Pre-Martial Law student activism in Davao

Written by Macario D. Tiu, Ed.D

Student activism in Davao began with campaigns in the early months of 1970 calling for a non-partisan Constitutional Convention that was to replace the 1935 Philippine Constitution. It was part of a nationwide movement organized by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP). In Manila, the rallies turned violent and became known as the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970. The ripples of the FQS immediately reached Davao, with students from various schools taking the initiative to organize themselves or establish chapters of Manila-based organizations such as the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK), Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP), and Khi Rho, the youth arm of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF).

By the latter half of 1970 the local students had become more politically aware. They began to be concerned not only with student and school issues, but also with the larger social issues concerning the plight of workers and farmers as well as the continuing foreign control of the economy. They organized in schools, communities, and expanded into the bigger towns of the region. They began to get involved in pickets of workers on strike, or in camp-ins of the farmers who demanded land reform. Whenever there were issues raised by the other sectors, the students would be there to help. The students might be divided into certain ideological camps, but they worked together on many common issues.

One of the most memorable events in Davao in 1971 was the so-called Battle of CM Recto that lasted for around three days and three nights. This was an off-shoot of the killing of student activist Edgar Angsingco who was manning the picket line put up by the striking students at the main gate of the University of Mindanao (UM). The student strike had dragged on for three months and tensions were running high. When Angsingco was killed, the city erupted into violence, with angry mobs battling with police and shutting down CM Recto and Oyanguren Streets. A special target of the attack was the office of the United States Information Service (USIS) on Recto Street which was trashed by the rioters.

Practically all the student governments and student papers in the City and major towns became very active. They did not only voice the concerns of the students, they also became vehicles to expose the ills of Philippine society and to demand reforms. There were frequent marches and rallies in 1971 and in the early part of 1972. The issues raised were both economic and political. The students held rallies to protest against oil price increases and landgrabbing of big ranchers and plantations, and to support workers’ strikes and peasant demands for land. The political issues included government corruption and the abuses committed by US servicemen in US military bases in the country and the US war in Vietnam.

This activism was fired up by the idealism of the students and youth to reform Philippine society and eradicate long-standing poverty in the country. When the venues for expressing their views were suppressed by the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972, these idealistic youths were left with no choice but to go underground and/or go to the countryside to wage an armed struggle. It should be noted that there was no single NPA in Mindanao at this time.

Instead of responding to the demands for change, the government under President Marcos went after those who demanded change and social transformation. The students, youth, workers, peasants, and other sectors of society knew that they were going to be punished, imprisoned, tortured, or killed by the martial law regime, but they willingly faced these threats for the love of the Filipino people and nation.