Now they’re killing students

The latest name in this growing list is that of Farly Alcantara II, 22, a graduating student of the Camarines Norte State College in the capital town of Daet.  Farly was the former spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) in Camarines Norte.  A lone gunman shot him five times with a .45 caliber pistol, just 300 meters away from the police headquarters.  On the day he was murdered, Farly had just won third place in an inter-school business plan competition.  He was on his way home.

The killing of this young student is not an isolated case.  In March 2006, Cris Hugo, the regional coordinator of the LFS in Bicol and a student of Bicol University, was shot dead under similar circumstances.  Four months later, in July, Reymon Guran, a student of Aquinas University in Legazpi, was shot dead inside a bus.  He was the LFS spokesperson for Albay.

Also last year, in the early morning of June 26, two students of the University of the Philippines were abducted by armed men wearing ski masks from the house in which they were staying in Hagonoy, Bulacan. The military denied taking them, and to this day the two young women have not been found.  Karen Empeno is a student of sociology and a member of the LFS in UP Diliman.  Sherlyn Cadapan is a student of human kinetics and a former member of the UP Student Council.

If these killings and disappearances had happened in the late ‘60s, I am very certain they would have triggered a nationwide student revolt.  Every funeral procession for a murdered student would be an occasion for a massive demonstration against the existing political order.  There would be sit-ins in every campus all over the country. Schools would be forced to shut down, and the restlessness of the young would be unleashed against every sign and symbol of government authority.  That none of this is happening today speaks eloquently and sadly about the prevailing state of student consciousness in our country.

It is a consciousness that is de-politicized and consumed by the culture of inwardness.  It devotes little passion for anything else outside of the personal.  It has no room for national identity, and is basically skeptical of any concern for social solidarity.  It is selfindulgent.  It looks upon education solely as a passport to individual mobility.  It takes for granted the terms of an unchanging economy of poverty, and seeks relief primarily in the promise of overseas migration.  It has a negative view of politicians as a class.  Yet it reserves the same disdain for social activists.  It provides little space, if any, for any social philosophy or ideology, although it is often swamped by religious visions of personal salvation.

We don’t have to idealize the consciousness of a previous generation in order to say that there was greater political commitment among the youth from the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s.   The students from this period formed the tail-end of that generation of young people whose own growth to adulthood paralleled the Filipino nation’s painful transition to self-government.  The quest for autonomy held for them a meaning that was simultaneously personal and social.  They thought of themselves as the bearers of many unfinished revolutions. They looked at education not only as a path to individual success, but also as a debt to be paid in the future.

When Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, the militant students bore the brunt of the dictatorial regime’s repressiveness.  Many were forced to go underground.  Those who had the means went abroad to live as exiles.  Many were detained and tortured; not a few died and were buried in unmarked graves.  Those who survived the Marcos prisons were forced by their families to abandon revolution as a career, and to shift to safer pursuits.  Thus was a whole politicized successor generation sacrificed at the altar of authoritarianism.

In the early ‘80s, when things had somewhat settled down, the survivors of that generation formed the first wave of socially-oriented non-government organizations (NGOs).  These were the seeds of today’s civil society.  Some ex-activists joined the mass media, where they found a new venue for their remaining radical impulses.  But normalization also multiplied the spaces for absorption into the establishment.  In many ways, the 1986 people power uprising, with its progressive and conservative themes, was very much a product of this generation – a child as much of the middle class as of the politically adventurous Sixties and Seventies.

I think of the students being murdered today as the remnants of a radical tradition stretching from the Katipunan to the First Quarter Storm.  Their numbers have considerably dwindled.  They have little support in the pacified student communities in which they operate. This is what makes them easy targets for isolation and liquidation.

None of the students who have been killed or abducted under the Arroyo regime took up arms against the government. The group to which they belong, the League of Filipino Students, founded in 1977, is not an illegal, clandestine, or armed organization.  Indeed it maintains a useful website on the Internet in which it describes its radical ideological orientation and bares its sympathies.

The murder of politically-active students like Farly Alcantara II should shame any government.  Without the tradition they desperately keep alive against all odds, no meaningful social change is possible.

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