A Tradition of Struggle [1]

An image from the First Quarter Storm of 1970.

The history of Pagbutlak is closely intertwined with the history of the students’ militant struggles in the UP in the Visayas. Although Pagbutlak’s history is marked by intervals of passive absences and silences, its birth was firmly grounded in a tradition of struggle.

Pagbutlak’s founding was the outcome of the movements by UP Iloilo students to revive the publication after the Moderator, its former name, was closed with the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law in 1972.

While Pagbutlak still has a long way to go from becoming a symbol of committed writing, key moments in history saw Pagbutlak fearlessly upholding freedom of speech and genuine progressive thinking in the university and greater society.

The Birth of Pagbutlak

The Moderator has been closed for almost two years when a visit to the Iloilo campus on September 24, 1974 by then UP President Salvador P. Lopez gave the students the opportunity to present a petition to revive the publication.

In the following months, the students’ clamor reaped fruits as a new editorial board was formed headed by the first Pagbutlak editor-in-chief and present Roxas City Executive Judge, Edward Contreras. In January 1975, Pagbutlak released its maiden issue. [2]

Pagbutlak was the first student publication to be restored not only in Iloilo but in the entire Visayas and Mindanao. In the UP system, it followed Diliman’s Philippine Collegian and Los Banos’ Perspective, which were revived in 1973.

With the rebirth of the student publication was a shift in orientation. The Moderator’s focus on traditional school events, administrative announcements, and honor’s lists gave way to articles that tackled the problems confronting the students and the Filipino people.

Pagbutlak’s name, which stands for dawn in Hiligaynon, is thus reflective of this committed stance as a metaphor of the triumph of truth over the dark forces of the dictatorship.

The Alternative Press

During the Marcos years, Pagbutlak published what the government-controlled and censored media cannot publish. It occupied part of the vacuum of political discourse left by the regime’s crushing of all opposition.

From holding pretensions of merely presenting the views of contending interest groups in the campus, Pagbutlak came to stand firmly on the side of the students’ and peoples’ rights and welfare. Neutrality, after all, is an impossible position at a time of great oppression. It only serves those in power.

The paper stressed the need for an expansion of the traditional role of campus editors under Martial Law not only by expressing the voice of the students but also by serving as leaders who arouse, organize, and mobilize students for their rights and welfare.

The paper’s more active role was manifested in Pagbutlak’s involvement in the students’ struggles to restore the student council. The editors led the students in asserting student representation in the university and engaged the administration in dialogues.

From then on, Pagbutlak will have a significant role in fomenting student activism.

A Continuing Commitment

This commitment for truth and freedom in spite of the constant threats of censorship, closure, detention, and salvaging by the Marcos regime is a legacy of the strong activist tradition that blossomed in the university during the 60s and early 70s. In this period, student organizations and movements based in the university were at the forefront of the historic First Quarter Storm [3] and the Diliman Commune [4].

This commitment is rooted in the construction of an alternative conception of UP as a critique of the ills and injustices of society as opposed to its traditional role as the intellectual legitimizer of an oppressive and exploitative system ruled by big business, landlords, and imperialist powers.

This alternative sought to pave a new role for UP as the university of the people in opposition to the role conceived for it by American colonialism when it was founded in 1908.

Such a history gave birth to the myth that led parents to avoid sending their children to UP out of fear that they might become activists. But the myth that UP is naturally radical and synonymous with activism during the heady days of martial law is misleading for there was always a continuous effort to awaken, unite, and galvanize iskolars ng bayan in order to keep the legacy alive.

Shortly after its revival, for instance, Pagbutlak lamented the political apathy of UP Iloilo students and hit this meekness and lack of critical thinking as a result of authoritarian rule. Pagbutlak did not only banner the truth of oppression in its pages. Its editors actively joined the students in their struggles.

Reporting Social Realities

Pagbutlak’s pages likewise became the repository of landmark issues that left imprints on the lives of several generations of UP Visayas students. Five years into the paper’s revival, student actions became more daring as effort was exerted to link with the struggles of the peasants, the workers, and the urban poor.

In the 80s, many Pagbutlak issues trained their sights on the education system, which was analyzed as colonial, commercialized, and repressive – a characterization that remains true today.

Articles were not limited to campus and student issues. Space was also reserved for happenings in the community and the nation. Pagbutlak’s pages printed statements of political prisoners and other marginalized sectors, it presented commentaries on the economic crisis, and covered the ever intensifying people’s protests.

This period culminated in a welgang bayan joined by the entire UPV community that coincided with the February 1986 people’s uprising EDSA that ousted the much-hated Marcos regime.

During the 90s, Pagbutlak published articles critical of the Socialized Tuition Fee Adjustment Program or STFAP which was branded as a smokescreen for tuition and other fee increases. And indeed, tuition then was hiked from P40/unit to P200/unit.

Pagbutlak also became instrumental in the national campaign against the US Bases in Subic and Clark, one of the most blatant marks of the country’s semi-colonial condition. September 16, 1991 saw the entire UPV community massed up in a lakbayan from Miagao to Iloilo City.

A Contested Legacy

But Pagbutlak’s track record was never consistent on this count for its history was also marked by absences brought by irresponsible editors who only entered the publication for their resumes. It was also marred by silences on crucial issues affecting the university and the people. The school paper’s thrust vacillated from term to term.

Some terms were limited to mere reportage of traditional events in the campus and irrelevant angsty personal outpourings while others read the end of martial law as an excuse for declaring the need to lessen focus on peoples’ and students’ issues.

The ongoing fight for greater state subsidy for UP and education thus became notoriously missing from Pagbutlak’s pages. More laughable is the early celebration of some confused souls on the supposed death of Pagbutlak.

For a brief period, an anarchistic postmodern intellectual trend with pretensions of dismantling all “hierarchies” also became fashionable. This only disengaged the students from social realities and the need to advance justice and truth.

But the problems that hounded the students and the people under Marcos are the same problems that continue to hound us today. For if there was the Plaza Miranda Bombing and the Escalante Massacre under Marcos, we had the Mendiola Massacre under Corazon Aquino and the Hacienda Luisita and Ampatuan Massacres under Arroyo.

Education likewise remains profit-oriented and caters mainly to foreign demand. The price of oil and basic commodities continue to rise. Our traditional leaders continue to give false promises even as the people languish in poverty. Two decades after the death of the Marcos dictatorship, human rights are still violated with impunity.

The question of us becoming unconcerned intellectuals or worthy Filipinos engaged in the active process of nation-building therefore remains relevant. As Pagbutlak continues into its 35th year, we reaffirm the truth that history is not just written in comfy offices or printed in the glossy pages of books and publications.

Pagbutlak on its 35th Year

While this year’s Pagbutlak began its term only in the second semester due to the irresponsibility of the previous term’s leadership, we continue to endeavor to give the students a publication they deserve.

This year’s editorial board decided to use the tabloid format instead of the usual broadsheet and magazine formats to maximize our finances and keep the students updated on relevant issues more frequently just as the Pagbutlak of the 70s and the early 80s did.

More importantly, this year’s Pagbutlak not only seeks to publish issues on a more regular basis but also present timely and principled interventions on national issues and urgent university concerns.

We hence issued statements and joined mass actions on the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, the closure of the UP Cebu High School, and the ouster of Student Regent Charisse Bañez. We likewise hosted the Panay launching of the book Pagtatagpo sa Kabilang Dulo: Panitikang Testimonial ng Desparecidos to help popularize the issue of the ever-worsening human rights condition under the Arroyo regime.

We are moreover spearheading the reinvigorating the presence of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, the largest and oldest existing national alliance of student publications, in Iloilo.

The students’ struggles can only be won if it is linked with that of the people for history is first and foremost made by the people in the streets, the communities, and the countrysides. Pagbutlak’s best moments are hence the times when it is firmly anchored with the cause and struggles of the students and the people. ■

Notes:

1. Published as the banner story of the January-February 2010 issue of Pagbutlak, the Official Student Publication of the University of the Philippines Visayas College of Arts and Sciences.

2. We are correcting Xerxes Seposo’s attribution of excerpts from the article “Our Commitments, Our Policies” to the “Pagbutlak 1974 issue” in his article “Pagbutlak Writes 34” published in the Pagbutlak’s September 2009 issue. “Our Commitments, Our Policies” was published in Pagbutlak’s September 1977 issue. Pagbutlak released its first issue in January 1975.

3. The First Quarter Storm is a historic series of demonstrations, marches, and protests against the Marcos regime joined by tens of thousands of youth and students from January to March 1970, the first quarter of 1970.

4. The Diliman Commune refers to the occupation of UP Diliman campus by thousands of students from February 4 to 9, 1971 to protest the violation of academic freedom, police brutality, and military presence in the campus.

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