Animo is the spirit to fight

The Lasallian Brothers have exemplified their commitment to St. John Baptist de La Salle’s teachings for decades, upholding justice within the Lasallian community and the nation.

Issuing statements against extra-judicial killings, filing for Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the Anti-Terror Law, and supporting former Vice President Leni Robredo’s candidacy—these have just been some of the calls for social action in the recent years. While heeding this call might not always be the easiest choice, the Lasallian brothers have, time after time, embodied the teaching of their founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle, and have shown it not only to the Lasallian community but to the whole nation, what communion in mission really means.

First sparks

The dawn of student activism in DLSU can be traced back to 1968 to one Lasallian brother, Br. Edward Becker FSC. A guidance counselor, Becker spoke strongly of academic freedom and built a strong rapport with the Filipino students, the latter of which troubled his fellow American administrators. “I could not act otherwise, because of my personal conviction that there can be no education without mutual communication, and there can be no education without mutual trust,” he wrote in The LaSallian’s old segment Letters to the Editor in 1969.

On December 6, 1968, word spread of his sudden dismissal, which drove over 600 students to picket for four hours. The uproar brought administrators and the Student Council to the bargaining table where for the first time, students could issue demands over unfair school policies. The success of the talks would be an empowering moment for the demonstrators as it showed how fighting against an unjust status quo could bring about much-needed change.

Yet, what fervor burned among the young “Lasallites” of the late 60s and early 70s would no sooner fizzle when late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. declared Martial Law in 1972. Dissidents were rounded up, student councils were dissolved, and news outlets were shuttered.

Though Martial Law silenced many activists, it also became a catalyst for another generation to take up the challenge. For Br. Armin Luistro FSC, Superior General of the Brothers of Christian Schools, his awakening to social causes began during his high school days in De La Salle Lipa (DLSL). His social studies teacher, a Lasallian brother, would recount stories of being picked up and imprisoned without cause under the Marcos regime. This would continue to his college days, where he says his eyes were “opened up to look at things from the perspective of [the] victims, rather than from the perspective of those in power.”

DLSU’s political involvement under Marcos would culminate at the precipice of the snap elections. In December 1985, the administration, led by then-President Br. Andrew Gonzalez FSC, signed a statement in support of candidate Corazon Aquino. La Salle Greenhills served as a vote counting site for the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections. Luistro, then a young Brother, was one of many who volunteered to protect the ballots.

Then came the EDSA Revolution, and Lasallians again found themselves playing a crucial role in restoring democracy. Luistro, who was teaching at DLSL at the time, heard over Radio Veritas that people were heading for the streets. “Nagpaalam kami sa principal…sabi [niya], ‘Hindi, anlayo naman natin,’” he recalls. “Pero nag-pumilit kami, nag-absent na lang kami without leave.”

(We asked permission from our principal, who said, “No, we’re too far away.” But we pushed on and took an absence without leave.)

The next morning, Luistro and his colleagues took the bus, hopped off at Magallanes, and walked all the way to EDSA.

Even 54 years since the first movement in DLSU, the Lasallian brothers and community continue to embody what communion in mission really means.

Unextinguished flame

Activism in the Lasallian community did not end with People Power I. Fifteen years after the country went hand-in-hand to oust Marcos Sr. from the people’s palace, people once again remonstrated over corruption allegations against then-President Joseph Estrada. Br. Rolando Dizon FSC was at the helm then and called Lasallians to join the crowd to demand Estrada’s resignation.

Although the community had issued a statement, Dizon still felt that they lacked the fervor against Estrada. With rallies happening outside campus gates, Dizon reminded everyone through an interview with The LaSallian in 2000 that their “predecessors were like [them], they were activists.”

Ultimately, People Power II happened with Lasallians joining the crowds calling for Estrada’s resignation. Dizon, along with the Student Council and even the faculty, encouraged students to join them at the EDSA shrine. Still, in accordance with the Commission on Higher Education’s directive, numerous faculty members declared joining the rallies as alternative classes to encourage students to go to EDSA.

Luistro remembers being one of the first people to arrive at the EDSA Shrine. “Kami yata ‘yung the first group that was [there] after the refusal [to open the] envelope nung time ni Erap (Estrada)…pagpunta namin doon, walang tao…aba, pagkatapos ng 30 minutes napuno na ‘yung shrine, then that was People Power II,” he narrates.

(We might’ve been the first group in the EDSA Shrine after the refusal to open the envelope in Erap’s time. No one was there when we arrived, but after 30 minutes, the shrine was full.)

Three years later, the Lasallian community was again in the headlines after Luistro, then-president of De La Salle University System, issued a call for then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to resign after being embroiled in the Hello Garci scandal. Releasing an open letter titled Restoring Faith in Democracy reflects not only the De La Salle Brothers’ stance but the whole System’s as well. However, not everyone was amenable to this statement.

Ang daming mga alumni nung maglabas kami ng statement (calling for Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation), nagtanggal ng kanilang suporta at donation sa La Salle,” reveals Luistro.

(There were alumni who withdrew their support and donation to La Salle when we issued a statement.)

However, he states that these are just consequences of standing up for what is right. “Kasama iyon sa mga consequences ng mga choices ‘di ba…that’s why the battle continues even now,” explains Luistro.

(It’s the consequences of our choices. right?)

For the next generation

Around 54 years later and several administrations have passed, yet the activism in the University remained steadfast amid the continuously changing political landscape that came with the rise of technology. Amid the propaganda that stemmed from disinformation and lies that built on more lies, the Lasallian Brothers bravely stood up for their stances. Luistro says it takes long hours of collective reflection, prayer, and discussions on each other’s perspectives on issues that concern society.

Six months into former President Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, Lasallians organized protests to voice out their stance against the burial of dictator Marcos. De La Salle Philippines (DLSP) President Br. Jose Mari Jimenez FSC penned a statement following the Supreme Court decision on the burial, emphasizing and reiterating the call of many: “Marcos is not a hero.”

And this zeal was seen all throughout Duterte’s term. At the height of the pandemic, the Anti-Terrorism Bill was passed into law. The De La Salle Brothers and Jesuits issued a statement, citing that some provisions are “easily subjected to misinterpretation and abuse.” This led Luistro to file a petition for a TRO, on behalf of the Brothers, against the act a day after it was signed.

DLSU was also one of the schools that openly showed support for Former Vice President Leni Robredo’s presidential bid, a collective stand that resulted from a long discussion among the Brothers.

“We’re not fighting because we have to be at war with people,” Luistro stresses. “We’re doing that because we need to. We need to be truthful to ourselves. We need to do that for you, our students, and for those who will come after you.”

JJ Mercado

By JJ Mercado

Mikaela Vallesteros

By Mikaela Vallesteros

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