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Boomers into Stormers

/ 05:06 AM January 31, 2020

As we become more conscious of the need to teach our young people about martial law, we shouldn’t forget that dictatorship has to be understood in a broader historical context, especially the years preceding 1972.

This year we mark the First Quarter Storm of 1970 or FQS, remembered mainly, through media coverage at that time, as numerous large protest actions in what was then called Greater Manila (now Metro Manila). Its participants were mostly, but not exclusively, students. And, contrary to popular perceptions, while many of them were from the University of the Philippines, there were also many from the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines) and various private universities, notably Lyceum.

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“Stormers” is a term that’s starting to go around to refer to those who participated in the FQS, and it’s a good focus for understanding why the storm broke out.

The Stormers overlap with what westerners would call “boomers”—short for baby boomers, referring to those born shortly after World War II.

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All across the world, the boomers grew up witnessing the rebuilding from the ruins of war, moving toward increasing comfort, even prosperity.

The Philippines did very well, economically, after World War II; we became one of the most advanced countries in the region at the time. We had a strong manufacturing sector and benefited from Japanese war reparations, as well as money coming in from the Korean War (many Filipino soldiers fought there) and, in the 1960s from the Vietnam War, especially because we hosted US military bases, the largest outside the United States.

An artificially low foreign exchange rate of P2 to US$1 meant cheap imports fueling consumerism and a taste for status display through “Stateside” goods.

But there was corruption and economic mismanagement, so economic inequities grew through the years. From the mid-1960s onward, labor unions and peasant groups became increasingly restless, taking to the streets with protests.

The boomer students were benefiting from, well, the economic boom. Many of them were able to reach college where they would discover another world, especially if they were in state universities like UP which had a greater mix of students in terms of class. There was more exposure to poverty through the service programs of more progressive organizations, as well as the street protests of unions and peasant organizations.

The world’s unrest, including young people pouring into the streets in other countries to protest the Vietnam War, made Filipino boomers wonder if America was as benevolent as we had believed, especially with the presence of US military bases in the country.

The rallies undoubtedly radicalized the young, not because of the slogans and chanting but because of the brutal responses of the police and the Philippine Constabulary Metropolitan Command (Metrocom), which directed truncheons against the students’ heads and legs to cripple and maim. It was photos of the truncheoning that usually made the front pages of newspapers. I wonder if the Metrocom ever became aware of how many more students were driven to the rallies out of anger at their brutality.

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Marcos became president in 1965. He and Imelda were a charismatic couple that raised people’s hopes, but disillusionment set in early as people realized how corruption was worsening with his presidency. Marcos had to spend profligately to win a second term during the elections of November 1969.

Should it have been surprising that on the eve of the new decade of the 1970s, the levels of anger and discontent were boiling over, sometimes resulting in vandalism and violence? Jose Lacaba, in his book “Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage,” did express ambivalence and concern: Young people were demanding so much of themselves, desperately trying to make a difference.

The rallies that sparked the FQS were first directed against Marcos, during his delivery of the State of the Nation Address on Jan. 27, 1970, but continued through the first quarter and long after, with larger and larger crowds—until Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, driving the protests, and the Stormers, underground.

The activists of those times took divergent paths, but many continued to live with the imprint of the FQS, still showing up occasionally at rallies and forums or supporting efforts to help workers, peasants and, lately, indigenous peoples. As in the 1970s, they continue to ask questions, including why history keeps repeating itself, 50 years on.

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TAGS: 1970s activism, First quarter storm, Philippine College of Commerce, Polytechnic University of the Philippines
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