Socially Conscious: Lasallian accounts of activism in the Marcos era

DLSU is no stranger to political activism.

In 2009, DLSU and other Lasallian schools joined demonstrations condemning the Maguindanao Massacre.

Likewise, the De La Salle Brothers of the Philippines last 2005 called for the resignation of former President Gloria Arroyo over alleged poll fraud in the 2004 Presidential elections, accompanied by demands from Lasallian crowds.

It was perhaps during the regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos when the politicization of the University was at its peak, where students mobilized to address issues that took root within the University administration.

In light of the signing of the Marcos compensation law (R.A. 10368), commemorating victims of this period of unrest reignited memories for the era’s alumni.


From unlimited free cuts

December 6, 1968 – leaving behind deserted classrooms, Lasallites (as they were then called) picketed against the suspension of Br. Becker FSC, who openly spoke for student rights and was subsequently criticized and suspended by the administration for his “inimical’ interests.

Even before the declaration of Martial Law, Lasallites were active in student demonstrations that criticized certain regulations upheld by the administration.

A Lasallite from 1969 – 1971, former La Salle brother novitiate Leonardo Sta. Romana  (LIA-ED, ‘71) describes that Lasallites held one of the first campus demonstrations nationwide.

Sta. Romana explains that aspiring student leaders found means of expression through DLSU’s campus papers and the Student Council (SC). He elaborates, “The LaSallian was the opinion maker in campus, and those making the policies were in the Student Council.”

The Horizon, presently known as Malate Literary Folio, was another literary outlet.

“The target at that time was the administration.” Sta. Romana explains that the University administrators were in loco parentis, and students sought independence from its strict rules. He says, “we wanted more student involvement… the slogan that time was ‘student power’.”

After an in-campus protest against University policies ended in the suspension of five student officers, non-members had to step up.

One of the students contacted late Senator Jose W. Diokno to defend the case. The legal brief was held and published throughout the campus, according to Sta. Romana. Eventually, the five officers were restored to their respective positions.

Those were the first steps, says Sta. Romana. He adds, “we started by raising the consciousness of Lasallian students with internal issues.”


Redefining the romantic era

Sta. Romana recalls the first movement that marked the start of the First Quarter Storm – a three-month period of unrest spearheaded by college students, collectively protesting against various local and international issues.

Surrounded by artistry, images, songs and passionate speeches, a DLSU professor (who requested to remain anonymous) reminisces on his first-hand accounts as a student activist.

Describing it as a “romantic” era, the widespread activist efforts were contagious, and directors, academics and intellectuals, especially within DLSU and other Philippine universities, regularly held symposiums.

After Marcos delivered his State of the Nation speech in Congress on January 26, 1970, Lasallites flocked to a demonstration in the old Congress. The demonstration was in protest of the 1970 Constitutional Convention and other national issues.

Sta. Romana distinctly remembered witnessing students throwing a coffin at Marcos after his exit from Congress, fresh from delivering his State of the Nation Address. In the resulting riot, security troops subsequently beat the students.

Crying police brutality, the said student demonstration marked the beginning of the First Quarter Storm, as it made news and inspired laborers and other groups to protest daily against the authorities.

Sta. Romana was also present during the storming of Malacañang on January 30, 1970 – when several laborers and student activists forcefully commandeered a fire truck, ramming Gate 4 of the Malacañang Palace. This led to hosing, tear-gassing, and firing of bullets from the security forces, which claimed the lives of a handful of protesters.

Stricter and more aggressive military rules followed these student-led demonstrations, which consequently escalated into brawls between activists and the police force.


Proclamation No. 1081

August 21, 1971 – The Liberal Party’s political campaign took an unprecedented turn when the bombing of Plaza Miranda killed nine and injured a hundred Filipinos, sparking national outrage against Marcos.

The next day, in response to civil unrest and the alleged rise of the Filipino Communist Party, Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus – a judicial mandate that allows a prisoner to testify in court on whether his/her arrest was lawful or not.

In criticism to the writ suspension and the imminent reality of Martial Law, Senator Jose W. Diokno called upon several student representatives to kick start demonstrations.

Sta. Romana remembers being one of them. Hence, he began to involve himself with activist groups such as The Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL) and the Kalipunan ng Kristiyanong Kabataan sa Pilipinas (KKKP).

“My name was not coming out in the press lists. Except of course, I knew everybody who was active,” says Sta. Romana.

September 23, 1972, 3 am – Sta. Romana woke up to Metropolitan Command units that drove him off to Camp Crame, where he stayed locked up, indefinitely, for 94 days with Senator Diokno, Constitutional Convention delegate Senator Guingona, and journalists like Max Solivel along with former The LaSallian staffer, Dean Jorge Bocobo.

“I was among the first to be arrested. It was the activist involvement – that’s how they got my name,” Sta. Romana says. “Looking back, because I was arrested with the first batch, they didn’t know how to torture yet.”

“[During] the first part of Martial Law, Marcos succeeded in silencing protest movements because of the shock martial law was there – people [were] getting arrested… people lived in fear.”

Sta. Romana says, explaining that though he was interrogated, his traumas came from mental torture and social isolation. “You become persona non grata,” Sta. Romana shares. “People are afraid to mix with you because of being associated with you.”

Sta. Romana concludes that during the first part of Martial Law, Marcos succeeded in silencing unrest.


Restoring media

The silence extended to private media outlets, anti-government organizations and most student activities.

Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Public Finance Professor and then-student activist Emmanuel Leyco (LIA-BSM, ‘78) shares that upon his entry into DLSU in 1974, the SC and The LaSallian were suspended by the administration, as ordered under martial law.

In place of the SC, he helped establish the Council of Student Organizations (CSO). Formal student representation, however, still proved to be difficult as the top officers of CSO were chosen by representatives of various student organizations, and not the student body itself.

While it was a relatively quiet time for DLSU, Leyco states that they could not dissociate themselves from reality. “We started hearing about the urban poor, unjust wages… issues that a Lasallian writer cannot ignore,” he admits.

Later in the year, Leyco helped restore the campus paper and SC, despite receiving warnings from the administration and outside threats.

Leyco explains that the administration at that time was wary about students writing about issues critical of Martial Law. He furthers that this is because they were still figuring out how to respond to Martial Law.

Lives of student activists were in jeopardy as soldiers hunted down people involved in student movements and oppositions, which Marcos prohibited. Amid the risk, Leyco and his fellow activists continued to hold public forums critical of the Marcos administration.

Even then, the University authorities were protective.


Different times

Looking back, a DLSU professor (who chose not to be identified) and former activist reflects that he believes that the role of students then was to be a catalyst for social change.

Eventually, he observed that as time passed, his fellow activists could not reconcile their desire for reform with their obligations to serve as a citizen of the state. In today’s society, the professor explains, society is in a different context, and citizens should serve their role in bettering the Philippine state instead.

For the professor, he says, “I decided to share what I have experienced through the years to my students.” He explains that he hopes the future generation would learn from his stories, and would push them to ask for reform by partaking in community development and developing structural improvements.

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