“Five decades ago, at the onset of what was then dubbed “The First Quarter Storm,” a band of students and seminarians, out-of-school youth, and professionals came together to establish Lakasdiwa.
Founded on the day of the martyrdom of Filipino patriot-priests Frs. Gomez, Burgos and Zamora on 17 February 1970, Lakasdiwa espoused the ideals of non-violent struggle for justice, the defence of human rights, and the protection of democratic space.
We drew inspiration from the principles of satyagraha (strength of spirit) and ahimsa (truth) of the immortal Mahatma Gandhi and civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and social change advocate Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, who championed the rights of the poor in Brazil’s Pernambuco.
Lakasdiwa aimed to nurture the Filipino spirit of courage under fire in the tradition of our heroes’ struggles to build a country where human rights are upheld, equality advanced, and the ills of impunity and exclusion addressed.
I still recall the first stirrings of the “First Quarter Storm” (FQS). As an involved seminarian, I had joined the student demonstration for a non-partisan constitutional convention on 26 January 1970 in front of Congress, which turned violent.
Blood spilled on the streets as police wielded their truncheons and hauled young people to jail, while then President Marcos delivered his “State of the Nation” address in Congress.
We again marched on 30 January, this time against police brutality at the gates of Malacañang and at the foot of Mendiola Bridge. I saw soldiers firing at students in the streets I knew so well, as I lived in the area during my childhood years.
I sought out reporters from DZRH atop a radio patrol car stationed on the Mendiola Bridge to appeal to the soldiers to stop the shooting.
Later, I testified at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Sen. Lorenzo Tañada to recount that night of rage when students tried to ram the gates of Malacañang and soldiers firing directly on fellow Filipinos – a memory seared in my mind.
“The view from Mendiola Bridge was a nightmare: burning lamp posts, a ruined bus used as a barricade, iron railings destroyed and cluttered in the streets.
Constabulary troopers charging in the dark with wicker shields or high-powered rifles….Young men who could have been their sons, brothers, and friends running away – some felled by bullets, others bloodied by merciless truncheons, others captured and hauled away in trucks while most just ran away from it all, hoping perhaps to come back another day…There is certainly student unrest.
There is disenchantment, dissatisfaction, disgust with the way things are…an insecurity about our laws and the men entrusted with implementing them.” (“Battle of Mendiola,” Free My People, 1972, pp. 48-49.)
Lakasdiwa was born in this setting. The experience provided the context for an alternative strategy of resistance, a militant non-violent campaign animated by a philosophy of civil disobedience against a regime that seemed to pursue a ruthless agenda.
I and fellow seminarians and students read and discussed the thoughts of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Camara, liberation theologians of Latin America, as well as the writings of our own Filipino heroes.
In a meeting at the former Loyola House of Studies (LHS), student leaders came up with ideas on what young people could do. We did not agree with the idea of armed revolution, which was the path espoused by Maoist ideologues.
I recall the vigorous exchange of ideas that took place that February afternoon at LHS. When evening came, militant non-violence was discussed. Silence ensued when the idea of designating a leader came up.
I recall suggesting Edjop (Edgar Jopson), then NUSP president, to lead the fledgling organization. A few others attended the gathering, including Dr. Archie Intengan, who at that time was practicing at the PGH.
The awkward silence grew into whispers until someone suggested a seminarian to lead the group aptly called Lakasdiwa. It was on 17 February 1970, I believe, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of three Filipino priests, and on the day of Lakasdiwa’s founding, when I became the “accidental leader” of an organization dedicated to the ideals of non-violent struggle.
Lakasdiwa’s first symbolic actions underscored the theme: “Ipagmalaki ang Pagka-Pilipino” – Buy Filipino, Boycott Luxury Goods, Share Profits, Land to the Tiller – on billboards writ large. These seminal demands became the organization’s opening salvo on the national stage.
Lakasdiwas chose the Tambuli as a symbol to call on people to act. In a sense, Lakasdiwa wanted to capture the space of a struggle that was essentially Filipino in character. These were our first steps to an unfolding and unforgettable journey.”
“It happened 40 years ago, but some details of my torture still burn in my memory. I was 12 years old when Pres. Marcos imposed martial law, promising to free the people from poverty and eliminate corruption. After 4 years, his promises remained unfulfilled and the people became further impoverished.
Stealing of public funds became rampant. Foreign loans to fund Marcos’ overpriced projects buried the Philippines in debt. His cronies took over businesses and the country’s economy suffered from being second in Asia before Marcos, to one of the poorest countries in the region.
Life was very difficult, and I remember lining up to buy a “ganta” of rice which was rationed due to scarcity. The opposition and activists critical of Marcos were labelled as NPAs and killed or imprisoned without charges in prisons all over the country.
All the injustice and corruption bothered my young mind, and I decided that young people like me must push for social reforms to ensure a better future for our generation and the people.
At 17, I became Chairman of the Student Catholic Action-Visayas under Bishop Antonio Fortich and campaigned for the return of student councils and papers, then banned by Marcos.
In 1978, when I was elected to the SCAs National Council at the age of 18, I was suddenly arrested without warrant by the military while walking towards the Bacolod Cathedral. I was heavily tortured for days in a military camp.
The military forced me to eat paper when I refused to admit that I committed any crime. They would beat me up and electrocute me at night by pounding my nape with an “electric cattle prod”. They inserted M-16 bullets between my fingers which caused excruciating pain every time they squeezed my hands.
I also underwent the terrifying “Russian Roulette”. A military man brought me to a room one evening, emptied his revolver of bullets, placed one bullet in the chamber, and put the barrel of the gun inside my mouth.
I realized that the barrel of a gun when inserted into the mouth, accompanied by an overwhelming fear of death, felt very cold.
If a gun was forced into your throat, the sound of its trigger being pulled felt so loud as if the gun exploded. It was a horrible sound. He did it twice, leaving me completely drained as I could feel my brain splattered in the wall.
I was also brought to a room and made to watch them insert what looked like a thin wire into the penis of a man and electrocuted him. I was next, they threatened, but they got tired of the torture and told me “bukas ka na”. Which only filled me with dread.
One night, I was taken to a room and repeatedly beaten. The interrogator strangled me so hard that I nearly lost consciousness.
The next day, the warden was forced to take me to the hospital as I was continuously vomiting due to a damaged throat. That was the time when my parents knew of my arrest, after almost a week of torture.
Our brave FLAG lawyer, Atty. Francisco Cruz, managed to force the military to show the warrant of arrest called ASSO signed by Marcos and Enrile to justify our arrest.
Since the court charges were false, the military did not even bother to attend court hearings. The judge was forced to dismiss the case after eight months of detention. Despite the acquittal, however, I remained in prison until Marcos ordered my release after a year.
My young mind was so traumatized that I initially felt afraid of continuing my activism, fearful that I might not survive another arrest. A government which tortures 18 year olds is certainly a cruel government.
However, martial law became so unbearable to many Filipinos that I later decided to continue the fight for people’s rights against tyranny. After all, it was my future that was at stake too.
While organizing student councils in 1983, I was again arrested through an arrest warrant called PCO issued by Marcos. I spent a total of 4 years in prison merely because I was a student activist. When Marcos was deposed in 1986, our case was dismissed upon the pressing of Sen. Jose Diokno, Atty. William Claver and our other FLAG lawyers.
I continue to be a human rights activist up to now. This probably shows that terror may initially scare a people but, in the end, the spirit of freedom and democracy cannot be extinguished by repression. Tuloy ang laban.”
“Since I was underground almost all of my twenties till my early thirties, you can imagine how many unforgettable adventures I chalked up. But at this moment, I recall the simplest — one most relevant to our times.
Sometime in 1982, I was in a waiting shed with a young doctor, at that time my assigned head to our underground medical bureau. If I recall correctly, that was on EDSA just before Pasong Tamo going south, because I could remember the high wall at my back that stretched at least a kilometer.
I don’t think the complicated overpasses existed then. Traffic wasn’t terrible yet, so buses didn’t pass by too often.
Since I was the “wanted” personality — as in, P150,000 on my head dead or alive — my accommodating bureau chief hailed our needed vehicle while I stayed in the background, by the side of the waiting shed almost against the wall.
She stood some meters before me for sometime without success. Suddenly, she looked around, walked back to the waiting shed, finally finding me beside it, in plain sight.
“Oh,” she said, “I didn’t see you! You had melded into the background.”
That surprised me. How had I melded into the background, I wondered? She was right in front of me all that time, only the two of us there — for it was early morning —looking at my direction every so often. I wasn’t hiding behind the waiting shed because its posts were made of steel, not concrete. I was just there.
She too kept wondering how I could meld into the background. Was it a special gift, she asked?
That incident has been a marvel to me till now. I was underground, an atheist, a communist, a dialectical materialist, incapable of any magic. I had no capacity at all to disappear in broad daylight.
It would take me eight more years after that to discover God and surrender to Him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, in a sudden awakening in 1990 at the ripe old age of 40.
I did not know the Bible in 1982. I would learn only later the words “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 NIV)
Guard you by making you invisible? That is why I cite this experience in our times.
Though I did not believe it then, I know now that God already had a plan for me. He knew exactly when I would awaken to Him, and He knew then that He would have to protect me again now.
Not only me, but the majority of our countrymen who believe in Him and fight the evil one consistently, with a fervor and passion unsurpassed even by the 1898 Revolution.
For the time is coming, soon if I have any feel of the situation, when the Lord will hide us in plain sight, clothed in His full armor: His helmet of salvation on our heads, on our bodies a tough shell of righteousness held up by His belt of truth, for our shoes the good news of peace, even as our right hands wield the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and our left hands clutch tightly the shield of faith “to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.”
We shall be rendered invisible as needed, and we shall be seen from mountaintops by those in need, as the Lord sees fit.
We who are overcomers shall someday win this battle against rank evil, side by side with the Lord our God — invisible to the marauding enemy even when in plain sight, but visible to all those who call out to Him for help.
No one, not even the Dragon possessed by Satan, will be able to stop us.”
““Take off your shirts and pants,” was all I can remember of the woman soldier’s words inside the small room after the gate. I was 16. Demeaning as it was, we obliged because we were a few minutes away from seeing my father, Joe Burgos.
It was more than a week since the military closed down our WE Forum newspaper and Dads, together with other columnists and staffers were jailed at Fort Bonifacio. With me was my mother, Edita, while my brothers were “searched” in a separate room.
That was no place for children but we had to be there. Aside from wanting to see our father, our parents had a reason. We had to divert the attention of the listening soldiers. (Of course, the room was tapped. Luckily, there were no CCTVs yet at the time.)
We were ushered to a room, somewhat like a receiving room, and left alone by the soldiers. After the hugs, kisses and “we’re proud of you, Dads”, we had to do our thing.
My brothers started chasing each other, jumping up and down the sofa while we all loudly laughed and shouted. Dads and Moms started to talk in hushed voices. Dads had written an important note that we had to deliver to his lawyers. Since we only had a few minutes,
Moms hurriedly tucked the note inside her shoe after we noticed that the soldiers did not ask us to take off our shoes in the screening room.
On our way out, we had to hold our breaths as we stripped again while the soldiers searched us. True enough, we had our shoes intact. I believe it was a combination of prayers and luck that we were able to slip that note out.
Looking back, it seemed such a brave thing to do for children aged 12-16. But then again, we always did things as a family.
Because of the situation, all the members of our family had to do our share in publishing WE Forum. As kids, we had to help sell newspapers on the streets of Luneta Park.
As a teen, I had to help in proofreading and typesetting, while my brother had to help deliver the newspapers to the more receptive news boys before dawn. My mother had to take care of the finances and the administrative side of publishing.
While many of those resisting the Martial Law of Marcos were forced to go underground, we were in the foreground putting up an opposition paper. Dads and Moms openly discussed issues to us at dinner or family time.
They believed that the public had to know the truth. And we, as their children, had to know. It was not a time to be cowed into silence because we were on the side of truth and justice. After all, our tagline was “to seek and live the truth and share a vision.””
Photos by JL Burgos, from the film Portraits of Mosquito Press
“As a young boy, I came to read and romanticize about this White Stallion from a DC classic comics who chose freedom, and death, over a life in captivity. It was a very poignant scene with an insight and value that I have since embraced … that there is no price for Freedom.
In 1970, I experienced my first protest rally in support of the jeepney drivers” strike/mobilization against the oil price hike.
From 1971 until my father unexpectedly passed away in 1973, I lived in Bacolod and Iloilo while my father worked in Bacolod, then went into the farming business in Capiz. It was during this time that I had a glimpse of the great divide between the hacienderos and the struggling sacadas.
During summer, I had my first taste of farm work, living and working with the farmers in the fields.
While studying in San Agustin, Iloilo, I got involved in lighting rallies and teach-ins with foremost leftist leaders.
When Martial Law was declared, as a graduating student, I was fearful of my present and my future.
After my father passed away, we had to relocate to Manila, at the advent of Martial Law. I enrolled in Adamson University while working to help support myself. It was during this period that the country hosted a lot of international events. I found myself joining protest rallies by leftist organizations, even as I was not affiliated with any of them.
In April 7, 1978, the country held its Interim Batasang Pambansa elections. Benigno Aquino was the opposition’s stalwart leader, and the team was largely supported by the Social Democrats.
I was the Laban elections area coordinator for San Juan. On the eve of the elections, the first noise barrage happened, and the country’s public protest against Marcos was awakened.
Elections was marred with massive cheating and terror by the Marcos government. A lot of indignation protest actions and rallies occurred with many marchers arrested and detained.
The political terrain would be uneventful for a long while; it seemed Marcos had a good grasp of the Filipino psyche.
In 1979, exhausting all possible peaceful means of dissent, progressive SD elements and their allies mobilized and escalated their protest against the oppressive Marcos government.
One of these groups was the Light a Fire Movement which mounted urban guerrilla warfare as part of their destabilization plan.
I was glad that there were already forces moving against the dictatorship. I wanted to be one of those freedom fighters, feeling a sense of duty for my country.
In December 1979, after several successful missions, the operation of the LFM was stopped with the arrest of their leaders.
In the 2nd quarter of 1980, after Marcos released Aquino for his heart operation, the bombing of government installations and private establishments commenced as a continuation of the destabilization.
This time, the April 6 Liberation Movement claimed responsibility.
The US government took notice, and this pressured Marcos to forge a moratorium on the bombings in exchange for the lifting of ML.
On January 17, 1981, Marcos declared the lifting of ML. A victory, even if it was only a paper lifting of the dreaded decree.
On October 27, 1980, I was arrested and implicated with the A6 LM.
I was set up in a trap, literally kidnapped and tortured in the course of their tactical interrogation.
The A6LM case was the last one handled by the military tribunal and the first one under the new civilian courts on account of the ML’s lifting.
Representing us were lawyers affiliated with FLAG and MABINI, pro bono publico, namely: Pepe Diokno, Lorenzo Tanada, Juan David, Sedfrey Ordonez, Rene Saguisag, Jojo Binay, Ding Tanjuatco, Efren Moncupa, Joey Lina and Jun Simon, and many others of kindred spirit.
We were all agents of change, burning with fire in our hearts, in our desire to make a difference in our country.
Then, in August 21, 1983, Ninoy was assassinated and that caused nationwide outrage. Marcos was going to ride this wave and let it pass.
After 3 years, Marcos committed his biggest blunder. Amidst political pressure, he agreed to a snap election.
By February 22, 1986 , the defection of Marcos’ staunch officials, Enrile and Ramos, coupled with the call of Cardinal Sin, the historic EDSA People Power Revolution caused the end of Marcos’ long reign of dictatorship.
As I was still in detention, I felt helpless, but victorious, seeing all these events unfolding.
On February 25, 1986, Corazon C. Aquino was installed President of the Philippines.
One of her first official acts was the release of all Political Detainees. After 6 years, I became a free man.
Today, I am at that period in my life where I look forward to enjoying the simple and finer things in life. And I will always mean well.
But, when awakened from blissful slumber, when the dragon rears its ugly head from dark, you just move and slay that dragon – no second thoughts about it. We will all kick the bucket one day.
My prayer is to skip that line with a smile on my lips, and that it be a meaningful one, or a fun one. Or both.”