By Arianne Christian Tapao
“Hinahanap ko ang buhay ng mag-aaral, ang kaluluwa ng inosenteng mamamayan na binalot ng takot, kahit ang buto at laman ng taong minsang nawala.”
A woman speaks with striking authority, as tragic tales of oppression—killings, anti-student policies, labor—flash in the listeners’ minds. Other women join her, together they speak: “Hinahanap ko, hinahanap ko.”
In another, a woman begins, grieving: “Ganito ba ‘yung nais na pagsulong? ‘Yung mismong gobyerno pumapatay sa kanyang mga tao?”
The crowd gives a round of applause for both, but not before staring in awe.
Filling the air with both calming and revolutionary music, spoken poetry and vocal declarations of unity in “Overthrowback Tuesday,” was how around 100 student activists commemorated the eve of Martial Law’s 44th anniversary at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman.
“Ipapakita natin na sama-sama tayong kumikilos,” said Alay Sining President Patrice Valero. The progressive group was the main organizer of the event held at the Palma Hall lobby.
On several occasions, it was here – on the Palma Hall steps, to be exact – that the UP community stood ground against former President Ferdinand Marcos, who had signed Proclamation No. 1081 on Sept. 21, 1972 declaring military government.
Prior, the Palma Hall witnessed the Diliman Commune of 1971, when 12th UP President Salvador Lopez urged UP community to unite and stop military forces from coming into the university.
Fearing history may repeat itself, activist groups believe it relevant now more than ever to look back at the Marcosian regime.
The university president today, Alfredo Pascual, earns the ire of student leaders, who say he is employing anti-student policies.
Earlier yesterday, a forum on the electronic UP system project (eUP Project) was organized by the UP College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC), wherein several speakers lambasted Pascual who said UP will not junk it despite overwhelming criticisms.
“We expect that as we report these [protest actions], they will cast doubt,” said Student Regent (SR) Raoul Manuel, who based the expectations on the past actions of the Board of Regents (BOR).
But Manuel said he will present more reasons as to why the eUP system should be abolished in the next BOR meet.
Zooming out in the national level, the groups also slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration for resorting to extrajudicial killings on alleged drug pushers and dependents rather than abiding by due process, said Valero.
“Our human rights continue to be violated to suppress our dissent,” activist groups said in a statement, citing farmers who were killed fighting for genuine agrarian reform in Nueva Ecija.
Moves to bury Marcos’s remains at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Taguig City have created a divide among critics and supporters, the leading of them being Duterte himself, who ordered the burial to take place.
Had the Supreme Court not ruled a one-month burial extension, he would have been buried last Sunday.
“Ito ay matinding pambabastos sa makasaysayang papel ng mga Iskolar ng Bayan na lumaban para sa ating mga karapatan,” said Anakbayan chair Kenji Muramatsu, speaking before the audience.
The groups said the events now are no different to those during martial law. Said Valero: “Kung titingnan mo siya sa panahon ngayon, hindi siya nalalayo sa kinakaharap nating isyu.”
It is because of these issues that University Student Council councilor Shari Oliquino said mobilizing the student body has become a pressing need now more than ever.
In the College of Fine Arts, she said several students staged a protest action demanding for the local administration to return student privileges because as of now, they are prohibited to stay in school grounds later than 6 p.m.
The result: The administration threatened to let the UP Diliman Police and Special Services Brigade be involved, said Oliquino.
“Gayunpaman, hindi tayo titigil doon,” she maintained. “Kaya tayo nagkakaroon ng mas malawakang protest para mas maunawaan tayo.”
Indeed, the councilor and Rise for Education Alliance convenor was proud to say they have clinched seven deans to approve of the university-wide walkout of classes to happen tomorrow—the culmination of the three-day campaign made by the progressive groups.
Students should urge co-students to join these events, Oliquino said. “Kung hindi tayo sama-samang kumilos, hindi tayo magtatagumpay.”
Such was Gabby Endona, 18, who sang “Pula ang Kulay ng Pag-ibig,” while her boyfriend, Josh Guevarra, played the guitar during the cultural night.
She recalled her boyfriend’s first time attending a protest rally was when he came with her to a protest rally against the Socialized Tuition System, which activist groups denounce for being an “income-generating scheme.” Said Endona, “Simula nun, nag-aattend na rin siya sa mga event sa UPLB.”
As Himig Maskom president, Endona hopes events like this will happen more frequently.
“Isa rin ‘tong avenue para ma-express namin ang aming sarili,” she said. “Nakakakanta na kami, pero may relevance.”
Like the calm night before a raging storm, the solidarity event was meant to be a simple merrymaking for the audience for the walkout tomorrow, where the students along with other sectors are expected to march to Mendiola, Manila.
But even more, it has also become an avenue to prepare the would-be marchers of tomorrow for a long day ahead.
From mournful expositions to the rallying songs everyone joined in chanting, Overthrowback Tuesday has become a reminder that indeed, as the lyrics of the song goes, “Ma-disperse man sa Mendiola,” the activist groups will always have each other like they did four decades ago.
This story originally appeared in Tinig ng Plaridel’s third print issue released Sept. 21, 2016 in time with the 44th anniversary of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s declaration of Martial Law.