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Continuing the fight: The evolution of Lasallian student activism

Webinars, Twitter rallies, and online petitions—these have become more commonplace in past months as several progressive groups leverage alternative modes of engagement amid quarantine measures.

At the forefront of these initiatives are the youth, including DLSU students. In fact, history has shown that the Lasallian community as a whole is no stranger to advocating for systemic reforms and speaking out against societal injustices, a tradition that continues until today.

Goes way back

The years under the Marcos regime saw a sharp rise in student protests in the country, most notably during the First Quarter Storm in 1970. Despite government attempts to silence dissent and stifle student activities—even The LaSallian was briefly suspended under Martial Law—the youth remained critical of the administration. Years later, DLSU students were on the streets once again for the 1986 EDSA Revolution, helping barricade Camp Aguinaldo after Martial Law chief implementor Juan Ponce Enrile and then-Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos defected from the government.

In the 2000s, DLSU was one of the first schools to call for former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation over alleged poll fraud, and in the 2010s, under the Aquino administration, numerous Lasallians congregated in Luneta Park for the Million Pride March, a peaceful protest against the purported misuse of pork barrel funds.

Even the current administration’s era has seen no shortage of DLSU’s political engagement. In November 2016, mere months after President Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration, the Lasallian community joined other universities in protest against the controversial Supreme Court ruling in favor of Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

More recently, the University Student Government, political parties, several student organizations, and student media groups all criticized the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which was signed into law last July 3, for its potential to infringe on civil liberties and suppress peaceful dissent.

But perhaps DLSU’s extensive history of activism can be better understood when juxtaposed against the history of its own founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle.

Br. Aikee Esmeli FSC, a former DLSU student leader who currently teaches in La Salle High School in Kagoshima, Japan, asserts that La Salle fits the mold of an activist today—he “dared to do everything needed to be able to help the poor despite all the challenges that he faced.”

“Without his activism before, we will not be active and responsive Lasallians today,” he says.

La Salle, who was born into luxury and ordained into priesthood, chose to relinquish his wealth and status in the Church to lead a group of lay teachers in opening schools for the poor, an initiative that was met with staunch opposition from ecclesiastical authorities and attacks from critics.

Today, Lasallians still “[confront] broken systems in times of political crisis” and involve themselves in “aiding structural reform, just as our patron saint did,” stresses Josh Valentin, Chairperson of Anakbayan Vito Cruz.

Effective’ alternatives

While physical protests still occurred across the country in recent months, current quarantine measures have undoubtedly reduced attendance, with many others instead turning to social media and creating various hashtags to advance their cause.

While social media has been “effective” in bringing issues to a broader audience, there is a risk that momentum for it would subside before “real action” is taken, posits Br. Armin Luistro FSC, Brother Provincial of the Lasallian East Asia District and former De La Salle Philippines President.

“You will find that there will be many reacting to one issue, but after three days, when the issue has died down, they lose touch,” he expounds. This swift “reactionary” response that social media enables, Luistro adds, also deprives the audience of “the lag time needed to actually think through those issues [and] to be critical.”

Social media has also served as a starting point for several organizations to promote and conduct forums and seminars online. Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista President Ken Azcarraga shares that his party has been working alongside other youth organizations such as Akbayan Youth on organizing online events, which had featured opposition figures like Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Atty. Chel Diokno.

“There is no shortage of online engagements and activities happening right now,” he says. “We need to stay informed and vigilant.”

The shift to online mediums has also allowed people to explore “alternative means of expression” such as donation drives and other community engagement initiatives, says Marga Dela Cruz, president of Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon.

Valentin illustrates that technology serves as an “effective medium for information dissemination” and “a tool to raise the calls of the masses”, enabling the youth to be more aware of issues faced by marginalized sectors and to stand in solidarity with their advocacies. However, he maintains that taking to the streets remains the “most effective way” of involving more Filipinos “in [the] fight for democracy,” especially since not everyone is active online or has internet access.

“Sure, online rallies help to some degree, and even national democratic mass organizations like Anakbayan partake in these online rallies, but if there is no follow-through action that will bridge and unify these calls outside of our bubble…[then] there would be no point,” he contends.

Progressing forward

Regardless of approach, evident is the need to continue the fight.

Educating oneself and taking a stand are the first steps to being more involved, Valentin says, advising Lasallians to expand one’s knowledge by attending webinars and reading up on salient matters.

Luistro urges the youth to remain focused on and committed to certain causes. “Every time there is [an] emerging issue that would ignite people—especially the [youth]—against the government, parang may bagong distraction na lumalabas,” he explains, citing how the Anti-Terror Bill suddenly came into prominence amid criticisms of the government’s response to the ongoing pandemic.

(It is as if a new distraction pops up.)

As more issues hound the country today, the mandate to take an active part in shaping a society that upholds the rights of each and every citizen remains relevant. But it does not end there; maintaining a healthy democracy entails deliberate actions to help the marginalized sectors of the society, to push for programs that promote societal and economic development, and to elect leaders who are committed to making the lives of Filipinos better.

“Time and again, we’ve seen Lasallians at the forefront of the progressive movement, and I do not believe that it will change any time soon,” Azcarraga affirms.

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