Thirty-seven years ago today, ‘a most vehement expression of dissent,’ in the words of writer Pete Lacaba, happened in front of the gates of the Lyceum of the Philippines.
Lacaba described January 28 as ‘the Clash of ’69.’ Activists of the Lyceum of the Philippines had been holding a student strike for a week. They were protesting the arbitrary dismissal of four Lyceum students, all at one time or another staffers of The Lyceum, the official monthly publication.
The campus atmosphere was understandably emotionally-charged. Though the school administration denied the alleged expulsion, the four students were nonetheless unable to enroll for the next semester. They were kicked out on grounds of their activist clinging, which was evident in the exposès and critical articles they published in The Lyceum.
The following is an excerpt from Lacaba’s account of the Clash of ‘69 (and the most accurate reportage, according to FQS veterans, of the FQS and related events to date, as published in his book ‘Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage):
Though the student strike had been going on for almost a week, the Lyceum held classes as usual; not everybody was joining the picket line. As usual, the demonstrators stationed themselves outside the two front gates of the schoolbuilding, distributing manifestos, bearing placards, and, bullhorn in hand, haranguing the crowd, airing their demands. So far, so good.
Sometime before five in the afternoon, according to the demonstrators, a piece of paper fluttered down from a third-floor window. It was a copy of the mimeographed manifesto they were giving away. At the back of it was written, printed in capital letters and without punctuation, this message:
Tulungan Ninyo Kami
Ayaw Kaming Pababain
Harangin Niyo Na
Ang Iba Riyan
The note, passed from hand to hand until it grew ragged at the edges inflamed the demonstrators. They began shouting, calling on the students up in the classrooms to come down, commanding the security guards who stood behind locked gates to let their schoolfellows out. What happened next, who started the provocation, is unclear. One guard claims he was hit in the forehead by a pebble from the crowd. The student rebs say one of the guards, faced by the clamorous horde, raised his shotgun and fired – up in the air or down at the ground, the accounts vary.What followed, Lacaba relates, was a sequence of stone-throwing, rocks smashing glass windows and a bloody riot which left numerous students injured.
At about 9pm, after more than two hours of intermittent turbulence, a fire truck arrived and promptly trained its hoses on the students. Once again, the rebs scattered, but the water did not douse their fury. They turned on the firemen, they stoned the fire truck, which was forced to retreat when it ran out of water.
By this time, however, and without the help of the Manila Fire Department, the fires were banked: the turbulence had run its course…One by one, by twos or threes, in small groups, the rebs went away, went home,; a few proceeded to Precinct 3 to inquire about the fate of four demonstrators who had been arrested at the height of the insurrection…None but a handful of students and onlookers, and a gaggle of cops remained on the scene; the mood that had been fierce and jubilant, the raging tempest, had subsided now. Rocks and shattered glass littered the streets, bits of glass glittered from the leaves of trees, ragged black holes gaped from the building that was the Lyceum of the Philippines. On the wall outside one of the front gates shone a quotation in bronze from Rizal: “The school is the book in which is written the future of the nation”
What makes the Clash of ’69 so monumental is that it was the beginning of the convulsion of youth and student discontent, even before the First Quarter Storm of 1970. Months before, except for the protest during Marcos’ State of the Nation Address in the old Congress earlier, Lacaba relates that most of the student protests were passive and generally uneventful. They contented themselves with placards, banners and were more than once easily clobbered by the Metrocom.
What followed two days and 36 years ago today led to what is remembered in history as the First Quarter Storm. But observers and participants in the Storm attest that the Clash of ’69 was responsible in spreading nationwide student revolts. Every campus became a battleground against fascism and social injustice. Numerous other student strikes and protests were staged successfully after the incident, this time with not just a mere pocketful of students joining in.
Today, we commemorate and try to emulate the FQS. Mong, in one of our activities this week at Bantayog ng mga Bayani with the FQS Movement where our ‘idols’ shared their first-hand experiences with us, said, “Kung mayroong natatanging achievement ang mga aktibista noong FQS, nabigyan nila ng guide at pamantayan ang pakikibaka ng kilusang kabataan ngayon.” What he meant was that youth activists of today are fortunate to have the FQS to extract lessons from. The FQS activists did not have that liberty, their elders either discouraged or reprimanded them. But they nevertheless succeeded in being at the forefront of unseating a fascist monster like Marcos. They achieved so from meticulous class analysis and an admirable show of collective discipline brought about by social necessity and dedication to the nationalist cause.
Another FQS may yet be unleashed. Ka Albert, an FQS veteran, after all said that present political and economic conditions make the nation very fertile for another uprising and resurgence of the youth and student movement. The people, he said, are hungry and restless. He said unlike during the Marcos era, notwithstanding the regime’s extreme fascism, today’s national situation leaves very little debate on the need for genuine social change and reform.
But another FQS will not brew by itself. If there is one important lesson in history that we should cherish and thrive on, it is that revolutions are borne from pockets of rebellion that will progressively rise to a fever that will stoke a nation’s massive discontent.
Eventually and inevitably, we will get there. We are very honored to still have our FQS ‘parents’ with us, reliving the storm, continuing the struggle. ###