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How communists gained control of UP Student Council, Philippine Collegian, and most campus organizations

THIS is the second of a three-part series on how the Maoists, starting in the early martial law years, succeeded in making our premier state educational institution, the University of the Philippines (UP), the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) intellectual and cultural base.

These narratives were published in a blog by Roberto “Beto” Reyes, who seems to have been a ranking CPP cadre in the late 1970s and 1980s and an eyewitness and participant in the communist conquest of UP.

We owe this account, certainly a testament to the adage “news are the first drafts of history,” to Mr. Reyes who took the effort and time to write down what could very well have been lost in people’s frangible memories. I also applaud The Manila Times’ editors, who agreed to publish such rather unusual content of an opinion column, making these narratives a solid resource material for future historians — as opposed to an internet blog that could be deleted permanently.

As I have narrated in previous columns, since the years described here the CPP has consolidated and expanded its control of the UP, which has continued to be its recruitment grounds, its de facto party school, and one of its most powerful propaganda machines. The UP’s bigger non-communist academic and student community have just looked away. There has been no ideological and cultural counter-force to the communists’ hegemony over the UP.

A usual UP happening: Not about tuition fees and the like but ‘various issues’ vs Duterte. ANC SCREENGRAB

Reyes blog:
In the history of the Left movement in the University of the Philippines, 1975 was the year the Communist Party of the Philippines accepted that an explicit anti-martial law protest movement in the Diliman campus was feasible. Going for it were the underground and aboveground assets it had painstakingly developed in 1973 and especially in 1974. Besides, party leaders opined, the initial shock of the declaration had vanished.

It tried to incite protests in 1973, but these were quickly squelched by the police. In an astute move, the CPP settled down to secretly penetrate innocent-looking organizations, undertake subtle anti-dictatorship activities through these groups, recruit members and develop a mass base.

In 1975, the CPP determined that after all the spadework, it had enough warm bodies and a range of tactics to openly challenge martial law without inviting suppression and arrest. The party sensed that the Marcos regime was relaxing, albeit temporarily. The Left was willing to test the waters.

Hopes were high in the party ranks that the intended protest movement would approximate the intense rallies before martial law. However, quite a few CPP operatives in Diliman recognized the stifling effect of martial law on student activities. They were secretly lowering their expectations. Not a few, however, were convinced that the students could still be mobilized to demonstrate in droves, like they did before Proclamation 1081.

CPP organization
By 1975, the CPP had already laid out a decent network at UP made up of more than 80 cadres and members, and about thrice this number were “national-democratic” (ND) activists. The party branch was bombastically called “University Revolutionary Council,” or URC. Its executive committee was called Komiteng Tagapagpaganap or verbally, KT. The URC fell under the administrative supervision of the CPP’s District 2, or “D2” which covered Quezon City and Marikina.

D2, in turn, was under the guidance of the party’s Manila-Rizal (MR) Committee. MR’s leadership was then newly taken over by Filemon Lagman, who was known in underground circles as “Ka Popoy.” A tactical genius, Lagman this early was already hankering for a general uprising in Manila-Rizal, which he termed as a “sigwa” (storm).

(Popoy as MR secretary built up the dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade to become a feared and deadly weapon of the metropolitan party organization. He led a sizeable group of top communists to break away from the CPP in 1991 to form a new communist party. He was assassinated purportedly on [Jose Maria] Sison’s orders in 2001, en route to a meeting at the Bahay ng Alumni at UP, allegedly as he was preparing to disclose the full details of how Sison’s inner core planned and executed the bombing of the Liberal Party rally at Plaza Miranda in 1971. — RDT)

Lagman’s influence on the party branch at UP was immense. Even his agitated speaking style and gesticulating body mannerisms were copied by the top cadres. Lagman contributed in no small measure to the UP party branch’s intense desire for an uprising in the university.

The URC’s organizational department (OD) was tasked with overall organizational maintenance and political guidance of the numerous party groups and national-democratic core groups. These were embedded in the various student organizations, in the newly elected Student Conference and in the Philippine Collegian.

Organizational maintenance basically meant keeping the groups together and consolidating them. Giving political guidance meant ensuring that the groups followed the policies and guidelines of the URC, which was also called “higher organ,” or informally “HO.”

It was the job of the OD to transmit the memos that emanated from the URC, and for these to be thoroughly discussed in the party and ND groups. The memos were usually typewritten on onion-skin paper and several pages long. Sometimes reading the memos was difficult because the URC production committee made too many copies in a single typing. Carrying the documents was extremely dangerous. Persons found by the military to be carrying them were adjudged CPP elements and were invariably arrested, tortured, or even “salvaged” (summarily executed).

The memos contained the national and campus political situation, the issues of the day, the tasks for a given period, and the political calls. The latter came in the form of stirring slogans, like “Struggle for an autonomous, democratic and representative Student Council!”

Corps of cadres
The memos were transmitted by a small corps of talented and dedicated cadres that individually headed the various party and ND core groups. A party or ND group leader had the authoritative and glamorous title of “sec” which was short for secretary. Being a “sec” gave an activist enormous admiration and respectability even in the purportedly egalitarian UP activist community.

Sometimes, if the sec was not capable enough, the OD dispatched a “political officer” or “PO” to assist him/her, especially in explaining and defending complex policies. Helping the OD in consolidating the underground groups was the URC’s education department (ED), which was a pool of CPP instructors who were adept at conducting Marxist and ND discussion groups. These leftist seminars were casually called “EDs.” They systematically followed a prescribed curriculum. They were held in private houses belonging to the UP students themselves, especially those whose parents were middle class or upper middle class.

For the ND activists, the course was called “basic mass course,” or “batayang kursong pangmasa.” A must reading for this course was CPP Chairman Amado Guerrero’s Philippine Society and Revolution, or PSR. For the party elements, the course was called “basic party course,” whose readings were contained in a pocket handbook titled “Guide for Cadres and Members of the Communist Party of the Philippines” or “Patnubay Para sa mga Kadre at Kasapi ng Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas,” or verbally, “Patnubay.” An added reading for party elements was Amado Guerrero’s just published article “Specific Characteristics of Our People’s War.”

Both party and ND courses were preceded by a lengthy getting-to-know-you or “kilanlanan” portion, where each participant introduced him/herself by relating a short autobiography or “talambuhay.” The talambuhays ended on what led the activist into the movement, and how he/she came to embrace its program and ideology.

The URC also had a “propaganda commission” or “propcom.” It was the propcom’s job to distribute underground publications in the campus, like Ang Bayan, the CPP official publication, Liberation, which was the official paper of the National Democratic Front (NDF), and Taliba ng Bayan, a publication of the MR committee. Propcom published a paper of its own, called Rebel Collegian or RC. Propcom also gave direct tactical guidance to the party and ND core groups operating within the Philippine Collegian.

Building alliances
After satiating itself with low-key activities conducted by individual organizations in 1974, the CPP decided that in 1975, it was going to go for the dramatic. It decided to tackle bigger issues and for these to be bannered by groups or “alliances” of organizations. As well, belligerent indoor and outdoor rallies, abandoned in 1973 and 1974, were back on the planning table.

The first step in this bold direction was for the organizations to form alliances according to type or orientation e.g. academic, fraternity/sorority, varsitarian, civic, religious and cultural. Examples of alliances that were formed were the “UP Fraternity Alliance,” the “UP Alliance of Social Science Organizations” and the “UP Alliance of Natural Science Organizations.”

The alliances were usually formed in a meeting of representatives convened by a leading organization. An alliance was formalized through a written joint statement or declaration of principles which was signed by the organization heads. The CPP cadres saw to it that the declarations contained a commitment to “student rights and welfare,” and to “national freedom and democracy.”

“Student rights and welfare” covered issues relating to tuition fees, campus facilities, student loans, and the academic curriculum. “National freedom and democracy” was inclusive of US domination of the economy, civil liberties, human rights, restoration of the student council, and martial law. The inclusion of this catchphrase was notable, in that it was a first after three years of martial rule. It was the CPP’s trial balloon on how far student protests and mass actions could go, without inviting suppression.

Student rights
The next step was for the alliances to form a university-wide alliance of alliances. This aggrupation was formed in a large meeting in mid-1975 at the Student Conference room (Alcantara Hall) on the second floor of Vinzons Hall. The main agenda of the group was the restoration of the student council and the improvement of student facilities. Note: any national political issue was off the table for the time being.

(The UP Student Conference, whose members were first elected in1975, was the officially sanctioned replacement for the Student Council, which was abolished by martial law along with other such ‘student governments.’ It was transformed back as the Student Council in 1980, with communists continuing their control of such a student body. — RDT)

Although it already controlled the Student Conference and the Philippine Collegian, the CPP decided that it still needed a campus-wide organization like the SCSRW, which it completely controlled. Complete control meant being able to adapt a group’s name and tactics to any issue it wanted to pursue, and to the intensity level it wanted to pursue it.

Such flexibility was not present in the Student Conference and the Philippine Collegian, because after all, they still owed their existence to the UP administration, with the attendant rules of operation. Any rash action by either body could invite suspension or abolition. It would have been foolhardy for the CPP, for example, to let these institutions lead a street uprising, or call for armed struggle.

The CPP leadership was reserving the SCSRW for this kind of action, even though the latter was addressing student rights and welfare issues in the interim. When the SCSRW assumed an anti-dictatorship stance, the CPP planned to upgrade its harmless name to something combative.

These are typical ‘articles’ in the Philippine Collegian, financed by taxpayers’ money. Every propaganda line of the Communist Party, the Collegian disseminates, amplifies and even puts artistic touches on each.

Philippine Collegian
CPP control of the Student Conference and the Philippine Collegian in 1975 was essential to the success of its plans. These institutions were pivotal in sparking protest actions. Both were excellent CPP propaganda platforms, as they legally articulated any CPP analysis, call-to-action, and slogan.

They also enjoyed tremendous legitimacy, being administration-created and sanctioned. The institutional cover they provided to CPP cadres was formidable. Moreover, they provided solid provisions to the activists, in the form of office space, office supplies, two electric typewriters and two reliable mimeographing machines.

The party successfully fielded candidates in the Student Conference elections in mid-year, capturing most of the 20 or so seats. Even before the elections, CPP control of the new body was a foregone conclusion, because it controlled practically all the organizations that fielded candidates. Just the same, the party took advantage of the campaign to engage in propaganda and break new ground.

In the Philippine Collegian meanwhile, party elements managed to snatch important staff positions after the grueling editorial exams. They arduously prepared for it, even holding writing and lay-out workshops and a mock exam. They, however, failed to win the editor-in-chief position. The post was bagged by Abraham “Ditto” Sarmiento Jr., a nerdy and bespectacled law student who belonged to the moderate Alpha Phi Beta fraternity.

Surprisingly, Ditto Sarmiento proved to be very cooperative to the Left. In fact, he mostly let them have their way with the Collegian. With each issue, the Sarmiento Collegian escalated its attacks against the dictatorship. The most memorable issue under his editorship came in late 1975. It not so subtly called for an uprising against martial law. It had an imposing image of the Oblation on the entire front page, with “Kung hindi ngayon kailan pa (If not now when)?” emblazoned under it in red letters.

UP Women’s Home
The radicals also controlled a little known but vital UP institution, the UP Women’s Home, a cozy bungalow behind Vinzons Hall which became a veritable activist boarding and half-way house. The radicals also held meetings and consultations in its many small rooms, which were noticeably bereft of furniture. The rooms were nonetheless clean, carpeted, and sound-proof. CPP elements who were on the military’s wanted list often sneaked into these cubicles, and engaged in endless small talk with their less sought after friends.

The activists also patronized that timeless Vinzons Hall fixture, a cafe called The Grill. The leftist watering hole had more than its share of activist banter, courting, and debate. No doubt about it, the Marxists were attracted by the The Grill’s proletarian prices. This University Food Service outlet had an endless supply of cheap coffee, spaghetti, hamburgers and cinnamon rolls.

With the Student Conference and the Philippine Collegian being likewise based at Vinzons Hall, this building, fronted by a defiant Andres Bonifacio statue, and which dominated a hill overlooking the UP Sunken Garden, became the effective UP Diliman leftist operations center.

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