In praise of the older activist
Student or youth activism has been around for over a century. In “El Filibusterismo,” Rizal wrote of students lobbying for the indio’s right to formal education. The Students-Magsaysay for President Movement, led by UP Law senior Rafael M. Salas (later President Marcos’ first executive secretary), organized “candlepower brigades” to guard the ballot boxes during induced precinct blackouts.
The sexy, swinging ’60s witnessed student movements and youth activism come into their own worldwide, from Paris to Prague to Pangasinan, where thirtysomething Joma Sison founded the Communist Party of the Philippines, four years after the Kabataang Makabayan. That tumultuous decade ended with the 1970 First Quarter Storm. Marcos’ imposition of martial law drove the tibak underground.
The youths riding the roiling waves of political activism that crested during the Marcos martial law years are now senior citizens. They are aging in lockstep with the still smoldering protest movement, though many now use canes as they march.
It is a historic and political progression as natural as aging. Militant youth of the ’60s-’70s were among the yuppies in the post-Ninoy Aquino assassination confetti rallies that rocked the business districts in the ’80s. After the Marcoses’ unceremonious exit in 1986, young families joined the celebratory throngs who trooped to Edsa and Malacañang.
In 2001, middle-aged parents with young adult children watched the televised hearings of Erap’s corruption, and rallied together for his ouster during Edsa Dos. Twelve years later, midway through P-Noy’s term, the anomalous congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund and pork barrel scams implicated, among many others, relics of the Marcos martial law era such as Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile.
The prospect of growing old, or even dying (of natural causes)—while the hydra-headed, systemic corruption and the trashing of the rule of law by our government exponentially rises—is dire and direr still. These have nudged the formerly apolitical like me beyond my comfort zone. Besides, I now have more time for organizational meetings and educational forums on current political issues, along with other gainfully unemployed older persons similarly and convivially expanding our learning parameters and social circles.
I am especially heartened by the example of my neighbors Glory and Paco Alcuaz. Fifteen years ago, they ran together with their young adult children and Fr. Robert Reyes in symbolic protests. Now their kids are way grown-up and working overseas. When they visit, they keep their mom and dad company through this continuing struggle.
These days, the Alcuaz family brings folding stools, umbrellas, fans, towels and a rolling cooler of water for sharing—doing what must be done to stay politically engaged.
“This is a legacy we want to pass on to our children: our steadfast faith in standing up for what is right for our country,” Glory declares. She and Paco are of that generation which came of age in the First Quarter Storm. These days, as they march together, their sons may lend a steadying hand.
And so they remain standing, in the gap, for all the others—the youngsters, the 9-to-5ers who, for now, cannot be part of this long, long struggle whose end is nowhere in sight.
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Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, 61, is an award-winning writer, visual artist and social concerns advocate.
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