Pete Lacaba’s “history”

For someone like me growing up in a time  when placard-holding (and ideology-smittened) rallyists are seen as traffic obstructions, the First Quarter Storm is but an abstract event in the country’s checkered memory. Aside from a litany of names, places and events, “FQS” is just one historical event which was ultimately lived out by its participants, or so I thought.

That is until I read Jose “Pete” Lacaba’s Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage. Reading it once again makes me realize that there is more to “FQS” than the seemingly canonized accounts of effigy-burning sessions and wrath-filled protest rallies.

While a blurb has described it as a reference work covering the turbulent period that is the 1970’s, I see the book also as a sort of a breathing “eye-opener” to the year when some unknown rallyists dared to throw an effigy right smack in the president’s face, or when a mob of students managed to break through the gates of Malacanang Palace. This collection of 13  articles gives life, and light, to the now-unknown names and events involved in the rise of the protest movement in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

The 13 articles, all under the literary journalism genre, are divided into three portions.  Each in turn refer to the period leading to, during, and after “FQS.” These were published in the Philippines Free Press and Asia-Philippines Leader magazines.

The three articles in the first portion  (“The October 24 Movement,” “‘Bring Back Our Philcag to Us!'” and “The Clash of ’69”) reported some of the protest rallies which occurred during the 1960s. Two of these  protested the 1966 Manila Summit of Asia-Pacific leaders and the decision to send a Filipino civic action contingent to war-stricken South Vietnam, while the third one involved the outbreak of clashes between students and policemen at the Lyceum de Manila campus in Intramuros.

The main corpus of the work, under the heading “The Storm,” reported on the events of the First Quarter Storm, which occurred from January 26 up to March 1970. Among the highlights of the period were: the throwing of an effigy against Pres. Ferdinand Marcos after delivering his State of the Nation speech at Congress(then holding sessions in its old building along Padre Burgos, Manila), the violent night-time attack against the Malacanang Palace by the student militants (January 30), a teach-in at the Plaza Miranda (February 12), the raid on the campus of the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines) by Manila police. The seven articles under this section vividly described the protests, the violent dispersals, and the ensuing political turmoil in Philippine society.

The last part of the book dealt with the protest rallies made after the FQS.

What made Pete Lacaba’s narration of these events interesting and riveting is that he let the names involved in the events talk, act, and shout, as if they are characters from a novel or play. But, true to being a journalist, he made qualifications that these were just based on his impressions on them.  At the same time, he made sharp and balanced observations both on of the activists’ idealism for social reform and the government response to the rallies.  To wit:

“Partly, the fault lay in the speakers….They did not satisfactorily explain, to give just one instance, why the sacadas, even if they are given the minimum wage out of Christian charity of the hacenderos, will always be exploited and subjected to fascist suppression…“(“The Plaza Miranda Teach-In”)

or

“Nothing more clearly revealed the depths to which the reputation of  the supposed enforcers of the law has sunk than this opening mocking of the cops. …Those who deplore the loss of respect for the law forget that respects need to be earned, and anyone is likely to lose respect for the law who has felt the wrath of lawmen or come face to face with their greed.( “The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account”)

In the entire collection, I  think that  ” The January 26  Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account” and ‘The January 30 Insurrection” serve as the highlight of the entire book.  Not only does Lacaba give in the two reports a blow-by-blow account of the events but also he relates to the reader HOW does these events have affected him. Those  leaning to the concept of the journalist-as-a-neutral-observer may find his reportage here a little slanted toward the activists, but I guess it’s just a matter of politics. What is more important here that Lacaba has managed to give an excellent account of the two tumultuous days, something which may not be given in the same way in a objective news report. Some quotes from these articles:

Among the demonstrators it was possible to feel at ease. None of them carried guns, they didn’t stand on ceremony, and there was no need for the aura of privilege that a press badge automatically confers on its wearer. (“The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account.”)

or

Where I stood, two rows behind the front lines, I felt a sudden sharp stinging pain in my chest. I felt a sudden sharp stinging pain in my chest. I’m hit…I carefully pulled it out and was examining it like a jeweler scrutinizing some precious gem from the moon when, before my eyes, there passed a student, supported by his comrades, one of his hands…now nothing more than a mess of blood and burning flesh, the fingers dangling like dead worms…(“The January 30 Insurrection”)

Pete Lacaba has not only succeeded in recording for posterity, the events of the First Quarter Storm; he made them happen once again in his articles. And that’s for history.

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