The twenty-one years during which Ferdinand Marcos was president saw the provocation of many a citizen from various social sectors and age groups into activism, wherein diverse talents and capacities were capitalized on to subvert the dictatorship. Legal practitioners, community organizers, artists, and laborers contributed to the opposition and collectively formed a multi-level approach in chipping away at the dictatorship.
For veteran journalists and academics like University of the Philippines Professor Hernando J. Abaya, whose connections in government and in the academe afforded him an extensive audience, activism had two directions: upward and downward. The former came in the form of letters, appeals, and arguments published in news dailies and addressed to Malacañang; the latter meant educating, organizing, and mobilizing the masses.
Abaya was a member of the Civil Liberties Union (CLU), a collective of professionals that was founded in 1938 amidst looming threats of fascism and dictatorship from foreign and local forces. In its founding years, as well as in the 1960s, as Marcos’ inclination towards wresting absolute power began revealing itself, the CLU committed itself to being a watchdog for political independence, democracy, human rights and dignity, and a just and equitable economy.
As early as 1968, the CLU had been raising red flags on the administration’s practice of assigning military officers to key civilian positions, which suspiciously coincided with the United States policy of aiding underdeveloped countries like the Philippines through “military civic action”. In a letter sent to the President in 1971, after a series of aggressive crackdowns on anti-Marcos protests, the CLU pointed out that the military was in “arrogant ascendancy” and suggested the redirection of the government’s ire towards the country’s “real enemy,” foreign imperialism, the key element that was leading the country further away from development.
Through a series of prime-time television broadcasts on Channel 5 from May to October 1969 and a series of columns published from 1971 to 1972 in the Manila Chronicle, the CLU undertook the task of raising public awareness on national issues and called out the government for perpetuating an economic system that denied certain basic rights (such as the right to work, to have a fair share of distributed wealth, and to live decently) to the masses. It also denounced the intensification of militarization, the suppression of academic and press freedoms, and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
Abaya simultaneously headed the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (BRPF) in the Philippines, an organization that was recorded to have organized about 600 professionals, students, and peasant leaders by 1970, just five years after its founding. Its main function was to help mass organizations in their social and political awareness campaigns, and was active in lobbying for the release of political detainees and in providing support to labor strikes.
CLU members Hernando Abaya, Renato Constantino, Jose W. Diokno, Cipriano Cid, and Alejandro Lichauco were arrested on 22 September 1972, a day after the signing of Proclamation 1081. Marcos’ General Order No. 2, dated 22 September, ordered a series of arrests targeting known government critics “for being active participants in the conspiracy to seize political and state power,” most notable among them being Benigno Aquino, Jr. Abaya was detained for a few months.
The Union was compelled to keep a low profile for the duration of martial law; however, it continued to release statements calling on the President to restore the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, to lift martial law, and to release political prisoners, among a number of other calls in response to the State’s abuses.
 Hernando J. Abaya, The CLU Story: Fifty Years of Struggle for Civil Liberties (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1987), 1-3, 91-163.
 Ibid., 106.
 Ibid., 101-2, 107.
 The BRPF Philippine Council was an offshoot of the London-based BRPF, which was founded in 1963 to carry on the legacy of philosopher and activist Bertrand Russell. The Philippine branch was founded in 1965, and was considered autonomous of its mother-organization; as such, it was free to initiate activities without having to consult with its London counterpart.
 Millet G. Martinez, “BRPF,” sub-article in “Left to Right: The Student Activists,” Sunday Times Magazine, February 22, 1970, 34-38 (transcribed and released online by P.T. Martin on February 19, 2010 at https://fqslibrary.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/left-to-right-the-student-activists/.)
 Abaya, The CLU Story, 125.
Disclaimer: This profile does not include information from Abaya’s autobiography, The Making of a Subversive: A Memoir, in which he provides details on his personal experience under martial law. Relevant information will be added to this profile once accessed by the writers. Further verification is also needed as to whether or not Abaya’s name was specified in the list of individuals attached to General Order No. 2.
 Ibid., 126-31.
Enter your name and email address