When Filipinos commemorate the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, they not only look back to Ferdinand Marcos’ violent rule and greed for power. They remember the student movement that called him out for corruption even then, five decades ago. It was student movement that saw the signs of an impending dictatorship when in 1971, Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus, allowing the police and military to arrest activists without having to answer for those arrests.
Ateneo de Manila University students were at the forefront of protests. They raised their voices and their fists on national issues such as labor rights, the oil price hike and tuition fee increases. But they also confronted local issues.
In the late 1960s, Ateneo students, then all male, were calling for the Filipinization of Ateneo education which at that time they thought to be Western-oriented and irrelevant to social, political and economic conditions in the Philippines. What sparked this movement, aside from the national unrest happening outside the campus, was the essay “Down from the Hill” written by five students published in the campus publication, The Guidon. “Down from the Hill” was a call to action to narrow the wide gap between rich and poor in Philippine society which the authors called a revolutionary situation bound to explode.
Most affected by this awakening of the youth was the Ateneo College Class 1972, which entered the university as freshmen in 1968. During those four years, they became part of the First Quarter Storm and subsequent protests but also supported Ateneo workers in their strike against the administration, and criticized the non-renewal of contracts of two professors bringing progressive ideas to the classrooms. By the time Class 1972 graduated, some members of the class went into full time activism; others were expelled for calling for a boycott in support of their professors’ cause.
In a collaboration with Ateneo College Class 1972, the Ateneo de Manila Department of Communication remembers the year 1972 by sharing the speech of the class valedictorian, Joven D. Reyes, Summa Cum Laude, AB Mathematics. In his speech, Reyes laments the unfulfilled ideals that the Class stood for, even as he salutes his batchmates who dared to take other paths.
(The changes took time, and in the years since, Ateneo has opened its doors to deserving students from public high schools, became a co-ed institution and identifies as a Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit center of excellence of higher learning. Ateneo College batches from the late 1960s and 1970s, including Class 1972, no doubt contributed to that.)