Wenceslao: Students’ protest

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s criticism of the recent walkout staged by University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman students shows he is no different from the other presidents before him, the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos particularly, who took lightly the rumblings in the youth sector and paid dearly for it.

The declaration by then president Ferdinand Marcos of military rule in September 1972 was preceded by the First Quarter Storm (FQS) that erupted in January 1970. One of my favorite stories of the FQS was that of the then “moderate” student leader Edgar “Edjop” Jopson’s encounter with Marcos—a young leader standing up to the most powerful man of the country.

Jopson was head of the then moderate National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP), the group that initiated the massive rally in front of the Congress building where Marcos delivered his state of the nation address. The rally participants were divided between the “moderates” who merely wanted reforms and the radicals who were pushing for revolutionary change.

Jopson tangled with leaders of radical groups in that rally but the biggest story was when the police brutally broke up the gathering after the rallyists threw a cardboard coffin and crocodile at Marcos’s entourage that was leaving the area. The rallyists fought back throwing bottles and stones at the police.

Marcos later invited Jopson and other student leaders in Malacañang for a dialogue. But it did not end well when Jopson dared the president to promise not to run for a third term (presidents at that time had one four-year-term with one reelection). Marcos noted that the constitution barred him from running for a third term, but Edjop pressed on, prompting the president to say he wouldn’t give in to a demand from a mere “grocer’s son” (Edjop’s parents owned a supermarket).

The grocer’s son and many of the youths who were products of the FQS would later compose the backbone of the revolution that hounded the Marcos dictatorship. Jopson ended up as a labor organizer and engineered the first significant open protest action under martial law, the workers’ strike at the La Tondeña distillery in 1974.

With peaceful change already an impossibility, Jopson went underground like many of the FQS participants, was arrested in 1979 in Metro Manila, tortured and escaped after ten days. He ended up in Mindanao where he was rearrested two years later and then summarily executed.

Unlike other sectors, the youth are not tied to production and raising a family and are therefore freer to pursue a struggle against the establishment. They are good fits as cadres, organizers and propagandists. In the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, the products of the FQS later fanned out the entire breadth of the archipelago organizing mainly the workers and the farmers against the dictatorship.

No wonder that when Duterte told the UP students who joined the walkout to quit school, they promised to hold an even bigger protest action. It proved my contention that the youth, when tested by circumstances, would always respond the same way as the youths of generations past like Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Jopson and later Lean Alejandro.
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