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Academic freedom and the Diliman republic

/ 05:15 AM January 29, 2021

As an octogenarian viewing the current political scene, I get goosebumps seeing with my mind’s eye what happened almost half a century ago. When I see our young students today jawing with the minions of President Duterte—especially the military and the presidential spokesperson who happens to be a former University of the Philippines professor no less—I wince, but I am inspired by the courage of the young despite the insults and the threats against them.

I remember only too well what the dictator Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972. Marcos proclaimed martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, and the military closed down the schools, especially the communication/journalism schools that were antagonistic toward the Marcos government. UP Diliman was the hotbed of student activism in those days, followed by Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippine Science High School, and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) under then president Francisco Nemenzo, the father of Fidel Nemenzo who is now chancellor of UP Diliman.

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In the provinces, Silliman University and UP Los Baños also joined the activist surge.

When political winds started blowing from the north to the south in the 1970s, it hit air turbulence. The violent winds gave birth to a political tornado in January 1970 called the First Quarter Storm that began at UP Diliman.

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It started when students welcomed then President Ferdinand Marcos with demonstrations after his speech in Congress. The demonstrations morphed into a movement led by UP students, inspired by other student demonstrations around the world before 1970. But what started as peaceful demonstrations turned violent.

Workers joined later to protest against graft and corruption in government, the decline in the economy caused by high oil prices, and the controversy over the electoral victory of Marcos for his second term. Kabataang Makabayan founder Jose Maria Sison and the New People’s Army’s Bernabe “Kumander Dante” Buscayno were said to have infiltrated the movement, and military sources alleged that the demonstrations were a plan to overthrow the government through communist and socialist support from the masses, students, and workers. Sounds familiar?

The First Quarter Storm lasted weeks and led to the establishment of a “Diliman Republic.” For a short time, the UP Diliman campus was barricaded and government military police could not enter. The “storm” ended violently when police used tear gas and arms to quell the demonstrations. Students tried to fight with their Molotov cocktails and pillbox bombs while retreating. Those who were slow were beaten with gun butts. The unrest spread to the Divisoria district in Tondo.

After the failed protests, some of the surviving radical students, mostly from UP, PUP, Lyceum of the Philippines, and the University of the East, took up arms and fled to the mountains.

In a privilege speech before the Senate at that time, Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. had warned that Marcos was planning to establish a “garrison state.” (Do we have a senator now with the raw courage of a Ninoy Aquino to speak for press freedom and academic freedom?)

Then on Aug. 21, 1971, while the opposition (Liberal Party) was having its miting de avance in Plaza Miranda, two fragmentation grenades were exploded. Nine people were killed and more than 100 were seriously injured. Some Liberal Party candidates were seriously wounded, including Sen. Jovito Salonga, who nearly died and became partially blind.

In his autobiography, Salonga said Sison and the Communist Party of the Philippines were responsible. Marcos claimed that the unrest in the country led him to declare martial law, through Proclamation No. 1081. He suspended the 1935 Constitution, dissolved Congress, and assumed absolute power.

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With the return of our freedoms after the 1986 Edsa Revolution, the government and UP signed an agreement in 1989 that prohibited the military and police from entering UP campuses without first informing its administration. This agreement guaranteed academic freedom in the university, but the military has now unilaterally abrogated that agreement. Will history repeat itself?

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Crispin C. Maslog is a former journalist with Agence France-Presse and retired journalism professor from Silliman University and UP Los Baños.

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TAGS: academic freedom, Diliman Republic, Ferdinand Marcos, First quarter storm, University of the Philippines, UP-DND accord
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