CALIFORNIA, United States?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.
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.
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.?