KM@50 | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

[email protected]

/ 03:07 AM January 30, 2015

In the past few weeks I’ve been asking people, sometimes surprising them, with “Nag KM ka ba (literally, Did you KM?)?”—KM being the militant youth organization Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth).

Those who replied “yes” would sometimes give the names of others who were in KM. One texted back to say she had just discovered that her husband was a member of the University of the East chapter.


I realized that there is a “Tatak KM”—an imprint on people from all walks of life, from mainstream politicians (no senators so far, but lots of members of the House) to business people, lawyers, physicians and health professionals, media people, religious, academics.

The stereotyped image of KM members as young people waving red flags in rallies holds true, but KM, especially as a verb (nag-KM), involved much more. It marked its 50th anniversary last November, and I thought of writing about how KM and other youth activist organizations that sprouted in the 1960s marked a turning point in Philippine history.


The questions I used in my research were: What led to the establishment of KM? What social impact did it have? Is the “KM experience” still relevant to the Philippines in 2015? One column is, of course, too short to allow for a detailed discussion, but I hope to provide the context of KM and the radical movement.


Let’s go back in time to the early years after we regained independence. We often hear about how, in the 1950s, the Philippines was more economically advanced than our neighbors. The figures certainly reflected that, with GNP growth rates hovering around 7 percent each year—high even by today’s standards.

The growth was also impressive because we had local industries supported by the government. Remember such brand names of appliances as Radiowealth? Many are long gone now, overwhelmed by foreign companies; in fact, I can only think of Concepcion Industries right now as one of the surviving local firms in industrial manufacturing.

Unfortunately, part of the economic growth in the 1950s was illusory. In the early years after World War II, America provided economic aid that helped jump-start the postwar economy, but funds were also squandered in rampant corruption.

The economy also seemed to be growing because, with free trade in place, there was heavy spending on imported goods. Escolta, then the most up-market shopping area, carried luxury goods from the United States and Europe. Those not content with the imported goods could fly on weekends to Hong Kong, or take longer trips to the United States or Europe.

This lust for imported goods, preferably Stateside, together with corruption, slowly led to the bankruptcy of the Philippines. The poor did not benefit from the economic growth, and the Huk (Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan) rebellion flared in the countryside, only to be crushed by the government with US military assistance.


After Diosdado Macapagal became president in 1960, an agrarian reform act was passed, and welcomed by progressive organizations who saw some hope in the new law. But, sadly, it was poorly implemented. More problematic was Macapagal’s lifting of the protection of local industries, sounding the death knell for local manufacturing.

There was unrest in both the rural and urban areas, mainly with peasant groups and labor unions. In the 1960s, a new political force surfaced—university students questioning social inequality and the special RP-US relationship from free trade to our involvement in Vietnam. A proposal in our Congress to send Filipino soldiers to help a beleaguered US-supported South Vietnamese government triggered protests and calls for nonalignment.

KM was not established in the University of the Philippines. Its founding congress was held in the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) building in Manila, with then Sen. Lorenzo Tañada delivering the keynote speech. Among its founders was Jose Ma. Sison who, although a UP graduate, was teaching at the Lyceum, a private educational institution (full name: Lyceum of the Philippines University).

Satur Ocampo, another KM founder, and a Lyceum graduate, was then already a practicing journalist. There were 84 charter members, mainly students of Lyceum and UP. There were also young workers, mainly from Lapiang Manggagawa.

Personal struggles

It was KM leaders who later reestablished the Communist Party of the Philippines and formed the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front. Many went underground during martial law. Many, too, gave up their lives fighting the dictatorship.

KM was mainly a nationalist organization. It had a strong cultural component; many of its statements decried the “colonial influence” of, among others, Hollywood movies, the Voice of America, and textbooks grossly lacking in content relevant to the Philippines.

Together with other radical youth organizations, KM demanded personal struggles for its members, including handling their own baggage of colonial influence. Today we take the use of Filipino for granted, but from the 1960s into the 1970s, many radical nationalist groups still published statements and journals in English. It was to take years before Filipino became widely used for the youth groups’ political statements.

During Ferdinand Marcos’ first term (1965-1969), KM grew rapidly, with many chapters established nationwide. There was an explosion of radical youth groups, an alphabet soup of organizations: SDK, SR, and many more, catering to specific sectors of young people. Even private schools had their chapters, although sometimes they had to be creative with their names—for example, in Maryknoll (now Miriam) College, it was MKM or Malayang Kilusan ng Maryknoll.

The groups did more than protest. There were DGs or discussion groups, where young Filipinos rediscovered their past in the nationalist history books written by Teodoro

Agoncillo, Renato Constantino and, later, Amado Guerrero (Jose Ma. Sison). Again reflecting the somewhat slow transformations, my generation referred to the book as PSR (for “Philippine Society and Revolution”) while younger activists use LRP (for “Lipunan at Rebolusyong Pilipino”).

KM and other radical youth groups were strong in the cultural sphere, doing their political propaganda through street theater, murals (and graffiti) and concerts. Again, to appreciate the revolutionary nature of these activities, we have to remember that it was the era of “combos” or rock bands that mainly imitated the Beatles, Bee Gees and other western rock groups. Filipino music was considered bakya or déclassé and OPM (Original Pilipino Music) was years away.

Many of these groups also had strong community service projects, important for exposing upper- and middle-class youth to the realities of urban and rural poverty. There was, for example, PKM or Progresibong Kilusang Medikal, mainly premed students who would go out on medical missions. Years later, PKM members, having graduated from university, went on to establish community health programs.

Old issues simmered and then boiled over into the First Quarter Storm, after a rally was violently dispersed in January 1970. Almost daily street protests ensued, many close to Malacañang. It is that First Quarter Storm, happening barely five years after KM’s establishment, that will be commemorated at the UP Theater in Diliman today, with a cultural program organized by Tatak KM at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Times change, but many of the problems of 1964 remain, made more pressing because never in our history have there been so much wealth and affluence amid crushing poverty and squalor, and the plunder of public funds.

Will young Filipinos today be as creative and committed as the people who KM-ed?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: airlines, Anniversary, Huks, Kabataang Makabayan
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Fearless views on the news

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

© Copyright 1997-2023 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.