One of the most well-known figures in the student movement before the martial-law period, Edgar Jopson was president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), then the largest student formation with members coming from 69 schools.
Jopson, widely known as Edjop, led the NUSP to become involved in current issues. When two barrios in Bantay, Ilocos Sur were burned down in a feud between local politicians, Edjop and his group went to get the terrified residents out of the area and housed them on campus until their safety was assured. Likewise, when huge ﬂoods in 1972 left large areas of Luzon underwater for weeks, Jopson solicited the support of government and business groups for a project where hundreds of youths went to reforest parts of the Sierra Madre mountains for several weekends, stopping only because martial law had been declared. It was the NUSP that initiated the massive rally held in front of the Congress building on January 26, 1970, as Marcos made his “state of the nation” address.
One memorable anecdote of that period was about Jopson and other student leaders going to Malacanang to dialogue with Marcos, soon after that rally. There the boyish Jopson insisted that the most powerful person in the land promise not to seek a third term of office, and to put it in writing. Angrily, Marcos refused to agree to such a demand from a mere “grocer’s son.”
At the time, the most hotly debated topic in the student movement was whether a radical/ revolutionary or a moderate/ reformist path was the better approach to social change. Jopson, who was popularly identified as a “moderate,” preferred to stress that in reality the two sides were united in their objectives. “Solutions to our problems may divide us but [such divisions] should never override the unifying need for these solutions. It is this need that unites us in the student movement; it is this need that unites us ultimately with other progressive sectors in our society,” he said upon being honored by the Philippine Jaycees as one of the country’s Ten Outstanding Young Men in 1970.
After graduation, Jopson turned away from job opportunities here and abroad, choosing instead to work with the Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions. He took up law at the University of the Philippines, which he abandoned after a couple of years, convinced that the laws he was studying were for the rich. He remained with the labor movement, living among the workers and helping draft collective bargaining agreements. He was instrumental in organizing the landmark workers’ strike at La Tondeña distillery in 1974, the first significant open mass protest under martial law.
By this time, with the martial law regime closing off all avenues for peaceful change, Jopson had taken the radical path. He was soon a ranking leader of the anti-dictatorship revolutionary movement, tasked to head the preparatory commission for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. In 1979 he was arrested in Metro Manila and tortured while under interrogation. After ten days, he escaped and immediately rejoined the underground. He made a written testimony that detailed the physical and mental torture he underwent, his torturers’ names, rank, and personality profiles.
In 1981, with a P180,000 prize on his head, making him then one of the most wanted persons in the country, Jopson simply went on with his work; he went to Mindanao, learning and writing, developing insights into the unique characteristics that shaped the region’s history and present situation.
On September 20, 1982, he was captured during a military raid in Davao City, shot while trying to escape, taken alive, brought to the military camp and interrogated. He refused to “cooperate” and was summarily executed the following day. He was 34 years old.
Edgar Jopson became a symbol of the modern idealistic Filipino youth who faced the realities of their time without ﬂinching, gladly giving all, including their lives, for the country and the people.