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People’s Congress: The New Radicalism

February 12, 2010

By Mercedes A.B. Tira

Published in Graphic, March 4, 1970, p. 10-12

How will it be with kingdom and with kings,
With those who shaped him to the thing he is

When this dumb terror shall rise to judge the world
After the silence of the centuries?

— Edwin Markham in his poem, “The Man With The Hoe”

The unforgettable tragedy of January 26 and 30 came out with two results. First, bitter quarrels divided the students. Charges were hurled against those students who utilized the previous, mass actions for prestige-building, and in the process managed to expose themselves as nothing but “gadflies of society.” Still, several students leaders, drawing support from the established Church and from the Manglapus cult of Christian Socialism, pigheadedly clung to the ecclesiastical idea of a peaceful revolution. (They were aptly labeled the “clerico-fascists.”) According to a student leader, however, a revolution is not a revolution if it insists to be peaceful.

Whether or not the student leader was right, the studentry’s conflict of loyalties brought about factionalism in their ranks. Desperately disoriented by the riotous January rallies, most of them were cowed when introduced to the brass tacks of running a nation. Be that as it may, the internal wars and rejection moves of our student activists are natural and simply organic. The Japanese students’ Zengakuren movement has no less than 60 rival groups; the Chinese Red Guards, to continue, were also unspared from factionalism; the Puerto Rican and Mexican activists, the London progressives and even those of Paris were similarly plagued.

In fact, an astute observation on this student factionalism has been rendered by the celebrated Swiss journalist Andre Depeursinge: “Once the tumult and collective delirium of the revolutionary psychodrama was past, after the intoxication of having terrorized and shaken society, the students found themselves isolated, deprived of their dreams, alone before the debris of what they had overthrown, burned or adored. They were revolted, disenchanted  and resigned.”

Down with Frivolities

Second, despite their bickerings, the local activists learned from their tragedies. Moreover, they have, of late, finally if not completely, resigned from the fetish of frivolities including the worship of the Beatles, Dustin Hoffman, discotheques and exclusive-school-soirees. The activists are now determined to continue their protest struggles. This they started by introducing the “teach-in” to the masses. The teach-in, an innovation of revolutionaries from the academe, is now better known as “the people’s congress.”

What is this teach-in movement? Prof. Dolores Feria, herself an enlightened progressive, defines the teach-in as the “setting up of sidewalk universities.” It is one of the most positive aspects of local radicalism after the passage of 10 years. It is an experimental class “without credits, which can be scheduled anywhere at all except in classroom-in-basements, empty rooms, in teachers’ houses and cafes will do — where chairs are unnecessary not only because more people can be accommodated on the floor, but also because new forms of grouping lessen the traditional distance and sense of classroom alienation… Human concerns, not mere information dominate the scene. The questions raised are those which the student is inhibited from raising in the classroom either because of the primacy of curriculum… or because it is conventionally forbidden.”

The recent amalgamation of student power with the combined strengths of the worker-peasant front is an assertion of their maturity. In the protest congresses of February 12 and 18, the mingling of age groups was evident. This is significant in the sense that for an effective Left to take form, there is a crying need for unity. Why? Because the students alone, despite their condemnations of “elder-irrelevance,” do not constitute an Opposition. Note that our history of radicalism dawned as an isolated juggernaut, a movement of pure protest and rampage. The massive politicalization at Plaza Miranda was indeed a commitment to the futuristic task of teaching the silent majority and not the task of raking them.

“The better our knowledge of social systems, the more likely are we to avoid any unintentional consequences. It is important, therefore, for the protesters to have some theory of protest and to be sensitive to those circumstances in which protest is effective in achieving its intended consequences, and those circumstances in which it is not,” observed Prof. Kenneth Boulding of the University of Michigan.

Mammoth Ralllies

The early afternoons of February 12 and 18 saw an escalation of protesters. The 10,000 peaceful demonstrators and “usiosos” swelled to a 15,000 crowd on the 18th, The crowd stood, sat, climbed roofs of the Lacson Underpass and spilled into the adjacent streets of Plaza Miranda.

The February 12 demo was a better-disciplined one, thanks to the coordinated efforts of the student leaders and the Manila Police Department officers in charge with the security of the demo: Col. Enrique V. Morales, Majors Alfredo Lim, Narciso Cabrera, Jr., and Moises Matawaran. The only uncomfortable incident, which happened as the rallyists were dispersing, was the attack done upon an impersonating PC serviceman from Central Luzon who donned the uniform of the hated Special Forces. The demonstrators chased him and gave him a taste of manhandling. This incident, however minor, is valid proof that the uniformed minions of the law have become a bete noire of rallyists.

The mammoth rally, six days after, was sober and more enthusiastic in its first five hours. It was, however, climaxed with more extensive, insistent violence and vandalism: clashes with the police, edifice-stoning, vehicle-burning and apprehension of scores of demonstrators and even bystanders. These firebrands, manacled with rolled handkerchiefs for lack of handcuffs, were however unperturbed. There were Enrique Voltaire Garcia II and Rene Navarro, both student leaders turned lawyers, who would come to their rescue, anyway. Besides, one jailed demonstrator, after emerging from the prison house, predicted that Siempre, masasanay din kami sa labas-pasok sa city jail, at tuloy pa rin ang rebolusyon, bakit hindi? Irresponsibly said, it is clear, but Rennie Davis of the Chicago Seven and his prediction was echoed by this student. The prediction of Davis was hurled against Judge Julius Hoffman: “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail a revolution.”

We noticed that the language of the Plaza Miranda congress was more plebeian and profane than before. Where hitherto only placards bore the language of the streets, at the mammoth rallies, profanities were the spice and humor of the protesters’ oratory. The sight of placards and words written on them, not to mention the Hitlerized Marcos calendars, was somehow amusing, if not shocking. Placards for instance, screamed “Mother America — Putang Ina”; “Marcos Fascist — Iginuhit Ng Demonyo” — undoubtedly clear departures from Emily Postian etiquette.

Sympathy and Defense

Sympathy indignation rallies were also heretofore and simultaneously aired over the country. Most remarkable of these out-of-town rallies was the February 10 demo at Angeles City, considering the acute tension that is rife within the city. One of the Angeles demo leaders said that in their city there was lesser friction between demonstrators and police because “hindi grabe ang alienation ng mga estudyante.” No untoward violence has occurred, so far.

At the defensive front — the Administration and its fortified properties including the Malacañang Palace were veritable citadels of heavily armed troopers. Armed perhaps with all the combat gear that are American handouts — these included chemical war wares and high-powered rifles — the faithful military lined the parapets of the Palace.

Likewise, Manila, the epicenter of all sorts of storms, once again paused in its hustle-bustle. Stores were barricaded with boards; classes and traffic were halted and thousands of employees abandoned their offices as early as 12 high noon. The hoity-toity rich, holed up in their suburban villages, were — expectedly — in jitters, even as they viewed with alarm the demonstrators’ threat to set their properties and mansions to the torch.

Speakers from all walks of life took turns attacking the Establishment, informing the crowd of the malignant ills of Filipino society. Among them were Ruben Torres of the Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino (MPKP), Gary Olivar of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MDP), Crispin Aranda of the Youth League Against Fascism (YLAF), Rudy del Rosario of the NATU, Ramon Sanchez of the Philippine College of Commerce faculty, Francisco Cortez of the Kabataang Makabayan, Antonio Gutierrez of the University of the East, Alfredo Paras of the AKSION youth group Victor Felipe, a farmer of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, Oscar Lazaro, a jeepney driver, Antonio Peregrina, a kargador and a student leader of the Masbate Youth Movement for Justice and Reforms.

Their fiery speeches were ably supported by the dramatic performance of the Kamanyang Players, the PCC drama guild whose plays constitute the only real honest-to-goodness national “theater of cruelty.” One of their plays, the “Battle Of Mendiola,” depicting the symbolic prostitution of Filipino society by the feudal lords and foreign capitalists, and the consequent “Makibaka, Huwag Matakot” counteraction of the oppressed, moved most of the demonstrators to tears and to raise thousands of clenched fists higher in disgust.

Real Adversaries

A tripod of enemies were brought a little bit closer to the masses. These were feudalism, imperialism and fascism. It was stressed that, while feudalism is within the periphery of agrarian troubles, peasants continue to suffer and landlords, sugar and tobacco barons intensify in their exploitation.

On imperialism, particularly the American brand, the MPD manifesto explained that “under the Marcos Administration, US imperialism has succeeded in tightening its stranglehold of the Philippine economy.”

The KM manifesto, however, clarified the fact that “while the students denounce Marcos for being the chief agent of American imperialism, it must not be forgotten that Marcos is only a small but significant part of a giant exploitative system which we are fighting.”

The issue of fascism was illustrated as having been unleashed in all its fury on the January 26 and 30 demonstrators. In the rural areas the peasant’s are continuously harassed by the Monkees, Special Forces and the Phileag. Fascism was also said to be represented by the American-trained riot squads of the police and the constabulary.

An afternoon daily columnist also added that issues such as the CIA interloping in domestic strife and its predilection for overthrowing governments and instigating coup d’etats under the mask of war against Communism; anti-Americanism which somehow gets stretched as racism; and other remote issues, very much the “wild weeds in a fertile garden” — Alexis de Tocqueville’s unequivocal description of pre-revolutionary France in the 18th century — have been particularized in these massive teach-ins.

Demands running the gamut of necessities, were of course presented and cheered by the enthusiastic crowd. These demands articulated by the MDP manifesto included the nationalization of petroleum and mining industries, public utilities, educational institutions and hospitals; immediate expropriation of all haciendas and their redistribution free to all peasants; resignation of well-known “militarist and pro-American officials in the government;” disbandment of the Home Defense Forces, Special Forces, Monkees and private armies and the repeal of the Anti-Subversion law and release of all political prisoners. Also presented were dropping of charges against all demonstrators; minimum wage of ₱10 for all workers; termination of lopsided treaties with the United States such as the Laurel-Langley Agreement and the Military Bases and Assistance Pacts; establishment of diplomatic trade and cultural relations with all socialist countries and withdrawal of the Philippine Contingent (PHILCON) from Vietnam.

Effect of Massive Teach-ins

It is sufficiently clear that several notable points emerged out of these post-January demos. First, a marked by developed involvement among all activists; second, their acceptance of their own limitations and third, the apparent cooperative gesture of the Administration gods.

Totally different from our real bicameral congress in the aspect of relevant concerns, the People’s Congress was a significant success. As the parliament of the streets commenced, the ivory-towered Congress at Padre Burgos street was a session of stupid bigotries mouthed by balding politicians. One can very well say that, aside from its being a pathetic Congress, enduring its sessions can really force one to wish that revolution must come tomorrow.

The People’s Congress marks the positive development of our radicalism. Of our merged student-worker-peasant activism. Although its debut at Plaza Miranda was disturbed by an ensuing violence, it was a laudable consolidation of efforts. Of course, it is to be expected that occasional outbursts of violence would persist, for violence is an inevitable manifestation of dissent within a cruel, callous and exploitative society. Remember that in India, Mahatma Gandhi, father of the swadeshi or non-violence movement, was assassinated because the Indians were impatient of change. But, perhaps in time, violence would reach the status of being passé — as some people believe — when the teach-in, effective in its sobriety and sincere in its aims, would have surmounted it.

We are prone to conclude that educative activities for the sake of the proletariat will, in the coming days, occupy the activists. These would be seen and exercised inside classrooms in the form of protest classes, in the streets and perhaps even in the pulpits. The teach-in has preceded a forceful microcosm that expands from the campuses to the scorched provinces of our land. This would reach far and wide into the remote oft-ignored aspects of our national life. No mere gripe sessions, this. In more ways than one, it means an arrival at direct interchange of purposes and actions between the leading articulate front and the mass of convinced followers.

The People’s Congress must, henceforth, be sustained, so that new approaches for information, public education, for strategic protest and social criticism would deny stultification. Otherwise the target to politicalize the people would qualify to nothing, would mean political impotence and intellectual boredom.

Outgrowing Violence

Battling with the inequities of the Establishment, the ultimate goal of the activists, absorbed in the idea of popularized teach-ins, “is part of the struggle to mobilize the masses, crystallize to them the problems of the nation, point out alternatives and let the Filipino people decide.”

A protracted struggle must be emphasized — a collective effort that would eventually bring about a pambansang demokrasya. Thus a student leader explained, “Ang pakikibaka natin ay hindi minsanan, kundi isang pangmatagalang labanan. Huwag tayong magpakamatay para sa isang pagkakataong ningas-kugon lamang.”

Violence and tumultuous protest are justifiable, true, when all forms of peaceful expressions have become futile. To the young leaders, who, we would like to think, have peen tempered by the lesson of January 30, vehemence and vandalism means suicide in the process of politicalization. In efforts to expose the rottenness and sterility of the social system, nothing can be more defeating, more crippling and more irascible than unwanted, uncalled-for chaos. There is, we submit, something hopeful and happy in the educative approach of the teach-the-people rally.

One can be convinced indeed that, with the teach-in experience, the radicals have reached their coming of age, and there is a fighting chance for a better informed people to effect the basic justice and panacea they have been clamoring for.

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