Recalling UPLB in martial law

This was originally published in Volume 46 Issue 6, December 2020

The University of the Philippines (UP), as a bastion of activism, has always been at the forefront in asserting our democratic rights and in denouncing injustices that permeate society. Class struggle, especially, heightened during the period of Martial Law; an era which placed the Filipino people in prolonged suffering and, in turn, instigated social consciousness and shaped today’s liberal society. 

As a constituent unit of UP, the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) has its fair share in the discourse of martial law history. UPLB also became a target of state repression and tyranny as it fought back against the then dictator. Student activists, at that time, experienced arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings; some were detained as political prisoners and others went missing, of which up to this day, are yet to be found. 

Hilda Narciso and Maria Bawagan, political prisoners from UPLB who survived Marcos’ regime, at a symposium entitled “Martial Law: echoes from the past” held last 2019, shared that illegal arrests, torture, salvaging, and desaparecidos were rampant during this time. Bawagan narrated that common forms of torture were electric shock, water cure, “russian roulette”, premature burial, and sexual abuse among others. Bawagan said, “Maging mayaman ka, maging mahirap, basta taliwas sa kagustuhan ni Marcos ang iyong ginagawa, pwede kang mamatay.”

Since their disappearance after the suspension of the privileges of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, some student activists are still nowhere to be found. The narratives of the Southern Tagalog 10—desaparecidos coming from Southern Tagalog who disappeared in 1977—albeit in the past, are still alive today. Among these desaparecidos include Rizalina Ilagan, Gerry Faustino, Jessica Sales, and Cristina Catalla, all of which are UPLB students and faculty members. According to Bantayog—a memorial foundation which commemorates Martial Law heroes—the Southern Tagalog 10 is considered as the “single biggest case of involuntary disappearances” committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during martial law. 

Two years prior, Leticia Ladlad, a UPLB agricultural chemistry student and first woman editor of Aggie Green and Gold, precursor publication of the UPLB Perspective, fought alongside the agricultural workers of Laguna and Quezon in the hopes of attaining genuine agrarian reform; she was last seen in 1975 and has been missing since then. 

Manuel Bautista, active in the campus publication Aggie Green and Gold, also joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) and the UPCA Cultural Society. He was a 4th year BS Economics student and left UPLB to join the underground resistance located in Southern Tagalog, in protest of Marcos suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Bautista led an underground newspaper and was forced to hide their editorial office and suppress the noise coming from typewriters, mimeographing machines etc. due to security threats. He was arrested in 1973 but managed to escape out of detention less than two months after. Bautista then continued running an underground publication but this time in the Quezon-Bicol region. In 1976, he was killed in an encounter with the armed forces in Tagkawayan, Quezon. 

On September 22, 2020, Dr. Ma. Victoria Espaldon, UPLB professor and former editor of the UPLB Perspective, recalled the state of campus press and how the media was censored during martial law. She stated that the Perspective spearheaded the re-establishment of press freedom in Southern Tagalog and how this movement founded today’s College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Southern Tagalog (CEGP-ST), an alliance of tertiary campus publications in Southern Tagalog. 

Struggle for student representation

Marcos authorized the establishment of student councils with the condition that only UP will be given this “privilege” however, students were still surveyed. Elections were held and the UPLB University Student Council (USC) was formed through the Council of Student Leaders in 1987, making it the first student council to be created across the UP system. 

Atty. Filemon Nolasco, first UPLB USC chairperson, in an interview with the Perspective, recalled how Marcos was able to monopolize power through the imposition of General Order No. 1 within the premise of martial law. Nolasco recalled the time when his roommate, Gerry Faustino, one of the Southern Tagalog 10, suddenly disappeared. He even said that detainment was a better option rather than being a desaparecido, in which the latter’s relatives do not receive proper closure. 

Nolasco added that during the Marcos administration, to be able to use facilities for symposiums such as classrooms and even the Student Union (SU) building, students needed to secure a permit. It is said that the history of the February Fair—a yearly event shedding light on various societal issues—stemmed from this mandate because students were not allowed to convene or mobilize themselves. He shared that they placed booths on the field showcasing different student organizations in defiance of the existing rules and regulations. Nolasco also said that even before he studied in the university, prior to martial law’s implementation, UPLB students set up a barricade to counter its ratification. 

He mentioned that one night, when SU—a building primarily dedicated for student activities—was vacant, it suddenly burned down; files and documents from the student institution offices were also incinerated. Large protest rallies were organized, at that time, but other accounts and documents went missing since some archive photos from the Perspective were burned. 

Dr. Ochie Baes, one of the founders of the SDK UPLB Chapter and also former USC chair, spearheaded programs such as book reviews and “Learning from the People Summer Work Camps” wherein council members would integrate with rural communities. These activities were said to have gradually radicalized students and soon after, in 1970, they conducted a protest against increasing oil prices. Students, back then, boycotted classes and set up a barricade on the national highway blocking the entrance of the UPLB campus.

After the declaration of martial law, Baes worked underground and organized the farmers of Laguna until he was arrested in 1973. He was released a year later and became a Chemistry professor in UP Diliman. While in the academe, he continuously organized and educated activists to not falter in the midst of a cruel dictatorship. 

Marcos’ tyrannical rule, inarguably, is considered as one of the darkest periods in history. Different sectors, including the youth, forwarding legitimate advocacies were silenced and repressed. Decades have passed but the traumatic memory of the countless human rights violations, oppression, and abuses that transpired under the Marcos administration remains fresh in the minds of the Filipinos. 

With the parallelisms of today, from shrinking democratic spaces to the extremes of unjust killings, it is important to remain vigilant of the reigning totalitarianism and impunity in society. The state has constantly kept the university in check through campus militarization and intimidation but if there’s one thing that history has proven, it’s that the youth will never concede to fascists. [P]

[P] File Photos and from Fides Lim
Layout by Gerard Laydia

5 comments on “Recalling UPLB in martial law

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