THE FIRST QUARTER STORM OF
1970 AND NATIONAL LIBERATION
By Bonifacio P. Ilagan
Chair, First Quarter Storm Movement
Paper delivered for the cultural forum "Remembering the First Quarter
Storm: Four Decades of the People's Movement for National Liberation,"
sponsored by the Initiatives for Peace (Inpeace)in Mindanao, Kapatirang
Simbahan para sa Bayan (Kasimbayan)- North Central Mindanao Region,
Sisters' Association in Mindanao (Samin), Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa
Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (Selda) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
(Bayan)-Northern Mindanao Region; 31 January 2009; Lourdes College
Auditorium, Capistrano-Hayes St., Cagayan de Oro City
YOU have asked me to talk about a lifetime, a year short of 40 to be
exact, if we count from 1970. And speaking of 40, Jose Rizal was 35 when
Spanish bullets felled him at the park. Andres Bonifacio was 34 when the
sentence of death was meted out against him. Gabriela Silang was 33 when
she was hanged.
Harking back to more recent years, Edgar Jopson was 34 when he was killed
in Matina, Davao City. Merardo Arce, my buddy in the UP Diliman Kabataang
Makabayan and Panday Sining, was 31 when he was gunned down in Cebu City.
Ma. Lorena Barros, a dear friend of mine, was 28 when she was murdered in
Quezon. Lean Alejandro was 27 when military rightists ambushed him outside
the office of Bayan in Quezon City.
I could go on and on in this litany of precious lives all ending before 40
and we could all end up in a chorus of distress.
But you did not ask me to come to Cagayan de Oro City to deliver a eulogy
for the dead. You asked me to present a tribute to our people's renewed
struggle for national freedom, peace and democracy that had crossed a
lifetime. If I recited this record of some of the finest lives that had
touched our own, it is because they form part of the lifeline of our
people's aspirations to realize the fullness of their human potential.
Having survived my generation that made its mark in the first three months
of 1970, now called the First Quarter Storm, I can only dedicate this
address to them.
But it is more for us on whom the departed have handed down the mass
movement that an accounting of the years must be done – for obvious
reasons: It is us who must be keenly aware of where we stand in order to
know where we are going.
Indeed, why do we mark 1970 in the manner that we do? Why not 1950, or
1968 – 69? I guess it must be because in 1970, the mass movement took on a
qualitative leap that undeniably changed the stream of our history. Of
course, 1970 could not have happened had the events of the previous years
not occurred and set the stage for the FQS.
Where were you in early 1970? That is a question that I am fond of
throwing around when conversation shifts to Philippine history -- because
I have a ready answer to that. But when I am told that one has not yet
been born in 1970, I feel old, and my youth, ancient history. And so, for
those who have not yet been born in 1970, or who had no remembrance of it
because they were still infants or toddlers, it was when the youth of the
land displayed in public a social enlightenment never before seen in these
parts. For the first three months of 1970, political demonstrations,
people's marches and people's congresses became an almost daily happening
in Manila and elsewhere.
So what was outstanding about that? Nowadays, protest actions happen many
times over, too, and many a Filipino does not give a hoot, especially the
elite and the power-wielders. That is exactly the point: When the FQS
happened in 1970, the nation was given a jolt so strong it shook the
foundations of society. Today, when we talk of the climate of impunity, we
refer not only to the realm of human rights but also to the realm of
governance. Philippine officialdom has become unbelievably immune to
rallies and public criticism, bereft of ethics, soaked to the bones in
corruption and self-interest.
In the course of the FQS of 1970, youth and student activists fanned out
across the breadth and width of the country, their placards and streamers
echoing the cry of the heroes of a bygone revolution against colonialism.
If today we talk of a vision-mission-goal in our respective organizations,
they, too, had their VMG, but did not call those in that manner. They were
simply dedicated to “arousing, organizing and mobilizing” the people.
I was there when it happened.
January 1970 offered a great opportunity for activists of all shades to
get together in a show of force against the Marcos regime. Marcos was set
to deliver his “State of the Nation Address” on the 26th. We were prepared
to present our own version. On that day, about 50,000 students, joined by
workers, peasants and the middle class trooped to Congress to give Marcos
the lie. It was also an occasion for the national-democrats to reject once
again the forthcoming constitutional convention. On the other hand, the
social-democrats, led by their own firebrand Edgar Jopson, proclaimed that
it was the only remaining hope for national reformation.
The violence that ensued after Marcos had delivered his fairy tale in
Congress was a most graphic show of police brutality, which the media
dutifully reported. Against a force of some 7,000 policemen and soldiers,
the demonstrators stood their ground for hours. Scores were hurt, some
badly. Marcos again issued his standard line: It was a mob instigated by
the communists to sow anarchy.
While activist organizations mapped out their actions, Marcos met with his
generals to prepare for a war scenario. Meanwhile, smaller protest actions
kept alive the tension in the air. In less than a week, the activists
mounted another massive rally to protest state fascism and reiterate the
people’s demands for social change. January 30-31, 1970 turned into a
seesaw battle between the activists and the combined forces of the police
and combat troopers of the various service units of the Armed Forces of
Starting early in the evening of January 30, a melee broke out on the
street fronting the presidential palace. Poison crept in the air. Tear gas
blinded our eyes and made breathing painful. We scampered for water to
wash off the chemical. We attacked, nevertheless, and the police
retreated; the armed goons of the state attacked, we took a retreat. The
metropolitan police were unable to control the situation. Marcos called in
the jungle fighters and special forces trained by the U.S. Now we had to
dodge bullets as bodies started falling to the ground.
All in all, some 12,000 government forces were thrown in the battle that
spread through a big part of downtown Manila and lasted until the wee
hours of January 31.
People’s support in the communities where the fighting erupted sustained
the courage of the activists. We pitted sticks and stones, improvised
bombs and projectiles against the tear gas, water cannons and assault
rifles of the government troopers, all courtesy of the U.S.
During the night, four students died of multiple bullets wounds. Hundreds,
maybe thousands, were injured. I came out of it unscathed, but I shared in
the collective leap in consciousness. All the discussion about history and
society and the basic problems of the people redounded to only one
singular course of concrete action: Be with the people and fight, and
fight some more.
February saw an almost weekly demonstration in Manila, often ending in a
battle with the police. By March, we were launching not only public
meetings but also six-hour marches all over the metropolis. We brought the
burning issues of the day right where the most impoverished of the people
were -- in slum areas many of us never knew existed, in factories where
the workers eked out a living, in side streets where the dregs of the city
throve. Meanwhile, rallies and marches were also happening in the urban
and town centers in Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Northern Luzon,
Bicol, Visayas and Mindanao.
Slogans and a Tradition
The FQS of 1970 was a time to be bold and daring for a cause that became
my generation’s badge of courage. Like most of the youth activists of the
time, the experience was all I needed to affirm for life a dictum: Against
an intrinsically oppressive and exploitative system, to rebel is
The FQS of 1970 affirmed that the central social and political issue was
Reformism versus Revolution; that since Philippine society was
semicolonial and semifeudal, the path to genuine change was
As one gigantic school, the FQS of 1970 animated three life-changing
principles. First, to overcome reactionary or retrogressive attitude and
the culture of subservience – "Makibaka, Huwag Matakot! (Struggle, Be Not
Afraid)." Second, to remold one's self and achieve truthful and correct
knowledge – "Mula sa Masa, Tungo sa Masa (From the Masses, to the
Masses)." And third, to light up one's path and find life's meaning –
"Paglingkuran ang Sambayanan (Serve the People)."
All told, the FQS established and enshrined a tradition of militancy and
selfless service to the people, and a recognition of the role of the
masses – the workers and the peasants in their collective strength -- as
the motive force in the making of history and in the triumph of any
movement for social transformation.
Ingrained, too, in this tradition is the legacy of critical thinking and
dedication to fight oppression and exploitation in whatever forms these
may take, assertion and defense of human rights and commitment to stand
for freedom and justice wherever we are and whatever we do. These values
could very well be a code for living life.
The FQS of 1970 is a reminder of the continuing past. Every time we
commemorate or study the FQS, we are told that the struggle to free our
people goes on because the aim of national and social liberation remains
to be done. The global system of oppression and exploitation has worsened
the condition of the people everywhere in the world. The power relations
that have victimized the masses for so long are still in place. And so,
the fight must go on: Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!
Beyond the FQS of 1970
But the enemy, then epitomized by the Marcos regime, would not surrender
without putting up a fight. In 1971, the president suspended the privilege
of the writ of habeas corpus and eventually declared martial law in
September 1972 to install himself as a full-fledged dictator.
The people's movement had to take a few steps back. For a time, Marcos
became cocksure that martial law would last forever. Bloodied but
undaunted, and in a manner that was slow but certain, our movement not
only reclaimed lost ground but also regained new frontiers. The whole
struggle against the Marcos military dictatorship is a testament to the
resiliency and awesome dedication of the men and women, heroes and
martyrs, of the national-democratic movement.
In many a subplot to the drama that was the movement, even the staunchest
of the opposition was drawn to it. There was Edgar Jopson, for instance,
who eventually transformed to become one of its leaders, a role model no
less, of the revolutionary movement.
We all know how martial law ended -- with the people aroused, organized
and mobilized, finding their bearing, choking Edsa and storming the
palace. Unfortunately, when Edsa of February 1986 comes to mind nowadays,
there is a palpable attempt to cut off the FQS of 1970, as well as the
long and arduous national-democratic struggle during martial law, from the
chain of events and the continuum of history. Some quarters would rather
have it that the Edsa Uprising happened in a flash.
For whatever it meant, the Edsa Uprising, mistakenly called a Revolution
by many, did not deliver on its promises of social change. At best, it
caused the return to power of the old elite who comprised the big
landlords and bureaucrat-capitalists who were also the traditional
politicians. This time, they were accompanied by the newly-rising
power-brokers masquerading as the enlightened generation of civil society
leaders with novel ideas about social movements.
In the political euphoria, the Cory Aquino interlude proved to be a
difficult period in the people's struggle. We had to move about in a
vastly altered political landscape. And we moved heavily because we were
burdened by the errors of the past. Not a few among us also got entangled
in the confusion of the so-called democratic space, not knowing that that
space was meant to suffocate anyone who actually believed and went in it.
They thought they were thinking out of the box, little knowing that they
were actually being boxed in by the patrons of the "new" dispensation.
Other than that, the alternative to Marcos eventually shed off amity with
the people and decided to pursue the agenda of the elite, to which she
really belonged, and of their foreign patrons.
In the end, however, righteousness of thinking prevailed. Persistence to
the basic principles of the mass movement won the day.
But it was far from a walk in the park for the people and their movement
during the administrations of Gen. Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada. During
their watch, the two gentlemen proved to be as unscrupulous as their
predecessors in assaulting the mass movement. Likewise, as the errors and
the ghosts of the past continued to hound us, we persisted and fought
tooth and nail on many fronts. That we are meeting today, inspired by the
history of some 39-40 years, is proof enough that the movement of the
people, and for the people, is here to stay. Be advised, however, that a
staying power does not equate with victory.
At the height of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's perorations about a state of
national emergency, one senator said that Marcos was better than she was.
Marcos at least declared martial law before he did what he did. Gloria did
not care as much, doing what Marcos did without declaring martial law.
And so now, we come to the reign of Gloria. We find that the Philippines
remains in a state of crisis that could be traced 39 years back in time,
definitely even more. The cancer of society that we decried in the 1970s
still persists today. The "isms" of our youth remain as the "isms" of our
so-called golden years that stare us all in the face: U.S. imperialism,
domestic feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism – even as some quarters say
these have all become hogwash now, laos na. To these people, I say, please
take another look. These are the evils that keep our people oppressed and
exploited even now. The power structure and power relations -- the
triangle of Philippine society is what has always been the repulsive
Philippine status quo.
The challenge, thus, is for all of us, nationalists, social change agents,
mass activists, enlightened church people and citizens to march hand in
hand in the mainstream of the people’s continuing struggle for freedom,
justice and democracy.
All efforts must be connected to a single struggle: our people's struggle
for national liberation. Let not the sense of national liberation be taken
away from our various struggles for human rights, jobs, just wages, land
to till, education, social services. Deconstruct any of these away from
national liberation and we construct a problem in favor of the enemy.
Colonialism and imperialism deprived our people of an opportunity to
develop as human beings and as one national community. But it is also in
the wars against colonialism and imperialism that Filipinos learned the
ideal of national liberation.
That flag you see waving resplendently in the air is a flag of highly
questionable independence. That is because, even as Spain, the U.S. and
Japan came and went, there was no national liberation of the people that
we could speak of.
The wealth and economy of the Philippines have remained in the control of
Spanish landlords and their descendants, American monopoly-capitalists and
Japanese manufacturers. The cultural impositions of these aggressors have
so infected the psyche of the Filipinos that much of our own identity is
now lost in the dissonance of the alien standards.
The uninitiated wonders endlessly. Why have our people remained poor? Why
have we degenerated in the many aspects of nationhood? Why have peace and
progress remained as elusive dreams for the toiling masses? It is because
the essential need to liberate our nation from the bondage of foreign
oppression and exploitation has yet to be fulfilled. Indeed, a just and
lasting peace, as well as the full development of the potentials of
country and people, is possible only if the demand for national liberation
is completely satisfied.
Today in the Philippines, it is the current national-democratic movement
that has stood up to the task. It
has proven to be the most steadfast. And it has made one thing clear: It
is in the victory of this movement that genuine progress and a just and
lasting peace will blossom. Without attaining complete and unconditional
national liberation, no flag of independence may flutter in the air, no
progress report worth heralding, no peace may reign in the land.
National liberation is an intrinsic right in the existence and development
of a people. Deprived of it, they are left at the mercy of the forces of
oppression and exploitation. National liberation, therefore, is the
collective safeguard of a people against foreign subjugation. It also is
the bedrock upon which independence, sovereignty and national development
National liberation is the single biggest collective enterprise that a
people need to undertake to be able to develop its potentials to the
fullest. As in a play, it is the premise upon which a people’s struggle
against the forces of underdevelopment must be won.
Expectedly, the local and international powers that benefit from the
subjugation of a people will always declare that movements and wars of
national liberation are a threat to the cause of peace and progress. The
history of the Philippines attests to this.
But it is also history that, in due time, will proclaim that going to war
in pursuit of national liberation is just and righteous.
By fighting for our national liberation, there will be no false choices,
and we -- even as we are called Left, will always be on the right, that is
to say, correct, side of history.
To the sponsors of this significant event, the Initiatives for Peace
(Inpeace) in Mindanao, Kapatirang Simbahan para sa Bayan
(Kasimbayan)—North Central Mindanao Region, Sisters Association in
Mindanao (Samin), Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para
sa Amnestiya (Selda), and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)- Northern
Mindanao Region, thank you so much for inviting me in Cagayan de Oro City.
In behalf of the First Quarter Storm Movement, I say mabuhay kayong lahat!