This passionate cry, defying the Marcos dictatorship at the height of its reign of terror, was echoed by young people across the land, and soon taken up even by their elders who drew their own inspiration and courage from it: “Who will speak up if we don’t? Who will act if we don’t? If not now, when?”
It was Abraham Sarmiento Jr., the editor of the Philippine Collegian, student paper of the University of the Philippines, who threw down that challenge. They were not mere words for him either, and he paid with his life for his daring leadership of the campus press in 1975-1976, when the martial law regime jailed him for his many critical articles and editorial policies.
At a time when the major media outlets – commercial newspapers and magazines, radio and television stations – were firmly controlled by the Marcos regime, the Collegian upheld its proud tradition of press freedom and independent thinking. Under “Ditto” Sarmiento, the UP student newspaper refused to be timid and safe. It tackled the issue of presidential succession, for example, protested the waves of illegal arrests, and demanded the release of political prisoners. It took a strong stand on campus questions, and Sarmiento and his staff led rallies in support of their positions.
Only the Collegian dared to report on the publication by the Civil Liberties Union of a critical pamphlet, Three Years of Martial Law. It published the article “For Those Who Care,” signed by 500 opposition leaders, notably Diosdado Macapagal, Gerardo Roxas and Jovito Salonga. It also published the letter of Macapagal to the Philippine Constitutional Association advocating the convening of an interim national assembly as mandated by the 1973 Constitution, in order to end martial law.
In December 1975 Sarmiento wrote an editorial that offended the then minister of national defense, Juan Ponce Enrile. He was “invited” for interrogation and then sent home. A month later, he was picked up from the house of his father, Abraham F. Sarmiento, who had been vice-president of the 1971 Constitutional Convention (and who later served, in 1987-1991, as associate justice of the Supreme Court).
Ditto Sarmiento was detained for over seven months in Fort Bonifacio and later in Camp Crame, where he was placed in isolation for two months. He had always been in poor health, being asthmatic, and the harsh conditions caused him to grow weaker. He died of a heart attack, at age 27.
The UP College of Business Administration and Accountancy honored Sarmiento with a posthumous bachelor’s degree in 1978, as he was never able to finish his academic program. It was the first time the college did this. In 1986, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines gave him a posthumous Plaridel Award.
PARENTS Abraham F. Sarmiento and Irene Pascual
SPOUSE / CHILD Marsha Regala Santos / 1
EDUCATION Elementary / Secondary: Ateneo de Manila
College: University of the Philippines Diliman