On activism, academic freedom and solidarity

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“Raise the barricades high!” ”

It was the iconic appeal of a touching editorial written by the Filipino college student, the student publication of UP Diliman, in the midst of the historic barricades of 1971 which acquired the fame of the “commune of Diliman”.

The call launched by this editorial of February 4, 1971 seems to have acquired a renewed urgency in the midst of the unilateral abrogation by the Duterte regime of the UP-DND agreement which prohibits the police and military presence in the UP, a reversal history of the long struggle for genuine freedom and democracy.

Next month we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the municipality of Diliman, a historic event which, like the schoolboy the editorial demonstrates this, forcibly opened up the question of the university’s relevance in a society mired in ever-widening class divisions, social injustice and structures of oppression.

In the face of renewed threats to academic freedom, critical thinking and solidarity with social struggles, we must take stock of these lessons from history.

The campus as a “liberated zone”

The Commune was not made in a vacuum. Its explosion was the culmination of a decade of youth unrest in the 1960s in response to the deepening crisis of a neocolonial society, anti-Communist witch hunts and Marcos’ insatiable thirst for power.

This was the general atmosphere when, on February 1, 1971, students from various universities in Metro Manila responded to the appeal of radical groups like the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) to erect barricades in solidarity with the striking jeepney drivers. protest against rising oil prices.

At UP Diliman, the peaceful barricade turned bloody when a math professor attempted to force the barricaded students to disperse and shot dead one named Pastor “Sonny” Mesina Jr. This angered the students and resulted in a massive walkout to move towards the barricades. .

The Metropolitan Command and the Philippine police attempted to forcibly disperse the demonstrating students using batons, shields and firearms. This prompted the students and some professors to defend themselves; they gave birth to improvised pill dispensers, molotov cocktails and even kwitis.

On the night of February 2, 1971, police raided the Camia and Sampaguita residences – the university’s female-only dormitories – after demonstrators took refuge there.

After 3 days of violent military operations, the schoolboy reported that more than 60 students and members of the UP community were injured. Dozens more have been arrested.

They declared the UP a “liberated zone” against fascist state forces, renaming the buildings after revolutionary figures. They occupied the local university radio DZUP and the UP press to broadcast and publish the Commune’s demands.

The students also formed a “provisional leadership”, an ad hoc body led by students and responsible for coordinating the defense and governance of the campus.

They named the whole event the “Commune of Diliman” in reference to the Parisian workers’ uprising of 1871. It was the 100th anniversary of the Paris Commune.

Multisectoral solidarity

The Commune may at first glance seem the work of a group of idealistic students; but it would not have lasted so long without a multisectoral effort. A surge of support from the various sectors inside and outside the university has strengthened the Municipality.

Residents of Barangay Krus na Ligas, Old Balara and other neighboring communities provided food; some faculty members and administrators occupied the barricades and provided logistical support; Senators like Ninoy Aquino have come forward for a dialogue with the UP community; students from other schools also occupied the barricades.

This support was commemorated in a February 13, 1971, UP Student Council resolution sponsored by Sonny Coloma, then a moderate student leader.

The reason for this massive support had to do with the students carrying the aspirations of the masses. They brought to light not only their demands as students, but also the demands of the lower classes such as jeepney drivers. The university has been used as a political space and a platform to explain the impact of rising oil prices to the general public. The students asserted the importance of academic freedom and exposed the fascist character of the Marcos government. More importantly, they showed how even a dictator can be defeated with collective action and broad solidarity.

It exercised the true meaning of being a bayan iskolar – learn from the masses and amplify the voice of the marginalized. The creation of the Commune shattered the narrow concept of “student power” – which fuels the idea that students, on their own, can bring about change. The students understood that they will only realize their true power if they connect with the masses. Due to their activism and unity, they were able to prevent, albeit temporarily, the takeover of the university by the police and the arrest of their comrades.

Anti-Communist academics and state propagandists have portrayed the Commune as a premeditated plan of conspirators to foment anarchy and destabilize the Marcos regime in favor of their liberal political allies. But careful assembly of archival documents, media reports, eyewitness accounts and accounts from surviving participants would show that Diliman commune was a spontaneous explosion amid the crackdown. Although constantly overwhelmed by the rapid turn of events, the organized forces led by the KM and SDK attempted to give direction to its movement by organizing student resistance and raising political awareness.

Realizing that the Commune cannot be maintained forever amid state threats, the barricades were eventually intentionally demolished – but not before they sparked the political activism of a whole generation of young people who would later lead the resistance. to the Marcos dictatorship.

More than concrete gains such as strengthening the university’s position against the military presence on campus, it is the value of Diliman commune as a symbol of collective resistance to an aspiring dictator that constitutes its greatest Victoire.

What you need to know about the 1989 UP-MDN agreement

Continuing story of the struggle

In the years following the Commune, there were continued threats of police and military intervention, especially during martial law.

But even during one of the darkest periods in our history, state repression failed to quell the flames of resistance. Students continued to protest and slowly rebuild their collective strength, despite the militarization of campuses and the ban on political organizations and activities. This escalated toward building a broad student “democratization movement” that fought for the reestablishment of student councils and campus publications and to challenge tuition hikes and unfair school policies.

A concrete product of the democratization movement was the Enrile-Soto Agreement in 1982, which paved the way for the development of the UP-MDN Agreement in 1989 and also the PUP-MDN Agreement. These agreements are the result of a fierce struggle for academic freedom. The students literally sacrificed their lives for these real gains.

But of course, history is a constant struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors. If democratic spaces are conquered, they are always under the constant threat of being swept away.

We are facing the worst political, economic and health crises in history. Instead of solving these problems, the government is determined to silence the people, especially the young. Duterte’s regime seeks to remove all remaining democratic spaces to preserve its unbridled rule. Duterte and his generals want to turn campuses into military outposts and make young people docile amid burning issues like accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines, the billion P15s stolen by PhilHealth, the charter change and, of course, the next presidential elections.

This act of desperation by the Duterte regime only shows that, like Marcos, he is afraid of militant youth. Because no dictator can resist the youth who have learned to link arms to the working masses. After 50 years, the lessons of the Municipality of Diliman still ring true. We must commemorate him with revolutionary exuberance and, more importantly, uphold his legacy of militant defense of academic freedom and service to the people. – Rappler.com

Karlo Mongaya is a faculty member at Departamento ng Filipino at Panitikan ng Pilipinas, University of the Philippines Diliman.

Orly Putong is a student at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of the Philippines Diliman.

Rochel Bernido is a student at the College of Arts and Letters, Diliman University of the Philippines.

Disclosure: All 3 are members of the research team for the “Barikada 50” commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Commune of Diliman led by the Office of Initiatives for Culture and the Arts of UP Diliman. The opinions expressed in this article, however, are those of the authors only and do not represent the official position of the office.

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