(Excerpts from A Passage through the Storm, a chapter in a forthcoming book of essays)
The times they were a-changin’
In my third year in college, extracurriculars began taking a toll on my academics. I quit the UPSCA, resigned from the Corps and left the barracks, so I could devote myself fulltime to my books. I went to live at the Narra dormitory, to live a normal student’s life and graduate on time. As fate would have it, one of my roommates was a soft-spoken fellow who had been an American Field Service scholar, Nilo Tayag. He discussed issues of nationalism with deep intelligence, intensity and humility. Talking to him and listening to his discourses with his colleagues who came visiting at the dorm, opened up for me a new world, a fresh way of looking at reality.
The last time I saw Nilo Tayag was in 1977. We were in fact together for two years, living in the same building at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, as political detainees of martial law. When we were roommates at Narra dormitory in UP, at a time when I was about to settle down to a normal student life, he lent me William Pomeroy’s book The Forest to read—an autobiographical novel by an American ex-GI who had cast his lot with the peasant struggle led by the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, a book in which the forest was depicted not merely as landscape, but also as geography with a social context. It is a reality-based work of fiction which documented the human struggle for freedom in a rather romanticized way, to a point where the impressionable reader with an empathy for the downtrodden was about to give everything up in order to enter the “forest”—the countryside where Filipino peasants still suffered oppression by the landed elite, even after so many centuries.
It was the book that turned me into an activist, apart from the works of Marx, Lenin and Chairman Mao that were spreading on Philippine campuses, stoking the nationalist and progressive impulse of the youth. Another high point in my UP life came one day in 1966: I was finally given my Kabataang Makabayan membership certificate, duly signed by KM founder Jose Maria Sison. (I still have that document, and will only hawk it on eBay if I were down to my last centavo. Or then again maybe not.)
While being a deeply devout catechist and a snappy cadet officer had its psychic rewards, my mind was getting into areas of inquiry and self-doubt I had never known before. When I joined my first student demonstration as a KM member, a vast ocean of social reality seemed to lie before me—a vision shaped by the rapidly transforming consciousness, or Weltanschauung (a word picked up early on in UP while hanging out with a wild assortment of bohemians and avant-garde writers and artists). Before one got radicalized by Marxist classics, and by the critical reviews of Philippine history by Renato Constantino, Jose Maria Sison, Luis Teodoro, Pete Daroy and other writers, the idealistic youth of UP were singing the songs of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, about how times were a-changin,’ and about the raging, cruel wars—in Vietnam and elsewhere in the Third World. Instead of American folk songs, we began singing the fervent anthems of the period: Bangon (The Internationale), Bandilang Pula, Buhay ng Proletaryo, Ang Masa Lamang, Makibaka Huwag Matakot, and other revolutionary songs.
Demo, 1966: surging towards the storm
It begins as tumult outside the steel fence of the now familiar fortress.
As I race across the length of Roxas Boulevard, towards Luneta and away from the US Embassy gates and the pursuing phalanx of Manila’s anti-riot police and troopers, I see a number of my fleeing companions stumbling then falling hard and rolling on the road, some of them picking themselves up right away, while from behind us comes the loud, proximate crack of Armalites and pistol shots, like deafening claps of thunder. At least twice or thrice I glimpse the asphalt being ripped up by bullets only a few meters away from me, as I continue running through the cloud of teargas, turning right on T. Kalaw Street to try and find the rest of my comrades, so that we can either regroup or seek safety in numbers from the rampaging trigger-happy storm troopers of the regime.
The placards which we so defiantly waved moments earlier in the afternoon, which we banged on the steel fence of the embassy and on the white helmets of the police as we chanted, are now strewn all over the boulevard, some of them lying face down, others in shreds but lying face up and still proclaiming their brave slogans for all the world to see.
The thousands of demonstrators fleeing from the maddened cops and soldiers disappear into the narrow streets of Ermita, finding refuge in houses and restaurants and alleyways. In the gathering dusk, I see a jeepney parked along T. Kalaw Street, and because my legs are about to give way and my lungs are about to explode, I practically dive into the vehicle and lie flat and motionless on the greasy stainless steel floor, breathing in bursts, my eyeballs feeling as though they are about to pop out from the sheer exertion of flight from certain death or a drubbing by truncheon.
I am almost invisible in the dark interior, and because the dark is fast taking over daylight, the jeepney with no driver or passenger becomes a seemingly deserted vehicle stranded on the road, ignored and bypassed by the rampaging agents of the MPD and the military police, some of them still firing their guns at anyone resembling an escaping fugitive. I lie inert for another hour, even longer. I hear shouts and curses, an occasional burst of gunfire. The voices die down. Night comes on full, and I feel thankful for the darkness that settles over Manila. It would be a different darkness that would settle all over the land in just a few years after that riotous day.
Four years before the First Quarter Storm of 1970, and six years before the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, Manila was already a battleground between militant Filipino youth and a regime that was seen as a member of a pre-9/11 “coalition of the willing,” who were then of course called “client states of US imperialism.”
At least this was the radicals’ perception of the countries that took part in a regional summit conference in Manila in October 1966. The heads of state of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines—with the exception of South Korea all members of the anti-communist SEATO—were meeting to “formulate a common stand on the Vietnam War, and to ratify their commitment to economic, social and cultural cooperation among the Asia-Pacific countries.” What a tempest such a grandiose purpose stirred up on the streets of Manila!
Demonstrators and Manila’s anti-riot police clashed outside the gates of the US Embassy. Forty-one rallyists were arrested and charged with assault and disturbing the peace. I was one of those who got away, who almost died (not only at the hands of the law, but also from the sheer exhaustion of running for one’s life), only to return time and again with several other thousands of students to march around Jericho, as it were, to lay siege against the walls of the Bastille, to extend the metaphor. For such heroic efforts, we suffered casualties; all the while that the coming reign of terror was taking shape on the drawing board in the innards of the palace.
SONA 1970: the gathering dark
In January 1970, after an absence of two years since graduating in 1967, I am back in UP as a newly minted instructor of political science, and I have rejoined my old group of activists on campus.
On 26 January 1970, we form a mighty throng in front of Congress, and wait for the President to emerge after delivering his State of the Nation Address. A papier-mache crocodile, symbolizing the greed of the elite personified by Marcos, his family and his fellow politicians, and a cardboard coffin, signifying the death of democracy, are thrown at him, slogans are shouted, and then all hell breaks loose. Once again the disciplined but deeply agitated ranks of demonstrators are broken up by the brutal truncheon-swinging police and the staccato of gunfire. For several days, we launch a series of rallies protesting police brutality, without losing sight of the basic issues that brought us together against the regime in the first place.
Then, on January 30, one of the biggest demos in Philippine history is staged to denounce the rise of a new specter: “state fascism.” The places of protest are now forever etched in our memories: Plaza Miranda, Plaza Lawton (Liwasang Bonifacio), Congress, Embassy, Malacañang and Mendiola Bridge. By midday, thousands of us have been unloaded by a fleet of buses and jeepneys from several campuses, or have come on foot from all points in and around Manila. We gather in front of Congress where articulate, hoarse-voiced, brilliant speakers deliver well-phrased, highly informative, and sometimes expletive-laced discourses on the isms or “basic evils” that plague our country: imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism.
From Congress, we march to the Embassy, and from there to Malacañang via Mendiola Bridge. We are not aware that inside Malacañang, there is a dialogue going on between President Marcos and the leader of the “moderate” student forces – Edgar Jopson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines. Dialogue turns into a confrontation as the future dictator berates the “son of a grocer” who stands his ground, unfazed by the Dark Lord of Malacañang, showing his mettle as a courageous student leader. His love of country will later guide him to the only option left for his long-suffering people: the path of armed struggle. Thus, will be born the revered legend of Edjop the Revolutionary.
As night falls, we find ourselves outside the gate of the Palace, thousands of us. A fire truck has been commandeered by the students and rams the gate. A street battle ensues long into the night. Exhausted, and having failed to take over the Palace (which was never the intention, in the first place), the demonstrators ex-filtrate out of the war zone. The encounters rage on until March 1970, indeed the resistance against the de facto dictatorship becomes more intense up to the days before September 21, 1972, the day Marcos signs Proclamation 1081 putting the entire country under martial law.
The First Quarter Storm of 1970 was a watershed in Philippine political history. Bringing together various sectors of society in organized resistance against an incipient authoritarian regime, the FQS was the culmination of decades of social unrest in a classic setting of Third World underdevelopment, an explosion of protest whose catalyst was a student movement that began to be politicized in the early ‘60s by both national and international developments.
Darkness and light
September 21, 1972—the proclamation declaring martial law throughout the Philippines is signed by Ferdinand Marcos, although the public announcement over television and radio is made two days later. Alarms sound throughout the land and the available network of communications within the movement. Wherever groups can gather, instructions are made, plans are outlined, lines of action determined, safe houses chosen.
With the declaration of martial law, the activists of the First Quarter Storm take various routes: many join the armed struggle, or form underground cells in cities all over the country. Others stay put in their places of work in the private sector or in government including UP, to play whatever part they can in the resistance. Many of the activist figures and opposition leaders are arrested—in offices, homes, UG houses, or in public places—and thrown into political prisons. Sometime in 1976, after four years of a fugitive existence in the underground network, and while lying sick in a Manila hospital, I am arrested by an intelligence team of the dreaded Metrocom constabulary unit and brought to Camp Crame to begin a period of incarceration that lasts for two years and three months, from 1976 to 1978.
I am detained first at the 6th Recad (Regional Center for the Administration of Detainees), thrown in together with CCVs or “common crime violators” although I am technically categorized as a “political offender.” I am transferred later to an isolation cell at the 5th Constabulary Security Unit of the Metrocom Intelligence Service Group or MISG, notorious for the torture of detainees and the “forced disappearance” of many of them. Post-Marcos, and up until recent years, several intelligence officers from this notorious military unit will get elected to political office or be given top government positions, without ever answering for their crimes of torture and even murder.
The years pass at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center where many of us are detained. Prison has not broken our political will: we organize discussion groups, we compose and sing protest songs, we write and recite protest poetry, we stage political plays for relatives and visitors, we distribute ourselves into various production groups where we fashion inspirational souvenir items such as greeting cards, wall paintings and pendants that bear messages of hope and courage, we carry on as family when spouses and children pay us a visit, and most of all we always strive never to lose sight of the ideals that made us choose this way of life since the early years before the First Quarter Storm.
Ed Maranan writes poetry, essay, fiction, theater works, and short stories and verses for children. He has won several awards for his writings and is a member of the Philippine PEN, Umpil (Union of Filipino Writers), and the Baguio Writers Group.
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