THE INCUBATION OF ACTIVISM IN THE UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES

Published in the 2010 Yearbook of the University of the Philippines

By Jose Maria Sison
Bachelor of Arts in English, Class 1959
26 June 010

The waves of mass protest actions that followed the murder of Benigno Aquino in 1983 and culminated in the overthrow of the Marcos facsist dictatorship in 1986 would not have been possible without the incubation of student activists of the national democratic movement through the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP), starting in 1959.

The student activists originating from the UP stirred up the masses of youth and working people to conduct concerted protest actions, shaking the entire country in the entire 1960s, from the demonstration of 5000 UP student demonstrators that literally scuttled the anti-communist witchhunt of the Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities (CAFA) in March 1961 to the First Quarter Storm of 1970 which rocked the national capital region with almost weekly marches and rallies of 50,000 to 100, 000 people against the Marcos regime.

In my undergraduate years in UP from 1956 to 1959, there was already a certain amount of intellectual and political ferment. The controversies arose mainly from the contradictions between the religio-sectarians and the liberal secularists. But it was often the rhetorical device of the latter to complain about the apathy of the students in order to arouse and range them against conservatism and the desire of the religio-sectarians to hark back to medieval and theocratic times.

The religio-sectarians of the UP Student Catholic Action (UPSCA) and Iota Eta Sigma were pleased with the UP presidency of the church militant Dr. Vidal Tan. They were riding high in campus politics by harping on some fatal cases of fraternity hazing in the recent past, justifying the need for more religion in the state university and running counter to the separation of church and state. They were opposed among others to the Noli-Fili law and Prof. Teodoro Agoncillo’s Revolt of the Masses. Emboldened by the Anti-Subversion Law of 1957, they accused the logical positivist Prof. Ricardo Pascual of being a communist organizing communist cells.

The liberal secularists upheld the separation of church and state, the freedom of thought and belief and academic freedom. They had engaged in mass protests against the interference of the Philippine president in university affairs. After the resignation of Dr. Vidal Tan, who was known as a placeman of the dominant church, Dr. Vicente G. Sinco eventually became UP president and tilted the situation in favor of the liberal secularists by suspending the UP Student Council under the presidency of the UPSCAN Fernando Lagua, by giving full professorial tenure to progressive lecturers like Hernando Abaya, Armando Malay I.P. Soliongco and by launching the Colloqium on Nationalism.

In my personal case, I believe that I matured in 1958 as a progressive liberal under the influence of my liberal professors and as a result of reading the scholarly works on the Philippine revolution by Professors Teodoro Agoncillo and Cesar Adib Majul. I considered myself as a Jacobin rather than as a Girondist or a conservative Burkean liberal and I became strongly critical of the pro-imperialist conservative liberal that was bred in the UP by the unceasing ovewhelming influence of the US. Within 1958, I became an exceedingly devoted student of Marxism by gaining access to the forbidden Marxist books in the cellar of the UP Main library and borrowing books from the private collection of some friends.

Within the context of Marxism-Leninism and the world era of modern imperialism and proletarian revolution, I understood that the Philippine revolution needed to be resumed for the benefit of the toiling masses of workers and peasants and the middle social strata under the class leadership of the proletariat and no longer under the leadership of the
bourgeoisie.

In this connection, I thought that the prevalent contradiction of the liberal secularists and religio-sectarians needed to be elevated to one between the Left and the Right not only on the issues of civil and political rights but on a comprehensive range of issues involving the contradiction between the US-dominated ruling system of big compradors and landlords and the national and democratic demands of the people.

Together with other students, both undergraduates and graduate, we formed in 1959 the Student Cultural Association of the UP. We adopted a two-level program of education for members. The national democratic program was openly promoted. The Marxist program was discreetly carried out. We recruited those students who were already leading other campus organizations, those who could write for the Philippine Collegian and could compete for the editorship and those who had academic marks of 2 or higher for the purpose of someday fielding them as candidates for the student council.

The first big opportunity of the SCAUP to organize a mass protest was in March 1961 in opposition to the congressional witchhunt by the Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities against UP faculty members and students who were accused of writing or publishing Marxist materials in violation of the Ant-Subversion Law. These included the book-length Peasant War in the Philippines in Philippine Social Science and Humanities Review, the editorial ?ower of Babelin the Philippinensian yearbook of 1961 and ?equiem for Lumumbain the May 1, 1961 issue of Philippine Collegian, written under my pen name Andres Gregorio.

The SCAUP membership was of high quality. It included the Philippine Collegian editor Reynato Puno, key members of fraternities and sororities and graduate students like Rey Punongbayan, Jaime C. Laya, Petronilo Daroy and myself who was the chairman. But the SCAUP was too small. It needed a broad front of leadership to call on the students to join the mass protest in Congress.

The Inter-Fraternity and Sorority Conference (IFSC), which was chaired by SCAUP officer and Alpha Phi Betan Ferdinand Tinio, assumed the responsibility of calling on the students to defend academic freedom and protest against the CAFA witchhunt. Petronilo Bn Daroy, Heherson Alvarez and I signed the contract for the rent of 25 JD buses for the student ride from Diliman to Manila. We were able to muster 5000 students in the first demonstration with an anti- imperialist and anti-feudal character since more than a decade ago.

From 1961 to 1964, the SCAUP took a key role in organizing pickets, strikes and rallies of varying sizes by UP students alone or in combination with students from other universities on such issues as national independence against unequal agreements with the US (especially Laurel-Langley Agreement and the Miliitary Bases Agreement), land reform and national industrialization, workers’ rights, civil and political liberties and solidarity with other peoples against US acts of aggression in various countries.

By the time that Kabataang Makabayan was formed as a comprehensive youth organization in 1964, a number of the activist alumni of the SCAUP had already moved into key positions in the Workers Party (Lapiang Manggagawa) and in worker, peasants and teachers organizations and were in a position to convene delegations of young workers, young peasants, students and young professions in order to found the KM. In UP Diliman, the SCAUP and the KM chapter co-existed, cooperated with each other and conjoined with still other organizations in mass protest actions on and off the campus.
The student activists that originated from UP Diliman played an important role in propagating the line of struggle for national liberation and democracy against the US and the local exploiting classes, in building major national organizations taking such line and in promoting mass protest actions as the instrument of the people for realizing their national and democratic demands. From year to year the youth movement spread and intensified, leading to the First Quarter Storm of 1970 and further developing nationwide up to 1972 when the Marcos regime declared martial law and imposed a fascist dictatorship on the people.

The fascist regime suppressed the urban-based mass movement and caused the detention, torture and murder of the activists. But many thousands of the activists went underground in the urban areas as well join the revolutionary armed struggle in the countryside. They were responsible for protest mass actions in urban areas from time to time from 1972 to 1983.

In the 1981-83 period, the urban-based mass organizations of workers, peasants and youth were already openly resurgent despite vicious reaction from the fascist regime against the trade union leaders. But consequent to the Aquino assassination, the regime was utterly isolated and dazed by the public outrage. The mass organizations of the national democratic movement became the core of sustained protest mass actions that ultimately led to the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. ###

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