A red banner depicting a flag-bearing Oblation waved amidst cheers of victory. The crowd jubilantly chanted: “Stand-UP! Tunay! Palaban! Makabayan!” With left hands raised and fists clenched, students gathered in the auditorium solemnly sang UP Naming Mahal, the university hymn.

It was the night of the UP Student Council (UPSC) elections. And that night belonged to the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP or Stand-UP, the most militant and radical student political party in the University of the Philippines-Diliman today. That night, after a long drought, the militants captured 12 out of 14 seats on the State University’s student council.

The UP Student Council

The UP Student Council chairmanship–along with the editorship of the Philippine Collegian, UP’s official student newspaper, known for its tradition of advocating freedom and democracy–is a post coveted by the competing students’ groups in UP.

Organized in 1940, the UPSC has played a significant role in the history of UP and the country, producing student leaders and activists who would go on to be great names in the nation’s history. Former Manila Times editor Malou Mangahas, a well-respected journalist, and Lean Alejandro, a martyr of the people’s liberation movement, both led the UPSC.

The UPSC was abolished when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. But the continuous struggle of the students led to its restoration in 1979.

Shortly after the proclamation of this year’s winners, Stand-UP standard bearers Chair Raymond “Mong” Palatino and Vice-Chair Cristina Josefina “Ninai” Festin, with members of Stand-UP, proceeded to Vinzon’s Hall–the seat of UP student activism that houses the offices of both the UPSC and the Collegian–and held a victory program. Later, Stand-UP members lit firecrackers at the Sunken Garden, the vast playground of the Diliman campus.

Militants vs “reformists”
Stand-UP is an alliance composed of organizations such as the League of Filipino Students, Gabriella-Youth and other student organizations aligned with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, a left-leaning mass organization.

According to Palatino, Stand-UP believes that “education is a right, not a privilege” and that “the present educational system is colonial, commercialized and repressive, and we should work for a nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented education.”

Members of the Stand-UP are mostly activists who go to Mendiola often to voice the grievances of the students and the people. They are well-versed on issues affecting both UP and the country, and they usually have well-defined, clear-cut, uncompromising stands on issues.

The militant organizations belonging to Stand-UP broke away from their parent political party, Sandigan para sa Mag-aaral at Sambayanan (Samasa), in 1995 due to differences in principles.

Since its establishment in the early 1980s, Samasa–originally named Sandigan ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Sambayanan–had been the dominant party until the “great split” in 1995. It must be noted that the split came about after the radical Left broke up into factions.

While the Samasa leadership propagated a pluralist approach in viewing the local and national situation and pushed for a popular democratic line of thinking, the militants asserted that there should be no dichotomy between national and local issues–for them, these are intertwined. Separating themselves from the group, they labeled their former colleagues in Samasa as “reformists.”

The militants, who believe that the character of Philippine society remains semi-feudal and semi-colonial, formed the Sandigan ng mga Mag-aaral Para sa Sambayanan-Tunay na Militante at Makabayang Alyansa. This student party would later be the core of the expanded alliance known as Stand-UP.

Militants’ victory: courtesy of Erap?
Stand-UP’s victory in the UPSC polls this year was its first since the Samasa split in 1995. For the past few years, the UPSC was led by student leaders from either Samasa or the now non-existent Independent Student Alliance (ISA), a pluralist group dominated by the Alpha Phi Beta fraternity. (ISA’s history ended more than a year ago due to internal problems.)

In this year’s elections, Education student Palatino of Stand-UP, garnered 4,746 votes while his opponent, Samasa’s Marie Grace Michelle “Mariz” Umali got 2,710. For vice-chair, Festin got 3,878 votes, 392 votes more than that of independent candidate Aaron Karl Pundol.

Stand-UP also won ten of the 12 seats for councilor; although a number of college representative posts were captured by independent candidates.

During the post-election victory gathering of the Stand-UP members, some people in the crowd commented: “It took a presidency like that of Erap (Joseph Estrada) for us to finally win!”

During school year 1999-2000, UP, like the rest of the country, witnessed the bumbling of the Estrada government. Even if citizen dissatisfaction with Estrada began shortly after he assumed the presidency in 1998, when he wanted to give Marcos a hero’s burial, it was only last year that the charges of violation of press freedom and cronyism, bundled with an anti-Charter change movement and anti-Marcos sentiments, intensified.

For the past years, it has been observed that the State University has become a playground for the elite and that activism in UP has declined. Now the question is being asked: could the victory of the militants in UP be seen as another manifestation of the people’s growing discontent with the Erap regime? Is there a connection between the unexpected but decisive victory of Stand-UP and the Erap presidency?

Palatino, also called Chairman Mong (perhaps as in Chairman Mao, the Chinese communist leader) by his supporters, opined, “Siguro dahil na rin sa napakaraming problemang ibinibigay ni Erap para sa atin, kaya lumalakas yung ating mga kampanya. Marami siyang mga anti-student policies, eh. Ang Stand-UP, syempre, ang unity niyan, democratic interest of the students. [In our fight against these policies,] lumalawak yung ating kampanya at popularity at pagkakaisa ng mga student (It is probably because of the many problems that Erap has given us that our campaigns have intensified. He has many anti-student policies, and for Stand-UP, our point of unity is the democratic interest of the students. It is in our fight against these policies that we have broadened our campaign and popularity, as well as the unity of the students).”

But Abraham Acosta of Samasa, an active participant and observer of UP campus politics, sees no connection between Estrada and the victory of the Left in the UP election. “No, sila [Stand-UP] lang ang more active so sila iyong may identity on campus. Nawala kasi ang Samasa (No, Stand-UP has just been more active so they have an identity on campus. Also, Samasa has disappeared) . . . Only more than 30 per cent voted, which means that the other 70 per cent couldn’t care less. As I see it, party votes pa nga yata iyon.”

“It is not a victory of the students [but] just [of] a small segment of the UP population,” he added.

Only 35.48% of the 22,355 students in 24 academic units in UP Diliman voted, the Collegian reported. This is smaller, though not really very far from last year’s low voter turnout of 36.59 per cent.

Last year, Samasa candidates dominated the UPSC polls. The Pro-Student party, composed mostly of elite fraternities and organizations and formed solely for election purposes, joined the UPSC race but most of their candidates lost.

Maricris Valte, an officer of a non-government organization helping the urban poor and an activist who was one of the founders of ISA in the late ’80s, said there is no correlation between Stand-UP’s victory and the public discontent with the Estrada regime.

“I think hang-up ito ng old-fashioned arrogance that UP is the microcosm of the Philippine society,” she said, explaining that creating such a connection would be like saying that the segment of society that is discontented with the administration is the same segment you find in UP.

That would also mean, she added, that both are looking for the most militant alternative solution. She suggested that it would be necessary to look at the general situation of the militants outside UP to verify this.

“We can assume that this is a portent of the things to come, or “signs of the times” yung pagboto ng mga estudyante sa Stand-UP, na tipong nara-radicalize ang studentry dahil sa discontent (that the studentry is being radicalized). But you have to look at the record of the students in terms of participation in militant campaigns?” Valte added.

Both Palatino and Acosta believe that the campaign against the P155-million cut in the UP budget helped usher Stand-UP’s victory.

“The issue of the budget also gave Stand-UP the upper hand. They had the right issues at the time. Samasa was nowhere to be seen,” Acosta said.

On February 14, UP constituents, led by UP President Francisco Nemenzo, trooped to Mendiola to protest the slash in the UP budget. According to Palatino, Stand-UP was one of the groups that initiated the UP system-wide rally on that day that President Estrada was scheduled to sign the budget. The Collegian reported that the mass action registered a “partial victory” when the cut was reduced to P107.2 million.

Stand-UP has also been visibly active in campaigns against the government’s neglect of education and other and national issues.

In 1997, it spearheaded the campaign against the Commonwealth Property Development Project (CPDP) of then UP President Emil Javier. The CPDP aimed to convert 98.5 hectares or 20 per cent of the total UP Diliman land area, into a commercial center which would be leased to private corporations to generate income for the university. The students saw this as a form of “commercialization of education” and a way of condoning the government’s reluctance to fund public education properly.

Stand-UP initiated the formation of Ugnayan ng mga Mag-aaral laban sa Komersyalisasyon, which engaged in a massive information drive.

In 1998, Stand-UP led the September 16 Movement-UP, a protest against the Visiting Forces Agreement. For their part, Samasa and ISA joined forces and formed the Coalition Against Captain America, also an anti-VFA alliance.

In spite of its many high-profile militant activities, however, it was only this year that Stand-UP captured the student’s mandate in the USC.

Leah, a senior UP student, said that since Stand-UP was elected by the UP students, it follows that the students echo its radical sentiments. She noted that the current situation probably calls for actions like mass mobilizations, which are often used by Stand-UP.

Madel Montejo, editor-in-chief of Tinig ng Plaridel, the official student publication of the UP College of Mass Communication, pointed out that the present Collegian might have also helped prop Stand-UP.

“Nakatulong din siguro yung aktibismo mismo sa Kule. Kahit sabihin nung mga ibang estudyante na hindi nila yun binabasa, kasi nga feeling nila parang propaganda pero linggu-linggo nilang nakukuha yun. Kahit papaano, naiinculcate yun [na rin sa kanila ang nilalaman nito] (I suppose the activism of the Collegian helped. Even if there are students who say they do not read it, because they feel it carries so much propaganda, they still get it every week, and somehow they inculcate its values),” Montejo said.

Most of the current Collegian editors are associated with Stand-UP member organizations.

Acosta, for his part, accused the Collegian of mudslinging: “The Collegian also came out with negative articles about Samasa,” he claimed.

Meanwhile, Samasa candidate Umali alleged that Stand-UP used effective black propaganda against her.

“Sobrang nag-work yung black propaganda nila against us. Siguro, it’s just up for the people to realize na yung mga sinasabi nilang claims against us are not really true. Well, some people from my college who know me can attest to that–that I’m not just a pretty face,” Umali told the Collegian.

Another factor that may have led to the Stand-UP victory is the reported internal squabble in Samasa that resulted in its poor performance in the campaign. According to Acosta, “Samasa relied on internal stuff, forgetting that external matters matter.

[For] the past two-three years, gustong I-consolidate ng [executive committee] namin ang mga orgs, to the point na nakalimutan ang external involvement. Kaya nga ang tanong to SAMASA this year was “sino ka? Anong nagawa mo? (Samasa’s executive committee concentrated on consolidating the organizations, to the detriment of external involvement. So the question posed [by students] to Samasa this year was, who are you and what have you accomplished?)”

There was also the hearsay that Samasa members actually debated whether or not to participate in this year’s USC elections.

Chairman Mong Palatino said maybe UP students are just fed up with the kind of politics and brand of leadership provided by the alliance that has won for the past few years.

Of their victory this year, Festin thinks the students saw “the need for a vigilant and militant student council of a premier state university.”

“Kasi kung titingnan mo, iskolar ka ng bayan so may social responsibility ka na tugunan kung ano yung problema sa labas dahil you’re studying because of the taxpayer’s money (When you really think about it, as a national scholar, you have the social responsibility to understand and tackle the problems of the country because your education is being supported by taxpayers’ money),” Festin said.

Whether the victory of the militants is a protest vote, a product of laborious and continuous campaign, or the result of an internal problem in the rival party, the new Stand-UP-led student council is faced with great challenges: To usher in a revived activism in UP that should transcend party politics; to handle properly the legitimate leadership that they finally got hold of, and; to get UP students to respond to certain issues.

In this time of crisis under a problematic national leadership, the iskolar ng bayan has an important role to play. Now, more than ever, they face the challenge of proving that they are not spoiled brats who are out to get all the lollipops they want.

It is Chairman Mong’s unenviable job to get the 23,000 sons and daughters of Oblation to join him and his party in the streets.

Related link: Splitting Ends

Related Works

Add comment