By REGINALD PATRICK J. FLORES
Fifty years ago, youth and student leaders all over the nation led a series of protests and mass demonstrations against a rapidly declining economy, US imperialism, and the onset of a fascist rule. The government then responded to these demonstrations with brutal attacks, widespread police brutality through torture, violent dispersals, political vilification—and the unjust declaration of Martial Law. The First Quarter Storm (FQS) was a season of strife that would shape the movement for national freedom and democracy for years to come.
Two sides, one goal
The media then classified the FQS movement into two camps. The “moderates” which included politicians, religious groups, and libertarians, as well as the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP) and the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL), and the “radicals,” led by the Kabataang Makabayan, an alliance of youth, student activists, and workers.
Through their political power in enacting reforms, the “moderate” camp demanded the cancellation of the writ of habeas corpus, the release of all illegally detained activists. It strongly condemned the late president Ferdinand Marcos’ plans to declare Martial Law. The leaders of the group sought to keep the powers of then-president Ferdinand Marcos in check by ensuring that the upcoming elections were clean and free from electoral fraudulence.
The “radical” side campaigned against all forms of fascism, US imperialism, and state repression. They heavily campaigned at the time using mass demonstrations, rallies, marches, and other forms of mobilizations, which state forces addressed with wanton violence. They demanded more systematic, radical, and long-lasting changes from the government, rather than reactionary measures used to quell public discord.
Despite their differences in carrying out their campaigns, their goal was the same. Their objectives were to eradicate social inequalities brought on by Marcos’ rule and to liberate the Philippines from corruption, which his regime has begun to manifest. Marcos plunged the country into debt with vast loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which he used to fund his family’s luxurious lifestyles. The First Quarter Storm was the people’s response to a corrupt ruler with a thirst for power, an all too familiar sentiment for Filipinos today.
Reigniting the movement
Martial Law overpowered the protest actions on the onset of its declaration. Still, many of those awakened and radicalized by the First Quarter Storm fought on. Under Marcos’ fascist military rule, the government declared all student organizations, labor unions, and forms of assemblies as illegal. This situation forced many of them into hiding, and most joined the underground movement. By tirelessly organizing the Filipino masses and teaching them about the power of collective action, finally, in February 1986, they were able to take down a dictator.
The conditions that lead to the First Quarter Storm are emerging once again. The government is imposing anti-poor policies such as the TRAIN Law and Build, Build, Build Program. The current administration brands student activists as terrorists, send death threats and murder them in broad daylight. It has launched a culling of critics and progressive fellowmen. Undoubtedly, the youth are the “hope of the nation.” Still, the nation yet to acknowledge that their activism is their most significant contribution to changing society. As we commemorate the 50th year of the FQS, let us also remember that with empowered youth and collective action of the people, we can lead our country out of the darkness. We did it once, and we can do it again. # nordis.net