(Written for Tembtation column)

“Uh la la, Oreta puta ka!” was among the most memorable chants that our group shouted on our way to Mendiola last January 20. A cute and brave girl behind me started it: I overheard her as she recited it while she and a friend were chatting during the earlier part of the march. After some prodding, the girl was convinced to lead the chanting of the anti-Tessie Oreta line. Eventually, almost the whole UP group was crying “Uh, la la, Oreta puta ka!” We surely shocked a good number of manangs every time we passed a crowd of onlookers and sympathizers.

Imagine hundreds of UPians shouting the anti-Oreta chant and in your mind, you’ll see angry scholars of the people–angry at the dancing senator and her colleagues, who, in an attempt to save a corrupt president, betrayed the Filipino people by suppressing the truth. Yes, merely chanting “Miriam, baliw,” and “Tessie, pokpok” was almost a show of affection. We had to let our anger out through stronger curses like “Uh, la la…!” as we endlessly cried “Erap resign!” and “Sobra nang pahirap, patalsikin si Erap!”

Imagine hundred of UPians cursing the disgraced President and his allies, and you’ll hear defiant voices of dissent echoing the cry “Iskolar ng bayan, ngayon ay lumalaban.”

As we were waiting for the signal to go forward to Mendiola, my friend and kuya, Anto–who was then searching in the nearly one-hundred thousand-strong crowd for his father, Bayan Muna President Satur Ocampo–noted that instead of “Iskolar ng Bayan”, ngayon ay lumalaban, we must say “Iskolar ng bayan, laging lumalaban!”

I agree with him. For indeed, history attests to how UP students have been standing side-by-side with the people in the continuing quest for genuine freedom and democracy and the seemingly impossible dream for a better Philippine society.

A walk back to the road of UP student movement’s history to trace the path that leads us to Mendiola, EDSA, and other venues of our collective dissent would prove my point:

Even before the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ rise to power, UP student and leader-activist Jose Maria Sison and his friends started the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines in 1959, and in 1964, the Kabataang Makabayan. These groups organized and led mass actions against government excesses and sought revolutionary change in the Philippine society.

Lorena Barros in 1970 founded the Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan whose aim, along with national liberation, was the advancement of women’s right in a feudal society like ours. She later chose to join the armed revolution and was killed in an encounter with the military.

UP students were active leaders and participants in the First Quarter Storm of 1970, a series of huge mass demonstrations from January to March of that year rocked the Marcos dictatorship. A year later, the UP community declared the Diliman Commune. Students fought and put up barricades in the campus to prevent the Quezon City police from taking over the campus. The entire “Diliman Republic” was considered liberated–free from Marcos’ militarization scheme. Students took over the campus radio station DZUP and published Pulang Bandila, a revolutionary paper. It was only on the ninth day of the commune that the QC police, with the help of Metrocom, succeeded by forcibly dispersing the barricades.

At the height of Martial Law, UPians led the broad student movement’s fight against the dictator. In 1975, Abraham “Ditto” Sarmiento, at that time editor of the Philippine Collegian, challenged his fellow UP students: ”Kung di tayo kikibo, sino ang kikibo? Kung hindi taya kikilos, sino ang kikilos? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?” Because of his fierce editorials against the dictatorship, Ditto was arrested. Denied of adequate medical attention while in prison, he died after he was freed.

In 1979, Malou Mangahas–my dear editor in the Gokongwei-owned Manila Times–then a journalism student, courageously answered the call of the times as she took the helm of the Collegian. Despite the danger of being an anti-dictatorship activist, her commitment to national liberation did not waver as she led the University Student Council and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines the following year. JV Baustista, also of the Collegian, led UP Mass Communication students’ fight for press freedom as he became the first editor of Tinig ng Plaridel, the Institute’s student paper, also in 1979.

UP student leader Lean Alejandro actively fought the dictatorship in the 1980s. After Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.–himself a fighter and hero and a great pride of the UP students– was assasinated, Lean left the University and went full time in the anti-Marcos struggle. He was arrested and detained for two months and participated in the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolt after he was released. After the revolt, Lean, in an attempt to introduce a new politics, ran as a leftist congressional candidate against–guess who!–everybody’s favorite, the dancing queen herself, Tessie Oreta! The now-“honorable” cheerleader rode on the popularity of her sister-in-law, then President Corazon Aquino and won the election while Lean returned to his previous activities as secretary-general of nationalist organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. Lean openly criticized the 1987 coup de tat that killed and injured innocent civilians. This, most probably, led to his early death, as he was assassinated allegedly by rightwingers in September of that year.

The end of the Marcos dictatorship and the deaths of student activists, however, did not mark an end to the fight of the UP students.

In the late 1980’s, the likes of David Celdran and Mike Defensor continued to mobilize their fellow UP students against the US military bases and tuition increases. In mid-1990’s, UP students’ fight was against the commercialization of education, manifested in the Socialized Tution and Financial Assistance Program and the Commonwealth Property Development Project. CPDP was a plan to lease out for as long as 75 years 98.5 hectares of UP lands to private investors, that would virtually turn the UP property along Commonwealth Avenue into a commercial center.

The biggest UP mobilization I participated in my four years of stay in the university was probably the anti-CPDP rally in August 1997. The USC, the Collegian, college publications like Tinig, all three student parites–Samasa, Stand-UP and ISA–and various student organizations were there. We all shouted “No to CPDP,” as we asserted that the plan ran counter to UP’s nature as an educational institution, a state university at that.

President Ramos’ Charter change or Cha-cha initiatives also sent us to the streets.

And of course, when it was Joseph Estrada’s turn to do his biggest act in Malaca?ang, there was the Marcos burial, the Visiting Forces Agreement–some sort of a repackaged US Bases treaty, the threats to press freedom violations, among others. I need not discuss more. Our struggles during the Estrada regime were just (as the slam book cliche says) “too many to mention”: doing so would require another lengthy piece such as this.

Of course, we were at the forefront of the Resign-Impeach-Oust Estrada movement. USC Chair Raymond Palatino, in an e-mail to the UPerapresign egroup, said some 30,000 UP students, faculty and members of UP marched from Diliman to EDSA to participate in the People Power Revolt II a day before we booted Estrada out of the Palace.

And of course, UPians comprised one of the biggest and noisiest groups that marched to Mendiola to oust and arrest the former movie actor. I saw banners of organizations from other UP campuses, too. And surely, the iskolar ng bayan in other campuses, who were not able to join the Mendiola march, were as determined as we were to fight Estrada’s doomed administration.

Indeed, it is true: “Ang iskolar ng bayan, hindi lang ngayon lumalaban. Tayo ay laging lumalaban.

And before I forget, aside from our duty to watch our new government and ensure that Erap a.k.a. Asiong Salonga a.k.a Jose Velarde gets the punishment he deserves, UPians have an urgent concern: to get rid of a Dancing Balato Queen in the UP Board of Regents!

Okay, one more time now: “Uh, la la…!”

References: Inquirer.net; National Democratic Front; Philippine Collegian ’97-98; Kule’s Dekada 90; Rebolusyong Pilipino: Tanaw Mula sa Loob

This is where Tembarom came from:
…His name was, in fact, an almost inevitable school-boy modification of one felt to be absurd and pretentious. His Christian name was Temple, which became “Temp.” His surname was Barom, so he was at once “Temp Barom.” In the natural tendency to avoid waste of time it was pronounced as one word, and the letter p being superfluous and cumbersome, it easily settled itself into “Tembarom,” and there remained. By much less inevitable processes have surnames evolved themselves as centuries rolled by. Tembarom liked it, and soon almost forgot he had ever been called anything else.

— T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett.