The First Quarter Storm of 1970: Its Impact on Philippine Politics

31 Jan

By Satur C. Ocampo

Speech at the forum sponsored by the First Quarter Storm Movement (FQSM), Contend-UP, and Anakbayan held at the Claro Mayo Recto Hall, Faculty Center, UP Diliman, Quezon City.

January 30, 2012

Satur Ocampo

A pleasant, lively morning to everyone!

Before we begin, allow me to reprise what the audience and I did in July 2008 before I delivered a UP Centennial Lecture on militant activism. Will everyone please rise for a moment of silence?

Let us honor the former students of the University of the Philippines and of other schools and the youths from communities all over the country who embraced martyrdom during the First Quarter Storm of 1970 and in the succeeding years of our people’s continuing struggle for national liberation, economic emancipation, social justice, equitable development, and genuine and lasting peace.

Thank you.  Congratulations to the First Quarter Storm Movement, Contend-UP, and Anakbayan for sponsoring this series of fora to discuss the impacts of the FQS on different aspects of our national life.  I thank them for inviting me to speak in this inaugural forum.

First, a word of caution: I speak to you not as a revolutionary theoretician, since I have never claimed to be one.  I speak simply as a political and social activist sharing recollections, views and analysis through the prism of my cumulative experiences for almost 50 years.

Let’s begin by revisiting the scene on Jan. 26, 1970 in front of the old House of Representatives towards the closing of the big protest rally timed with the second state-of-the-nation address by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

[I culled this account from an article (published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer sometime ago) by Rodel Rodis, ex-FQS activist, now a lawyer and one of the leaders of a Filipino-American group in the United States.  Rodis wrote that his father had sent him “to exile in San Francisco” to avoid getting his son “salvaged” (the old term used for extrajudicial killing).]

Edgar Jopson, then an Ateneo student leader who headed the “moderate” National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) to which Rodis also belonged, had just spoken and called out to Gary Olivar, a spokesman for the “radicals”, to address the crowd. Yet he handed the microphone to Roger “Bomba” Arienda, the hard-hitting radio commentator (who later became a religious preacher after his imprisonment).  As Arienda spoke the crowd yelled, “Gary! Gary! Gary!”

Arienda’s tirade over, Jopson still didn’t call Olivar again – as he should have in compliance with an agreement among the participating organizations on a “united front” list of speakers.  Instead, Jopson began singing the national anthem as a signal to end the program. However, a “radical” young labor leader grabbed the microphone and started to deliver a fiery speech in Tagalog.

Just then Marcos stepped out of the front door of the House.  As he was about to board his car on the driveway, an activist threw in his direction a papier mache crocodile (depicting greed, graft and corruption).

Quickly reacting, the anti-riot police rushed upon the demonstrators and began pummeling their heads and bodies with rattan truncheons.  Pandemonium broke loose when the protestors fought back.

About that particular incident, Rodis quoted the following line from Jose F. Lacaba’s his classic book, “Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage,” that graphically records the FQS events:

“Passions were high, exacerbated by the quarrel over the mike, and the President had the bad luck of coming out of Congress at this particular instant.”    

The blood-spilled confrontation between state anti-riot forces and demonstrators spurred the bigger protest march-rally to Mendiola on January 30. The protest action heated up as a group of marchers commandeered a firetruck and rammed it through Malacanang’s padlocked Gate 4.  What ensued was the seesaw “Battle of Mendiola” — the state security forces attacked the protestors first with truncheons and teargas, later with guns; then they retreated as the demonstrators counterattacked with rocks and other projectiles, including Molotov cocktails.

The interchanging assault-retreat-assault of the protagonists continued overnight, culminating in the wee hours of January 31.  The battle extended into the whole length of Azcarraga (now Claro M. Recto Ave) up to Divisoria, into Quiapo’s main and side streets, and into Lepanto, Morayta and Espana and the side streets and alleys. Residents in the area provided sanctuary, food and water to many fleeing youths and workers.

“Natutupok na ang buong daigdig. Sa pulang watawat ng mga anakpawis”. – hapon ng 30 Enero 1070.

Some of you may have been there and can vividly recall how that January 30-31 protest rally ended: hundreds on both sides were injured — and four students died of  gunshot wounds.

That and the succeeding events in the first three months of 1970, capped by daily teach-ins, almost weekly demonstrations and “people’s marches” and the mushrooming of youth and allied organizations nationwide, constituted the First Quarter Storm.

The chain of tumultuous events encapsulated in the FQS has left an indelible mark in the nation’s history. And not just a mark, but a continuing impact in the nation’s political life, which we shall delve on in a while.

Corollarily, those events have had a compendious impact on each and every participant. The impact may vary in terms of the intensity of feelings evoked, and the depth of political commitment one has embraced, nurtured and maintained – or later abandoned and lost.

Let’s take a peek at how certain youth activists, cited and quoted by Rodis in his recollections, have regarded the FQS.  Here they are:

Mario Taguiwalo, who became a Department of Health undersecretary in the Cory Aquino administration:

“The deaths of friends, the terror of gunfire, (and) the taste of truncheons taught a lot of “isms” in one night. By the morning of Jan. 31, 1970 a thousand chapters of student organizations had begun taking root in schools and communities nationwide.”  

As regards FQS influence on his thoughts and actions, Taguiwalo proudly said:

“Every time I am tempted to give up on people, I am reminded of the power of ideals deeply held and I persevere again, seeking to convince and not to compel.”

Gary Olivar, the “radical” whom Edjop had denied his turn to speak at the January 26 rally, and who became a Sumitomo Bank executive and later (until now) a Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo spokesperson, rhapsodized:

“A dream so compelling in its inception, so irresistible in its sweep, that it hurled thousands of us against the walls of this palace – as if somehow through the sheer weight of our passion on that endless night, we would reclaim the palace as our own.

“In the conceit of our youth, we believed we could repair the broken bones of a people lay despoiled and fulfill a dream of human freedom, of national sovereignty, of equitable progress for every Filipino.”

Nelson Navarro, a newspaper columnist who authored a 2011 biography of Dr. Nemesio E. Prudente, the nationalist former president of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, also enthused:

“(The FQS) was that cathartic student revolt in the first months of 1970 that shook the nation with its intense and all-encompassing life-changing experiences.”

Yet at a reunion of activists held at the Malacanang Freedom Park in 1990, organized by Rodis to commemorate the FQS 20th anniversary, Navarro sounded jaded and disappointing with this remark:

“Reunions are beautiful, because the older we get, the more we cease seeing ourselves as friends or enemies. We are simply survivors sharing a common memory.”

On Edgar Jopson — the “moderate” who had earlier earned fame by challenging Marcos, during a dialog in Malacanang, to put in writing his commitment not to run for re-election in 1969, to which Marcos gruffly riposted by derisively calling him “the son of a grocer” – Rodis wrote this paean:

“Not present (at the reunion) was my friend Edjop, who became a revered people’s hero after he was arrested, tortured, jailed for his underground anti-dictatorship efforts, and later executed by the military on September 20, 1982 when he was barely 34 years old.”

What Rodis failed to say, or intentionally skipped, was that Edjop had turned into a “radical”.  He joined the Communist Party of the Philippines, assumed responsible positions, escaped from detention and returned to the underground.  While trying to slip out during a military raid in an underground house in Davao, Edjop was shot and wounded. But instead of giving him medical attention, his captors “salvaged” him (what Rodis’ father feared might be done to his son had he stuck it out with Edjop).

On the other hand, Rodis wrote about the 180-degree political turnabout of another FQS firebrand, Jerry Barican:

“Once the ‘radical’ president of the UP Student Council, he became a staunchly conservative lawyer who justified his sea change by paraphrasing Churchill: ‘If you are not a radical at 18, you have no heart.  If you are still a radical at 30, you have no head.’  Jerry went on to become a spokesman for then President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada.”

From this citation of incidents and statements, we can deduce the following:

1. Then as now, the sectarian rivalry (if not enmity) between the “radicals” and “moderates” (natdems and socdems), who had agreed to conduct a “united front” protest action against a common foe (the Marcos administration), was deep and intense.  Note that even Edjop’s sectarian impulse drove him to violate the agreement on the sequence of speakers.

2. Edjop’s later opting to pursue his ideals via the “radical” way indicates either of two things, or both: a) that he found the “moderate” path disappointingly inept or futile; and b) that the drawing power of the “radical” ideas and methods of organizing and mobilization were so compelling, he was swept into the vortex of the national-democratic movement like thousands of other students and community youths across the country, both organized and unorganized.

In fact, the bastion of the “moderates” and nascent social democrats, Ateneo de Manila, yielded to the sweeping force of the “radical” national-democratic movement.  Lakasdiwa, Ateneo’s youth organization (which the socdems claim as part of their earlier formations) turned largely into natdem in the wake of the FQS. Besides Edjop, other Ateneans had joined the Left underground movement and became revolutionary martyrs.

3. The degree of “radicalization” on the heels of the FQS was not the same for everyone.  Some may have been radicalized only intellectually and fleetingly, others both psychologically and emotionally.  Still others were radicalized in a thoroughgoing way as to undergo a sea change in the way they had viewed society and the world, and their role in changing them.

4. Among those in the first category are the likes of Gary Olivar and Jerry Barican – who are both facile with words and smart-alecky.  Olivar simply saw the FQS as a “dream” about the youth’s power for radical change, but deemed that power as only a product of youthful conceit incapable of transforming the dream into reality. Ditto with Barican.

The duo dropped out early to pursue traditional careers within the prevailing system that they, as “radical” student leaders, had virulently condemned and strongly opposed.  Consequently, they ended up as spokespersons for two former presidents, both traditional politicians identified with plunder and high-level corruption.

5. Those in the last category underwent a “radical rupture” in worldview that impelled them –consciously — to go headlong into the revolutionary movement.  Many have stood by their commitment to struggle for fundamental change shoulder-to-shoulder with the masses until victory is fully attained.

Many others, like Edgar Jopson, became martyrs and heroes in the course of the life-and-death struggle. In the coming years, more and more of their names will be enshrined in the Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City, as well as in similar, albeit small and modest, monuments and markers in the different regions of the country.

6. Many of those in the second category also joined the underground in the initial years after Marcos imposed martial law, underwent no mean hardships, dangers, and sacrifices.  However, they later decided to lie low by opting to leave the countryside or the urban underground networks in the various regions, or after they had been arrested, tortured and detained.

Yet most of the lie-low ex-activists I encountered in the course of going around the country since 1992 (after I was freed from my second detention without being convicted of any crime), remained wistful of their FQS days.  Rage still simmers in their persona over the continuing injustices, exploitation and oppression and disquiet over their not having done enough to eradicate such scourges.

That many of these FQS veterans expressed readiness to lend a hand in the continuing fight has encouraged me a lot. In fact, some came forward with financial contributions, others pledged to support in various ways, particularly after we organized Bayan Muna in 1999 and successfully entered the electoral arena in 2001.

From these observations, I believe that we can safely say this:

The biggest impact of the FQS on the nation’s politics is that it provided the best and the brightest cadres and activists to the national-democratic revolutionary underground movement and the open democratic mass movement.

These tandem movements – one underground and “illegal” the other aboveground and legal — have played crucial roles in developing mass consciousness about the roots of our national problems, and the need to organize and mobilize the politicized basic masses and the middle forces from the various sectors of society to struggle for national freedom and sovereignty, economic emancipation from imperialist and feudal stranglehold, human rights, social justice, and genuine and lasting peace.

The national-democratic movement seeded by the FQS provided the primary forces that perseveringly, consistently exposed and opposed the anti-democratic, anti-people US-backed Marcos dictatorship, progressively weakened and politically isolated it by the early 1980s.  Other contributory factors – such as the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, the manipulated results of the snap elections in 1985, and the aborted coup by a group of military rebels identified with then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile spurred bigger and bigger protest actions leading to the dictatorship’s ouster in 1986.

It is important to point out that the social democrats, with Ateneo as their springboard, decided to organize in the late 1960s in reaction to, and as counterfoil to, the rapidly growing national-democratic forces.

In the introduction to the book he edited, titled “Socdem,” Benjamin Tolosa Jr. cites the socdem’s acknowledgement that the natdem forces “led by the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front” were “the strongest and most organized pole against Marcos.”  The socdems have attempted to provide what they call a “third force” or “third way” – supposedly as an alternative between the reactionary ruling system and the Left revolutionary path.

However, our historical experience shows that no such third force or third way has emerged as a viable or credible alternative political force or political program.  The most potent political force and authentic alternative program challenging the rotting ruling system are those of the national-democratic revolutionary movement.

What has been amply shown is that, in their bid to stanch the advance of the Left revolutionary movement, the socdems gravitated to and collaborated with the Cory Cojuangco-Aquino government that took over from the Marcos dictatorship. And, in varying degrees, they have done the same with every succeeding administration, including the hated and discredited Macapagal-Arroyo regime. The socdems have gained more influence in the current P-Noy government.

Before I close this presentation, let me go back to what I concluded in my 2008 UP Centennial lecture on militant activism. I said then:

“Regardless of how some people, or perhaps a good number of people, may view its continuing relevance to our national life, or its prospects of succeeding in its avowed goals, the national-democratic revolutionary movement is undeniably alive.  It is persevering to advance and to win.  In the process of waging life-and-death struggle against the forces seeking to destroy it, the movement is endeavoring to establish a genuine state of the people from its basic units in the countryside communities.

Ipagtagumpay ang diwa ng FQS!

“It has had its ups and downs, its ebbs and flows. It has suffered setbacks from serious errors committed at various levels of its leadership, the most serious of which took place in the 1980s. A painful campaign was launched to rectify the errors, which have been largely successful, although some manifestations do appear now and then indicating that lessons from the past have yet to be completely comprehended and assiduously applied.”

Today I find no reason to alter that conclusion.  

I reaffirm it in light of the situation we are in and what’s going on worldwide. How shall we regard the continuing global crisis of the capitalist system that started in 2008, the bankruptcy of neoliberal globalization, and the anguished acknowledgement by bourgeois economists of the validity of Karl Marx’s analysis?  How shall we assess the movement’s prospects vis-à-vis these global factors and the universal ferment of popular protests all demanding change?

Thus, as we commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the First Quarter Storm, let us debunk the view of those who regard it as mainly a topic for reminiscences and nostalgia-tripping. Instead let us proclaim the FQS as an epochal event the impact and validity of which pulsates ever more strongly in the bloodstream of the continuing national-democratic revolutionary struggle. #

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in New Politics


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