Former activist before Wall of Remembrance at Bantayog ng mga Bayani on Quezon Avenue during a reunion on January 26, 2020.
Culture Spotlight

50 years later, First Quarter Storm survivors recall those first three months of the 70s

Recalling the poetry, politics, terror and torments of their time, these once enlightened student-activists never fail to look back on those days of chaos. 
Barbara Mae Naredo Dacanay | Feb 26 2020

The energetic and political outburst of young students in the country back in the 70s must not be forgotten, so say the survivors of the First Quarter Storm (FQS). More so, the generations after them should embrace the fire of their predecessors, who relentlessly pursued independence, nationalism, and social relevance.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of FQS, a series of raging rallies led by students who belonged to more than 25 radical and moderate groups. Occurring in the first three months of 1970, those violent protests almost ousted then President Ferdinand Marcos.

Several concerts were mounted to commemorate the silver milestone.

Former activists in a reunion at Club Filipino in Ortigas on January 31, 2020 organized by Fluellen Ortigas (of Kabatang Makabayan), third from left front row, formerly with Kabatang Makabayan, with businessman Len Oreta in 2017.

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In a February 24 concert at the University of the Philippines Hotel, for example, musicians from Northern Luzon called for the continuation of peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Meanwhile, “Himig-Sikan,” a concert of 11 musical groups that sang the political songs of the 70s, was held at UP’s Carillon Plaza on February 23.At the steps of UP’s Palma Hall a couple of weeks prior, a revival of 70s street theater and songs was held as a memorial for those who died and suffered human rights violations. Called FQS: Konsyertong Bayan sa ika-50 taon, it was written by Bonifacio Ilagan, directed by Chris Millado, and participated by music director Josefino Tolentino, installation artist Toym Imao, the UP Symphony Orchestra, and other UP choral groups.  

Eleven singing groups participate in Himigsikan in a concert commemorating the First Quarter Storm at UP Carillon Plaza on February 23, 2020.

Now in their mid-60s to early 70s, the FQS survivors have also remained faithful in rekindling their fearless, rambunctious, and politically-awakened past by holding annual reunions. Three reunions are held separately in Metro Manila every year, following the painful split of the CPP into Reaffirm (RA) and Reject (RJ), following an assessment of CPP founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison in the late 80s.

One such reunion is held at Padi’s Point in Antipolo every first Friday of January, with former radical priest Ed de la Torre as its star emcee. On the other hand, Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City holds a reunion with former members of the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK) every January 26.

Konsyertong Bayan sa ika-50 taon ng FQS, at UP Palma Hall steps on February 8, 2020.

Club Filipino in Ortigas hosted a reunion last month, organized by former Kabataan ng Makabayan (KM) member Fluellen Ortigas and Len Oreta. The latter, who has been sponsoring the event, is the brother-in-law of the late Senator Benigno Aquino. According to Ortigas, RAs and RJs have been attending the reunion since 2017. (KM was established in 1964 by younger members of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas or PKP such as UP graduates Sison and Nilo Tayag. Initially the youth arm of the PKP, KM emerged as CPP’s youth arm in 1968.)

“FQS reunions always look like, ‘Ganito kami noon, paano na kayo ngayon,” quips Etta Rosales, former chair of the Human Rights Commission and congresswoman of party-list Akbayan.

Concert of Salidumay from Northern Luzon which calls for the continuation of peace talks on February 24, 2020. It is part of the First Quarter Storm Movement celebration of FQS @ 50. 

“We should celebrate as one group,” says China-based professor Jaime FlorCruz, who used to be bureau chief for CNN and Time magazine in Beijing. Before being stranded in China in 1971, FlorCruz was with “Kamanyang,” a progressive cultural arm of the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines).

“Had we won in ousting Marcos in the 70s, we might be officially celebrating FQS every year,” says labor leader Dave Diwa. “Nevertheless, the FQS should be remembered every year for the younger generation to know its significance. It generated the consciousness and politics of the revolutionary left. It was a combination of student power, workers and peasants’ movements, and (a logical) call for peoples’ war that presaged the passage of Martial Law in 1972.”

Philippine ambassador to China Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana adds that holding these reunions means more chances to recall those unforgettable days in 1970. The former bureau chief of ABC News in China, Sta. Romana was with the “milder” National Union of students of the Philippines during FQ, when he was student council president of De La Salle university.

Violeta Sandel Hilao, left, first row, formerly with UP Pambansang Samahan ng Inhenyero at Agham; writer and once stranded in China Alma Miclat, second from left; historian Fe Mangahas, third from lefrt; China-based, journalist and professor Jaime FlorCruz, left, back row, during a reunion at Club Filipino on Jan 31. 

“FQS survivors represent a lesson on longevity. We are thankful for that,” says Gary Olivar, a former SDK member. He and his comrades still remember with anguish friends who died young for their political beliefs. “We are coming from different places now. What we have in common are the first three months of 1970.”

 

Why remember?

Restaurateur Linda Taruc-Co, wife of CPP co-founder Leoncio Co, says that FQS must be understood and remembered by the young. "All the things that we did then were path-breaking. Our expectations from the young, the millennials, remain high,” she says. “Now, progressive senior citizens must pass on the baton of radical thinking to the young.”

The problems that they raged against 50 years ago are still there but in new forms like exploitation and tyranny, says former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo. “I am optimistic that the new generation of activists can chart their own path of commitment to go against these problems,” says Taguiwalo, a former SDK member. “There are still many challenges to hurdle, like serving the people, or changing the world. Doing them makes life fulfilling. It was fulfilling for me.”

“The idealistic spirit of the youth in the 70s must energize the youth of today, for them to keep an open mind in this day of social media; for them to get involved in social action like what we did before,” adds Flor-Cruz.

Former priest Edicio Dela Torre consistently emcees reunions of First Quarter Storm Survivors at Padis Point in Antipolo every early January.

FQS survivors press on despite skeptics who dismiss the youthful rebellion and sacrifices as a psychological construct or an era’s romanticism for the impossible. “When you’re young, you think you can change society and the world. Being politically involved, I became mature overnight,” says Alma Miclat, a member of UP’s Pambansang Samahan ng Inhenyero at Agham.

Ever proud of her FQS stripe, Taguiwalo answers the skepticism. “Fifty years ago, my generation stood up to oppose Martial Law, fascism, foreign control of Philippine economy, and landlessness of Filipino people. We propagated gigantic actions that called for national sovereignty, proper response to national and social development. Was it our romance for the impossible? There was an overturning change in perspective (during the FQS). It radically changed my life. I am happy to be part of that generation.” 

She says that they didn’t look at student power in isolation. “The student movement could not have grown strong if we were not united with landless farmers, peasants in barrios and provinces, urban poor communities, and factory workers in Metro cities; if we did not join the struggle for decent wages, fight against demolition of urban shanties, killing of activists, land grabbing, and trade union busting,” Taguiwalo explains.

Members of the First Quarter Storm Movement composed of Kabataang Makabayan (KM), Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK), and Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA) held march and memorial commemoration of the January 26, 1970 protest rally in front of the National Museum formerly the old congress on January 26, 2020.

The survivors also point out how empowering the protests were for women in particular. “In the time of the FQS, women realized they could do something for their country. We broke the tradition of women remaining at home and in the kitchen. There was a struggle with macho rebel leaders. We had to be aggressive and assertive during discussions and meetings, until we became an inspiration to them,” explains Candy Yuzon, a member of Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan when she was a political science student at the University of Santo Tomas.

Temario Rivera, historian, political science professor, and member of the Center of People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), says that the leaders of the legal parties of the left were honed during the FQS. “The rebirth of the modern nationalist movement, the use of Filipino, and the propagation of committed art could be traced to the FQS,” he elaborates. “Several FQS generations who joined the government, although not an organized block, have influenced progressive thinking in governance.” 

Taruc-Co explains it more succinctly. “Every student from the late 60s to the 70s was touched by the FQS,” says Taruc-Co. “Its impact remained with us as we went our different ways: in the underground, in legal progressive organizations, in the corporate world, and in government.”