From Activism to Public Service

For this series, started last Saturday, I share the stories of former editors and writers of college papers and members of the League of Editors for a Democratic Society (LEADS), circa 1969 to 1972—as they held their first reunion after 40 years. Their stories are compiled in the anthology “Not on our watch: Martial Law really happened,” edited by Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon.

They belong to the generation caught in the crossfire of one of the darkest chapters in history, the martial law years, especially the First Quarter Storm—the series of intense anti-government protests by progressive and militant groups in the first three months of 1970—which warned the country that President Ferdinand Marcos would hold on to power beyond the constitutional limits. Some, but not all, were members of the militant organizations or the radical left and remained ordinary college students, expressing their opposition to the Marcos rule by joining rallies and protest demonstrations.

Robert “Obet” Verzola was a BS in electrical engineering student from the University of the Philippines. He served in the Philippine Collegian in 1971 as a columnist and later as associate editor. He was a member of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) and joined the underground movement when martial law was declared. Obet was captured by the military and imprisoned twice. He wrote powerful testimonies on the torture he had experienced.

Later, he also articulated for a generation of activists a new mission: “With the ecological crisis compounding our economic problems, the country and the world needs change badly, more than ever.” Speaking about the legacy of his generation, Obet said—“When we of this generation go, our memories should not leave the world with us. No, we must not forget.”

Obet passed to eternal life last May but those of us who worked with him will never forget his contribution.

Dr. Manuel Dayrit was a college student at Ateneo de Manila University in 1967. He became a sports editor of Guidon, the college newspaper. Of the 1970s he said, “I was already in active search of a clear political analysis of the country’s ills. I had begun systematically exposing myself to social and political initiatives…the First Quarter Storm had an unnerving effect on me. I started attending political seminars which were organized in school….the chants of social revolution had become familiar to me, but the political ideology behind it was not clear. And so it happened that on the first days of 1971, the political line was explained to me in a teach-in at Eliseo Hall, one of the student dormitories in the Ateneo campus.”

After college, Dayrit entered medical school. Yet the stirrings of nationalism that started in Ateneo did not end in medical school. During his internship, he decided to work in the rural communities in Mindanao, extending his health care expertise to the rural folks of the Island. His work organizing health programs in the barrios brought him closer to the rural poor. Dr. Dayrit—Manolet to those who know him well—subsequently joined the Department of Health and rose from the ranks to become Secretary of Health. After a stint in Geneva, Switzerland with the World Health Organization, Manolet joined the Ateneo de Manila University as Dean of its School of Medicine and Public Health. I had the good fortune of working with him in the university as his counterpart in the School of Government.

Diwa Guinigundo was a reluctant student activist in the 1970s. According to him, what actually set the stage for his decision to get involved in mass actions was having witnessed all that had taken place before and during the martial law years. The 1970s were tumultuous, underscoring the urgency of the cause to fight and live for. As editor of Ateneo’s Pandayan, the school organ, he fought for the restoration of human rights. For a brief period, he was detained by the Marcos military for a few weeks. After graduation, he continued on to work in public service, until he was appointed deputy governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, a post which he currently holds.

When the “Not on our watch” book was launched, Guinigundo represented the hopes of his generation: “What is our challenge today? Many of us from the First Quarter Storm found ourselves going back to the mainstream. But the few of us who remained fighting sacrificed their lives and their future. The challenge to us in the mainstream is quite obvious. We need to continue raging against the dying light of patriotism. It is important to keep our hearts focused on national transformation. Should we allow the spirit of institutionalized ruthlessness and violence stalk the land again? We can only say, ‘Not on our watch!’”


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