Victims and heroes

"Second thoughts about the Party line"


People sometimes ask me to talk about my experiences during the unruly years of the late sixties and early seventies, when the “parliament of the streets”—including the “First Quarter Storm” of early 1970--eventually provoked the late President Marcos into declaring martial law.

I don’t normally oblige those requests, partly because my own involvement—though loud—was fortunately truncated before I got myself killed, but mostly because my friends who were not as fortunate don’t deserve to have someone like me dancing on their graves. Besides, the stories from other survivors are a lot hairier and more entertaining.

But now might be a good time to break my silence, partly because today is another anniversary (the 51st) of the start of the FQS in front of the old Congress building on January 26, 1970. In addition, with standing security arrangements between UP and the AFP and PNP now under review, it might be instructive to look back at the earliest years of leftist recruitment on campus.

* * *

My own involvement started as a 13-year-old high school sophomore in 1965, when I set up the Kabataang Makabayan chapter in my school under the guidance of Arthur Garcia, a stocky young man in perpetual dark glasses who used to hang around the YMCA looking for recruits. Arthur was a founding member of the KM, CPP and NPA who ended up being killed by the military somewhere in Tarlac.

My earliest memory from those years was of being caught up in the October 1966 demonstration against visiting US President Johnson at the Manila Hotel, which turned violent after the Manila police charged into our ranks. Upon entering UP in 1968, I was recruited in turn into the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK), by “Max”, a former KM member who went on to become a labor arbitrator at the NLRC.

UP at the time was caught up in a heady transition, from the bohemian fifties to the flower-power sixties (inspired by the Woodstock “summer of ‘69” in the US) to the activist seventies (shaped by the much earlier Cultural Revolution in China that permanently influenced Jose Maria Sison and his cohorts).

The seventies have already been captured in books and movies. From those years, my vivid memories are not of speaking on camera and before street demonstrations, but making the rounds of jails, hospitals and, yes, morgues after each violent confrontation--arranging bail, medical care, and funerals, respectively.

In August 1971, the CPP bombed the Liberal Party rally at Plaza Miranda, provoking Marcos—as the communists intended—to suspend habeas corpus and drive people like me into hiding. After I foolishly surfaced to appear on TV on the eve of the November ‘71 Con-Con elections, I was arrested while leaving the studios.

I was barely a CPP member then, but my being an SDK officer was enough to deny me bail under the capital crime of subversion. It was inside the Camp Crame stockade where my cellmates and I greeted the declaration of martial law in September 1972. And it was from the Fort Bonifacio stockade where I was released in mid-1973, marking the end to both my detention and my activist days.

* * *

On days like today, I can’t help remembering my friends and comrades who were killed. There were so, so many of them. Let me just mention here the three who were also my fraternity brods and are now listed on the Bantayog ng mga Bayani:

Tony Tagamolila, an engineering student and former editor of the UP student paper, following in the footsteps of an idolized older brother who had defected from the Army.

Billy Begg, a rail-thin former Ateneo seminarian who became my classmate post-detention at the UP extension division in Padre Faura.

Joey Calderon, another engineering student, whose son Joel many decades later would become my inaanak sa kasal as his principal sponsor.

But I grieve too for other young men I knew from the other side—also barely past their teens—who perished in the same exchanges of violence:

Martin Masilongan, my high school classmate, a newly-minted second lieutenant who died in a helicopter crash in Bicol together with his superior, the regional commander.

Monet Garcia, my elementary schoolmate, who was killed in a firefight with the NPA shortly after graduating from PMA.

They too should also have gone on to father families and live full lives. If the leftists have their Bantayog ng mga Bayani, my friends in uniform are privileged to lie in rest at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. There, inside Fort Bonifacio, the tragedy of their deaths is not being exploited by the ageing vampires in Utrecht, but is fittingly honored by our people, through our duly constituted government, as official heroism.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Gary Olivar , Victims and heroes , UP , AFP , PNP
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