Remembering the Diliman Commune

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Leadup to the Barricades

The early 1970s saw the tail-end of a wave of youth activism across the world, ranging from student movements in the U.S. against the Vietnam War, the Paris Student protests and the Prague Spring. In the Philippines, this was projected with the onset of the First Quarter Storm.

Martial Law Survivor and Activist Bonifacio “Boni” Ilagan recalls how his life was like in the University at the time:

…rightly or wrongly, feeling ko as a UP student may obligasyon ako to dig deeper into the issues that were hounding society. Kaya maraming estudyante na bagaman hindi organized sa mga activist organizations, ay dumadalo sa mga gano’n dahil interested sila. There was a certain kind of sincerity to participate in projects, in activities na mahalaga. Of course, marami din sa amin ang nando’n for curiosity’s sake.[1]

Filipino poet Bonifacio Ilagan, one of hundreds of activists imprisoned during the Martial Law period which was declared by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, poses by the granite wall which is engraved with the names of Martial Law victims, including his sister Rizalina Ilagan, at the Heroes Shrine at suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines Monday Jan. 28, 2013. More than 9,000 victims will be awarded compensation using $246 million that the Philippine government recovered from Marcos' ill-gotten wealth. But all claims will still have to evaluated by an independent commission and the amount each will receive will depend of the abuse suffered. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

One of the key national issues at the time were rising oil and gas prices – which had been increasing the average cost of living especially among low-income employees and workers. Sectoral grievances would play into effect in January 1971 when a transport strike was organized by Pasang Masda, an organization of jeepney drivers.[2] Sympathizing with the drivers, the University of the Philippines Diliman student council called for a strike alongside several activist organizations in the campus. Participants began putting-up barricades along the University Avenue and briefly scuffed with U.P. security forces to maintain them.[3]Wala namang plano na magdedeclare ng Commune,” Boni would recall. “Nag-decide kami na ang isang expression ng aming sympathy ay magtatayo ng barikada. It was symbolic.”[4]

Protesters from the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and others joining a sympathy strike for Jeepney Drivers prior to the declaration of the commune

However, tensions only further mounted after the shooting of student Pastor Messina by Mathematics Professor Inocente Campos. In an inquiry-report concluded in March of the same year, U.P. President Salvador Lopez disclosed that he was summoned to a meeting in Camp Aguinaldo by the “Peace and Order Council”. There he joined Justice Secretary Vicente Abad Santos, Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor, Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, Quezon City Police Department Chief Col. Tomas Karingal, and Philippine Constabulary Head General Eduardo Garcia as they discussed how to handle the developing situation. While the U.P. President cited a prior agreement with the Q.C. Mayor about keeping city police off campus and leaving policing-matters to campus security forces, the council stated that it was not legally binding. They decided that despite Lopez’ dissent the police would enter the university and clear out the barricades. If they could not successfully carry out this action, then the constabulary would be deployed. Enrile even warned that if the mayor refused to allow the deployment of Karingal’s forces on campus, the constabulary would take over city hall.[5]

The Commune Emerges

In response to the police’s entry, students and sympathizers in the campus began hastily erecting more barricades. They used classroom tables, chairs and various other items that could be found. Soon barriers were reported not only along the university avenue, but also along other entrances and around the College of Arts and Sciences Building. The ‘Diliman Commune’ was declared.[6]

Participants of the Diliman Commune carrying-out chairs to help build the Barricades

For nine days the Commune maintained a series of barricades blocking-off the campus from the rest of the city. Most of the clashes reported between the “communards” and police took place in the opening four days. The police, on one hand, resolved to use tear gas and brute force in several attempts to clear the obstructions and arrest students. Those in the commune, on the other, resolved to use Molotov cocktails, pillbox bombs and fireworks to ward-off government forces.[7] Both sides were reported to have suffered injuries, though most appear to have been dealt to the U.P. Community.

Members of the Diliman Commune propping-up barricades near the Oblation Statue in front of the University Avenue

Support for the commune was not homogenous across the campus. One source of the events accounts that some residents in the area banded together and hunted down radical students “in the defense of order and their property rights.”[8] Boni Ilagan also acknowledged that people contested whether or not what was happening was right. “Marami ding professors ang galit na galit kasi walang klase. Hindi makapasok ang mga may kotse. So mataas ang conflict, ang debate, tama ba or mali ang nangyayari.”

Despite these questions, there was an unprecedented show of unity among the youth, faculty members and non-academic personnel who had closed ranks to aid the commune.[9] Donations of food, rice and bread flowed-in from outside support.[10] The students received assistance from regular employees from the U.P. Press to publish and run a paper called Bandilang Pula (Red Flag).[11] The university radio station was also repurposed. With the help of outside support, it began broadcasting music and platforms for the commune. At one point, they also played audio tapes of President Marcos making love to American actress Dovie Beams.[12]

American Actress Dovie Beams – as she appeared on the front cover of Hermie Rotea’s book titled “Marcos’ Lovey Dovie”[13]

Legacy of Youth Activism

50 years after the events of the commune, Ilagan reflects on its legacy and how it should be remembered today:

Ang belief namin ay ang system, ang lipunan ay kailangang baguhin, and the powers that be were not listening. We needed to do something that would catch the attention of everybody – the media, at yung mga nasa kapangyarihan. At sa aking palagay, nagamit namin yung Diliman Commune to expound the issues that we were saying tirelessly sa lahat ng rally, sa lahat ng marches, sa lahat ng welga.”

He would further add:

Ang tama ba ay salakayin ang UP ng pulis at militar? Palagay ko, hindi. Ang tama ay, harapin ang mga isyu, mag-usap, at willing namang makipag-usap. Sapagkat kung salakay, brute military force ang iniharap gaya ng iniharap sa amin sa Diliman Commune, eh lalaban. Because we were convinced that we were in the right. So it’s never going to end. The cycle is never going to end.” [14]

The events that transpired during the Commune would be used as a pretext by Marcos for the Declaration of Martial Law. However, even before the events of the Commune, it seemed that state security forces were already prepared to strip-away democratic norms to suppress dissent. This was telling of the measures that would be imposed for over a decade of martial rule.

Despite the hardships that many members of the youth would face under Martial Law, the event would inspire the lives and sacrifices of future generations. At the core of the commune was its onset: a call for change and accountability. Its essence was collective action to call-out issues that affected not only the youth but also other sectors of the nation.

Photo taken of Toym Imao's Art Installation "Barikada" at the University Avenue - set-up in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Diliman Commune.

Images of the Diliman Commune provided from Arkibong Bayan

[1] Oral interview with Bonifacio Ilagan, conducted by the HRVVMC on January 29, 2021 via Zoom.

[2] Daroy, Petronilo Bn. “On the Eve of Dictatorship and Revolution,” In Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power, edited by Aurora Javate-de Dios, Petronilo Bn. Daroy, and Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, 1-25. Metro Manila: Conspectus Foundation, 1988. 21-22.

[3] Gleeck Jr., Lewis E. The Third Philippine Republic, 1946-1972. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1993. 367

[4] Ilagan (2021).

[5] Committee of Inquiry, UP Diliman (1971). Final report of the Committee of Inquiry on the events and occurrences at the Diliman campus from February 1 to 9 (1971). University Library, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.

[6] Gleeck Jr (1993).

[7] Bandilang Pula (1971). Ang depensa ng Diliman: Pananaw militar, 12 Feb.: 4–5, B. Box 22, Folder 3. PRP Archive, University Library, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.

[8] Vergel O. Santos, Chino and His Time (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 2010), 26

[9] Daroy, 1988. 21-22.

[10] Ilagan (2021).

[11] Malay, Armando J. (1982). The UP barricades: In retrospect. Chapter V: The “liberated” media. We Forum, 8–10 Oct.: 1, 7.

[12] Santos (2010).

[13] Hermie Rotea, Marcos’ Lovey Dovie, Liberty Pub. Co., 1983

[14] Ilagan (2021).

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