PHILIPPINE history is replete with periods of unrest and protest movements from the youth and student sector and the significant role these upheavals played in society.
At one point, a debate was put forward whether or not student power really existed.
But that is jumping the gun on it all.
Virtually all histories of countries that underwent periods of revolts and succeeded in large part owed their youth a great deal of gratitude, the Philippines included.
The Philippine Revolution of 1896 did not happen overnight. It started a decade earlier with the First Propaganda Movement foisted, among others, by Filipino students who studied in Europe.
The likes of Jose Rizal, Marcel del Pilar and Graciano Lopez-Jaena, using pseudonyms, wrote extensive articles and publish underground newspapers on abuses of Spanish friars and colonial governments in the Philippines while in Europe. They were barely in their 20s.
The second wave of student protest movement in the Philippines would not come until seven decades later when students took to task the onus of providing the warm bodies against the looming dictatorship of the Marcos regime in the late 60s and early 70s. Firebrands in the likes of Baltazar Pinguel, Gerry Barican and Sixto Carlos and the moderates in the mold of Edgar Jopson and Portia Ilagan took opposing directions and tact in exposing the evils of the Marcos regime. Their protest actions culminated into what is now etched in the history of the student protest movement as the First Quarter Storm. Their budding careers as youth and student leaders were however cut short by the declaration of martial law in 1972.
Many of them however later played significant roles in the anti-dictatorship movement, becoming even more polarized.
Pinguel and many other student leaders of their generation in the Kabataang Makabayan and the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan went underground while Jopson of the National Union of Students (NUSP), described by Marcos as a grocer’s son, metamorphosed from reformist to revolutionary and made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up his life ten years later on the day martial law was declared, as a leading cadre of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Forced to go underground with the declaration of martial law, the student movement would spring back to the limelight barely ten years later.
Even before Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated in 1983, the seeds of student protest movement had already been sown with the launching of the democratic reform movement aimed at opposing the repressive martial rule while campaigning for campus freedom.
In place of the banned Kabataang Makabayan, rose the Youth for Nationalism and Democracy (YND) and, later, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) was revived in 1980. YND would later become the League of Filipino Students (LFS). NUSP would be revived years later and would align itself with the Left, undoubtedly in honor of Jopson, one of its outstanding leaders.
At the helm of this renaissance were gangly Leandro Alejandro, Elmer Mercado, Sonia Soto, JV Bautista and many others. They became the catalyzing voice of the anti-Marcos dictatorship that culminated into the EDSA Uprising in 1986. They were, in the sense, the martial law babies – student leaders who rose to prominence during one of the darkest periods of Philippine history.
The democratic space provided in the aftermath of the First EDSA Uprising gave birth to a new batch of student leaders who were then just starting to make a name in student activism and earlier participated in the historic EDSA I revolt. Among them were Teddy Casiño, Nathaniel Santiago, Francis Pangilinan, Mike Defensor, David Celdran and many more. They are now fondly called as the EDSA babies.
But just as history is full of ebb and flow in the student protest movement, a relative quiet in the student front pervaded throughout the 90s and early this decade.
The recent episode of Korina Sanchez’ talk show Korina Today focusing on the prominent role of youth and students played in shaping the course of Philippine history is but a testament of the pivotal role the youth and student movement played and will continue to play.
By looking into the historical role of students in the protest movement, the show offered apt and exigent assessment of today’s consciousness of the youth in relation to the current political turmoil confronting the country.
The student guests at Korina’s talk show, who are yet to register into the consciousness of the general public, offered a glimpse of where today’s student movement is headed to. It is refreshing to hear them admit that they need to launch creative forms of protests in order to reach the wider base of youth and student sector without losing sight that rallying in the streets is still the most potent form of protest actions.
At no time in recent history, not even during the FQS, has student activists from different shades of the political spectrum are coming out of the streets and elucidating their own analysis of the present situation in various forum. While students outside of Metro Manila and several urban centers have yet to get their acts together to give the student protest movement a nationwide character, there is great interest watching how this new phenomenon will evolve.
But there are lessons in history that today’s student protest movement and activists should seriously take into account.
Student leaders during the First Philippines Revolution largely came from the illustrados and, thus, were stuck up with the reformist movement. It took the likes of Andres Bonifacio to realize the futility of reforms. By organizing the Katipunan and leading the Revolution, Bonifacio, then just in his late 20’s, proved that the youth could actually lead a national revolution.
Of course, history taught us how the 1986 Philippine Revolution was co-opted by the illustrados.
Student activists during the Marcos regime, at least those identified with the Left, went underground to lay down the groundwork for a protracted struggle against the dictatorship that culminated in EDSA I. They developed a new breed of student activists ideologically equipped to engage the mainstream opposition personalities opposed to the dictatorship. The ideological rigidity of student leaders identified with the Left however also proved to be their undoing as it was the faction of the elite who benefited most for their painstaking work of organizing and mobilizing the youth that ousted the dictatorship. Student activists were largely relegated to the periphery in post-EDSA government.
What is fascinating and refreshing in today’s new breed of student activists is that that they are coming from the broad spectrum of the political landscape.
Student activists from the Left, although by far still the best organized, are now suddenly finding themselves competing with other youth and student groups for the vanguard role they have played many times in the past.
Today’s student activists are likewise no longer lumped as fist-clenching and sloganeering lot which bodes well for the youth and sector to evolve into one of the more potent forces in the protest movement against the Arroyo administration.
They are now more mobile and able to reach to their wider base with the help of technology and the democratic space their predecessor helped create in the past.