Exactly 41 years ago, the First Quarter Storm (FQS) in the Philippines

Posted: January 30, 2011 in Philippine political history

I am currently commuting between Al Jazeera English (AJE) live stream, Twitter, Facebook, CNN, BBC, GMail, and Star Sports–monitoring the popular uprising in Egypt and the Australian Open men’s finals.

I suddenly remembered where I was and what I was doing exactly forty-one (41) years ago.

At the time, at around 7:30 pm, I was in the vicinity of the Malakanyang Palace together with about fifteen and twenty thousand youthful demonstrators.  Then, I was a college freshman myself at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

We were in the vicinity of the presidential palace angry over the violent dispersal of an earlier peaceful demonstration in front of the Congress of the Philippines building held on January 26 on the occasion of the first state of the nation address of the newly-re-elected Ferdinand Marcos.

 

 

 

 

The 1969 elections which pitted a re-electionist Marcos against the lackluster Sergio Osmena, Jr., was marred by allegations of cheating and massive vote-buying to make sure Marcos wins.  In retrospect, it was not necessary since Osmena did not stand a candle to Marcos and his beautiful wife, Imelda, was as beguiling to the ordinary voter as before.

It was commonly believed that the election spending nearly bankrupted the public treasury.  It appears that Marcos converted the central bank’s forex reserves into pesos to finance his campaign chest.  What compounded the situation was the unprecedented increase of world prices of crude oil imposed by the newly-organized  Organization of Petroleum Countries (OPEC).  These developments helped depress the national economy in early 1970.

Rodel Rodis, a student leader then who is now a resident in California, reminisces in the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (February 4, 2010):

 

 

 

 

 

Forty years ago on January 26, 1970, I attended a massive student rally outside the Philippine Congress to protest what we believed was the true state of the nation just as Ferdinand Marcos was delivering his self-serving version inside.

I was aligned with the “moderates” then, part of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) of Edgar “Edjop” Jopson, who was the featured rally speaker. After he spoke, Edjop called on Gary Olivar, a leader of the “radicals.” A neighbor and one of my closest childhood friends, Gary was just about to speak when Edjop abruptly decided to hand over the mike to radio commentator Roger “Bomba” Arrienda.

 

 

 

 

 

As Roger was delivering his speech laced with his usual bombast, the crowd kept yelling Gary! Gary! Gary! Instead of turning the mike over to Gary as we had agreed when we prepared the “united front” program of speakers, Edjop decided to end the rally by singing the national anthem. But just as the long rally was about to end at 6 p.m., a young labor leader grabbed the mike from Edjop and started delivering a fiery speech in Tagalog.

“Passions were high, exacerbated by the quarrel over the mikes;” wrote Jose F. Lacaba in his book, Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage, “and the President had the bad luck of coming out of Congress at this particular instant.”


Marcos was about to board his presidential limousine when someone hurled a crocodile papier mache in his direction. It missed him but it ignited a fury of retaliation by a phalanx of riot police who swung their rattan truncheons at the heads of helpless students, “moderates” and “radicals” alike, unifying them in their common pain, as a stunned nation watched transfixed on live TV.

In the days that followed, indignation rallies denouncing police brutality were held in many campuses throughout Metro Manila culminating in the January 30 March to Malacanang from Plaza Miranda through the Mendiola Bridge. By nightfall, thousands of students surrounded the heavily fortified palace when suddenly the lights went off. The Metrocom riot police retreated into the night, replaced with battle-hardened army soldiers armed with high-powered armalites out to quell a rebellion.


Before that long, dark bloody night was over, four students lay dead, scores paralyzed, and hundreds maimed from gunshot wounds.

As my high school friend, Mario Taguiwalo, recalled: “The death of friends, the terror of gunfire, the taste of truncheon taught a lot of ‘isms’ in one night. By the morning of January 31, 1970, a thousand chapters of student organizations had begun taking root in schools and communities nationwide.”

The next three months were filled with protest demonstrations, rallies, and “people’s marches” that all came to be called The First Quarter Storm, which another close friend, Nelson Navarro, described as “that cathartic student revolt in the first months of 1970 that shook the nation with its intense and all-encompassing life-changing experience.”

I was a member of the secretariat of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MDP) that was formed to coordinate the demonstrations and rallies in 1970. A year later, my parents “exiled” me to San Francisco, fearful that I would share the same “salvaged” fate of so many student activists.

When Marcos declared martial law in September of 1972, he imprisoned thousands of activists, including many of my friends like Gary, Edjop, Mario and Jerry Barican, among the best and brightest of my generation.

 

 

 

Jerry Barican (in spectacles)

 

 

Living through the martial law years in the United States, I taught Philippine history and political science at San Francisco State University and at Laney College. I went to law school, passed the bar, set up my private law practice, was appointed president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and was elected to the San Francisco Community College Board.

Twenty years ago, on January 30, 1990, four years after People Power ended martial rule, I returned to Manila to attend a reunion I had organized, a gathering of friends at Freedom Park in Malacanang Palace, to mark the 20th anniversary of the First Quarter Storm.

Not present was my friend, Edjop, who became a revered people’s hero after he was beaten, tortured, jailed for his underground anti-dictatorship efforts, and later executed by the military on September 20, 1982 when he was barely 34 years old.

 

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Edgar Jopson with FM (Jopson Family Collection)

 

This is the famous photograph  wherein the young Edgar Jopson (called by Ferdinand Marcos derisively as ‘the grocer’s son’) dialogued with FM inside the Malakanyang Palace in the afternoon of 26 January 1970  (Photo courtesy of the Jopson Family Collection)

 

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The dead body of DANILO “DanJun” VALCOS JR, one of two members of the League of Filipino Students who were shot during the dispersal of Central Luzon peasants marching for agrarian reform. The other one, Manny Lazo died on the same day while DanJun died on 26 January 1985.  According to alert blog reader Francis Joseph de la Cruz, it was the culmination of a 3-day march led by the Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon. Manny and Danjun were fatalities of the Taft Avenue Massacre. The violent dispersal happened around noon of October 21, 1985, as they (with de la Cruz) were on their way to have lunch at the Liwasang Bonifacio. The plan was to march to Malacanang in the afternoon. Then WPD Chief, Gen. Alfredo Lim warned of trouble if the march to Malacanang pushes through. Memories of Manny and Danjun names, as with EdJop are enshrined at the Bantayog ng ng Bayani.  (Note: In an earlier version, I mistakenly captioned Valcos’s corpse as EdJop’s. I owe the correction and additional information to Francis Joseph de la Cruz,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Jerry Barican was there. Once the radical president of the UP Student Council, he had become a staunchly conservative lawyer who justified his sea change by paraphrasing Churchill, “If you’re not a radical by 18, you have no heart. If you’re still a radical by 30, you have no head.” Jerry went on to become a spokesman for President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.

Mario Taguiwalo was there too, proudly serving as President Cory Aquino’s Undersecretary of Health. “Every time I am tempted to give up on people,” Mario said, “I am reminded of the power of ideals deeply held and I persevere again seeking to convince and not to compel.” Also there, among other friends, were Digoy Fernandez, a radical from De La Salle who had become a banker and Maan Hontiveros, an activist who was now the owner of her own communications company.

Gary Olivar couldn’t make it because he was busy in New York, working as a Sumitomo Bank executive after obtaining an MBA from Harvard University. But he sent me his message, which I read at the ceremony, about how “a singular dream moved a generation.”

“A dream so compelling in its inception, so irresistible in its sweep, that it hurled thousands of us against the walls of this palace—as if somehow through the sheer weight of our passions on that endless night, we would reclaim the palace for our own.”

“In the conceit of our youth, we believed we could repair the broken bones of a people long despoiled and fulfill a dream of human freedom, of national sovereignty, of equitable progress for every Filipino.”

Gary Olivar, the bright, articulate student leader who accidentally caused the First Quarter Storm when he wasn’t allowed to speak, is now the official spokesman of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

 

 

 

 

“Reunions are beautiful,” Nelson mused at the gathering, “because the older we get, the more we cease seeing ourselves as friends or enemies. We are simply survivors sharing a common memory.”

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I was not a student leader at the time; I was an ordinary student who was ‘enlightened’ by his Philippine History courses in the University of the Philippines and ‘radicalized’ by the events of January 30-31.  I was unable to join my classmates and dorm-mates for the January 26 demonstration and several female high school classmates who were also studying in UP Diliman were trapped inside the UP-Ikot jeepney which carried the sound system the UP delegation used for the demonstration.

Incensed by the January 26 police dispersal, I joined the January 30 mass action in front of the presidential palace.  The mood was angry and the activists were obviously led by the radicals rather than by the moderates.

The radicals were led by the Kabataang Makabayan founder Jose Maria Sison as well as the leader of the New People’s Army Bernabe “Dante” Buscayno. Laborers also took part, protesting against graft andcorruption in government, and the decline in the economy caused by high oil prices. Some believed that the unrest is the plan to overthrow the government through a direct assault on the Palace.

Jose Ma. Sison

The night ended violently when the police used tear gas and arms to quell the demonstrators. Students tried to counter using Molotov cocktails and pillbox bombs while retreating. The storm extended to Divisoria district in TondoManila well into the early hours of January 31. After the failed protest, some of the surviving radical students, mostly from the University of the PhilippinesPolytechnic University of the Philippines, and the University of the East, became avowed Marxists, and took up arms, engaging in guerrilla and urban warfare.

Bernabe Buscayno aka Kumander Dante

The events of January 30-31 catalyzed the phenom known as the First Quarter Storm, which Wikipedia, describes as “a period of leftist unrest in the Philippines, composed of a series of heavy demonstrationsprotests, and marches against the government from January to March 1970, or the first quarter of 1970. It was one of the factors leading to the declaration of Martial Law in 1972.

 

 

 

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When the composite force of soldiers and riot police started their attack on our ranks later in the night, I found refuge with many others within the walls of San Beda College along Mendiola street near Malakanyang.

Metrocom riot police beating up youth demonstrators

 

I remember cringing in fear together with my fellow ‘refugees’ and our priest-guardians as my eyes hurt so much with the tear gas clouds swirling around us and while automatic rifles were beating their deadly staccato.  Afterwards, we hear the cries of the wounded and the defiant yells of youths who tried to fight back defensively.  

 

My sister, who was enrolled in the neighboring College of the Holy Spirit (CHS) on Mendiola and was boarding in a house on Concepcion Agila (very near CHS), later on told me they really laid low during that long night.  I can no longer remember how I left San Beda and who I was with in the welcomed return to Molave Dormitory in UP Diliman.  What I remember is I will join the UP Nationalist Corps (UPNC) and shortly after, the UP chapter of the Samahang ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK) which now had about 500 members–a swell generated by the long night of January 30-31, 1970.  

 

I can no longer recall how many marches and demonstrations I joined during the so-called First Quarter Storm (Jan 26-April 1970).  What I do remember was joining the Alpha Sigma Fraternity in UP, styled as a fraternity of the new type with Nilo Tayag as one of its founding members in 1962. I was attracted to the fraternity largely because of its most popular and left-leaning members–Gary Olivar and Antonio Tagamolila–heavy lifters in the Philippine Collegian, the student organ of UP.  As a fraternity neophyte, one of our tasks as a batch of neophytes was to generate support for a “Free Nilo Tayag” campaign in late 1970.  I also recall joining soon-to-be CPP chairman (and frat brod as well as high school friend) Benito Tiamson and another left-lening frat brod Aris Celeste as the three-man staff of the Philippinensian Newsletter.  The Philippinensian was the yearbook of UP and another frat brod, Bienvenido “Boy” Noriega, Jr. (who eventually became a banker and a Palanca award-winning playright) was chosen editor.  The frat proceeded to populated the Philippinensian editorial staff with brods and the innocous newsletter was transformed by Benny, Aris and myself as another propaganda outlet for the surging national democratic movement led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (1968).  I will be very active once more in the Diliman Commune (of February 1971) as barricade commander.  

During the summer break in Tuguegarao, I sustained a broken collar bone and a vicious head wound (that required several stictches to close) in a vehicular accident with my mother (a government district civil engineer) and her driver.  I had to go on a leave of absence from UP (I was poised to transfer to the College of Engineering after finishing two-years of General Education at the UP College of Arts and Sciences).  While recuperating in Tuguegarao, I started organizing students in my high school (Cagayan High School) and my elementary school (Cagayan Teachers’ College) for the national democratic movement.  I was still in Tuguegarao when President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in response to the bombing of the political rally of the opposition Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971.  

I returned to UP Diliman in November 1971 to start my first semester as an electrical engineering student, enlisting in such subjects as ME 54 (Thermodynamics), EE 31 (Electrical Circuit Theory I, ES 1 (Engineering Drawing) and ES 11 (Statics), among others.  I think it was also this time that I took Political Science 14 (Philippine Politics and Government) with Prof. Remigio Agpalo, the doyen of Philippine political science then, as my professor.  Alongside my being an electrical engineering student, I was a part-time political activist organizing industrial workers in Novaliches under the auspices of the UP SDK labor department.  Given such a divided life, I steadily lost interest in my engineering studies and ‘engineered’ a way to decently drop out of school and go back to the province to be a full-time political activist.  

By the way, I have to mention that the UP Department of Military Science and Tactics (UP-DMST) filed charges against me (at the end of the second semester, SY 1970-71 and before I met the vehicular accident) and a few others (like UP Student Council member Ray Altarejos, Rene Ciria-Cruz and Aimee Laurel) for disturbing the peace and public scandal.  

I joined them (I was the only cadet in the Corp formation to do so) in the newly-formed Anti-ROTC Movement (ARM). I was already fed-up and so toatlly pissed at the mindless drills, the saliva-laced invectives of ROTC officers by that time even if it was the last ROTC course I had to take,  I broke ranks, peeled off my uniform, burned it, and joined Altarejos and company shouting slogans against the ROTC and its fascist ways and mindset.  Needless to say, I got a failing grade for MS 22 and will have to take a month-long summer remedial course in March 1978 so I could eventually graduate from UP with a bachelor’s degree in April 1978. But that’s another story altogether.

 

 

 

 

The storm, one can conclude, eventually led me to drop out from school, join the underground movement against the Marcos dictatorship when he declared martial law in September 1972, and my capture, torture,  and incarceration from September 1973 to December 1974.

The storm shaped me.  Without it, I believe I would have been an entirely different person than what I am.  Now.

 

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Author’s note: This blog was revised and amended heavily today, 3 Feb 2018.


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Comments
  1. Francis Joseph Dela Cruz says:

    Hi. The photo referred to as EdJop is actually that of Danilo “DanJun” Valcos, Jr. One of two members of the League of Filipino Students who were shot during the dispersal of Central Luzon peasants marching for agrarian reform. The other one, Manny Lazo died on the same day while DanJun died on 26 January 1985. Thanks.

    • Francis Joseph Dela Cruz says:

      It was the culmination of a 3-day march led by the Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon. Manny and Danjun were fatalities of the Taft Avenue Massacre. The violent dispersal happened around noon of October 21, 1985, as we were on our way to have lunch at the Liwasang Bonifacio. The plan was to march to Malacanang in the afternoon. Then WPD Chief, Gen. Alfredo Lim warned of trouble if the march to Malacanang pushes through. Memories of Manny and Danjun names, as with EdJop are enshrined at the Bantayog ng ng Bayani.

  2. Mike says:

    Sir Bong, I have just found this blog and it has provided me plenty of wonderful insights about this event. Maybe if I were born in your period, I too may been radicalized, as I have been thinking in my reflections regarding this event. This along with the current Philippine History studies that I am taking up in college has really changed my previous high-schoolish views of Philippine history and what we have been studying the past years are but highly distilled versions of what actually happened. And yes, the Americans were really actually holding us down and exploiting the resources which should’ve been ours in place of their so-called support. And we Filipinos have been as we were, during pre-colonial times, the Spanish regime, the American Period and the Japanese Occupation. Collective on the outside but individualistic about the issues which matter only to them, failing to see the bigger picture. But yeah, who could blame them? I hope that the time for change is now.

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