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Moderates and Radicals

February 12, 2010

By Rodolfo G. Tupas

Published in The Manila Times, February 5, 1970

It was incredible. President Ferdinand Marcos was hardly out of the first month of his unprecedented second term when pandemonium broke loose in the streets: students – the very students who made him win in last year’s mock elections – clashed with the police and government troops.

It was as if Pandora’s Box had been flung open again. The crack of the police rookies’ clubs on young skulls signaled the start of the war between the students and the police on Jan. 26 but nobody seems definite as to what caused the Jan. 30 demonstration to erupt into a miniature revolution.

The Jan. 30 convulsion that shook the nation left four students dead in the streets.

The turbulence before Congress and Malacañang caught the nation’s attention but many are still in the dark over the why, who, where, and what of student demonstrations.

But, however vague the country’s idea about the most massive of student uprisings, most Filipino parents and adults were shocked and horrified to see on TV teenagers and undergraduates being bludgeoned unmercifully by rookie policemen and members of the anti-riot squad which was supposed to have been trained in the ungentle art of suppressing riots.

If Jan. 26 is remembered for the rain of truncheon blows, Jan. 30 will be remembered as the night the fired-up students, waving a red flag, “captured” a fire truck and used it to ram through Malacañang’s Gate 4 in a manner reminiscent of the storming of the Bastille.

A survey of student leaders who participated in the two demonstrations showed that the students were not led and directed by one mastermind organization.

All the demonstrating student leaders were activists but, remarkably, a new, if somewhat strange alliance, has been formed, whose ideological spectrum ranges from moderates to the radicals, from the convent-bred to the militants.

The moderates are led by Atenean Edgar Jopson, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP); Portia Ilagan of the Philippine Normal College, acting president of one wing of the National Student League; and Benjamin Maynigo, secretary general of the Young Christian Social Movement.

These are the active reformists who believe they are left of center but who are viewed by the leftwing groups as conservatives.

However, the NUSP and NSL, themselves have their “progressives,” or the more aggressive or more free-thinking elements who have found it easier to conduct dialogues with the leftists. They are led by Chito Sta. Romana of La Salle and Ferando Barican of UP. It is this group that has developed some kind of working relationship with the left-wing sector of the studentry. It has also been responsible for making the issue of “rising fascism” a common ground between the moderates and the revolutionary group.

Sta. Romana of the NUS, a senior A.B. economics student explained: “Students are more united now. Before you would never find the NUSP, NSL, or KM in the same rally, so high was the feeling of antagonism among rival groups. But now that the ranks are closer, we have been trying to emphasize the issues that would unite us more.”

Needless force is part of the “rising fascism” issue that has united the moderates and the radicals. Although both persuasions disagree on various aspects of “imperialism” and “feudalism,” they are terms that are no longer taboo in the campus.

The Kabataang Makabayan (KM), which is headed by Nilo Tayag, remains the radical hard-core of the student movement. It has now found allies in the Student Power Assembly of the Philippines (SPAP), headed by Reuben Seguritan; the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MDP), which coordinated the Jan. 30 rally; the Student Cultural Association of UP (SCAUP), whose president is Luzvimindo David; the Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK); and the Student Reform Movement, which engineered last year’s demonstrations in Lyceum, FEU, UST, and UE.

The student groups massed before Congress on Jan. 26 for two different purposes. The NUS-NSL-YCS combine staged a rally for a non-partisan Constitutional Convention. The left-wing student groups, who were first asked to coordinate with the NUSP, marched to Congress to protest the deteriorating state of the nation, the rise of “fascism,” and the perpetuation of “imperialism” and “feudalism.”

The left-wing students do not believe that a constitution can truly embody the aspirations of the people unless Philippine society first undergoes basic structural changes.

In the words of the KM’s Monico Atienza: “It is only through the transformation of the basic power relations in our society that a truly democratic society can some into being.”

The leftists fear that the Nacionalistas and the Liberals will use the Constitutional Convention merely “to ventilate their own issues.”

The moderates believe that a more responsive Constitution could be evolved but they concede it will be a “long struggle.”

Barican is afraid that “President Marcos has lost his credibility” with the students although he and Sta. Romana still believe that on short-term demands, like the release of funds or the disbanding of certain groups, it is possible to see eye to eye with the President.

But as Sta. Romana insists, “in terms of abolishing feudalism or others of the like, you cannot negotiate with President Marcos.”

The radical left rules out any dialogue or attempts of reconciliation with the President. The President is no longer on their wave length, as far as the radicals are concerned.

The left-wing leadership believes in the inevitability of violence and, if present conditions persist, in the inevitability of a revolution.

KM spokesman Atienza explained: “We believe in going to the people, in politicizing the people. Once they have been politicized, they will know what to do.”

Whether moderate or radical, the students are increasingly feeling alienated from the system. This is one of the principal reasons why student activism, once confined to the University of the Philippines, has mushroomed in other places. It has spread to Lyceum, Philippine College of Commerce, Manuel L. Quezon law school, University of the East, Far Eastern University, Feati, Jose Rizal College, and even to sectarian schools.

Because the System is suffocating or does not measure up to its own slogans, NSL’s Portia Ilagan has noted the “growing impatience” of the studentry.

The activist groups have become magnets for the students who feel estranged from the System and have developed the itch to condemn the abuses of power by rocking the Establishment.

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