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Speech: Senator Eva Estrada Kalaw

January 25, 2010

Published on the Senate Congressional Record, Vol. 1, No. 2, January 27, 1970, p. 40, with minor changes like deletion of the usual, “Mr. President” in reference to the presiding officer.

Last night, the Establishment played into the hands of the agitators, the provocateurs. It was a night-marish spectacle, a happening which limelighted the sheer arrogance, the inefficiency, and confusion that attended and marred the student demonstration outside the very halls of Congress.

The students wanted so much to conduct a dialogue with us, with their elders in public office. But the portentous presence of so many riot forces all over, I believe, engendered an atmosphere of distrust, a cordon sanitaire, a veritable tinderbox which completely wiped out and negated the congeniality of a peaceful hour and assembly.

I have read the manifesto of the students. And I, for one, am 100% behind their plea for a non-partisan Constitutional Convention, among others.

But the unfortunate, and the condemnable, did happen.

In the wake of growing confusion and discontent in our country today, I find the words of Niccolo Machiavelli most pertinent: “One of the great secrets of the day is to know how to take possession of popular prejudices and passions, in such a way as to introduce a confusion of principles which make impossible all understanding between those who speak the same language and have the same interest.”

Indeed, confusion breeds undesirable reaction which can only lead to more violence.

“Anybody can become angry — this is easy. But to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

These words were said hundreds of years ago by the philosopher Aristotle. And yet, it seems to me as if he were speaking just now — 24 hours after that horrible affair in front of Congress last night.

We were there — Senator Laurel, Senator Pelaez, and Cong. Osmeña — at about the time President Marcos was descending the stairs for his car. A symbolic coffin was thrown along his path, and like an electric shot, this swept through the entire mass, rippling the noisy body into a holocaust of goonery, chasing, skull-breaking, and near anarchy. You have read the newspaper accounts. You have seen the TV clips and the dramatic photographs. You have heard the radio reports. But getting a bird’s eyeview of the unprecedented phenomenon right before my third floor window and at the steps of Congress when I descended later, is a totally different experience that assaults the soul with a totally different perspective. At that moment, all one cared for were the young faces, the slim, growing bodies running and pushing, being beaten by burly and athletic riot-squad policemen. In the heat of the melee, one thought about one’s daughter, about one’s son, and the horrible spectre of a totalitarian police state. The students screamed and fought back with their hands and books and stones. They were hauled to jail and Senators Laurel and Pelaez, Congressman Osmeña and myself did whatever little we could to get the students’ side of the story and to offer consolation and help. At the City jail, looking at the young students’ blistered lips and painful lumps, one wondered whether the riot squad had been properly trained to handle crises like this. And one shuddered at the horrible report that members of the riot squad were as yet trainees from the Pamantasan ng Maynila.

I also got the other side — that of the law-enforcers. And one is hard put to pinpoint the spark that ignited the blow-up.

But we must learn from this tragedy. We must structure the mechanics and the laws that will not allow this blood and this anarchy to erupt again.

Central Luzon has come to the halls of Congress. Let us solve this problem once and for all.

That is why I call for an immediate Senate investigation of this incident of the 26th of January 1970.

The President of the Republic was threatened with bodily harm. Riot squads and agitators plundered among the students. The students set the emotional powderkeg that may become the signal for wave upon wave of unrest in the streets, in the factories, in the campuses, in our farms. We must get to the roots of the problems. One young life, one helmeted police, must be saved at all cost.

The revolt of our students go back to a larger malaise — malaise of our society as a whole. They conceive of the “Establishment” as being immobile and fixed, a closed structure whose doors are vaulted against change. The Establishment, consisting of the government, big business, the church, the military, the schools, has prevented the introduction of basic structural changes in society — at most simply paying lip service to the need for reforms. They therefore see the destruction of the Establishment as a necessary prologue for reconstruction of society. They do this passively, by withdrawing from the dislocations of our world such as by becoming hippies or nonconformists, living their own lives within their own selves, with their own rules. Or they do this violently by rejecting and revolting against society by becoming activists.

They point to our grave national problems as the failure of the Establishment and its conservative leaders to meet the needs or social milieu of today. Despite verbal pronouncements of democracy and equitable distribution of wealth and power, the young people reel the insistent pressures of authoritarianism, of paternalism, of favoritism, and of double-standard codes of behavior in the real society. Economic power, social status, and political pull, have become the keys to growth in our society, and the youth abhor this set of ethics as a mediocre and old-fashioned way to do things, as a betrayal of all the nice and good things they learned in the classroom and in the books. Severe dislocations in the economy frustrate the young graduates as they are unable to find jobs, as prices go up, as the government imposes new taxes, and as credit becomes tighter. Social problems of urbanization, dispensation of justice, law enforcement, crime and violence, poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition aggravate this situation. Political horse-trading, religious hypocrisy, and cultural dilemma of self-identity and western-influence, all add up to a very confusing state of affairs for our young people.

The paradox that emerges from present-day life is too much for them to take. In the midst of so much — natural resources, historic legacy, cultural wealth, traditional virtu of honesty and industry — they see so much poverty, so much insincerity, so much war, so much corruption. And they decide that they cannot take this anymore.

So that change has become the most predominant fact of this century. Certainly, not all change is good, they realize. But change, or the process of change, is now considered an essential element for substantive innovation of any kind that would bring about deep-rooted re-structuring of the statement society they abhor. Unfortunately, they never fully comprehend the process of change. Change is always accompanied by anxiety and tension. Misunderstanding and ill-will bred in an atmosphere of feverish flux and fluctuation. People and events are moving in such great haste and with such nervous clamor that there is little time for reflection and study on the depth and direction that the changes or innovations should take.

What matters most of all is that change does occur — in whatever form or shape it can. Immediately. Violently, if need be.

Over and consistent with this disgust with the present Establishment and the imperative for immediate change is the overwhelming force of nationalism. With the Filipino youth, this need not be strange for the Philippines was the first country to initiate libertarian movements of a democratic for in this part of the world when we declared Philippine Independence in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898. Besides the most intense nationalists of the age then were young people — Rizal, Del Pilar, the Luna brothers, Paterno, Ponce, Lopez and Jaena. Rizal was 25 when he wrote the famous Noli Me Tangere. Bonifacio was 29 when he set up the Katipunan. Aguinaldo was also 29 when he became the First President of the Republic. Mabini was a young man when he joined Aguinaldo’s cabinet. Jacinto was 18 when he joined the Katipunan. And so they fought and died for their country. My distinguished colleague, Senator Tañada, has pointed out a very pertinent made about the nationalist which I think should be repeated in this hall. He said — “Nationalism is a virtue; it is therefore primarily a habit of the will. But it is not only that; it is also a habit of the intellect; a mental attitude: a way of looking at things and judging them. A nationalist is not only on who is ready to die for his country. He is also one who is ready to think for his country.”

The philosopher Vannevar Bush said, “It is a man’s mission to learn to understand.” And so we must.

For in their heart of hearts, the students have legitimate complaints. They want the Constitutional Convention to be free from the politicking that has drained this country dry for decades. They want the leaders of this country to stick to their promises. They want academic freedom and academic improvement. They want creative innovations in teaching, research, and public service. They want a more bearable leveling of fees and school tuition. They want more scholarships. They want nationalist policies in our way of life. They want leadership of the highest order. They want discipline and sacrifice to start from the top — from among the leaders so that this can seep down, all the way to the lowest members of our society. They want action. They want deeds. They want a better life for the large masses of the poor. They want justice for the poor.

Discontent and frustration are powderkegs of revolution. And the years of discontent and frustration now mask the faces of our young people. We saw these same faces in movies and TV clips of students in the universities of Colombia, Boston, Madrid Oregon, Colgate, Sandford, Howard, Oxford, Berlin and Tokyo. Today, these faces are here right in front of Congress.

Society could immerse itself in its own problems and simply ignore these faces and these voices. But that would be disastrous. Society must respond. We must respond. In the words of the late Pius XII, this is no time for mediocrity. We must bring out the best in us to respond to our young daughters and sons.

Change needs time.

As I have said, the students merely wanted a dialogue, an audience to air their reasonable demands in a cordial and peaceful assembly, a chance to be heard.

Why did it fail?

Riot forces from the MPD, the METROCOM, the Marines, and I understand even PC Special Forces were there — with their towering stance and their position of arrogance, possible mediators for the preservation of peace and order, the peace makers who were relied upon to evolve and coordinate a peaceable assembly.

They were all over Congress.

They were sent to preserve and maintain peace and decorum. This was their mission.

Their mission was not merely to disperse or quelch a mob, a riot. It was a physical impossibility last night to control 20 thousand voices, chanting a sentiment, an ideal. Their mission was larger than physical as it goes beyond perception and common sense.

But apparently,  this was too tall an order for them — because what we witnessed last night was a contingent that was force oriented not dialogue oriented, riot not assembly oriented, provocateurs not pacifiers.

I am reminded of the great American Civil War which divided the American continent into North and South. Last night, the riot forces admirably created this dividing wall. They made Congress a no-man’s land and pushed the students to the wall.

This is the reason why I took the privileged hour today,  to demand an investigation of the actuations of the riot forces and the agitators responsible for the death of democracy at our very doorsteps last night.

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