Despite the rain, hundreds of people gathered outside the Palma Hall of University of the Philippines on the evening of February 7. They were there to commemorate a very significant yet largely overlooked event in history books.

The UP Diliman Arts and Culture Festival kicked off with the outdoor FQS@50 concert held at the Palma Hall on February 7, 2020.

The festival carries the theme “Makita Kang Sakdal Laya,” [See you completely free] a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the First Quarter Storm of 1970. The festival aims to raise awareness on the significance of the FQS and its role in shaping the consciousness of the youth.

“Dito sa UP Diliman. Dito sa AS steps. Sa Palma hall. Sa kahabaan ng kalyeng ito nabuo ang First Quarter Storm noong 1970,” said Bonifacio Ilagan to the audience.

[Here in UP Diliman. Here at the AS Steps. In Palma Hall. At this road’s stretch, First Quarter Storm was formed in 1970.]

 

The Gathering Storm in an unquiet night

Toym Imao’s installation piece called “The Gathering Storm” adorned the entrance of Palma Hall. Classroom chairs were hung high above to form an ominous crimson cloud. The chairs symbolize youth unrest as such were used as barricades in the Diliman Commune of 1971. The artwork served as visual centerpiece of the concert.

“Nagtitipon tayo dito ngayon upang gunitain ang kabayanihan ng maraming kapwa Pilipino at kapwa iskolar ng bayan na nagpamalas ng giting at tapang limampung taon na ang nakalipas noong First Quarter Storm,” said UP Diliman President Danilo Concepcion.

[We are gathered here today to commemorate the heroism of our fellow Filipinos and peoples’ scholars who showed extraordinary bravery and grit fifty years ago during the First Quarter Storm.]

The entire concert was performed almost entirely by UP’s homegrown cultural groups and talents. Cultural Center of the Philippines Artistic Director Chris Millado was at the helm as director of the concert while FQS veteran Ilagan penned the script and Prof. Chino Toledo served as musical director.

The audience were treated with politically-charged songs all throughout the evening.

The concert was divided into three acts.

Lou Mendez and Danny Fabella of the group Musikang Bayan sang “Baligtad na ang Mundo,” [World is reversed] depicting the twisted current situation where politicians go unpunished and activists persecuted.

“Anak ng Bayan [Nation’s offspring],” a song about a young activist heeding the call to serve the people, was also performed.

Snippets of the proletarian street play ‘Kalatas ng Manggagawa’ [Workers’ missive] was performed by young members of Panday Sining.

Rodolfo Vera performed the FQS medley along with the UP Symphony Orchestra, UP Singing Ambassadors and the UP Staff Chorale. Included in the medley are such notable songs as “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa [Love for the motherland],” “Mendiola,” “Tamad na Burgis [Lazy bourgeois],” and “Ang Masa [The Masses].”

Vera was once artistic director of protest choir Patatag. The choir was established in 1984 at the peak of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.

Film Director Joel Lamangan and theater actress Monique Wilson went on stage to pay tribute to numerous Filipino martyrs and heroes.

The song “Bella Ciao,” was sung by children’s choir UP Cherubim and Seraphim. Originally an Italian protest song of rice paddy workers of the 19th century, it was adapted as a hymn of the antifascist resistance during World War II. The piece performed that night was the Filipino version.

Bonifacio Ilagan and Toym Imao’s installation art in the background

 

Continuing UP’s revolutionary tradition

Indeed, many UP students fought Marcos’ tyrannical regime and offered their lives to the cause of freedom. Amongst those early martyred during Martial Law are notable students from UP Diliman such as Lorena Barros and poet Emmanuel Lacaba, to name a few. Over the next four decades, this spirit of selflessness is imbibed by generation upon generation of UP student activists.

It is this radical tradition that has earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte himself, who once threatened to kick out activists off the university in February 2018.

UP Diliman President Danilo Concepcion said that the university will continue educate the people about Martial Law.

“Sa mga susunod na buwan ay masasaksihan natin ang pagsisimula ng pagtatayo ng isang Martial Law memorial na hindi lamang isang museo kundi isa na ring paalala na hindi na dapat mangyari muli ang lagim ng martial law,” said Concepcion.

[In the next few months, we will witness the groundbreaking of a Martial Law memorial to be built not only as a museum but as a reminder that the horrors of martial law should never happened again.]

The museum, aptly named Freedom Memorial Museum is set to open by 2022, the 50th anniversary of Martial Law.

Concepcion said there will also be fora and discussions about the topic in the months to come.

Aware of limitations of such endeavors, Concepcion further said that “Hindi man maibabalik ng mga ito ang buhay ng mga bayani o mga trahedyang bumalot sa libu-libong hinuli, sinaktan at pinahirapan ng estado, titiyakin ng UP na mananatili itong tagapagtanggol ng karapatan at tagapagtaguyod ng kalayaan tulad ng pagbabakod nito sa mga nakaranas ng Diliman Commune. Hindi magbabago ang panata ng UP na magsilbing gabay bilang lingkod ng mga kapwa Pilipino,” said UP President Danilo Concepcion.

[These may not bring back the lives lost, neither will it compensate for the tragedy experienced by the thousands imprisoned, hurt and tortured by the state, UP will remain a defender of rights and freedom, as in the days of Diliman Commune. UP’s oath to serve as guide to fellow Filipinos will remain unchanged.]

Incoming UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo praised the timeliness of the concert.

“Malinaw sa akin ang matatag na tradisyon ng pakikisangkot sa pakikibaka ng UP. Ang 1986 People Power Revolution na nagpatalsik sa rehimeng Marcos ay hindi nag-umpisa sa pagpaslang kay Ninoy Aquino noong 1983. Ito ay bahagi lamang ng mahabang kasaysayan ng pakikibaka kung saan ang 1970 FQS ay isang mahalagang milestone,” said Nemenzo.

[UP’s strong tradition of participation in struggle is clear to me. The 1986 People Power Revolution that overthrew the Marcos regime did not start in the killing of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. It was only part of the history of that long struggle where the 1970 FQS is an important milestone.]

 

Repression under the Duterte Regime

“Ang UP ay sinasalakay sa nagdaang buwan palibhasa’y alam ng maniniil ang mahalagang papel ng UP sa pagpapanatili ng kalayaan,” outgoing UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan warned the audience.

[UP is being attacked these past few months because our oppressors know the important role of UP in upholding freedom.]

He mentioned the raid in the office of progressive groups and an alternative media outfit in Tacloban just a day before this commemoration concert of the FQS.

Early morning of February 7, four human rights workers and a journalist were arrested in Tacloban. Mira Legion, Marielle Domequil, Alexander ‘Chakoy’ Abinguna, Marissa Cabaljao and Frenchie Mae Cumpio were detained due to trumped up charges.

 

Passing the flag

The concert may be over but the human rights situation in the country is pushing for another storm.

“Bilang bagong henerasyon ng kabataan, malaking bagay na naramdaman namin ang halaga ng FQS. Malaking tulong sa henerasyon namin ang FQS para mas magpursige sa pagbabago ng lipunan,” said Jank Moreno of Anakbayan Metro Manila.

[As the new generation of youth, it is a big thing that we felt the value of FQS. FQS contributed to the present young generation’s pursuit for change in society.]

In a symbolic gesture during the program, FQS veteran Bonifacio Ilagan, while unfurling a red flag, announced that he was chairperson of Kabataan Makabayan from 1970 to 1971. He then handed over the flag to a young man in his 20s.

As the program drew to a close, a decades-old chant resonated through the air as activists pumped their fists in the air.

“Makibaka, huwag matakot!” the crowd shouted in unison.

 

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