AT this time of year, the Communist Party, its cultural bases like the University of the Philippines (UP) and its fronts celebrate what made possible that party’s rise, the so-called “First Quarter Storm” from January to March 1970 and on a much lesser scale, the “Diliman Commune” of February 1971. These two events convinced — or fooled — droves of idealistic youth that a Philippine revolution was at hand, and the Communist Party was its vanguard.
I put those events within apostrophes because there is something fake about those terms, as it is demonstrative of how Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison was a master propagandist, quick to grab credit for those historic events by tagging them with labels of communist origin. Sison plagiarized the term “First Quarter Storm” from Mao Zedong’s “January Storm” in January 1967, the uprising of his Red Guards in Shanghai that was the start of his “Great Cultural Revolution” that turned out to be a political and economic catastrophe for China.
“Diliman Commune” on the other hand was copied from the “Shanghai People’s Commune, set up also that month, which became that city’s ad hoc government during the Cultural Revolution. Thus, in the Diliman Commune, slogans, even if totally irrelevant, of the Shanghai Commune were painted on the UP walls such as “Set up rebel Committees,” “Dare to think, dare to act” and “To rebel is justified.”
The Diliman Commune, however triggered, only a ripple rather than a revolutionary flow on the scale of the FQS: after all many of its participants had already been recruited into the communist fronts or their sympathizers in the wake of the FQS.
Sison and his core group — the Communist Party’s top leadership called the executive committee of the central committee — started to de-romanticize those events and began separating propaganda from reality.
The FQS, one of Sison’s core group members lectured us, was triggered by sheer accident. The “moderate” National Union of Students of the Philippines had managed to mobilize the biggest number of students ever for a demonstration January 26 in front of Congress during Marcos’ State of the Nation Address.
Indeed, a witness to the event, Rodel Rodis, who migrated to the US in late 1971 and became a successful lawyer in San Francisco, wrote in a 2015 article in a local broadsheet:
“Marcos and his First Lady, Imelda Marcos, were about to board the presidential limousine when someone hurled a crocodile papier-mâché [figure] in their direction. It missed its target, but it ignited a fury of retaliation by a phalanx of riot police who swung their rattan truncheons at the heads of students — moderates and radicals alike — unifying us in our common pain, as a stunned nation watched transfixed on live TV. (Those students weren’t affiliated with the communists’ youth organizations, and it’s not clear if they deliberately threw the crocodile effigy or just slipped from their hands when they were abruptly blocked by the couple’s cordon sanitaire. – RDT)
“In the days that followed, indignation rallies denouncing police brutality were held in campuses throughout Metro Manila culminating in the January 30 March to Malacañang from Plaza Miranda through the Mendiola Bridge. By nightfall, thousands of students had surrounded the heavily fortified palace when suddenly the lights were shut off.
The Metrocom riot police retreated into the night, replaced with battle-hardened army soldiers armed with high-powered Armalite rifles out to quell a rebellion. Before that long, dark bloody night was over, four students lay dead, scores paralyzed and hundreds maimed from gunshot wounds.”
The Communist Party exploited the widespread outrage over police brutality, and with its experience since 1968 in organizing the youth and in many demonstrations — mainly at the US embassy in line with their view that imperialism was the root of the country’s underdevelopment – it easily took leadership of that revolutionary flow. Its cadres undertook interventions that provoked further police brutality, and therefore bigger demonstrations.
I was surprised that an article on the FQS in the Philippine version of Esquire magazine reported something very few people know: “The protests weren’t just events created by a few organizations and their members. KM struck up a sort of alliance with Manila’s lumpen proletariat — the petty thieves and gang members from the city’s poorest. KM would bring the fury while the lumpen would bring the fire, oftentimes literally.”
That is only partly true. I know since I was close to many of those “lumpen” who were the KM’s little NPA of sorts, its muscle that guarded the KM’s headquarters along Quezon Avenue, who in demonstrations provoked the police not just with rocks and Molotov cocktails. It was these “lumpen” who made a gang weapon called pillboxes — balls of firecracker powder mixed with nails that exploded upon impact — a weapon of the parliament of the streets. But these reformed thugs from the Tondo, Caloocan and Quezon City slums, had become true believers, converted into the cause by several cadres. Some were sons of former Huks and cadres of the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. The fiery, popular speaker in demonstrations who uttered the vilest of words against Marcos and Imelda — Nonie Villanueva — was the “lumpen” idol.
The so-called Diliman Commune was as much triggered by an accident, a tragedy really. Makeshift, but really merely symbolic barricades, taking up less than half the road, were set up by the two main radical organizations on campus — the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippine and the UP-based Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (which broke away from the Kabataang Makabayan in the late 1960s) along the UP’s entrance to convince buses to join the transport strike that had been called to protest the increase in gasoline prices.
An eccentric mathematics professor, Inocente Campos, a law-and-order kind of person, passed one “barricade” but when he slowed down in front of a second “barricade,” someone — probably one of the KM’s lumpen — threw a pillbox that exploded and deflated his tire. Why? One explanation was that that student recognized him as “pro-Marcos” who had tangled with activists before. When the activists approached his car, the professor panicked for his life and took out an old rifle and fired in the air, and when it jammed, took out his .22 pistol.
It is not known whether he wanted merely to scare the students away. But he fired his gun, killing a student Pastor Mesina. He was arrested for manslaughter and jailed for more than a year; a court acquitted him in 1972 concluding that he “acted upon an impulse of an uncontrollable fear of an equal or greater injury.”
In that age, decades before SMS messages and cellphones existed, the word that got around the campus was that it was the police who shot the student. And not only one student but several who were manning the barricades. The KM called on all their chapters all over the city to go to UP, while the UP Student Council called on other student governments for succor, with one student leader even melodramatically shouting in one meeting with them “We are being killed.” The Ligang Demokratiko ng Ateneo, which I had organized with Ferdie Arceo — who two years later would join the NPA to be killed in Negros — trooped to Diliman.
Sison’s No. 3 man — the late Monico Atienza as well as two other executive committee members — rushed to Diliman, with their marching orders from the chairman: Make it our “Shanghai Commune.” These three were in the midst of that “commune” giving directives not just to the party’s organizations there but to KM members from all over metropolitan Manila and adjoining provinces who quickly entered Diliman, including those lumpen. Nobody of course asked if this activist or that was a UP student or not.
The Lopez oligarchs sent food and water to the “communards,” which explains why the “commune” could last for five days, and as well as their ABS-CBN technicians to make sure the Malayang Radyo ng Diliman was running, broadcasting blow-by-blow updates of the “Commune” and communist propaganda, including of course the controversial tape of Marcos allegedly in bed with US starlet Dovie Beams.
The FQS and the Diliman Commune finally convinced Sison and his EC a few months later to believe in the “revolutionary” proposition: “Accidents triggered revolutionary flows of the FQS and the Diliman Commune. But the party can create ‘accidents’.”
A famous aphorism of the great Karl Marx himself, the last of his famous 11 “Theses on Feuerbach,” was even used as a justification for what was to be undertaken: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”
Thus was born the plot to bomb the miting de avance of the Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda on Aug. 21, 1971 and then blame it on Marcos and galvanize the opposition to solidify its alliance with the CPP to overthrow him — the communists’ false-flag operation that has had such a profound impact on the country’s history.
Some suspect though that Sison, quite ironically, got the false-flag idea from events in Indonesia when he was an apprentice of sorts in the mid-1960s of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), then the biggest communist party outside China. In 1966, backed by the US CIA, conspirators against President Sukarno, who had an alliance with the PKI, executed and even mutilated six of his generals, and blamed it on the PKI, which triggered one of the worst mass killings in modern history, with over 1 million communists, suspected communists, and ethnic Chinese massacred.
However, the revolutionary flow Sison expected didn’t happen — the Filipino youth mostly moved on. The Liberal Party exploited its victimhood to win in the senatorial elections three months later in 1971. Their landslide made them salivate that the party’s superstar Ninoy Aquino would win the presidency, also by a landslide, in the 1973 elections.
In Marcos’ mind and those in the military establishment though was the realization of the ruthlessness and deviousness of the CPP and the unpatriotic opportunism of the Liberal Party.
It was easy therefore for them to believe in the righteousness of imposing martial law the following year, in order to, as the strongman put it, “save the Republic from the extreme Left and the extreme Right.” Marcos probably thought he had no choice: If the CPP can pull off such a bold move as the Plaza Miranda bombing, it could very well do something similar against him and his family.
Instead of a revolutionary flow that he probably thought would bring him to Malacañang in five years, Sison found himself handcuffed to his bed in a military prison in 1976.