Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the Manila Hotel demonstration of October 24. The protest was a turning point in Philippine politics. To commemorate the event I am making available a portion of a draft chapter from my rewriting of my dissertation for publication as a book. This is still a work in progress. Sources are available in my dissertation itself [Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership: Martial Law and the Communist Parties of the Philippines, 1959-1974]
The great currents of the past year — the blood-dimmed tides of war and dictatorship and the turbid undertow of social unrest — met in awful confluence on October 24 1966. The sediment of social resentment, deposited over the course of a half decade of declining living standards, social inequality, and political rot, was dislodged by the Vietnam war and brought to the surface by Johnson’s visit in an upwelling gyre of outrage. It remained as yet a particulate anger, its banners and placards diffuse, but it was strident and growing. The Manila Summit demonstration marked a sea-change in Philippine history.
The immensity of Washington’s war in Vietnam, the rapidity of its growth, and the brutality of its conduct were breathtaking. By December 1965 the United States had already deployed 185,000 soldiers to the former French colony, yet commanding General William Westmoreland stated that at least 443,000 combat troops would be needed by the end of 1966. Operation Rolling Thunder unleashed an incessant rain of death on North Vietnam, dropping over 250,000 tons in its first nine months, including the widespread use of napalm. In June, B-52s began taking off from Guam to carry out the saturation bombing of South Vietnam and within a year they had carried out 350 raids and dropped 70,000 tons of explosives.
These numbers only increased in 1966 and by December, 637,000 tons of bombs had fallen on Vietnam, almost equal to the total tonnage dropped in the Pacific theater during the Second World War. Explosives were not the only payload, however; by the end of 1966, the aerial spraying of Agent Orange had produced a million acres of poisoned desert. The violence spilled into Laos as Washington launched a secret campaign that left the country the most heavily bombed per capita in history. An implacable escalatory logic governed the imperialist war. In the middle of the year, the Joint Chiefs of Staff insistently informed Defense Secretary Robert McNamara that an invasion of North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia needed to be prepared and that it might require the use of nuclear weapons against southern China.
The bloodshed required political cover. Johnson cast Washington’s war as part of a broad international response to the needs of a stable democratic government in South Vietnam, and to shore up the pretense turned to the regimes in Seoul, Bangkok, and Manila, cobbling together the best regional support that money could buy. As early as the middle of 1964, before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the White House was already in an advanced stage of negotiations with both the Macapagal and Park Chung-hee governments for the deployment of forces to South Vietnam.
Significant sums of money were on offer and Macapagal moved with alacrity to supply Filipino troops. Then Senate President Ferdinand Marcos derailed Macapagal’s support for Washington in 1965, and secured the support of the PKP and its new youth wing, the KM, in harnessing the popular outrage over the war to his bid for Malacañang. Thus, as Marcos took office at the beginning of 1966, two thousand South Korean troops arrived in South Vietnam while Manila had not yet commited any Filipino forces to Johnson’s manufactured multilateralism.
Marcos had no interest in defying the United States but he was politically savvy. Having brokered his opposition to the deployment of troops into a presidential election victory, he now sought to truck his support for the highest possible price. US Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended the inauguration, feeling out Washington’s new man in Manila, and on December 31 he sent an eyes-only despatch to Johnson, then in Texas for the holidays, stating that “Marcos’ response on discussion additional commitments South Vietnam strongly encouraging. … However, Marcos obviously has ticklish Parliamentary situation …” Jack Valenti, then special assistant to the President, was traveling with Humphrey and, upon playing a round of golf with Marcos, wrote a memo to Johnson on January 4.
We need Asians to take the lead in Asian affairs. Best asset to US is strong Asian leader … Suggest we bet on Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines … Let Asians take up the burden we have been carrying … Equip two or more Korean divisions, and send them to Vietnam. They could easily take the place of 30–40,000 Americans … The price we pay for this is cheap … I suspect [Marcos] wants to be a great president, and is willing to do unpalatable things in order to achieve that greatness … Marcos has the gifts of brain and courage to do those things that need to be done, but which need an Asian cover to be done.
Johnson followed Humphrey’s advice, and on February 25 secretly sent a personal invitation to Marcos to visit Washington, routing the letter as eyes-only traffic through Ambassador Blair in Manila. Marcos negotiated, seeking arms to suppress the central Luzon Huk rivals of his ally Sumulong; funding to supply ten domestic engineering batallions; and payment for the costs of the Filipino troops deployed to Vietnam. The money, he insisted, should not be earmarked but sent in a direct and unaccountable fashion as he intended to place a significant chunk of it in his increasingly capacious pockets.
Throughout the summer of ’66 Washington and Manila haggled over the price of Filipino mercenaries. In the end, the White House spent as much as was necessary to fabricate a guise for its war. As Marcos pushed through the PHILCAG legislation and prepared to visit Washington, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Walt Rostow summed up the perspective of the Johnson administration, “… Marcos has really put his political neck on the block in backing our Vietnam position and in sending military forces there. But he did it.” Johnson commmitted to supply Marcos’ engineering batallions and to pay $39 million in discretionary money to the Philippine President from the US Department of Defense budget, thus circumventing legislative oversight of the deal. Marcos’ tour of the United States was turned into an ego trip. At his request, Marcos was granted an honorary doctorate from the University of Michigan and spoke before the joint House of Congress.
They bartered in backrooms and paid under the table. The true character of the deployment of Filipino troops to Vietnam — that PHILCAG was the mercenary hireling of Manila’s former colonial master — only emerged during the inquiries conducted by the Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee under Stuart Symington in 1969. The White House posed its actors in a geopolitical tableau sharply at odds with reality: South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines all shared Washington’s desire to provide aid to the embattled, democratic government in Saigon.
The props purchased and the blocking well-rehearsed, all that lacked was an Asian proscenium. On September 21, during the midst of Marcos’ state visit, the Johnson administration drafted its proposal to hold a summit in Manila in late October. In a display of imperial hubris, Johnson invited Harold Holt and Keith Holyoake, the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, and only upon securing their agreement did he inform the Philippine President of the impending gathering he was expected to host.
The theme of the drama was multilateralism, however, and the idea was thus presented to journalists as having originated with Marcos. The Philippines Free Press accurately summed up the whole staged affair, “the entire firepower of the American delegation during the Summit was concentrated on changing the complexion of the war in Vietnam from an American war to a war of, by and for Asians.”
On October 23, in the grande dame of American colonialism, the Manila Hotel, on the Dewey Boulevard waterfront — of late made over as Roxas — Johnson assembled his Summit. That morning an American freighter, insisting on its right of way, collided amidships with a Philippine passenger vessel, the Pioneer Leyte, off the breakwaters of Manila Bay.
The Leyte, a American Freight and Supply vessel sold as surplus at the end of the Second World War, foundered and sank in five minutes. Scores of dead bodies, including pregnant women and children, floated for days in the bay outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of Johnson’s MacArthur Suite. A coterie of State Department grey men and RAND corporation drones stalked the hallways, supervising the event. Holt and Holyoake quietly staged their cameos while the gathered Asian leadership adopted a pose of regional concern.
Nguyen Cao Ky, given to openly fascistic sympathies and installed as Prime Minister by military coup; Park Chung-hee, put in office by a military junta in 1961; Thanom Kittikachorn, military dictator of Thailand; and Ferdinand Marcos, the only democratically elected figure in the bunch — all fixed their signatures to a joint declaration of support for South Vietnam which Johnson had drawn up for the occasion.
The vast Texan shadow of the American president — shrewd, vulgar, and utterly dominant — loomed over the gathering. The evening before the summit, he met privately with the Vietnamese delegation and coached Ky, “lean as far away as you can from the ‘imperialist’ Johnson, from the hard-liner Rusk, and that fellow with stars on his shoulders, Westmoreland. You just hold the Bible in your hand tomorrow. You be a man of good will; love your neighbor.” As the summit opened the next morning, Johnson praised Marcos’ work in preparing the event and, to the Philippine President’s enduring embarrassment, described him as his “right-hand in Asia.”
The summit closed on October 25 with the signing of a joint communiqué committing the assembled powers to the military defense of Saigon, and a “Declaration of Peace and Progress in Asia.” That evening Westmoreland contacted Johnson through Rostow calling for dramatically expanding the bombing of North Vietnam. Johnson ordered the US Navy to begin shelling the Vietnamese coastline. Between late October and the end of 1966, the US military launched more than 500,000 shells at the Vietnamese people, a number which exceeded the total it had fired during the entirety of the Second World War. The joint declaration of peace in his pocket, Johnson departed the next morning for Cam Ranh Bay, where he reviewed the troops.
The Manila Summit was quickly forgotten, its posturing and declarations were at best a historical footnote, crêpe flooring over a widening quagmire. The developments immediately outside the Manila Hotel were of far greater significance.
A week before Johnson arrived, Voltaire Garcia chaired a “tumultuous meeting” of the UP Student Council, securing by a narrow margin a resolution to stage a protest of the Manila Summit.
Manila Chief of Police Ricardo Papa refused to grant a permit for the protest, so Ignacio Lacsina appealed to Manila Mayor Villegas and was issued a permit for a protest to be held in front of the US Embassy, several blocks removed from the Manila Hotel. UP students traveled in eighteen buses from Diliman toward the arranged meeting point of Agrifina Circle where students from UE, Lyceum, and members of LM were already gathered, but police stopped the UP buses at the Quezon City-Manila border in Sta. Mesa and demanded to see the students’ protest permit. Garcia or Violeta Calvo, at the head of the student delegation, explained that the protest permit was with the advance group already at the circle.
The police refused to allow the buses to enter Manila and the students walked the remaining five kilometers. Bored with waiting, the protestors at Agrifina circle broke out a guitar and began singing “folk-songs” in a circle and “[t]he spirit of a hootenanny took away some of the boredom.” When the UP contingent arrived, the rally marched from Agrifina Circle to the Embassy, where they demonstrated for an hour. Each speaker stood on top of a jeep to address the crowd: Voltaire Garcia and Orly Mercado spoke on behalf of the UP Student Council and Lacsina on behalf of LM, distributing copies of his statement to news crews.
At this point accounts conflict. According to Ninotchka Rosca, the idea to move the rally from the Embassy to the Manila Hotel arose spontaneously from the crowd, and added that “an officer suggested that the leader’s jeep follow the crowd to pacify them and Carlos del Rosario, secretary of the Kabataang Makabayan, agreed to this.” Violeta Calvo testified that it was Ignacio Lacsina who instructed the students to go to the Hotel rather than remain at the Embassy.
Contemporary accounts record that there were two thousand protestors present, but in 2004, with her usual sense of inflation, Rosca claimed that five thousand marched to the Manila Hotel, apparently forgetting that in 1966 she had estimated that the protest involved “2,000-odd workers and students.” When the protestors arrived at the Manila Hotel, Manila Deputy Chief of Police, Major James Barbers, instructed them to disperse because their permit was for the Embassy not the Hotel.
Tensions mounted as the protestors refused to disperse in the face of the riot-gear clad police. A number of contemporary reports state that Americans in suits were standing behind and circulating among the Manila police; the police attacked the protestors when an American shouted “Go get ’em!” The protestors fled in the face of the violent dispersal.
The police beat students with rattan batons and fired shots in the air. At some point during the dispersal, a police officer aimed and fired at a fleeing student named Prudencio Tan, shooting him in the neck. Rosca reported that “doctors had to open a hole at the base of his neck to enable him to breathe: his windpipe had been punctured.” As the police attacked the protestors, members of the foreign press were also injured and reporters and cameramen for UPI, Washington Post, CBC and ABC were hurt in the dispersal. The police arrested and filed charges against five people.
Blood darkened the Manila Hotel pavement. The youths of October 24 marched against war, colliding with the state and its bodies of armed men. With earnest voices and hand-drawn placards they strained forward against the police line but behind the rattan shields was a gaze blank and pitiless. They were shot, beaten, and arrested. Outrage rapidly displaced shock, and the conduct of Manila’s police became the focus of all ire.
For more than a year, Washington had monitored the seismic tremors of social unrest. A Secret National Intelligence Estimate, completed on 17 February 1966, revealed the tensions mounting on the fault lines of Philippine society. “The key problem is a deep and growing economic cleavage between upper and lower classes” and should Marcos prove incapable of dealing with this in the next four years, “Philippine political stability and democratic institutions could be seriously undermined.”
In the urban areas, the major problem is unemployment. There are an estimated 750,000 unemployed and at least two million underemployed in the country’s work force of 11.5 million. Each year an additional 375,000, including 25,000 college graduates, seek employment, normally exceeding the number of new jobs being created. In the cities, the pressure of a large unproductive manpower pool is manifested in low wages, poor working and living conditions, high crime rates, and other serious social problems. Among the educated unemployed, radical causes tend to flourish. … Although Philippine real national income per capita generally rises slightly each year, the gains tend to accrue to the wealthy, while among the rural and urban poor, real wages and living standards usually decline. In Manila, real wages for skilled and unskilled industrial workers have declined about 20 percent over the past decade, and the luxury consumption of the wealthy contrasts most markedly with the extreme poverty of the general population.
On 7 September 1965, David Bell, head of the Agency for International Development (AID) wrote a letter, classified Secret, to John McNaughton, Undersecretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, outlining Washington’s response to these volcanic rumblings. The fundamental task was not economic reform, but rather “the principal aim of our assistance to the Philippines should be toward internal security.
We also agree with the proposal that MAP [Military Assistance Progam] should be oriented to give greater emphasis to internal security and that very serious efforts should be made to bring the Government of the Philippines to this conclusion.” The crisis was serious enough that it “constitutes a potential basic threat to the stability of the government,” the preservation of which depended upon the state’s ability to suppress dissent and unrest. “Briefly, our views are that the Philippine Government should provide substantially increased support and improved leadership for its police forces, and that the United States should offer substantially more police assistance through the AID Public Safety Program, especially to the Philippine Constabulary.”
By early 1966 these proposals were being implemented. “[C]areer CIA employee,” Byron Engle, head of the OPS, “in April 1966 contracted a team of American experts led by Frank Walton … to conduct a nationwide, three-month survey” of the Philippine police force, which provided the groundwork for supplying “assistance that proved instrumental to Marcos’ use of police for repression.” McCoy argues “Though masked by a rhetoric of technical reform, the OPS program forged nothing less than an infrastructure primed for political repression. By its creation of centralized communications, a metropolitan police command and computerized data banks, US aid helped Marcos to tame Manila.” A number of CIA personnel were recruited to the project “to improve police counterinsurgency capabilities with extralegal methods,” and, in the years before the declaration of martial law, “OPS trained an estimated eighty-five senior Filipino officers in interrogation techniques at the IPA in Washington DC.” A critical component of these police-state measures was the creation of the Metrocom (Metropolitan Command), which gave a branch of the military, the Philippine Constabulary, jurisdiction over the Greater Manila Area as an anti-riot squad charged with crowd control. “From within this strike force, Marcos would, as a martial law dictator after 1972, form an elite antisubversion squad, the MISG, that used torture and extrajudicial killings to spread state terror.” In the middle of the 1960s, as the social volcano smoldered ominously, Washington organized, funded, supplied and trained the apparatus of military dictatorship in the Philippines, and it was this that the October 24 demonstration brought to light.
At the center of Washington’s preparations was Joma Sison’s maternal uncle, Manila Deputy Chief of Police, James Barbers. The son of an Italian-American private in the 3rd US Cavalry named George Barbieri who fought against the forces of General Manuel Tinio before settling down in Cabugao and marrying a well-to-do Ilocana, Barbers rose rapidly in the ranks of the Manila police force and caught the eye of Washington.
Brought to the United States for training, he graduated from the senior officers’ course at the IPA in Washington DC, having studied crowd control with the New York Police Department, industrial security with the Pinkerton Detective agency, and riot control at the US Military Police School in Fort Gordon, Georgia. An American plainclothes may have barked the order, but it was Barbers who supervised the violent dispersal of October 24.
He proved efficient and remorseless, a man whose conscience was not pricked when he ordered his men to beat and fire upon unarmed students. More than any other figure over the next half decade, Barbers was directly responsible for suppressing demonstrations outside the US Embassy, the presidential palace, and the legislature.
US Ambassador Henry Byroade, who from 1969 to 1973 oversaw Marcos’ implementation of martial law, issued repeated commendations to Col. Barbers in recognition of his unparalleled ability to disperse, suppress and control crowds of workers and youths in the streets of Manila. Under the military dictatorship, Barbers was made head of Manila’s police force and finally Vice Mayor of the city.
In late October 1966, as outcry mounted over the brutality of Manila’s police, Barbers unapologetically defended the techniques of crowd control and torture in which he had been trained, telling Graphic Weekly, “The greater the resistance the greater the force is the police rule whether quelling mobs or extracting confessions.”
The October 24 demonstration — the first of the spasmodic eruptions marking the fitful tempo of the dance of dictatorship — would have occurred without Sison’s leadership, but he had positioned himself at its head and retained control over the restive and growing youth movement. Now he sought to contain this social force, a reservoir of political energy burning beneath a thin black crust. He was not yet prepared for a vast explosion; he needed to secure sway over the PKP.
Stalinism measured the political strength of the rival forces vying for control of the party by their ability to negotiate ties with the bourgeoisie. In late 1966 the PKP focused its attention not on the war in Vietnam or the burgeoning police state apparatus, but rather on the formation of the broadest alliance with the bourgeoisie in the history of the party, the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN).
As the crisis of American capitalism deepened and grew visible, an increasing number of Filipino capitalists strained to loosen Washington’s grip on the economy. They did not seek complete economic independence, for they were tied to the US market and the financial institutions of Wall Street by ten thousand threads. They aspired, however, to play a new role, to become semi-autonomous junior partners and no longer corporate dummies, mere placeholders on an executive board run by Americans.
MAN was to be the fulcrum of this endeavor, adding to the capitalists’ effort the mass of workers, peasants and youths the PKP brought to the organization. Economic ties with Moscow, which the PKP would negotiate, gave extended leverage. Victory in the struggle for the Communist Party would be won by the section of its leadership that emerged dominant in the formation of MAN.
Sison’s opponents in the party were lesser men, their social awareness was duller and their organizational initiative torpid; politics was something they played at in their spare time, a meaningful hobby for long weekends. Their influence with Filipino capitalists in late 1966, however, dwarfed that of Sison. They displayed their ties with Moscow, promising trade deals and cash loans on competitive terms.
They occupied offices in the Marcos’ administration, while the protests of October 24 threatened to rupture the KM’s relationship with the president it had backed less than a year before. Where Moscow gave Sison’s rivals choice economic blandishments to offer Filipino capitalists, the political line of Beijing gave Sison credibility and sway over the growing unrest.
As the gravity of the social crisis increased, the specific weight of Sison’s youth movement rose and tipped the scales of bourgeois politics. At the time that MAN was founded, however, only the far-sighted anticipated this, while most inclined to the staid rivals of Sison and their immediately useful relations with Moscow.
The one advantage that Sison had in this stilted contest was his own energy and that of the youth movement behind him. If he could move quickly enough — organize, travel, network, speak — it was possible he could build MAN while the remaining leadership of the PKP were still rising from their armchairs. Any social movement not focused on this end was a wasteful expenditure of effort. Opposition to police brutality needed to be corralled, and denunciations of the Marcos adminstration silenced; the time for these was not at hand. Every social layer which Sison could mobilize needed to be focused on one end: securing ties with Filipino capitalists through the formation of MAN.
Within days the outrage over the brutal suppression of the demonstration at the Manila Hotel took organizational shape as the O24M, and Voltaire Garcia, whose name featured most prominently in the press as leader of the suppressed rally, was made chair of this ad hoc new grouping. The O24M emerged independently of the PKP but was marked from its inception by the political confusion engendered by the party, all factions of which continued to support Marcos.
Simultaneously decrying the emergence of “fascism” and appealing to the “liberal principles” of the Marcos administration, the O24M demanded the immediate removal of Brig. Gen. Ricardo Papa as chief of the Manila police and of Patrolman A.S. Carlota, whom they accused of shooting Prudencio Tan. Gathered behind its banners were anarchistic elements, sections of university youth drawn to the cultural revolution but generally opposed to political authority. The names which emerge in contemporary newspaper accounts as the core constituency of the O24M reappear a year later as the instigators of a break within the KM to form the SDK on precisely these grounds — Perfecto Tera, Mila Aguilar, Ninotchka Rosca.
The general disorientation of the O24M, produced by the PKP’s continuing support for the President, found expression on October 26 in a front page editorial in the Collegian headlined “the rise of fascism.” Fascism, it claimed, had been drawn out of “Hades.” “Never for an instance did we think that in a freedom loving nation such as ours fascism could take a foothold and make this foothold the stepping-stone from which to pursue the enigmatic aims of an ambivalent governmental structure.” It described fascism as the actions of “deranged policemen” carrying out “unwarranted and unjustified brutalities,” and it appealed to Marcos to resolve this problem. It called for an independent investigation of the brutalities and asked Marcos to ensure that police agencies “keep their ugly hands out of the investigation,” and to put into “efficacious practice” the “liberal idea which President Marcos advocated … early this year.”
The demonstration and its violent dispersal in front of the television and newspaper cameras of the world had publicly humiliated Marcos and he immediately ordered an investigation into the protest — which he termed a riot. At the same time, he sought to contain the social anger which had been expressed in front of the Manila Hotel and sharpened by the brutality of the police, and on October 30, he summoned a select group of UP student leaders to Malacañang for this purpose.
Voltaire Garcia and Violeta Calvo met with the President and he announced that he was ordering all charges dropped against the five accused protestors. Marcos’ commitment did little to appease the growing outrage. The police had beaten and fired upon their ranks; the demonstrators sought not clemency but redress. On November 3 over one thousand students marched from Agrifina Circle to Malacañang in a rally denouncing police brutality.
The chair of the O24M, fresh from his closed door meeting with Marcos, strained to retain control over the protestors. Garcia attempted to wield the prestige of the UP Student Council to shore up his leadership over the growing movement, but was unable to secure its support for the rally. A majority of the Council opposed the demonstration, citing the ‘successful meeting’ recently held with Marcos. KM mainstays Jose David Lapuz and Ernesto Macahiya addressed the crowd alongside Garcia, but the dwindling control the organization’s leadership retained over the demonstration found expression in the slogans which the demonstrators scrawled on their placards: “Down with AID controlled police” and “Barbers — CIA butcher.”
Over the past several years the front organizations of the Communist Party had, under the leadership of Sison, cultivated relations with the man who was now emerging as the focus of public ire: Sison’s uncle, Barbers, Manila’s deputy chief of police. They depicted him as a public servant dedicated to the national interest and on September 12, 1965, the Lapiang Manggagawa awarded him “a plaque for outstanding service to the country.” Long after the Manila Hotel pavement had been scrubbed clean, Sison’s groups continued to maintain cozy ties with Barbers. Writing on a demonstration in early 1968, Lacaba recounted this incident: “Major James Barbers of the MPD called to Sison and put his arm around the young man’s shoulders.
Standing there on the pavement, both of them in polo barong, both of them grinning from ear to ear as they talked in Ilocano, the American mestizo and the anti-American nationalist seemed to be a symbol of something or other: an end to discord? peace at last in Manila as in Vietnam?” In August 1968, a SCAUP member wrote to the Collegian to commend this ‘CIA butcher:’ “If they want an orderly demonstration, the policemen should learn to handle a crowd. Manila policemen should learn it from their deputy chief James Barbers. Although handling a police club, Barbers never threatened us when we were at the Hilton Hotel. He was all smiles and spoke with courtesy and treated us with admirable tact.”
The Communist Party supported this CIA trained police chief not simply because he was Sison’s maternal uncle. Far more fundamentally, the PKP’s endorsement of, and relations with, Barbers expressed the Stalinist perspective of the progressive role of the national bourgeoisie in the first stage of the revolution, and in particular of its Maoist articulation, New Democracy and Coalition Government.
The joint dictatorship of the bloc of four classes required that sections of the military and police be won over and made loyal to national interests. Thus, as Sison had courted the officer corps of the PMA, so too he sought the support of nationalist minded sections of the police. The O24M was a loose, spontaneous amalgam, its absence of a thought-through political program contained in its very name, which expressed nothing beyond an angry reaction to an immediate grievance.
Sison sought to control this outrage by redirecting it, away from the repressive apparatus of the state and behind the program of national democracy. On December 6, on the quiet Loyola Heights campus to which Ateneo de Manila had relocated after his expulsion from its high school, Sison addressed an assembly at Kostka Hall sponsored by the Ateneo Political Society.
The central thrust of Sison’s speech was the depiction of the emerging youth movement as fundamentally a nationalist movement oriented to securing limited reforms through appeals to, and pressure brought to bear upon, the existing structures of political power. He invoked the names of Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, Jacinto and Gregorio del Pilar as historical examples of the “revolt of youth” in service to the construction of nation. He declared,
The youth of today who have been courageous enough to express their principled stand on the contemporary issues have much to teach their elders. It is not with arrogance that they wish to teach their elders but it is in the spirit of recalling them to the cause of nationalism that the youth have always had to fight for. Our elders in the highest councils of the government today are bound by compromises with big vested interests which have made possible their elections and appointments. We wish to bind them with the tradition of the nationalist and the revolutionary youth who merge themselves with the masses under the red banner of the Philippine revolution.
The task was to bind the elders with nationalism; this should be the orientation of youth: to the heads of state, government officials, police chiefs, in a word, their elders. Youths were not oriented to the future, the new, to overthrow, let alone a socialist revolution carried out by the working class, but rather to political continuity and reformist politics.
Their task was to sway their conflicted elders away from imperialism and bind them in service to nationalism. However red its banner, and however much it couched itself in the language of youthful revolt, this was the most tepid of reformism. The program of the KM, he stated, “merely affirms what every patriotic Filipino should adhere to,” and he approvingly cited the slogans of the Garcia (“Filipino First”), Macapagal (“Unfinished Revolution”), and Marcos (“The nation can be great again”) administrations as evidence of the continuity between the politics of the KM and that of their establishment elders.
Their elders were conflicted, however, wavering between their imperialist beneficiaries and the needs of the people. Here the intervention of youth was needed, to remind the elders of their true allegiances, to expose the imperialists and to win the elders back to nation. Youths did not have access to the press, so they voiced this pressure politics through demonstrations.
Sison turned to the question of police brutality. “Since we are interested in the free development of nationalism in this country, we need to consider the fact that foreign agencies maintain an undue amount of control and influence over our police forces and our armed forces.” Just as foreign domination over the political elders was thwarting the emergence of nationalist politics and needed the pressure of youths to bring their elders back into service to the nation, so too police brutality expressed not the fundamental character of the state but a distortion of its role under the pressure and control of imperialism.
Reforms, secured from the “elders,” who would be bound to nationalism by the fervent demonstrations of the youth, would transform “our police” from brutal oppressors into national heroes, as Sison anticipated the emergence of modern-day del Pilars “in the ranks of the police and the military.”
Sison countered the spontaneous anger finding expression in the October protest by pushing future demonstrations back into the role of reformist pressure. He sought to explain that this orientation was in fact the thrust of the emerging unrest of youth, drawing out what he claimed were the three purposes of the O24M,
- to wage a nationalist education campaign based on the Nationalist Declaration;
- to defend civil liberties; and
- to expose the nature of state violence.
He elaborated on this perspective, “There is the need to wage a nationalist education campaign. The events before, during and after the October 24th Incident reveal to us how much our government officials misunderstand the spirit of nationalism. Anti-nationalism has so much poisoned the minds of so many of our police officers and those higher executive officials who give them the orders.” Anti-nationalism was the root cause of the problem of police brutality, according to Sison, but it was the product of an unfortunate misunderstanding which could be remedied by nationalist education.
This explained the violent dispersal of the October 24 protest, as “it was an act of anti-nationalism … to shoot the throats, to break the skulls and step on the breasts of the young men and women who demonstrated.” With nationalist education, he argued, “we hope for the day when the spiritual forebears [sic] of Gregorio del Pilar will assert themselves within the ranks of our police and military. I am certain that within the ranks of the police and the military, there are many good elements sympathetic to the cause of nationalism.”
To counter the anti-nationalism of their “elders” and of the police Sison proposed six concrete steps: the Congressional National Defense Committee should support a bill allowing rallies without permits; a bill should be filed in the legislature excluding military personnel from staging rallies; unspecified “steps should be immediately taken” to reduce AID control over the police; Congress should reconsider the Anti-Subversion Law; civilian supremacy should, by unspecified means, “be maintained” in the National Police Commission; and, finally, “Nationalist and civil libertarian organizations should be allowed and encouraged to hold seminars on nationalism and civil liberties among members of the police and armed forces so that a bridge of sympathy and understanding could be built for the prevention of fascism.” Every one of these concrete measures would be carried out by the state, including “allowing and encouraging” nationalist organizations such as the KM to hold seminars with the police. Sison effectively told the youths and workers coming into open conflict with the state that they could not independently resolve any of their problems and that the state, far from their enemy, could be made to serve as their ally. They needed simply to pressure it with demonstrations and bind it to the “national interest.”
Having stated that he hoped for the emergence of a sympathetic and heroic police force, Sison declared, “The growth of fascism in the Philippines is expected with the ever increasing desperation of the US in the Vietnam war and elsewhere. … As the Vietnam war rages and both the Philippines and the US become wracked with internal problems, the use of fascist methods to suppress democratic expression will become more and more frequent.” He did not define fascism, but instead used it as a dysphemism, a sort of political swearword for police and military brutality caused, he claimed, by anti-nationalism.
There was an unmistakable light-mindedness to Sison’s facile alternation between his anticipation of the imminent growth of ‘fascism’ and his assertion that the police are a generally well-meaning force in society whose sympathy can be secured by participating in government sponsored seminars. Over the past year, nearly a million Indonesian communists had been killed by military and para-military death squads, yet by Sison’s logic fascism could have been prevented if the military and police had simply been led to understand the true meaning of nationalism.
When Sison reprinted this article in 1972, he removed his fatuous reference to police officers as modern del Pilars, as well as his campaign of seminars and sympathy, and simply concluded with the rise of fascism. Martial law was but months away.