Students, Activists, and Communists in Movement Politics

Student protest during the Marcos administration
Student protest during the Marcos administration

An introduction to the history of student struggles in the Philippines and the communist and national democratic participation in student struggles.

Submitted by kasama_libsoc on March 22, 2020

Comparatively speaking, Philippine student activism exhibits features comparable to that of Thailand. Like their Thai counterparts, Filipino activists have seen the struggles for student rights and welfare or campus democratization as battles not simply for the benefit of the student masses. They have also regarded these struggles as components of a quest for radical democracy or as part of a project to propel one to national office. This outlook has strong historical foundations: student leaders from all shades of the political spectrum regard themselves as legatees of antistate movements whose roots go back to the 1860s, when young Filipinos demanded reforms from the Spanish colonial regime.1 Student activism—particularly when it made an impact—was something that cannot be segregated from the larger narrative of state-versus-opposition relations. This is not to say that there were no school protests in pursuit of strictly student concerns. There were indeed student strikes over school-specific grievances, but the more historically decisive mass actions were protests over national issues (Santiago 1972).2

This chapter looks at the two conjunctures in postwar Philippine history when student protest reached high numbers and spread across the nation, only to taper off just as it reached its zenith. The first was during the so-called First Quarter Storm (FQS) of the 1970s and the second between 1977 and 1980, when a state-mandated increase in tuition fees led to massive boycotts. In both events, front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) rallied students toward the party’s national democratic revolution. But once the protests peaked, tensions began to develop within these organizations and between them and their student masses. The cracks precipitated fierce debates among cadres over what to do with the student movement, and these only hastened the movement’s decline.

These surges and their subsequent recession were outcomes of the fraught relationship between the student movement and the CPP. Given the ability of students to easily understand radical ideology when compared to other social groups’ ability, they were easiest to recruit into the party, particularly in a time of profound political crisis. The CPP, however, could never trust students completely. They may have been accomplished pedagogues, talented ideologues, and fiery militants, but students were also petit bourgeois—the class that is remarkable for its opportunism and individualistic ambition and lacking the hardy commitment and toughness that the proletariat and the peasantry are known to possess (Sison 1995). The party’s suspicions led it to demand that students shed their petit-bourgeois provenance and become true revolutionaries by abandoning their main arena of struggle—academe—and be one with the masses as guerrillas or full-time labor organizers. In short, to prove her commitment to communism, a student must cease to be a student.

The inspiration for this message was clearly Mao’s invocation to learn from the masses, a theme of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that the fledgling CPP took to heart along with everything else that the great helmsman articulated. And it was not only Filipino students who were exhorted to stop thinking and acting like petit bourgeois; in countries such as South Korea, students also were called upon to become proletarian by leaving the schools and becoming factory workers, to live the life of proletarians in order to understand completely what capitalist/imperialist exploitation meant and why the industrial working class must lead the revolution.3

But to do so also requires either giving lesser priority to the struggles inside the school, or, where campus issues were salient, mobilizing students strategically around them, regardless of whether the issues could be resolved or not.4 Moreover, treating academia as a training ground for the urban underground and/or the guerrilla zones meant ignoring its principal function as a set of institutions of higher learning—the development of critical minds. The revolution required its student cadres to educate the masses on the basic tenets of people’s war, not spend their precious hours quibbling “over minute theoretical details and appear[ing] ridiculously like . . . ivory tower academic[s].”5 The demands of the revolution would thus clash with the fundamental orientation of the schools, and the CPP’s requirements for proletarian purity contradicted the nature of the student as petit bourgeois. These tensions help explain why the surges of the early and late 1970s were swift, and their tapering off equally steep.

In short, whereas elsewhere such factors as changes in the nature of higher education or the progress of neoliberal economic development offer the greatest leverage in understanding shifts in student activism, here, the sole critical dimension, given the nature of Philippine politics and the history of students’ and other sectors’ mobilization, is the Communist Party. When the CPP courted and organized students, they could be significant players. To understand why undergraduates no longer mobilize politically to any noteworthy extent, one must look to changes in CPP strategy.

Young Party, Urban Firestorm, and Fragile Successes

The FQS—a series of violent confrontations between student demonstrators and the military on the streets of Manila—marked the resurrection of the communist discourse of revolution and the appearance of a newly reestablished, Maoist-inspired CPP (Lacaba 2003). This episode of intense state violence against ill-armed students was a boost for the young party (Nemenzo 1984, 68). A few years back, the CPP had been struggling to maintain cohesion after leading ideologue Jose Maria Sison and his comrades in the Kabataang Makabayan (KM, or Nationalist Youth) were expelled from the older pro-Soviet Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) in 1967.6 The split resulted in KM’s losing the bulk of its membership when its chapters in the slum communities and the rural areas opted to stay with the PKP. KM also experienced its own split, after Sison kicked out comrades who had charged him with authoritarianism and scheming to get his loyalists elected to the leadership. The latter formed the Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK, Association of the Democratic Youth), and members presented themselves as “thinking radicals”—the opposite of the Maoist dogmatists of KM. The two groups eventually reconciled after SDK leaders joined the CPP, but the rivalry continued on the field.7 Regardless, KM’s numbers remained small when compared to those of Christian moderate, social democratic, and reactionary student groups in schools and national student federations (Manila 1981, 320– 21; Ordonez 2003; Evangelista 2008).

Changing national and international contexts, however, began to favor the radicals. Filipino students were not immune to rage and admiration over the valor of the Vietnamese in fighting the Americans and the audacity of Chinese revolutionaries (Malay 1984, 45). Filipino nationalism, which was demonized during the cold war, was making a comeback thanks to growing student interest in the writings of politician Claro M. Recto and historian Teodoro Agoncillo, whose book Revolt of the Masses was described as the first propeople’s account of the 1896 revolution against Spain (Agoncillo 1957). Moreover, young urban(ized) Filipinos became antiestablishment, imagining themselves as blending the countercultures of the West with the radicalism of the East as they rebelled against their conservative and pro-American parents (Abao and Victa-Labajo 1995). KM became one of their idolized groups, although they also were dedicated to marijuana and free love—the very habits that KM saw as representative of bourgeois decadence.8

Objective conditions were thus ripe for the CPP to tap a potential mass base in the schools with emboldened radicals’ challenging moderates, winning student council elections and taking over reform movements, demanding greater student representation in school policy-making bodies (Astorga-Garcia 1970).9 As the radicals increased their attacks, moderates began to unravel as many among their ranks were increasingly attracted to the writings of Sison, Mao Tse Tung, the writer Renato Constantino, and third world revolutionaries Paolo Freire and Che Guevara (Manila 1981, 308– 10; dela Torre 1986, 88; Lacaba 2003, 12– 13).

Yet all these groups were still a minority in schools teeming with politically apathetic students. What gave groups the high profile they were looking for to advance their propaganda movement were the media and anti-Marcos elites, who saw a chance to hit back at President Ferdinand Marcos after he “won” reelection as president in 1969.10 Henceforth, anti-Marcos newspapers devoted large amounts of space to the radicals. When radicals and moderates agreed to a joint demonstration against Marcos during his January 1970 legislative speech to the nation, a decisive shift ensued, with the moderates’ suddenly finding themselves less and less in control of the situation. Then the street battles began once KM and SDK had seized the leadership (Joaquin 1990, 334).

The FQS was a boon to the CPP, creating reverberations that translated into more KM and SDK chapters’ being formed in schools and urban slum communities nationwide.11 This fusion of student radicalization with party expansion is the reason why student activists then and now have held up the FQS as a sacred event. It was both a break from the compromised politics of the PKP and moderate rivals, and the validation of the CPP’s agenda. It attested to the power of students to educate, mobilize, and inspire, and it also showed how students can discard their petit-bourgeois trappings and be “one with the masses” (Constantino 1970). It was, in the words of someone who witnessed the event, “the defining moment[,] the turning point, the radical rapture” that turned student activists into revolutionaries, wholeheartedly committed to becoming underground cadres for the party or guerrillas of the nascent New People’s Army (NPA). And for those who first entertained the idea that social change could happen incrementally by pressuring politicians and state leaders to reform, the FQS shattered their illusions.12 Soon after, the moderate groups began to splinter as moderates readily joined the fold of their erstwhile militant rivals.

More mobilizations followed. In 1971, students took over the University of the Philippines (UP) main campus in Diliman, Quezon City. When police entered the campus and forcibly removed students, the Diliman Commune made heroes and martyrs of the communards (Werning and Sison 1989, 35). A daring raid by a young army captain of the armory of the Philippine Military Academy, followed by a failed but equally audacious attempt by young communists to smuggle arms from China, added to the aura of the party. The CPP had finally earned the right to call itself the new revolutionary vanguard. The 1971 bombing by a CPP special team of an anti-Marcos opposition party in a Manila plaza prompted Marcos to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. This played right into the hands of Sison, who now could warn that Marcos was becoming increasingly authoritarian. He urged activists to challenge this growing state fascism by openly advocating for a CPP-led “people’s war.”

Yet was this upping the ante gaining traction? KM’s and SDK’s nation-wide expansion and spontaneous self-organizing by students appeared to validate this new tactic. As radical student activism spread, all involved were certain that for the system to survive, Marcos had to change the rules of the game. And an authoritarian turn was going to be a boon to the new party, as this would increase the number of recruits who would be ready to go to the countryside and factories to serve the people. Beneath the euphoria, however, were disturbing signs. The first pertained to the quality of these recruits. The fast increase in recruits prompted KM and SDK chapters to relax their burdensome security procedures and vetting processes, thereby opening organizations to military infiltration.13 Leaders also complained that the new recruits were contented with reciting Mao’s Little Red Book and showed very little interest in more complex explanations of Marxist, Leninist, and even Stalinist philosophies.14 This propensity for simplistic explanations worsened as students from the diploma mills and the slums joined the youth organizations. These lumpen members may have been some of the bravest street fighters, but they were also the ones who were the most difficult to educate on Maoist fundamentals and ethics. Their enthusiasm often bordered on ultra-leftism and, in more comical instances, even on the irreverent.

A former SDK activist remembered how worried group members were about the quality of activists when their organizing among the “basic sectors” (i.e., the poor) increased the number of lumpen members, which affected expansion because these new recruits “could not even draw the correct political line anymore” (Regalario 2008, 67). He reminisced:

[As] the protest movement was surging forward, seemingly irrevocable and powerful [very] few activists were concerned about the possibility of massive fascist repressions as we were confident in our numbers and in our allies. More importantly . . . there was very little effort on the part of activists to refine our standpoint, deepen our grasp of reality already in a state of flux and reassess our experiences more comprehensively by elevating it into theory. [We preferred slogans] for the sake of popularization, for the function of merely capturing the swelling anger of an oppressed people, linking it up with protest in its organizational forms . . . [It] was questionable but popular belief among activists that the swelling protest movement attests to the correctness of our simple slogans.

Anti-intellectualism was complemented by a sectarianism that took seriously Mao’s demand for an uncompromising struggle against reformists (read: moderates) and revisionist renegades (read: the PKP and other left-wing groups; Rutten 2008, 283– 84).15 One result of this sectarian surge was a stunning defeat of radicals in the 1971 UP student council elections—a year after the FQS—by a group of right-wing fraternities and student organizations describing themselves as representing responsible student activism and not beholden to any outside force (i.e., the CPP). This turn of events showed that while students may have sympathized with the demonstrations, they were still not completely convinced that Mao Tse Tung Thought was the right solution to university and national problems.16 The radicals realized that they had to make more organizational adjustments to conform to the students’ level of consciousness. SDK cadres, for example, began joining moderate student organizations and then winning over their members (Candazo 2008, 84). SDK also ordered its activists who were working with the basic sectors to go back to schools in part to stop the spread of lumpen sentiments (Regalario 2008, 67). While KM remained fiercely militant in public, its top leaders were quietly devoting more attention to the ideological education of their members.

But as more young people joined the radicals and chapters of the KM and SDK, as new organizations grew by leaps and bounds, as the party opened new guerrilla zones, and as President Marcos continued to show no intention of stepping down after his second term ended, the CPP realized that there was little time for in-depth education on Marxism and revolution (Daroy 1984, 39). Besides, didn’t the chairman himself declare, à la Stalin, that the vanguard did not really need that many Marxists (Chapman 1987, 69)? Then Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972, and the political landscape changed radically, to the initial disadvantage of the student radicals.

Reigniting the Storm

Under martial law, the military detained more than thirty thousand people, many of them students; banned subversive organizations; and drove activists to go underground, return to the provinces to cool off, or turn their backs on the revolution. Many of those who joined the NPA and set up the first urban underground were either killed or captured, and the network that Sison and his comrades thought was ready to absorb those fleeing the military fell apart overnight. Activists tried to regroup and fight back with lightning protests, political graffiti, and secret distribution of anti-Marcos broadsheets.17 But these proved costly in terms of human and material resources, and student activists who were able to elude arrest and were not on the military’s list of people to be apprehended had to explore other options that were low-key and modest in scale. An SDK cadre proposed availing of “legal struggle” as a way of rekindling the protesting spirit of students.18 “Legal struggle,” accordingly, would focus on demanding the return of students’ rights such as less regulated campus newspapers and organizations (both severely limited under martial law), with the goal of setting up a network of legal organizations that could support the underground as well as the NPA.19

As in the past, UP took the lead in experimenting with legal struggle, and this became the local party branch’s policy starting about late 1974. The UP experience immediately attracted the attention of the CPP’s Manila– Rizal regional committee, which was itself trying to figure out how to go about developing an urban resistance against the dictatorship. The latter would order its units to “join the legal struggle, to form legal organizations of the masses—in order to guide them, be close to them without the enemy knowing, and provide a channel for revolutionary propaganda and illegal work.”20 Gradually, an assortment of academic, religious, fraternity, social service, and province-mates’ associations emerged, engaging in authorized activities such as the promotion of students’ rights and welfare and lobbying for the restoration of student councils and newspapers (Nemenzo 1984). Outside UP, union organizing also was being revived, as were self-help communities among the urban poor. Human rights solidarity groups also were being formed among the religious, with nuns, priests, and ministers becoming vocal in demanding that the dictatorship respect and follow constitutional procedures such as the law of habeas corpus.

Meanwhile, the pressure from these legal organizations was forcing school officials all over Manila to grant one concession after another. These small-scale victories attracted more students to the cause of student rights and welfare, expanding the organizations and giving the newly rejuvenated party’s underground school network a chance to further test the authoritarian waters politically.21 In December 1975, students, nuns, and priests joined a picket line with workers in a wine distillery plant striking over low wages and unfair management—the first ever strike under martial law (Franco 1997, 204). The ensuing arrests showed just how consolidated the legal organizations were; a second tier of student leaders promptly took over to lead the first open protest at UP demanding the release of their imprisoned comrades.22 Security forces dispersed the protesters and arrested more students, but the mass action had broken the wall of fear at UP (Franco 1997, 207).23 All this culminated in the first thousand-strong multisectoral lightning demonstration that blocked a major Manila thoroughfare.24 This rally was broken up by the police and a regime-imposed news blackout limited the propaganda impact of the demonstration, but the Manila regional committee was satisfied with the results: the demonstrations showed that the underground was now showing signs of being able to survive the authoritarian order.

After that, activists became more daring, writing biting antiregime commentaries in the campus newspaper and participating in indoor human rights rallies sponsored by church-based human rights organizations.25 Students also began to participate in the struggles of the urban poor communities, and they were very prominent in supporting protesting dockhands threatened by a government plan to replace them with a mechanized fish docking system in a port community north of Manila.26 Then in the summer of 1977, the Marcos regime approved a Ministry of Education proposal for a general increase in tuition fees. In response, Manila students spontaneously boycotted their classes, and by the end of the second week of the first school semester, more than two hundred thousand students in metropolitan Manila had refused to attend classes.27 These uprisings surprised both the dictatorship and the CPP. The latter was initially not enthusiastic about the protests, believing that students were way past “economistic issues” at this stage. But as the boycotts spread and cadres based in the field clamored for guidance, the party leadership changed course and gave its full support.28 The protests opened the floodgates for more new mass leaders, who—upon their recruitment into the party—were then assigned to forming a center that would coordinate the protests and bring them fully under party guidance. The result was the creation of Alyansa laban sa Pagtaas ng Tuition Fee (Alliance against Tuition Fee Increases, or Alyansa), a coalition of student organizations that provided able coordination to make the boycotts more spirited and better organized, eventually forcing Marcos to cancel the tuition fee increases.29

This reversal by Marcos was the first victory won by student activists under martial law. The CPP immediately interpreted it as yet another indicator that the students were now ready for a “higher level of struggle”—for instance, directly attacking the Marcos dictatorship.30 Party cadres who supervised the students proposed to Alyansa leaders that they up the ante, and on the fifth anniversary of martial law, the coalition called on students to join a multisectoral rally protesting the anniversary of martial law.31 This demonstration drew more than twenty thousand participants, who were—again—dispersed by the police.32
The LFS became the CPP’s legal persona, acting as the entry point for cadres to then penetrate campus newspapers and national associations such as the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines, and to create school parties to run for student council elections. And the evidence appeared to show that LFS was gaining headway all over Manila as well as in selected provinces. By 1982, the party listed the following successes attributed to the LFS: “democratic gains (granting of student councils); de-facto recognition of LFS by the government; 100% increase in the UG [underground] membership; training of forces in mass actions & mobilizations; unity in orientation was achieved.”33

But even as they were celebrating the growth of the party’s presence in the schools, cadres and activists operating at the ground level were perplexed by a parallel countertrend: the steady decline of student participation in protest activities after Marcos revoked the tuition increases. Students were sympathetic, but they were also less enthusiastic about keeping the fire of protest alive. After having won their battle against university authorities, their attention seemed to go back to earning a diploma. No amount of radical propaganda—through campus newspapers and the student councils—could reverse, or even slow down, this contrary drift. It was as if objective conditions brought about by martial law had finally caught up with the surge in student protest, putting a break to the advance of what Marxists often refer to as “the subjective forces.” And part of those conditions was the very trait of students that the CPP was most apprehensive about: their petit-bourgeois opportunism.

Communists and Martial Law Babies

Because martial law’s repressive atmosphere had limited the ability of activists to reach out to their constituents, students’ political apathy and concern for preparing themselves as future professionals became more manifest. The silence in many campuses (the protests were happening mainly in Manila) enabled the regime to go full blast with its planned “commercialization of university education” (Valte 2007). Statistics appear to confirm this shift. Table 10.1 shows that shortly after martial law, enrollment in the time-consuming and apolitical natural sciences increased. And if one adds the medical sciences to this category, the rise was even higher. While the social sciences continued to attract students, enrollments between 1975 and 1990 constantly wavered. The humanities suffered the most, with huge swings between 1970 and 1975, 1980– 82, and 1983– 84; the last two sets of dates followed a year after dramatic surges in antistate protests.

The data may, of course, lead to different interpretations, but one definite correlation can be made between those who decided to enroll in courses with high returns and the attractiveness of student activism. The CPP worried about the political implications of this shift, and one former cadre admitted that martial law most likely encouraged more students to pursue courses in the sciences and technology that made them more marketable after graduation. He acknowledged that the science courses’ “heavier academic discipline” meant students would have “less time for activism” (Abao and Victa-Labajo 1995, 7). Centers of activism such as UP were not immune. One observer noted that the calm that martial law brought to the campus opened UP to “more students from the upper-middle class . . . changing altogether the pro-people progressive climate [UP] once provided for students” and making inevitable “the saddening phenomenon of ‘bourgeoisification.’”34

Table 10.1. Student Enrollment, Tertiary Education, by Field of Study, 1970– 86

Source: (accessed August 9, 2009)

Then there were the generational shifts. Students who entered college during martial law were distinguished from their elders by their progressive dissociation from the events of the early 1970s. Each incoming freshman class knew less and less about events such as the FQS, and what little they learned about the protests of the premartial law era was mainly coming from the romanticized version that activists peddled through campus newspapers and the occasional small lectures. These “martial law babies’” sole baptism of fire was the 1977 antituition hike struggle, a protest activity that drew huge numbers mainly because their pockets (or rather, their parents’ pockets) were hurt. It was economic self-interest that prevailed—a sentiment that Leninist organizations such as the CPP derisively referred to as “trade union consciousness.”

Their growing distance from the radical tradition also would reflect on their own leaders. Compared to the FQS generation’s ideological shortcomings, the martial law activists were in a far worse predicament. As their elders graduated, moved on to the countryside or the urban underground, or were killed or detained, the younger successors took over with the same enthusiasm and selfless commitment. But they lacked the ideological depth that the old generation possessed. For unlike the latter, martial law student leaders had limited access to resources that could have answered their needs for ideological and political deepening. The dictatorship coerced libraries to disallow student access to radical literature, while topics like Marxism and/or revolution were excised from social science and humanities syllabi. It was difficult and rare to possess copies of Marx’s and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, let alone Das Kapital and Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? and Imperialism: The Highest State of Capitalism. Thus, the LFS’s national stature was built on very fragile ideological grounds.

The party’s Propaganda and Education Department sought to compensate for this weakness by publishing manuals such as the Basic Party Course, an introductory educational guide based on Sison’s Philippine Society and Revolution, but its circulation and translation were limited for obvious reasons.35 The Davao City “white area” committee complained in an unpublished manuscript, “A hundred mass actions will not be able to provide the masses with what mass education can: a comprehensive understanding of the people’s democratic revolution. Mass education, together with propaganda and solid organizing, should therefore complement mass mobilizations. To be really systematic with our mass education, we should come up with, and follow, a formal curriculum for every important sector, incorporating the general mass course and the special mass course.”36

Eventually party units found a solution by reprinting simplified moral exhortations of Mao’s Red Book and in Sison’s formulaic descriptions of the Philippine political economy. Militancy became a question of moral commitment and righteous anger, while ideological depth became the least important criterion for being a good communist. The perennial state of war against the state likewise became an excuse to devote less time to political education and ideological discussions. Activists were ordered to focus on their organizational assignments, leading to complaints that they had turned into “task-oriented bastards” (TOBs) who implemented party policy unquestioningly and followed the edicts of their political officers to the letter.37 This feeling of being used eventually took its toll on the rank and file. Smarter and more critical cadres began questioning the soundness of the CPP’s strategy, attacking its tactics as being too dogmatic, even making fun of the dogmatism of their political officers (the “dark lords”) and referring to policies as “orders from above” (Abao and Victa-Labajo 1995, 7).38 These tensions from below would be aggravated when regional bodies began to challenge the national leadership over questions of strategy and tactics.

Tactical Clashes and the Problem with Success

When the CPP abandoned its attempt to replicate Mao’s Yenan fortress and decentralized its operations, the result was its unprecedented national expansion as regional units were allowed considerable leeway to experiment and improvise based on their reading of their local settings. This policy of “centralized leadership, decentralized operations,” however, also sowed the seeds of multiple deviations when regional organizations began believing that their local strategies were more appropriate approaches to revolutionary expansion than the Mao-inspired one foisted on them by the party chairman, Jose Marie Sison. As these regions grew, they also began to challenge the national leadership to abandon the orthodoxy. The most controversial was the conflict between the Manila regional committee and the Central Committee in the late 1970s, when the latter charged the regional body with compromising the party’s role as revolutionary spirit after it formed an electoral coalition with social democrats, liberal democrats, bourgeois reformists, and anti-Marcos reactionaries (Abinales 2001, 136– 41). The Manila cadres believed that the coalition could win in dictatorship-sponsored “demonstration elections,” and defied the Central Committee order to withdraw from contestation (Caouette 2004, 232– 36). Citing the 1905 Russian Revolution as historical precedent, they argued that forming such broad coalitions could lead to unrelenting pressure on the regime through a series of bugso (storms) that would eventually create “democratic spaces” that the CPP could then exploit to its advantage (Calizo 2008).39

The party leadership accused the Manila comrades of peddling a “reformist illusion” and of deviating from the revolution’s main priority: the creation of a rural guerrilla army and urban underground network. It reiterated the principal role of cities in the struggle: to support the NPA with personnel and material, and to use protests and mobilizations (the bugso) to help ease military pressures on the guerrillas by forcing the enemy to shift its attention back to the cities. The Manila regional committee stuck to its guns and engaged the Central Committee in an intense debate, replete with quotations from Lenin. Its intransigence left the Central Committee no choice but to purge its leaders and replace them with its own loyalists.

The debate had a profound effect on martial law student activism. Under Sison’s original formula of the early 1960s, students were recruited and mobilized for eventual assignment to the countryside and the factories where they would take charge of the political education of the masses while shedding their petit-bourgeois baggage and becoming real proletarians. The Manila cadres did not openly challenge this view, but they also insisted that the urban surges be given equal consideration. And for the bugso to succeed, it must be able to bring together a broad spectrum of urban social forces that would support the mobilization of workers and the urban poor. Within the student sector, this meant devoting equal time and attention to organizing the petit bourgeois itself—from blue-collar workers in the public and private sectors, to nonfactory workers (e.g., the transport sector), to academe—not for the countryside and the underground but principally for the struggle to expand a democratic space. In this scenario students had to mobilize students knowing fully that the majority would aspire to be professionals. In the quest for bugso, the goal was to turn students into white-collar workers who also would believe in the revolution: a radical middle class, as it were.40

To the Central Committee, the prospect of having a whole slew of student activists operating with no links to and unfamiliar with the lives of the masses was like nurturing a reactionary virus inside a proletarian organization. The party therefore had to deal with this localist deviation harshly, lest it lose control of its largest and most important regional body; hence the swiftness of the purge in 1977. A reconstituted Manila leadership then launched a series of education sessions to critique the deviation, while formally reestablishing the KM as the official and only representative of youth and students to the party’s united front body, the National Democratic Front (NDF).41 While the CPP propagandists gave no exact number, it would be safe to assume that the KM probably paralleled the size of the LFS, which declared in 1982 that it was discarding its reformist image and henceforth would be “a national democratic mass organization committed to advance the national democratic aspirations of the people.”42

Still, one other factor complicated martial law student activism: the success of the revolution itself. As the CPP grew, its reliance on students as a source of cadres for the countryside and the urban underground diminished. The party was now in a position to nurture organic intellectuals from the more politically reliable basic masses. With more worker and peasant cadres assuming senior and middle-level positions in the organizations, their petit-bourgeois comrades were becoming less vital in the expansion of guerrilla zones or urban networks (Rutten 2008, 312– 13). The party’s confidence in its proletarian and peasant constituents reached a high point when, in the early 1980s, it set up two legal mass organizations for them: the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May First Movement) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines) (Caouette 2004, 286– 87 for KMU; 371 for KMP). From that time on, party mobilizations were to be led by the KMU and the KMP. The LFS continued to represent the voice of the student youth, but it was gradually upstaged by the Kabataan para sa Demokrasya at Nasyonalismo (Youth for Democracy and Nationalism, KADENA), a coalition of different small groups set up by urban poor youths and students.43 KADENA grew rapidly thanks to the temper of the times, and it did not take long before the CPP’s National Youth and Students Department concentrated its best cadres on providing guidance to the group. KADENA’s remarkable organizational skills, not to mention the seriousness with which it approached Marxist political education, enabled it to assert some autonomy from the party. On the eve of the fall of Marcos, KADENA cadres were outshining their LFS counterparts in many an urban protest.44

All this was happening at a time when the party had decided it was time for a nationally coordinated push toward a strategic stalemate against the state. Urban uprisings backed by the selective violence of armed city partisans were being given the same priority as NPA military offensives. These welgang bayan (people’s strikes) also were viewed as dress rehearsals of the final confrontation that lay ahead, when the tide would turn to the revolution’s favor. In these critical conjunctures, the CPP would rely on the tough industrial working class and the urban poor, supported by, but not dependent on, the petit bourgeoisie. For after realizing that raising the level of the 1977 protests from antituition strikes to open defiance of the dictatorship did not work, the CPP leadership decided to scale back on its plans and ordered its cadres to go back to the issues that first led students to protest. In the beginning of the 1980s, therefore, the party’s Youth and Students Bureau launched a series of Democratic Youth Movements (DYMs), described as “a well-defined orientation for ‘Step-by-Step Organizing among the Ranks of the Student-Youth’” (Caouette 2004, 292). LFS chapters were converted into DYM cells, whose functions were to reinvigorate student interest in bread-and-butter issues (tuition increases, improvement of school facilities, seeking student representation in the highest policy-making councils of universities, and keeping campus newspapers free from administrative interference by school authorities and the military).

Unfortunately, before the DYM could take off, the course of national politics changed dramatically. On August 23, 1983, Marcos’s top political opponent, Benigno Aquino Jr., was assassinated while disembarking from the airplane in which he had returned from exile. Aquino’s death triggered massive spontaneous protests against the Marcos dictatorship. The burst of protests from hitherto unorganized groups, including political forces that were not influenced by or were even against the Left, forced the CPP to abandon the DYM project and hurry back to the anti-fascist front. This time, however, it was returning to an arena that had, since 1983, become an overcrowded field. The party now had to compete with newly politicized forces as well as with their old and reactionary rivals of yore, all of whom had found inspiration and membership in the crowds that went out on the street to protest Aquino’s killing. A few years later, the party’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when it ordered its forces to boycott a critical election in which an ailing Marcos staked his dictatorship against a coalition of forces that came together to support the presidency of Aquino’s widow, Corazon. That election in 1986 became the prologue to a peaceful, popular uprising that ended Marcos’s fifteen-year reign and installed Aquino as the president of a postauthoritarian order while the CPP watched from the sidelines.

Conclusion: The Student Sideshow

The CPP’s abdication of its leadership of the anti-Marcos opposition in 1986 led to fierce debates among its leaders, adding to the organization’s woes and ultimately sparking its first major split in 1992.45 These internal problems deeply affected organizing in the different sectors. The LFS virtually disappeared during these periods, as it was itself swallowed by the factional strife.46 It resurfaced again only in 1994, after student leaders who supported Jose Maria Sison’s reaffirmation of the CPP’s Maoist fundamentals recovered control of the organization and, “‘[a]rmed with the lessons of the past,’ [vowed to] fight the offensives of imperialism, the reactionary government and other counterrevolutionary elements,” inspired by an “unwavering commitment to advance the national democratic aspirations of the Filipino people.”47

But the LFS was clearly past its prime. Its presence in campuses was pitiful, and it could not even muster more than a hundred student members at its birthplace, the UP. In other schools, rival Left groups and moderate challengers constantly threatened the LFS’s hold on student power. By the second half of the 1990s, the LFS was upstaged by a new party favorite: the urban youth group Anak ng Bayan was designated by the CPP leadership as the youth representative in its party-list coalition that now represents the small leftist presence in the lower house of the Philippine Congress.48
In the broader national scene, student protests were becoming mere sideshows, loud in their chants but pathetically miniscule in their numbers. Their leaders continued to deify the FQS and the 1977 tuition struggles, but were not able to rouse the public. And the revolution now had more important concerns: reconsolidating guerrilla bases, taking back control over a fragmented labor and peasant move-ment, and surviving constant harassment from the state. The universities were not its main concern anymore.


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Astorga-Garcia, Mila. 1970. “Left to Right: The Student Activists.” The Sunday Times Magazine, February 22, 34– 38.

Calizo, Manuel S. 2008. “Mula SBK tungong SDK, Quiapo hanggang Aklan,” in Militant but Groovy: Stories of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, ed. Soliman M. Santos Jr. and Paz Verdades M. Santos, 86– 92. Manila: Anvil Publishing.

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Ecumenical Writing Group. 1982. Moving Heaven and Earth: An Account of Filipinos Struggling to Change Their Lives and Society. Manila: Commission on the Churches’ Participation in Development.

Evangelista, Oscar L. 2008. Icons and Institutions: Essays on the History of the University of the Philippines, 1952– 2000. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2008.

Franco, Jennifer. 1997. “Elections and Democratization in the Philippines.” PhD diss., Brandeis University.

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Malay, Armando S. Jr. 1984. “Random Reflections on Marxism and Maoism in the Philippines,” in Marxism and Maoism in the Philippines, 24– 34. Quezon City, Phl.: Third World Studies Center.

Manila, Quijano de. Reportage on Politics. 1981. Manila: National Book Store.

Nemenzo, Francisco. 1984. “An Irrepressible Revolution: The Decline and Resurgence of the Philippine Communist Movement.” Unpublished manuscript.

———. 1984. “Rectification Process and the Philippine Communist Movement,” in Armed Communist Movements in Southeast Asia, ed. Lee Joo Jock and Vani S., 71– 101. Singapore: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies.

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Regalario, Jamie R. 2008. “Life Lessons from the SDK,” in Militant but Groovy: Stories of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, ed. Soliman M. Santos Jr. and Paz Verdades M. Santos, 65– 72. Manila: Anvil Publishing.

Rutten, Rosanne. 2008. “Regional Dynamics: Rise and Decline of the CPP-NPA in Negros Occidental,” in Brokering a Revolution: Cadres in a Philippine Insurgency, ed. Rosanne Rutten, 280– 347. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

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Valencia, Ernesto “Poppy.” 2008. “SDK Revisited I,” in Militant but Groovy: Stories of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, ed. Soliman M. Santos Jr. and Paz Verdades M. Santos, Chapter 2, 2– 7. Manila: Anvil Publishing.

Valte, Maricris. 1987. “The Philippines Student Movement: Prospects for a Dynamic Student Politics.” Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 2, no. 3: 49– 62.

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  • 1Today’s radicals refer to themselves as twenty-first century heirs of the 1896 youth-led nationalist revolution against Spain.
  • 2Just how valuable a base for recruitment are the schools? Consider more recent available statistics: from 1999 to 2005, student enrollment in colleges and universities nationwide averaged 2,134,323 annually, and 26.41 percent of this total is the average enrollment in Metropolitan Manila. See Republic of the Philippines, Commission on Higher Education, (accessed October 29, 2010).
  • 3See the chapter on South Korea. A reviewer noted that many well-known South Korean politicians began their careers as would-be proletarians, some even marrying working-class women and women labor activists.
  • 4After all, campus issues were examples of trade union consciousness that Leninists abhor.
  • 5A. R. Magno, “The Activist in History,” Sinag: Official Student Newspaper of the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Sciences, Nobyembre (November) 1981.
  • 6KM was founded by Sison as part of the PKP’s reorganization plans.
  • 7Sison was accused of “commandism, violation of democracy, [and] use of lies to manipulate members.” See Valencia 2008. The Communist Party of the Philippines today has, of course, removed this connection with the old party and the KM-SDK split. See the interview with CPP chairman Jose Ma Sison on the Kabataang Makabayan at the following web link:
  • 8See the wonderful description of the youth in the 1960s by Joaquin (1990, 329).
  • 9The CPP also struck luck in the countryside when a young commander of the PKP’s military arm, the Huks, joined hands with Sison. Bernabe “Kumander Dante” Buscayno’s guerrillas became the first unit of the New People’s Army (NPA).
  • 10Marcos’s victory came through massive fraud and intimidation. He also bankrupted the national treasury to ensure his win.
  • 11SDK grew from eleven chapters to more than forty-seven chapters in metropolitan Manila alone. See Regalario 2008, 67.
  • 12Satur C. Ocampo, “Living the Spirit of the First Quarter Storm” (Remarks at the opening of the mobile photo exhibit “Never Again!,” sponsored by the September 21 Committee, at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications Lobby, Diliman, January 25, 2000, [accessed April 15, 2009]).
  • 13On KM infiltration, see Armando J. Malay, “Diary of a Decrepit Dean,” University of the Philippines (Diliman), 13 (January 1972).
  • 14There were even bizarre episodes of leaders’ imagining themselves as the Filipino Mao. One magazine reported an incident where “some SDK personalities bolted the organization as an expression of their dissatisfaction with the way the leadership was running the organization. One of them remarked that a certain leader developed an arrogance to the extent of considering himself as a leader in the stature of Mao Tse Tung. The other conflict resulted in the repudiation by their mass membership for their arrogance, wrong style of work and for some ideological inconsistencies.” The Sunday Times Magazine, February 22, 1970, 4 (emphasis added).
  • 15See, for example, the refusal of KM activists in Negros to start their immersion among sugar workers because the organizations that came ahead were “clerico fascists.”
  • 16As one former SDK cadre curtly described it: “Masaker sa eleksyon ang nangyari” [The election was a wholesale massacre]. See Candazo 2008, 84.
  • 17The Philippine Collegian, February 1, 1973.
  • 18“An Overview of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines,” Handbook on the Student Christian Movement—Philippines (Manila: Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, 1978), 12.
  • 19“Hinggil sa Legal na Pakikibaka” [On Legal Struggle], unpublished, circa 1974. The SDK cadre was Antonio “TonyHil” Hilario, who was later killed as an NPA guerrilla.
  • 20Komiteng Tagapagpaganap-Manila Rizal, “Ang Ating Taktikal na Islogan para sa Kasalukuyang Yugto ng Rebolusyon,” Agosto 1975: 7; Mindanao Commission, “Ang Ating Walong Taong Pakikibaka,” n.d.
  • 21“The History of the Sandigan para sa Mag-aaral at Sambayanan,” mimeographed, Philippine Radical Papers, Box 16/09.05, Reel 08, 1.
  • 22Philippine Daily Express, January 6, 1976.
  • 23See also “Workers Strike Movement Surges Anew in Metro Manila,” Ang Bayan, September 15, 1977.
  • 24“Revolutionary Mass Movement Developing Rapidly in Manila-Rizal,” Ang Bayan, December 21, 1976.
  • 25University of the Philippines (Diliman) Committee on Student Affairs, “A Clarification on What Really Happened on January 23, 1976,” mimeographed, Philippine Radical Papers, Box 17/46.01, Reel 9, 3.
  • 26“Alyansa ng Maynila at Karatig-Pook laban sa Demolisyon at Presidential Decree 814,” mimeographed, 1976; and Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Batilyo Cargo Handling Services, Inc., and Samahang Pangnayon, “The Batilyo Issue,” mimeographed, Philippine Radical Papers, Box 01/13.01, Reel 2 and Box 15/34.01, Reel 08, respectively.
  • 27“Resurgent Student Movement Sweeps Colleges, Universities,” Ang Bayan, July 15, 1977; “200,000 Students in 10 Schools Rally to Resurgent Protest Movement,” Ang Bayan, July 31, 1977.
  • 28Rebel Collegian, 1973.
  • 29“Militant Student Protest Movement Forces Marcos to Take a Step Backward,” Ang Bayan, August 15, 1977.
  • 30University Alliance, “The Significance of the Boycotts and Marches,” mimeographed, 1977, Philippine Radical Papers, Box 17/35.03, Reel 09.
  • 31“Take a Giant Step towards Freedom!” and “Pahayag para sa Kalayaan, Katarungan at Dignidad ng Tao,” Philippine Radical Papers, Box 11/01.08, Reel 07 and Box 11/05.09, Reel 06, respectively.
  • 32“Students, Teachers Boycott Classes to Assert Their Democratic Rights,” Ang Bayan, January 31, 1979. The party interpreted this huge turnout of workers, urban poor, and students as further evidence that the urban resistance had reached a higher level; the next step was to consolidate these gains.

    The party approved plans to set up a legal national student association that would replace the looser Alyansa and assume the role of the students’ vanguard in the pursuit of their rights and welfare. Those who had played key roles in the tuition struggle and then been recruited into the CPP were now formed into special teams whose responsibility was to organize the chapters of this proposed national student center in schools, where the boycotts were most prominent (Ecumenical Writing Group 1982, 127– 28). Riding on the coattails of the protests, the teams had no problem recruiting student leaders and student organizations from twenty-four schools and universities in Manila. On September 11, 1977, the National League of Filipino Students (NLFS—later, the “N” was dropped) was formally established in a general meeting of these leaders. In its declaration of principles, its officers vowed to steer the organization “towards the promotion of our nationalist heritage, the growth of Filipino consciousness, the protection of our economic patrimony [and] the assertion of our democratic rights and civil liberties.”National League of Filipino Students, “Declaration of Principles,” mimeographed, 1977.

  • 33Communist Party of the Philippines. “Characteristics of the Student Youth (YS),” as quoted in Caouette 2004, 291.
  • 34Demegillo, “History and Causes of the Student Movement, 1958– 1972,” mimeographed, 1974(?): 2.
  • 35“Party Situation and Policies in the Mindanao Region (1977– 1980)” (unpublished document, 21).
  • 36“Summing Up of White Area Work in Davao City (March 1979– June 1980)” (unpublished manuscript, circa 1980).
  • 37This was a term that became quite popular during my time as a student.
  • 38The phrase “dark lord” was inspired by the novel The Lord of the Rings.
  • 39Manuel S. Calizo, “Mula SBK tungong SDK, Quiapo hanggang Aklan,” in Valencia 2008, 89.
  • 40The phrase was coined by the late UP student leader Lean Alejandro. Alejandro became the CPP’s most prominent young leader in the 1980s. But he also became the public face of the party’s decision to boycott the February 1986 presidential elections that became the catalyst of the People Power Revolution that ousted President Marcos. Alejandro was assassinated a year later, most likely by militarists who wanted to destabilize the new regime of President Corazon Aquino.
  • 41Nestor T. Castro, “Ang Muling Pagtatag sa Kabataang Makabayan” (unpublished manuscript, n.d). Castro was KM national chairman in 1984.
  • 42“What Is the LFS?,” (accessed July 11, 2009). Former SDK activists protested the decision and suggested that the party also revive their organization, but democratic centralism prevailed. Soliman Santos, “SDK Revisited 2,” in Valencia 2008 Militant but Groovy, 17.
  • 43Nothing has been written yet about KADENA.
  • 44Joven Peleador, KM secretary-general in the 1980s, in an interview with the author, July 20, 2009.
  • 45“Party Conducts Assessment Says Boycott Policy Was Wrong,” Ang Bayan 18, no. 3 (May 1986): 1– 3.
  • 46KM was taken over by the Sison group, expelling those who disagreed with the great leader. One anti-Sison group eventually revived the SDK.
  • 47“What Is the LFS?,” (accessed July 11, 2009).
  • 48Anak Bayan Youth Party website,, accessed July 13, 2009.