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The Defiant Era
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Forty years ago, the First Quarter Storm rocked Manila, which had not seen anarchy on this scale since the Pacific War. A look back at the movement, where it failed and where it succeeded
January 30, 2010-–THE thrilling thing about the year “was that it was a time when significant segments of population all over the globe refused to be silent about the many things that were wrong with the world.” “And this gave the world a sense of hope that it has rarely had, a sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it.”
That was Mark Kurlansky writing in his marvelous book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World. From Cuba to China to Czechoslovakia, France, Mexico, Poland and the United States, young people began to rebel against the establishment. Kurlansky believes the postwar generation was prepared to do so, ironically because of the relative security and comfort they enjoyed and their having been born after the privations and traumas of World War II. And so young people in communist countries challenged party dictatorship while their counterparts in the democratic world turned leftward to challenge the bourgeois certainties of their elders, for it was in that year, too, here in the Philippines, that an elite family celebrated a wedding anniversary with heedless ostentation.
Filipinos born after the war, who had no memory of that period or the succeeding era of the Huks, came to share the restlessness and iconoclasm of their counterparts around the world: students demonstrated against the Vietnam War (it was the year of the T?t Offensive), and for social reforms in the Catholic Church and in the schools.
In that year, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. published a commentary in the American publication Foreign Affairs, describing the country as “a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite. Here is a land of privilege and rank – a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.” Aquino was writing in response to the massacre of Lapiang Malaya ralliers on May 21, 1967. Democracy had survived the Huk rebellion; and yet, even the beneficiaries of the relative stability of the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties left an increasingly better-educated and cosmopolitan urban middle class in discontent.
The First Quarter Storm came two years after the rest of the world was convulsed by student rebellions in 1968. By all accounts, 1969 was the year in which protesting in the style of the civil rights movement in the United States – peaceful, nonviolent, reformist – gave way to more militant protests and bluntly revolutionary aspirations among the youth, along with the flag hoisted with the red field up.
Ferdinand Marcos won an unprecedented full second term as president toward the end of that year. In those days, when presidential terms began on December 30, a newly elected president delivered his annual State of the Nation at the opening of Congress in January. In 1970, that address to Congress was scheduled on a Monday, January 26. A mere four weeks had passed since Marcos’s inaugural as the [Third] Republic’s first reelected president.
Recalling the era for The Philippine Century, an anthology of writings published in the Free Press, veteran journalist Dan Mariano writes: “Outside the Legislative Building, hundreds of moderate student activists were demonstrating to urge the government to call a constitutional convention.” Jose F. Lacaba, in “The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account,” the first of his articles on the First Quarter Storm for this magazine, writes that student leader Edgar Jopson, who was then a moderate, had his group’s microphones kept away from radical student leader Gary Olivar, and the radicals wrangled with the moderates just as Marcos had finished his speech and was stepping out of the Legislative Building.
It was then, Mariano’s account continues, that “a paper mache crocodile (representing government corruption) and a makeshift coffin (symbolizing the death of democracy) flew” in the direction of Marcos and his wife, Imelda. “Security aides quickly hustled Marcos into his waiting limousine and sped away from the angry mob. Moments later, Manila police armed with truncheons and rattan shields attacked the student demonstrators who fought back with empty soft-drink bottles, rocks and the wooden frames of their placards.”
The moderates tried to pacify by means of speeches the radicals, among them the Maoist Kabataang Makabayan. But the radicals, as Lacaba reports, were “spoiling for trouble” with the cops and were “in no mood for dinner-party chatter and elocution contests.”
From the battleground that was the vicinity of the Legislative Building on Burgos Drive, the demonstrations that now launched the First Quarter Storm moved on to the premises of Malacañang, after a relative lull of three days in which student groups still took to the streets to denounce the government. Then came Friday, January 30 – “so far the most violent night in the city’s postwar history,” as Lacaba writes in retrospect about these events.
The radicals were demonstrating again in front of the Legislative Building, as the moderates went to Malacañang for an audience with Marcos that turned into a tense confrontation. By the end of that meeting, the radicals had trooped as well to the Palace. As Lacaba reports in “And the January 30 Insurrection,” “[w]hat specific event precipitated the battle that spread out to other parts of the city, and lasted till dawn the next day, may never be known. The students who came from Congress claim that, as they were approaching J. P. Laurel Street, they heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off. When they got to Malacanang, the crowd was getting to be unruly. It was growing dark, and the lamps on the Malacanang gates had not been turned on. There was a shout of ‘Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!’ Malacañang obliged, the lights went on, and then crash! a rock blasted out one of the lamps. One by one, the lights were put out by stones or sticks.”
Firefighters arrived at the scene, literally to extinguish the political conflagration at the Palace gates, but the hose they aimed at the protesters yielded a “sputtering spurt,” then the comical became tragic as the protesters ran after and roughed up the fleeing firefighters, then rammed the fire truck into Malacañang’s Mendiola gate. The very center of power suddenly became a tear-gassed arena, as the presidential guards at once engaged the protesters who were lobbing Molotov cocktails into the Palace grounds.
Amid the blaze of a parked vehicle that had been set on fire, the presidential guards managed to drive out the mob, and the battle shifted again to downtown Manila where, this time, not just cops, but “constabulary troopers” confronted the protesters, reports Lacaba. There were also looters among this defiant crowd, who exploited the situation, smashing shop windows and spiriting away “jewelry and shoes.” Soon enough, “the soldiers started firing with Thompsons into the ground,” the dreadful staccato intended as warning, and yet some protesters were hit by shrapnel. Lacaba himself became caught up in the frenzy of rushing some of the injured to the nearby hospitals, and it is remarkable, going by his account, that not a few residents in the area helped hide the protesters who, fleeing from their pursuers, had wandered into the maze of Manila’s dark alleys.
By dawn, the revolution of January 30 was quite over, hundreds had been arrested and an eerie, smoke-filled silence was restored in the city. But this was just the beginning of the Storm. Marcos did not immediately issue his infamous dire warnings – his threats to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law. He still maintained that air of equanimity, as opposed to the spitefulness attributed to him since. Nevertheless this period became his transition to authoritarianism. Vice President Fernando Lopez resigned from the Cabinet the next day.
These events were chronicled by the Free Press writers in what has since been widely acclaimed as “literature in a hurry.” Lacaba’s articles for this magazine and Asia-Philippines Leader remain in print in a book titled Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: The First Quarter Storm and Related Events, which harks back to a time when protesting in front of the US Embassy was daringly new and not the ossified ritual that such actions became since; when communism and socialism were daring new thought and not bogged down in debates over whether they’re old cant; when the established social order was besieged and a generation of Filipinos thought it was possible to push it to the wall so that it would either reform or suffer destruction through revolution.
In contrast to Lacaba’s reportage, Kerima Polotan, sympathetic to Marcos where Lacaba was brilliantly antipathetic, recounted the same events but with hardly any sympathy for Marcos’s critics, whether old or young. Instead, she wrote of those in whom the radicalism of the youth inspired not admiration but fear.
“Right or wrong, one had kept one’s children off the streets all their lives, a canon, one had warned them clearly, they were not to break while they lived under one’s roof,” went Polotan’s “The Long Week,” published alongside Lacaba’s accounts of the January 26 and 30 riots in the Free Press of February 7, 1970. “They went to school and then came home. They had duties and chores, and tonight, while the police chased some other mothers’ children down below, one’s own young were at home getting supper for the small ones, washing the dishes, and locking up the kitchen before turning to their books – altogether not a popular kind of activism, not any kind of activism at all, not modern, but one’s personal, though passage, idea of parenthood. Parents surrender quickly these days and pay for their easy abdication with the broken skulls of their sons and the crushed legs of their daughters.”
Lacaba’s book recaptures the ferment, the freshness, of a period of agitation that resulted, alas, in dictatorship and in a generation robbed of their chance to lead. Yesterday’s FQS protesters are today’s middle-aged baby boomers with grown-up children of their own, often ensconced in the establishment, either in business or government. Yet the historical verdict seems clear: Lacaba’s articles have survived, Polotan’s, forgotten; youthful idealism continues to be honored; the New Society generally acknowledged to be a sham.
To read Lacaba’s book is to be able to answer a crucial question about that generation: Have yesterday’s activists-turned-today’s fat cats been able to totally jettison their radical youth, or is there something in them ingrained by that period that bears watching as they now handle the levers of power? I would argue that those FQS veterans now in high places cannot avoid a radically different outlook, with its quiet but perceptible impact on how power is wielded in the present day.
Reading eyewitness accounts of great events also points to the depressing reality that some things never change. The reactionaries remain so; the reformists stuck, too, in a rut of self-doubt; and the radicals in a time warp. And, indirectly, Lacaba’s book raises a question no one has ever been able to answer in a satisfactory manner. Did the agitation of idealistic and romantic youth in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies make dictatorship more appealing? For the shameful fact is that martial law was greeted with relief by a majority of Filipinos, at least from the upper and middle classes, who rejoiced in the curfew, in the cutting of hippie hair, not to mention the padlocking of Congress and suppression of liberties. For, if so, the Filipino may be innately reactionary – with all that such a conclusion shockingly implies.
Recalling that eventful first quarter of 1970, Dan Mariano writes, “Although the country had more roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems than ever before, the economy had begun to nose-dive. The peso underwent a 100 percent devaluation, with the exchange rate going from P2.00 to P4.00, then P8.00. The prices of basic commodities rose out of the reach of the working population, whose wages were not allowed to keep up with inflation.”
By April that year, a general strike was held protesting against increases in oil prices and transportation costs. The next year saw the Diliman Commune, the revolt by University of the Philippines students in February. But the sign of those times was not the Diliman Commune itself, which continues to throb gloriously in the memories of FQS veterans, but a parallel effort overlooked because it’s inconvenient. As students barricaded the campus and broadcast a recording of the President’s postcoital croonings to Dovie Beams, some residents in the area banded together and hunted down the radical students in the defense of order and their property rights.
And it was Ferdinand Marcos, the last product of the American educational system, but a mutant one in that his political maturity took place during the confused, corrupt and corrupting circumstances of the Japanese Occupation, who gambled on form trumping substance. So long as the trappings of legitimacy were maintained, the upper and middle class would embrace his “Revolution from the Center” and tolerate, if not actually accept with enthusiasm, his “New Society.”
The Plaza Miranda bombing took place on August 21, 1971. Two days after, 20 people were arrested as Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Martial law followed a year and a month later, restoring order on the surface but fueling the already underground radical movement that Jopson himself would at last join and sacrifice his life for. Yet, when revolution finally came, it wasn’t what the young radicals dreamed of in 1970. It was an entirely different creature, what came to be known as People Power in 1986, and Velvet Revolutions elsewhere since.
Special to the Century Book
Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910
Patricio N. Abinales
THE birth of the Philippines in 1896 was one thing; consolidating the territory was another matter. While most Filipinos would attribute the unification of the Philippines to the 1896 Revolution, in reality it was a series of local revolts against the Spanish, and later against the Americans. It remains debatable as to whether these revolts either identified wholly with Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s Malolos Republic, or whether, had they all succeeded, whether would unite under one contiguous territory. Already when the first American troops landed in Negros Island, Negrenses were threatening to create their own republic.
The Americans were actually responsible for giving territorial reality to Las Islas Filipinas, the basis of the future Republic. They did this first by employing force against those who opposed American rule. They waged brutal military campaigns against forces loyal to the Malolos Revolutionary Government of Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo, pushing the latter as far back as the mountain fastness of northern Luzon and scattering his troops in southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The American use of armed might was so brutish that in Samar Island, for example, hundreds of women and children were killed when Gen. Jacob Smith ordered to turn the island into a “howling wilderness.” After Aguinaldo’s capture at Palanan, Isabela, there were attempts to re-establish a new revolutionary center, but all this was quashed by the Americans.
In the towns and in Manila, American suppression of Filipino revolutionary nationalism took the form of proscribing the publication of “seditious” materials that could be disseminated through the emergent print media and the ever-popular plays. Public display of pro-revolutionary sentiments were also prohibited, with the most notable ban being the Flag Law that disallowed any showing of flags associated with the Katipunan and the Malolos Republic. The Americans also sped up the organization of police forces to oversee “peace and order” and this successor of the hated Spanish Guardia Civil proved up to the task of suppressing urban dissent.
Once sure that their control would not be seriously challenged anymore, the Americans turned their attention to governing “the new possessions.” The foremost problem that immediately confronted them was the generating money for the colony and then developing the personnel necessary to run the government.
The U.S. Congress approved the colonization of the Philippines but refused to provide sustained financial support for the undertaking. In fact, the Congress allotted only $3 million for the Philippines in the entire period from 1903 to the formation of the Philippine Commonwealth. One economist called it colonial administration “accomplished ‘on the cheap.’” Financial constraints were also complicated by the difficulty of attracting Americans to govern the colony. The solution to these problems was found in generating revenues from the colony’s own resources, particularly the existing crops that the colony was exporting abroad later years of Spanish rule. Enhancing this export economy, however, was not easy. American legislators, especially those coming from the agricultural regions of the U.S., vigorously opposed proposals that Philippine products enter the country tariff-free. As a consequence, the so-called “free trade” that introduced under American rule was not so free. The U.S. was very selective in the choice of Philippine products that could be exported to the American mainland. Only sugar, hemp and coconut were allowed open access to the U.S. market; and even these products would later be taxed in American ports. Selective entry of these goods however was enough to resurrect the export economy, and by the end of the decade much of it was re-energized because of the American market.
The second issue—putting people into the administrative and political structure—proved more successful because the Americans early on opened up the structure to Filipino participation. It is general knowledge that even as the war against Aguinaldo was raging, the Americans were already able to recruit prominent Filipinos to their side. These collaborators became the backbone of the Federalista Party, a party committed to full American control as well as the medium for introducing the party system to the Philippines. The Federalistas were also supposed to become the dominant Filipino party in the soon-to-be formed Philippine Assembly and American backing initially helped them to mobilize Filipino support.
The Americans transformed the Philippine Commission from its original function as a fact-finding and policy-recommending body created by Pres. McKinley, to the highest policy-making body of the colony. Through the Commission, the Americans were also able to bring in Filipinos into the leadership (although they had limited powers) and further legitimize their rule. With the Federalistas supporting them and the pacification campaigns winding down, especially after Gen. Macario Sakay, the last of the revolutionaries fighting for a Tagalog Republic in 1905, the Americans proceeded to prepare the grounds for eventual self-rule.
The Commission ordered a colony-wide census to ascertain the exact population of the Philippines. The census was followed by provincial elections in 1906 where a new group of Filipinos emerged to challenge the Federalistas. The former consisted of local elites who saw the value of the nationalism of 1896 and how it made many Filipinos suspicious of the pro-American Federalistas. Using their provincial positions, this group began to present themselves as the real alternative to the Federalistas. Americans increasingly recognized the strength of this sentiment, especially at the provincial and municipal levels, and began to turn their attention to these new elites. The result of this new collaboration was the creation of the Nacionalista Party, a coalition of provincial elites who promised to fight for the cause of nationalism but within the framework of the American policy of eventual self-rule.
On July 30, 1907, the first elections to the Philippine Assembly—the legislative body which would act as the “lower house” to the more “senatorial” Philippine Commission—was held and the Nacionalista won a majority. From their ranks emerged Manuel L. Quezon (from Tayabas province) and Sergio Osmeña (from Cebu), who would lead the fight to expand Filipino power inside the government and eventually become the dominant leaders of the American period. Under Quezon and Osmeña, a colony-wide party system began to take shape, its power derived from a combination of clan-based alliances, patronage and a commitment to Filipinization. As more Americans chose to return to the mainland instead of staying to serve the colonial government, Filipinos increasingly took over their position.
By the end of the first decade, “regular provinces” comprised half of the Philippines. These provinces had elected and appointive Filipino officials, many of whom owed their positions to Quezon, Osmeña and the Nacionalistas. Combining their local political experiences learned from the last years of Spanish rule, with the “political education” they were getting from the Americans, the Filipinos proved within a short period of time that they had the ability to be equally adept at governing the colony. In its first year at work, the Philippine Assembly had already shown a marked adeptness in introducing additional provisions or new amendments to existing colonial laws, and in negotiating with the Philippine Commission and the Governor General over matters of policy formulation, funding and government personnel changes. Quezon and Osmeña were at the top of all these processes. They were fast becoming astute leaders of the political party they helped build, of the Assembly that they presided over, and of the colonial regime they co-governed with the Americans. If Rizal was credited for having conceived of the “Filipino,” and if Bonifacio and Aguinaldo were the leaders who gave this imagination a reality with the Revolution, to Quezon and Osmeña must be given the distinction of helping construct the political and administrative structure that would be associated with the term “Filipino.” The Americans may have created the colonial state, but it was these two leaders who gave flesh to it and putting the foundations that the future Republic would stand on.
This type of political and administrative consolidation however was only happening in one part of the colony—the “Christian” Filipino dominated “lowlands” in Luzon, the Visayas and northern Mindanao. In the other half of the colony, the U.S. army administered the “special provinces” on the grounds that their population—the so-called “non-Christian tribes”—were more backward than the Filipinos and were prone to more “warfare.” The Americans saw their “civilizing mission” as special given that the underdeveloped character of the Cordillerans and Muslims required a longer time for them to become familiar with self-government. They also had to be thoroughly “pacified.”
Surprisingly, the pacification process was fast and relatively easy. There was hardly any resistance from the various indigenous communities in the Cordilleras, while Muslim resistance was scattered and unsustained. At the middle of the first decade, the Cordilleras and “Moro Mindanao” had become very stable and peaceful areas.
A major reason for the American success was the cooperation extended by Muslim and Cordilleran leaders to the Americans. They regarded colonial rule as a means of protecting themselves against Christians and “lowlanders.” American military officials reciprocated this cooperation by resisting the efforts of Filipinos to extend their power to the “special provinces.” A working relationship eventually developed between these community leaders and the Americans whereby the former were given minor posts in the provincial government (“tribal wards” in the case of the Muslims) in exchange for agreeing to recognize American sovereignty. U.S. army officers who administered these areas also became their protectors against Filipino leaders, doing everything they can to limit the presence of Manila and the Nacionalista party in the Cordilleras and “Moro Mindanao.”
The only major resistance came from the Muslims at the hills of Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, when the army declared a ban on weapons and raised head taxes. American military superiority prevailed and over a hundred Muslim men, women and children were killed. Politically, however, these actions eroded the army’s standing and opened up an opportunity for Quezon to attack military rule in Mindanao. After the massacres, the army was forced slowly to concede authority to Manila and the Filipinos. The army’s powers were also clipped once the U.S. Congress authorized its partial demobilization, and once the American president ordered its withdrawal from the special provinces and its replacement by Philippine Constabulary units. Many American officers also preferred to continue their military careers in the U.S. mainland, seeing very little prospects in just limiting themselves to the Philippines. All these problems emboldened the Filipinos to assert their political presence in these special provinces. This was something that a weakened military government could not repulse anymore. In 1913, the army conceded its power to the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, a body controlled from Manila and by Filipinos. The Cordilleras’ status as a special province was also terminated and the Nacionalista Party began recruiting its first “Cordillerans” to join the organization.
Two major features therefore characterized the first decade of colonial rule. First was the full and effective unification of Las Islas Filipinas under American rule, and second was the division of colony into two major zones of administration reflecting the histories of their respective populations. These two zones were eventually unified under the Filipinization policy, but the distinctiveness upon which they were based continued to affect overall colonial development. Muslims and Cordillerans remained staunchly pro-American and anti-Filipino, while Christian “lowlanders” continued to mistrust and maintain a low regard for these “wild tribes.”
About half a century later, a separatist movement threatened to disengage “Moro Mindanao” from the Philippines, while in the Cordilleras, the quest for autonomy remained strong.
(from the Free Press Century Book)
World War II in the Philippines:
The lasting effect on the Filipino people
By Alfonso J. Aluit
FOR a people without experience of war, World War II came as the crucible for Filipinos, the ultimate test for the individual and the nation, a test of the effectiveness of the institutions of government and religion, a test of faith in truth, justice, and freedom, in fact a test of all the beliefs Filipinos subscribed to.
The Japanese invasion in December 1941 had no precedent in the memory of most Filipinos of that period. The American invasion in 1898 had been a reality only to disparate groups in the country. The Philippine-American War was not of a national character, having been limited to certain areas in Luzon and the Visayas, and was but endemic in nature in Mindanao.
But World War II, which lasted from December 1941 until the last Japanese commander came down from the hills in August 1945, was a national experience the reality of which was felt by every Filipino of every age in every inhabited region of the archipelago.
How did World War II affect the Filipinos, and how have the effects of war influenced Philippine life and civilization in thereafter?