ON NEW Year's Eve I took a pause and looked back 40 years ago up less-traveled roads, if only to remind myself that today I am seeing not only the start of another year but the beginning of a new decade.
The year was 1970.
I was a 15-year-old struggling through high school, confused on what to do with my life. A little over a year before I was expelled, along with my elder brother Gerry, from a priest-run technical school in Victorias for leading a rally urging the removal of the despotic Italian principal whose contempt for us Filipinos was not particularly subtle. It was my first taste of having to pay dearly for espousing patriotic views.
It was likewise my initiation into the fickle world of politics and media. At the start of the controversy, not a few politicians expressed their "sympathy to the students' nationalistic cause" and our case was daily fare in radio news programs and commentaries. Soon, after the issue was squeezed dry-no liquidity pun intended-the whole thing just died down. Gerry, some eight others, and I suddenly found us in the ranks of the out-of-school. No sign of politicians, no word from media.
Later, another Catholic school in Bacolod City took me in, but it was made perfectly clear to me that dissent against the administration, whether Italian, Spanish, or Filipino was not to be tolerated. True enough, when I became one the "usual suspects" in drunkenness and hooliganism in school, I was treated with lenience for as long as I did not question authority. Thus did I learn the fundamental lesson that more often than not, the establishment considers dissent more dangerous than all other crimes combined.
In early January 1970, our class was required by the student council to join a citywide rally at the Bacolod Public Plaza. Scheduled for that year was an election for delegates to 1971 Constitutional Convention, and the demonstration was to give vent to issues of vital importance to the drafting of a new charter. I was in no mood to listen to speeches, so at the first opportunity I sneaked out of the crowd and whiled the afternoon away watching John Sebastian, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jimi Hendrix, and other rock artists in the film Woodstock that was then showing in one of the movie houses downtown. I would say they made better statements with their guitars than any of those fiery demagogues at the plaza.
I would certainly have made a vocation of being a hippie-growing my hair down to my waist, wearing tie-dye T-shirts and bright orange bell-bottom trousers, waving the peace sign, and greeting everybody, "Wow...pare..."-but for a series of events in Manila a few weeks later.
On January 26, 1970, a violent confrontation took place between police anti-riot squads and student demonstrators at the old Congress building while then President Ferdinand Marcos was delivering the State of the Nation Address.
Scores were injured, mostly defenseless students. This incident sparked a series of indignation rallies and mass actions, most ending in violence. This period of disquiet was to last three months, fading out only when school ended in March. This episode in our history came to be known as the First Quarter Storm of 1970.
In less turbulent Bacolod, despite alcohol, gang wars, and obsession to soccer, I eventually finished high school, right on my 16th birthday.
Meanwhile, the FQS had developed an army of "battle-tested" activists determined to bring the movement to the provinces. Many of these activists dropped out of school to entirely dedicate their time and energy in organizing local chapters of different sectors and mass organizations.
My brother Gerry was then a freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University. His first-hand accounts of the brutal way policemen handled student protests rekindled in me the anger I felt when we were unceremoniously kicked out of high school. Somehow, the bitter lessons of Rebellion 101 became etched in my youthful mind.
It did not help any that I was born and raised in the harsh social realities of the sugar industry. It was then a matter of course that I would be drawn into the activist movement in the aftermath of the First Quarter Storm. Certainly, it was not an easy life, but driven by idealism, it was an exciting and fulfilling one nonetheless. The road took several new turns since, and in the next few months I would progress from being a student leader, to fugitive, to underground propagandist, to political prisoner. By the time I was released from prison I had grown older far beyond my age.
Today I cannot help but examine people, events, and ideas from the perspective of one who had the rare opportunity to be drawn into the stream of events that eventually shaped history. One learns much from the lessons of the road.
And that road began at the start of another decade forty years ago.