaba, entered Camp Crame.

The Meaning and Relevance of the FQS of 1970

First of all, it is a continuity of the historic role of the youth in the people's struggle for national liberation and democracy in the Philippines.

Back in the 1970s, and thanks to the author of Struggle for National Democracy, who, by the way, is the Chair Emeritus of the FQS Movement, we became conscious of the role the youth had played in the anticolonial movement during the time of Jose Rizal, Emilio Jacinto and Andres Bonifacio. We considered the FQS and the tasks we were doing then as part of the Second Propaganda Movement, in appreciation of the first Propaganda Movement launched by the Filipino patriots in the 1890s.

Being the highlight of the Second Propaganda Movement, the FQS of 1970 crystallized the role of the youth in the new type of the national democratic struggle: As militant activists out to propagate new ideas for social change in the era of imperialism. Paramount among these ideas was the need for radical or revolutionary changes, not mere reforms or palliatives, in the system.

The FQS was a dramatic moment in history that laid bare the basic problems of the people, as well as the answer to the question "what is to be done." As in the mass actions of January 26 and January 30-31, the events comprising the FQS exposed the rottenness of the semicolonial and semifeudal system and the justness of revolutionary action. The FQS raised the consciousness of the masses of the people against the reactionary state which served the interests of U.S. imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism.

Second, the FQS of 1970 signifies a new and higher degree of development of the entire mass movement following its debacle in the 1950s. It illustrated not only the new movement's success in transcending the errors of the past, but also reaffirmed the soundness of the national-democratic alternative.

Third, the FQS is the single biggest occasion that generated the greatest number of full-time revolutionary cadres and activists for the thousand-and-one tasks in the movement for national liberation. Thirty-five years after the FQS, its activists can still be found at the forefront of the struggle in cities and countryside. Since then, the movement has been provided with a rich source of human power by the generations of the Filipino youths who have looked up to the FQS as a wellspring of inspiration.

Fourth, the FQS has established and enshrined a tradition of militancy and selfless service to the people, and a recognition of the workers and the peasants as the motive force in the making of history and in the triumph of any movement for social transformation.

Among the slogans that have been raised during the FQS, there is one that evolved into a mindset and a lifetime commitment for the youth that took part in it.

It is "Serve the People."

In serving the people in the enlightened manner of the dedicated revolutionary, countless activists of the FQS were emboldened to go where the struggle was most intense and arduous, and have become heroes and martyrs that any people can be proud of. Every time I talk about them, I am humbled by the enormity of their sacrifice and the nobility of their being. To my mind, there is no better way to honor them than to remain true to the ideals for which they offered their lives. This is the heritage of the FQS. Its relevance for today's youth in the Philippines and elsewhere derives from the richness of this legacy.

Ingrained, too, in this legacy is the tradition of critical thinking, belief in the masses of the people and in their collective strength, dedication to fight oppression and exploitation in whatever forms they may take, assertion and defense of human rights and commitment to stand for freedom and justice wherever we are and whatever we do. These values could very well be a code for living life, whether we are in the Philippines or elsewhere.

Fifth, the FQS is a reminder of the continuing past. Every time we commemorate or study the FQS, we are told that the struggle to free our people goes on because the aim of national and social liberation remains to be done. The global system of oppression and exploitation has worsened the condition of the people everywhere in the world. The power relations that have victimized the masses for so long are still in place. And so, the fight must go on: Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!

IN FEBRUARY last year, we paid tribute to a KM member and a participant in the Storm of our youth. He was Mabini Fabon. As a young activist, he had devoted himself to mass work among the peasants in Cavite and Batangas provinces. Martial law found him among the peasants of Quezon and Camarines Norte. He took part in the making of these provinces as strongholds of the people's movement. In 1987, he was wrongfully accused as an enemy infiltrator, and suffered for it. He was ultimately cleared and took a respite from work in the countryside. That gave him an opportunity to participate in the founding of the FQS Movement in 2001. Shortly afterwards, he disappeared. He went back to the countryside, in Mindoro this time, to resume work among the peasants. Mindoro is a malaria-infested island. Mabini Fabon contracted the disease and succumbed to it. He had few regrets, among which was that he had to leave behind a wife and a daughter -- and a lot of work for the people's liberation, undone.

Mabini Fabon and other comrades like him may have died. But they will forever live in the legacy of the Storm that continues to rage in our hearts and minds.

Maraming maraming salamat po.

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