A communist front is born: The League of Filipino Students

Third of a series

This is the third of a series publishing articles in a blog by Roberto (“Beto”) Reyes, an eyewitness and participant in the communist movement’s expansion in the University of the Philippines sand other schools.  

This part narrates the establishment of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), allegedly the biggest and most politically successful  student and youth organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP),  the equivalent of the pre-martial law Kabataang Makabayan, the first CPP front leader Jose Ma. Sison founded. The military has claimed that the LFS since its establishment in 1977 has been consistently been one of the main recruiting venues for the New People’s Army. In the past year as the military’s offensives against the NPA has intensified, more and more of its casualties have been identified as former members of the LFS.

We will never be able to defeat the communist insurgency until we have such CPP fronts like  evil Pied Pipers of Hamelin of legend mesmerizing our youth to leap to their deaths in the abyss of a romanticized but murderous rebellion.

At the forefront of communist issues. (Photo from LFS’ Facebook)

Reyes blog:

It was the middle of 1977, and martial law was at its height in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the CPP’s Standing Group for Youth and Students (SGYS) was making significant progress in initiating class boycotts in Manila and Quezon City. In the heat of the campaign, the group received a letter written by Jose Maria Sison.  Sison hailed SGYS’ proposal to revive Kabataang Makabayan (KM), the premier Leftist youth organization before martial law. Sison was the first chairman of KM, with Nilo Tayag being the second.

The letter took several months to travel through the intricate CPP channels. A few weeks after receiving the letter, SGYS requested a meeting with National Democratic Front- Youth and Students (NDF-YS) to brainstorm the specifics of KM’s revival. SGYS was especially interested to get the say of the NDF-YS secretary because he used to be in KM’s national leadership and knew all about chapter building and expanding. He joined KM way back in 1966.

For the meeting, NDF-YS booked the seminar house of the Catholic church of Sta.Isabel, Malolos, Bulacan. NDF-YS had reliable contacts in the Diocese of Malolos’ youth program and regularly used the facility for its meetings. It was a good place for underground meetings. It was tucked away in a secluded and sleepy corner of Malolos, and was not well known to activists and military alike.

Also, the seminar house’s huge front window, designed for watching processions and festivities in the olden days, offered a vantage view of the vast plaza. Any police raid of the place would have been detected way in advance, giving the activists ample escape time.

The seminar house fee was P20 pesos per person inclusive of three meals and two meriendas a day. Even in 1977 prices, this was cheap. The meals and meriendas were prepared by the in-house cook. NDF-YS footed the bill, they being more financially capable.

NDF Youth

An original find by NDF-YS, the seminar house was only  40 km. from Metro-Manila.  The seminar house was a traditional “kumbento” attached to a church. Built in Spanish-era style, it had a spacious, well-lit, and airy living room on the second floor which had been converted into a seminar room.

For a legal front, NDF-YS told the management that a group would be having a parish “youth formation seminar.” In complete attendance were SGYS, and NDF-YS, all in all  8  persons. By this time, the 5 members of SGYS, all in their early twenties, had been toughened in the tuition fee boycotts, and were keen to share their experiences. The NDF secretary , a balding, diminutive, and mustached 29 year-old man named Edgar Jopson, dropped by in mid-morning. After observing the meeting and saying a few things, Jopson left in the afternoon.

It was in this seminar house (with the red roof) at the extreme right of the Sta. Isabel  church in Malolos, Bulacan that the League of Filipino Students (LFS) was conceptualized in 1977.

A few months earlier, SGYS had sent a memo to the CPP central committee, suggesting that, in the light of the upsurge in class boycotts against tuition fee increases, it was necessary and feasible to revive KM. As a special request, SGYS asked that  KM’s founding chairman air his views regarding the proposal, so that these could inspire and guide a planning meeting.

KM had to be revived because it was disbanded in 1973, after the CPP leadership realized that legal and open activist organizations like KM were not feasible anymore. Many UP based CPP cadres recoiled at the idea of disbanding KM and other mass organizations, largely due to the force of sentiment, and a misreading of the new situation. They engaged the CPP national leadership in a spirited debate that lasted for months. 

Sison’s letter

This time around, said the SGYS, KM, code-named “Karina” was to be revived as an underground organization. KM would accommodate the hundreds of student activists who had participated in the boycotts, but who could not be formally integrated into the CPP just yet.

These students were called “national-democratic” (ND) activists by the CPP, and would have been members of generic National-Democratic  core groups in the absence of a unifying organization. SGYS argued that being members of KM instead of just an ND cell would give the ND activists a wider perspective, group pride, and introduce them to organizational discipline. It would be a worthy phase-in period into the CPP, just like in the old days, SGYS quipped.

In the letter, Sison acknowledged being informed of KM’s impending revitalization. “I understand KM is reinvigorating itself,” he wrote. Sison went on to cite the importance of a covert organization that would link up the various ND core groups that had been formed in the past few years, but especially after the bountiful campaign against tuition fee increases. This can be done, he said, by offering the student activists an underground organization that gives a collective outlook to their apparently isolated undertakings.

The secretary of NDF-YS, at 27 the “senior” of the group, opened the meeting and presided. After giving a short introduction, he gave the floor to the SGYS secretary. The head of SGYS, a 22 year-old former history major in UP,  briefly bragged about the letter, then gave it to the group. As the letter went around,  he proposed that they spend the first session discussing how to revive KM. The second session, he proposed, was to discuss another suggestion from the letter, which was creating a legal student organization.  The proposals were approved immediately.

The  deliberations about KM that ensued centered on the formation and consolidation of KM chapters, programs of study, forms of mass actions, CPP leadership over KM, CPP recruitment from KM, and how to publish Kalayaan, the official KM newsletter.  They went very smoothly.

Adjustment

As the second session began, the SGYS secretary explained that the legal organization the letter suggested was nothing less than an overt counterpart of KM. SGYS itself had earlier entertained a similar idea. However, before the letter arrived, SGYS intended the meeting exclusively for KM’s revitalization. Now they were making an adjustment.

Creating a legal organization proved to be the harder talking point, because it had never been done before. Putting up a legal but noticeably activist student organization under martial law had no precedent.  Compared to it, the revival of KM did not seem so hard.

A legal organization, the letter said, was necessary to aggressively expand the student anti-martial law movement, demand the restoration of student councils and publications, and otherwise shrewdly project a legal version of KM. It was to be pro-student and patriotic, yet must survive the harsh times.  It should evince enough militancy to attract radically inclined students, yet exude enough restraint not to be suppressed straightaway.

SGYS understood that naming the organization was critical. The way the group thought went, the proposed group had to have a name that projected peaceful reform, but still had a radical appeal. The name had to be tame enough not to invite repression during the organization’s early life, yet audacious enough to do justice to its combative demands. Realizing they were crossing a thin line, the group wracked their brains what the name would be.

The League

In the afternoon, the group settled on a name. The legal student organization would be called “League of Filipino Students” or LFS. The use of English was decided easily: it was a safe choice. Everyone conceded that the use of Filipino was a giveaway for LFS’ latent radicalism. By using English for the organization’s title, it was given a veneer of temperance and discipline.  A tricky part was deciding on the first word. The contenders were: association, society, union, alliance, organization, and league. League was chosen because of its novelty, restraint, and subtle militancy. 

Furthermore, league was chosen because of its not so vague association with Rizal’s reformist group, Liga Filipina. Being associated with Liga Filipina, someone suggested, would somehow enable the LFS to lull the senses of the military and the school administrations.  At the end of the discussion, SGYS expressed its desire to consult its lower units first regarding the proposed name, before it was finalized in another meeting. But everyone thought this was just a formality.

The third and final session of the meeting was devoted to drafting the guidelines on building up KM, and its legal counterpart, LFS. The guidelines on the LFS were scant compared to that of KM’s, because much of the second session was devoted to deciding on a name.   At any rate, the cadres were excited by the new undertaking, considering it unprecedented in Philippine history. Another planning meeting was scheduled to flesh out the guidelines. The group had a sumptuous dinner at about 7 pm in the seminar house’s spacious dining room and broke up at about 10 pm.

This meeting is historically significant because in it the CPP not only approved KM’s revival, but also decided to establish the LFS, and choose its name. LFS was founded a few months later, on September 11, 1977 at the Asian Labor Education Center (ALEC) at the University of the Philippines. KM and LFS remain to be essential players in the still unsettled decades-long  Philippine insurgency.

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