By Gianela Zapata and Patricia Ocampo

PHOTO: The New York Times/Rappler/Manila Bulletin/Filipeanut

“Mangahas Makibaka! Mangahas Magtagumpay!”

The story of the Philippines’ fight for liberty has no definite beginning, as the nation has been in a constant state of unrest. Society back in the ’60s and ’70s was said to be an active volcano threatening to erupt. This volcano finally accumulated enough turmoil to set off in the year 1971, driving the students of the University of the Philippines to set their foot down and make the first step in trudging through the precarious path of resistance.

The Catalyst

According to Temario Rivera, a Political Science instructor in 1971, the Diliman Commune was preceded by what could be referred to as the development of a new kind of nationalist and social consciousness. The series of protests then began on the first day of February 1971, as drivers and UP students demonstrated their dissent to the increase of oil prices.

However, as things developed, this dissent was eventually towards something more than just the oil price hike. 

As the students marched during the Sympathy Strike, they spotted Mathematics Professor Inocente Campos’ car picking up speed with the intent to run over them. A few meters from the barricade, the professor got out of the vehicle with a shotgun, which he eventually swapped for a .22 rifle as the former got jammed. Despite this, the students were convinced that he would not actually shoot, especially not as a professor in broad daylight.

Unfortunately, they were wrong.

The trigger was pulled, and the bullet led a 17-year old student named Pastor “Sonny” Mesina, Jr. towards his death, inciting an uproar among the students.

To say that they were angered would be an understatement, because the students were enraged. The wretched fate that fell upon their comrade served as the fuel kindling their determination to continue the protest. Despite being aware that the incident would prompt the police force into action, they resisted, strengthened the barricades, and stood their ground.

The Commune

A few days later, the barricades were still up, and the situation became increasingly tense. The UP Administration and the Student Council then decided to hold a mass meeting at the AS steps with academic and non-academic personnel, including those who lived near the areas, as attendees.

During the assembly, it was emphasized that the entry and interference of the police and military personnel on campus grounds ought to be stopped, and that there should be no form of academic retaliation upon the students and faculty members involved in the commune. It is from this that one can understand why the 1989 University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense accord was established.

As the former President of the University of the Philippines Salvador P. Lopez gave his speech, there was a commotion among the students on the different floors because they saw that the convoy of the Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) of the Quezon City Police were already inside the premises.

The outside threat stirred people into action, clamoring about strengthening the barricades, which President Lopez approved of. Chairs and tables to be used as blockades fell from the different floors of the building, inducing agitation among the attendees of the assembly. Some even prepared molotovs and firecrackers as a form of defense against the police.

Indai Sajor, a student activist at that time, noted that it was not only UP students inside the Diliman Commune. Student activists from other universities also started coming. UP Diliman was only the center, and the resistance itself was far greater than that. 

The Police and Metrocom were forces to be reckoned with as they had firearms and bulldozers, in stark contrast with the students’ handmade munitions. They were able to infiltrate the campus despite the numerous layers of defense, and a student named Danilo Delfin was shot by a sniper as he threw pillboxes at the bulldozers in an attempt to stop them.

Students eventually gathered in front of the Administration building, and the police who wanted to tear down the barricades stood right in front of them at the University Avenue.

The confrontation between the students and the government’s cronies was inevitable then.

According to Nori Palarca, photographer of the Philippine Collegian at that time, a policeman announced during the clash, “Binibigyan namin kayo ng sampung minuto para bumalik kayo sa mga klase niyo!” 

The students then replied, “Binibigyan namin kayo ng dalawang minuto para umalis dito sa UP!”

The Fire of Filipina Fighters

“Hindi ako isang aktibista noong panahon na iyon. Hindi pa ako aktibista.”

These were the words of Rosario Torres-Yu, a former UP student during the time of the Diliman Commune. Once unknowing of student activism, she shared that the commune was the main contributor to her political awakening. Gender discrimination did not exist then, and the role of women at that time went hand-in-hand with the men. 

The image of a shy and soft-spoken Filipina slowly faded from general consciousness during the year 1971. Several dozens of women held motor oil in one hand and alcohol bottles in another; gathering shards of broken glass, mixing gasoline into the bottles, and creating what would be an iconic symbol for their cause. 

Molotov cocktails are weapons that symbolize the power of underdogs—that, even though they are made aware that they were fighting a politically superior force, they were not going to give up without a fight. 

Among the Iskas who made molotovs for hours were women who reproduced manifestos on mimeographs, drove taxis around campus and spoke through megaphones, encouraging others to join the commune. Some also prepared baskets of food while locked in their rooms, which they delivered to their colleagues by climbing up the fire escape.

“Yung karanasan ko sa Diliman Commune, yun yung nagbigay sa akin ng pagkakataong mag-isip eh, bakit ba ito ginagawa ng mga estudyante. So doon na nagsimula na unti-unti namulat ako. Ang Diliman Commune ang nagbukas ng pinto. At mula noon, ako ay naging mag-aaral na ng Kasaysayan at Pulitika.” Torres-Yu concluded. 

Fire is generally perceived as an element of destruction, but the fire of Filipina fighters only proves to be disastrous to those who attempt to put it out. After all, they mainly provide and protect. These women were empowered as they did their part and committed to their cause—fighting for justice, like flames that quickly spread and illuminate without ruin. 

The Revolution On Air

The voice of change sounds like a thousand different people heard as one unified call.

Modern-day campus journalism and radio broadcasting undoubtedly owe some of their beginnings to radio stations like DZUP, or otherwise known as Radyo Diliman. When students took control of the station during the commune, it was an avenue where they could exercise their right to talk about important issues like the national debt. Songs with impactful messages like those by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles would be played to heighten the discussion. 

Communication was a key factor. If the students needed anything, or if anyone was wounded or sick, it would go through the radio. Moreover, its reach stretched far beyond the barricades of UP. People all over the country tuned in to the network. It broadcasted plans of action and assurance to relatives outside the campus that their loved ones were doing fine. 

DZUP united the community. This union truly made it the Voice of the State University. As Ruben Canlan Jr. wrote in one of the 1988 issues of The Philippine Collegian, “All tuned in despite the interference. The signal was weak, but the ears were willing.”

When the Quezon City police raided the campus, it was because the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos felt provoked by the radio station. The drums of fuel bombs exploded, tracer bullets went flying in the air, tear gas filled Sampaguita Residences, and students were arrested. The police also targeted and later knocked down DZUP’s tower as they believed that it was crucial to cut the line, since this would create a disconnection between the people and what was really happening: a media blackout. 

If critical thinking is a threat to the government, then the government is too fragile to serve the people. The voice of change does not stop throughout new administrations. It is a cycle that helps the nation survive and evolve for the better. The students of the Diliman Commune did not “bite the hand that feeds them.” It cannot be called as such because this hand towered over them, taped their mouths, and refused to provide their necessities. This iron-fist drained them, and treated them as if they were dogs that could be silenced by the threat of lesser food.

Because of this, they spoke louder and were even more outraged. They had every right to be, because they deserved far better than that. However, one cannot declare the Diliman Commune a complete nor definitive victory; not when the writ of habeas corpus was suspended months after and martial law was imposed the following year. Rather, it is an origin story—a block in the foundation of our path against the numerous injustices that we continue to thread today.

At Present

“The Diliman Commune happened because we wanted, and we did, resist fascism and tyranny,” shares Bonifacio Ilagan, leader of Kabataang Makabayan and member of the Provisional Directorate of Diliman Commune in 1971.

However, decades after the Diliman Commune, after the implementation of martial law, and after the Dark Ages in general, history repeats itself through extrajudicial killings, repression of press freedom, the armed forces’ abuse of power, and other forms of human rights violations. 

Fascism and tyranny continue to be rampant. Lives are taken, rights are continuously suppressed, voices are silenced, activism is twisted as terrorism, and any form of dissent is painted as wicked intent. 

Just a year ago, the accord between UP and the Department of National Defense (DND) was abrogated, meaning that the police and military can now legally access and have operations inside the campus. The decision was made without prior notice to UP officials, even though the accord was a bilateral agreement. 

It is as if we are trapped in an endless cycle that continues up to date, even as the elections and the end of the current administration’s term draw nearer, because the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ malevolent ghost haunts the Philippines’ islands in an attempt to get back in power through the candidacy of his son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. 

The lingering vigor of the deceased tyrant’s malignant phantom, historical revisionism, and the passage of time are the resistance’s most formidable foes, because the three combined is powerful enough to make people forget, or purposely turn a blind eye to, the price paid for our freedom from the shackles of the reign of terror: injustice and bloodshed, which can already be clearly observed from what took place in the Diliman Commune alone.

If the administration was willing to go through extreme lengths like forced entry, police interference, and even killing to gain control of the university, then targeting other sectors, institutions, and Filipinos who opposed them was right up their alley. It wasn’t just the students of the University of the Philippines’ lives and education at stake. After all, a threat to the freedom of any group of people is a threat to the entire nation. 

The myth that depicts every outbreak of social unrest as a communist plot for a supposed seizure of power is a narrative being sold to justify reactionary laws, repression, and dictatorship. For years, many have fed and leaned into this narrative without any solid nor withstanding evidence. 

We cannot let another oppressor sit in his ivory towers while his decisions suffocate the masses. We ought to put a stop to this cycle.

The only thing standing between what transpired in history and the present are those who refuse to let history repeat itself: those who learn from the mistakes made in the past, who think radically, who fight back falsehoods with truth, division with empowerment, and tyranny with resistance.

Fifty years after the Diliman Commune, the unforgetting generation of both young and old continue to protest against another Marcos seizing power. This is a testament, that even with the disinformation ecosystem of tiktoks, youtube videos, and false accomplishments paraded by his kin and supporters attempting to twist the narrative — Filipinos know, and remember, that the Marcos family’s hands are full of debt, both of money and of blood.

This is what real unity is; it is not merely an empty promise made during the campaign period to be broken once on the seat of power. 

The story of the Philippines’ fight for liberty has no definite beginning, and in a similar manner, it is yet to have a definite end. The precarious path of resistance is a particularly lengthy one, but the least we can do is to learn from the battles we have been through, and to continue fighting head-on.