I was out of town during the long weekend, but began to get texts about a small political “typhoon” at UP Diliman: the reunion of the Kabataang Barangay (KB) with its first chair, Imee Marcos, attending.
Understandably, there were furious reactions from the Left, and from victims of martial law, who saw the reunion almost as a blasphemy. After all, UP Diliman was and still is a hub for anti-Marcos dictatorship movements.
But a KB reunion is different from the transfer of Ferdinand Marcos’ remains to Libingan ng mga Bayani. We do have a democracy, albeit one that is under grave threat from various forces, including the Marcoses. UP, as the national university, must remain a place for the free exchange of ideas. Civil libertarian principles guide us here, using what has been called the Voltarian principle: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Permission to use UP Diliman facilities is mostly decentralized to deans and directors (except for the UP Theater, which now requires the approval of the UP President). The Bahay ng Alumni, where the KB reunion was held, is managed by the UP Alumni Association, which is a private organization leasing space from UP.
Look at it this way: The reunion did resurrect the KB and its controversies. The KB was established in 1975 by Presidential Decree No. 684, with Ferdinand Marcos eventually appointing his daughter Imee as the first national chairperson. This appointment was to cast a long shadow. During an open forum with Imee Marcos on Aug. 31, 1977, at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, a 21-year-old Mapua student, Archimedes Trajano, questioned Imee’s appointment. He was dragged out of the open forum by presidential security guards and was found dead two days later, his mangled body showing he had been tortured. The censored press reported his death as a hazing incident.
After the fall of the dictatorship in 1986, Agapita Trajano, mother of the murdered student, filed a case against Imee Marcos and Gen. Fabian Ver, one of Marcos’ right-hand men, for false imprisonment, kidnapping, wrongful death and the deprivation of rights. The Marcos family and Ver were in exile at that time in Hawaii, and a court there ruled in Trajano’s favor, awarding damages of $4.16 million and attorneys’ fees to the Trajano family. But they never got the money because the Philippine Supreme Court barred the decision.
Let’s get back to the KB itself. The KB was supposed to increase the participation of youth, defined as all youth aged 15 to 18, in political affairs. Not quite as explicit, the KB was seen as a counterforce against the radical youth movement. (I’ve wondered about the name KB aping the radical youth organization KM or Kabataang Makabayan).
When the Local Government Code was enacted in 1991, the KB was replaced by a Sangguniang Kabataan (SK), which was very similar to the KB. Through the years, the SK came under fire for alleged corruption and for propagating political dynasties. SK elections kept getting postponed after 2010. Sen. Bam Aquino, once chair of the National Youth Commission, authored an SK Reform law that was passed in 2016. The new law provided for a Katipunan ng Barangay whose members were aged 15 to 30 and who would elect members of the SK, who had to be aged 18 to 24 and not related to any appointed official up to the second degree. The last barangay elections in May included the SK.
Were the KB and SK effective? I’ve heard opinions ranging from the benign (“useless” and “ineffectual,” “warm bodies for Marcos’ rallies”) to the more malignant (“so young, so corrupt”). But should we be surprised if the young’s role models are the traditional politicians?
The reunion did make me wonder if maybe we’ve underestimated the KB as ineffectual, when in fact they maintained networks that are now resurfacing with a political agenda. Browsing through the internet, I found a 2016 article headlined “Mayor, ex-KB leader, welcomes Bongbong Marcos in Rizal.” How many more of these ex-KB leaders are around? The reunion at UP Diliman supposedly brought in more than 700 participants.
I also found out that, since the May SK elections, members have been elected to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial councils) and the Sangguniang Panlungsod (city councils), and Aug. 29 is supposed to be the vote for the national level.
Was the reunion of the KB just an instance of nostalgia for the ’70s, what with members belting out rock songs—or was it a more political nostalgia to use the youth again?
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