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UP activist: Why I went underground

‘I was an officer in my high school’s Philippine Military Training (PMT) corps. My sentiment was in favor of the government and the military. When I entered UP, I found the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and its officers familiar and friendly. I felt secure and comfortable in the company of military men.’ 

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THE University of the Philippines Oblation. / TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO

In the 1970s, many of the country’s best and brightest minds were forced to go underground following the declaration of martial law.

Daily Tribune talked with an alumnus of the University of the Philippines (UP) who became an activist and joined the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) after being tortured and detained by the military.

Daily Tribune (DT): What year did you enter UP in college, what organization did you join, and why?

Marlon (M): I got into UP in 1970. I joined one of the student mass organizations that was not Kabataang Makabayan (KM). For several reasons, I hated KM and activists. In my first year, I was closer to the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) officers and members of the Vanguard fraternity. But my sister was recruited by one of the student mass organizations at that time. She was constantly nagging me to attend a teach-in. I did attend one, and started to get involved.

It helped that the organization’s members didn’t look like the stereotype activist. Some of the members were beautiful colegiala types and that made me comfortable.

I was born and raised in a neighborhood near Mendiola. My experience with the First Quarter Storm painted in my mind a scene of chaos and violence. The way I saw events then made me look at activists as irresponsible people with nothing better to do.

DT: Did joining the organization influence your activism?

M: I already had some questions in my mind about social issues, but I never saw myself as an activist. I came from a middle class family living in a lower middle-class neighborhood. I have seen and experienced life of the less fortunate and the poor. In 1969, my mother, who used to be a solid Marcos supporter and volunteer, peeled off all the Marcos stickers used in the 1965 election that were posted in mirrors and glass cabinet doors in our house. She told us that Marcos was a thief.

On 23 August 1971, after the Plaza Miranda bombing, President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the entire country.

But I was an officer in my high school’s Philippine Military Training (PMT) corps.

My sentiment was in favor of the government and the military. When I entered UP, I found ROTC and its officers familiar and friendly. I felt secure and comfortable in the company of military men.

My involvement with the mass organization I joined led me to a different path. I remember that teach-in conducted by the head of the organization.

In less than an hour, he talked about Philippine history and society in a way that jarred my views and beliefs. It was my introduction to the concept and terminologies of “national democracy.” I began my journey as a “natdem.”

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF FB.COM/BANTAYOG NG MGA BAYANI
THE suspension of the writ was my introduction to a real-life issue about the people’s democratic rights and the dictatorial bent of a sitting president.

Still, I was a hesitant activist because I could not put aside my bias against KM and I did not like being with them for any activity.

Then we launched a project, my first as an activist. We organized a debate between Kabataang Makabayan-Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (KM-SDK) versus Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino and the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (MPKP-BRPF).

In that debate, I was astounded by the passion and insights presented by the debaters who were among the more recognized student leaders of the time, including Rey Altarejos of KM and Rey Vea of SDK. My political naivete and reactionary views started to dissolve in the face of a non-stop stream of new ideas and an introduction to radical thinking and the ideology of Marxism.

My involvement with the mass organization I joined led me to a different path.

I was then still in the ROTC which I considered my home in UP. In fact, I volunteered to join the Sunday Soldiers and become a ranger.

I belonged to the Black Company (an all-UP unit) of the Emerald Battalion of the Rainbow Brigade. As a ranger, we were considered elite and non-traditional. We were indoctrinated in non-conventional warfare. We were bound by the virtue of filial piety. We had no standard uniform. We had no markings. We had no name tags. We had no other identification except on our hats that bore the patch of the Philippine Army.

True to our non-conformist self-image, we did something unthinkable at that time.

We held our training and marches in the then military camp Fort Bonifacio.

In our jogging exercises, we chanted to keep cadence, and we chose the then popular chant, “Marcos-Hitler-Diktador-Tuta”. The officers and rangers from other schools watched in silent awe and confusion. We were tolerated, however, since we were a non-conventional outfit.

On 23 August 1971, after the Plaza Miranda bombing, President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the entire country. The UP studentry launched a campaign to protest against the suspension and demand that it be lifted.

It was my introduction to a real-life issue about the people’s democratic rights and the dictatorial bent of a sitting president.

Activists among the UP rangers unit decided to join the protest.

There was a scheduled ROTC parade in review where AFP officers were attending. It was a big traditional event.

 

(To be continued)

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