An Instrument of Change: How Music helped put a stop to Martial Law

“All those years of struggle against Marcos, and most especially during those four historic days in February, everyone found out that in the Philippines, the line of fire is the place of honor.” 

These were the words of Lean Alejandro, a student activist back in 1986 in an interview about the People Power Revolution. The fight against the Marcoses and Martial Law had finally come to a head as many coalitions and organizations banded together to topple the Marcos dictatorship.

The Music of our Protests

At sa kanyang yumi at ganda
Dayuhan ay nahalina
Bayan ko, binihag ka
Nasadlak sa dusa
(Bayan Ko)

The fight for our rights didn’t stop after we gained our independence. The “Katipunang Pambansa ng Mga Magbubukid ng Pilipinas” or KPMP would be the most active communist mass organization in the 1920s. They sought to fight for an equal share of the land they till with their landlords and fought to stop debt slavery. Other mass organizations would soon be created that sought to improve the peasants’ quality of life. One of the other larger ones was the “Aguman ding Maldang Talapag-obra” or AMT. These groups sought change through non-violent means, and the many ways they taught more peasants about the labor struggle were through song and dance and other activities. The advent of World War II and the Japanese Occupation led to the merging of these two mass organizations, leading to the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or Hukbalahap.

The Hukbalahap movement made up of peasants and laborers in Luzon had its marching songs, the most popular one being Tindig! Aking Inang Bayan. Similar to Alerta Katipunan, this song was made by adapting a song commissioned by the Japanese occupying the Philippines during World War 2. The Hukbalahap changed lyrics in the song to reflect their war against the Japanese, and the Americans who continued to meddle in the Philippines. Tindig! Aking Inang Bayan and Alerta! Katipunan both appropriated the songs made by their colonial masters, changing the songs to fit their fight for their independence.

After the end of the Japanese Occupation and the establishment of the Third Republic, most of the peasant movements and workers unions from before the Japanese Occupation came back as the Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid or PKM, to contest the continued rule of the hacienderos. Their demands were the same as the first workers’ unions from four decades prior; Fairer wages and a fairer share of their work. The PKM had their own set of beliefs, they were National Democrats, taking inspiration from Maoist thought.

The songs of the revolution were in full swing during this time. Revolutionary songs from other countries were being translated and adapted to fit the struggle and reflect the changing times in the Philippines. One of these songs was the Bandiera Rossa, or the Red Flag, an Italian communist classic. The translated version of it was sung in many mobilizations and demonstrations. There is another translation of Bandiera Rossa however.

Bandilang Pula

Tamad na Burgis
Na ayaw gumawa
Sa pawis ng iba
Ng manggagawa
Hindi marunong mahiya
Bandilang pula iwagayway (3x)
Ang anakpawis ay mabuhay

Bandilang Pula

Tamad na bourgeoisie
Na ayaw mag-work
Sa sweat ng others
Pinapa-eat, eat ang mga workers
Hindi marunong, ma-ashame
No ashame!!
Bandilang red … i-wave, wave, wave (3x)
Ang sons of sweat ay long, long live!

Years before the People Power Revolution, back when student activism was still in its infancy, there were a handful of students and organizers during the early years of the Marcos Administration. During this turbulent period, the first demonstration began with students all over the country and masses of people from all walks of life. The demonstration stood to condemn the Marcoses State of the Nation Address and everything it stood for, US Imperialism and a continuation of the same landlords and bureaucrats growing fat off the Filipino people. The militancy in this demonstration was borne out of the aggression of state forces responding to the protest. Policemen were using tear gas, water cannons, and even guns were shot during the demonstration, these were the actions that lead to the increasing militancy of many students. Moderates and radicals were treated equally by Marcos, pushing many students to radicalize despite their former beliefs.

The demonstration on January 26 was the beginning of even bigger protests, and an increasingly militant student movement. Enemies in the government condemned the January 26 Demonstration, drowning out legitimate concerns about the coming constitutional convention. The police are commended for their action, while students are warned of “communist infiltrators” and are coddled by their elders. Even now this strategy is still used with the NTF-ELCAC “helping” students, but they only seek to divide them.  The red scare is an age old tactic that we still haven’t outgrown. Red-tagging was a widespread tactic then and until now to harass and intimidate the population, even now workers, peasants, students and their families are victims to red-tagging, while their accusers are  left unpunished.(READ: 15-year old peasant files multiple charges of kidnapping, torture, rape against state forces – UPLB Perspective). 

These would lead to the events on February 1, starting with a protest march in Diliman. Sonny Mesina was a Chem student enrolled in UP Diliman when he decided to join a multisectoral rally with the ‘Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan’ or SDK. This rally was to be held in Commonwealth Avenue. There along with other students he encountered Inocente Campos, a Mathematics Professor, who shot at students with his rifle and shotgun, hitting Sonny Mesina in the forehead, gravely injuring and killing him.

On February 2 UP President Salvador P. Lopez protested the entry of the police into the campus, but was unable to stop the police. When the police entered the campus, students began to install barricades to prevent the entry of the police, this was the start of the Diliman Commune. Barricades stayed up until February 9 when students began to take them down voluntarily. 

The SDK also had a chapter in UPLB. Aloysius Baes was a UPLB student leader who helped found the SDK chapter in UPLB. He was arrested at the start of Martial Law. While incarcerated in Camp Crame, Aloysius would compose prison songs, tackling issues like the political prisoners of Martial Law and his love for his country. His brother, Jonas Baes, who was taking Music in UP Diliman, would also follow in his footsteps by joining the Tulisanes in UPLB.

UPLB Tulisanes: Tulisan at Bayani

Sa piling ng mutya kong suyo.
Diwa’y nais kitlin at mata’y bulagin
Sa paghihirap ng bayang siniphayo.
Ngunit yaring diwa’y walang takot
(Diwang Walang Takot)

Tulisanes was born in 1974 from a group of six students; Wenceslao “Wency” Olaguer, Dr. Bayani “Bai” Espiritu, Virgilio “Siokoy” Rojas, Lynn Martinez, Pedro”Bornix” Abad, and Dennis “Tengo” Alegre who were committed to serving the masses, at a time when it was dangerous to be an activist or a student. Four years after the First Quarter Storm and two years before the declaration of Martial Law. Injustice, censorship, and a failed democracy, many things needed to change, and the founding members of UPLB Tulisanes sought those changes through a medium that everybody knows; music.

The origin and history of their name show the goals and beliefs of those six founding members. Tulisan had meant brigand, thief, a villain of some sort, popularly used by the Spanish More importantly, Macario Sakay, a katipunero, and Philippine hero was also described as one by the American government. He was dissatisfied with the 1898 Treaty of Paris that only served to replace their Spanish colonial masters with the Americans. Macario Sakay vowed to never cut his hair until the Philippines gained its independence from the Americans. Macario Sakay kept on fighting for Philippine independence until his execution in 1907, with his long hair still uncut. (READ: Macario Sakay: Ang tulisan bilang bayani

Bakit di tayo Magnilay
Bakit di tayo Gumalaw
Bakit kay saklap ng buhay ng karamihan
(from Bakit di Tayo Magnilay by Tulisanes)

The UPLB Tulisanes was formed during a time of turmoil. The media was already under the control of the administration, information had been censored and manipulated to fit the narrative of the ruling class. The people had been deprived of their right to assembly, speech, and many other basic freedoms they previously enjoyed before Martial Law. The Tulisanes began their protests through informal jammings and performances in Los Baños. Along with these mini-concerts were “Huntahans” or small talks, a creative presentation of ideas, of political and academic discourse. These discussions covered the injustices and atrocities perpetrated by the Marcoses. They covered the Desaparecidos of UPLB and the beliefs of the numerous mass movements that its founding members were part of. 

Tanong ko sa inyo ay isa lamang mga kaibigan ko  
Tanong ko ay pakinggan niyo 
Kailan tayo patutungo sa kalayaan mula rito
(From Awit ng Manggagawa by UPLB Tulisanes)

Their beliefs were central to their music, they wrote in Tagalog and their style would have poetic licenses, prioritizing the need to send a message through song. Through their songs and their beliefs, the Tulisanes sought to achieve the main objective of their organization “Musika Mula sa Tao, Para sa Tao”. The Tulisanes and their contemporaries helped instill the culture of protest in the places where they performed. 

Protest movements slowly gained steam as tensions grew between the people and the Marcos dictatorship. These would eventually push the Tulisanes and their brand of music into the forefront of the industry. The Tulisanes were one of the pioneers of the burgeoning underground protest music movement and their music would play a part in the coming years of the People Power Movement.

The start of the eighties broke new ground for the UPLB Tulisanes, before the start of the decade they performed their first full-length musical covering the wars of the Katipunan, and their namesake, Macario Sakay, and his fight against the American Occupation. This was the first iteration of their musical, Rekonsentrado. A year later they would independently produce the very first independent protest cassette recording and songbook in the Philippines called Harana. (LISTEN: Tulisanes UPLB,Inc. | Listen to Harana 1

The Tulisanes would continue to perform in campus-based concerts and take part in Isko’t Iska, the yearly stage plays of Umalohokan Inc. and performed by UPLB freshmen. It wouldn’t be until 1985 that they would do a second performance of Rekonsentrado. It was to be performed in the D.L. Umali Hall and expanded on the coverage of the first play, going through Philippine history until the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino. Rekonsentrado 2 was performed back in March 1985, a year later Tulisanes would halt their performances as they focused on serving the various sectors involved during the turbulent year of 1986.

The boycott of the 1986 snap elections and the subsequent People Power Movement occupied many of their members. After the Marcoses ran with their tails between their legs, Tulisanes would finally perform again, leading the Pasasalamat Concert of March 10, 1986, held in Freedom Park. This was the first major Concert after the departure of the Marcoses. This event had both cultural and political significance, and it was the crowning contribution of the Tulisanes to the revolution. 

Songs have a way to bring about change. We have seen the versatility of verse in shaping our history. Music is a way to express and shape the complexities of the human condition, it’s universal. Our national anthem expresses our love for our country, the religious songs we sing shapes our beliefs, and the songs we listen to shapes our social consciousness.

Every song has a story to tell. What is important is that we realize which songs are in need of singing. Whose words do we choose to put on our lips when we belt it out in front of our family and friends. Between all the obnoxious jingles of politicians, and the songs of clueless celebrities, we need to discern which songs we choose to give a platform to.

Ngayon ikaw ay manindigan ng taos
Lakbayin mong may ngiti ang dilim at pighati
May wakas sa bawat hapis
(From Sa Kamatayan May Buhay Ay Tagumpay by UPLB Tulisanes)

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