Source: Humans of Pinas

“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.”