California's Golden Gate bridge
have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge more than 100 times in the 46 years
that I have lived in San Francisco but my most memorable crossing
occurred 45 years ago this past week when I rode in a 4-car convoy for
a weekend retreat at Camp Arequipa, a girl scout camp in Fairfax, Marin
County. There were about 20 of us, young Filipino activists from all
over the U.S. who were attending a conference of correspondents and
distributors of the Kalayaan International, a radical monthly community
newspaper which I started in my tiny room ($50 a month) at the
International Hotel in San Francisco's Manilatown in May of 1971.
of the members of our Kalayaan Collective, Cynthia Maglaya, a veteran of
the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of activism in the Philippines, suggested
the conference to “consolidate the progressive forces” among Filipinos
in the US. While our radical paper drew support from "movement"
activists who had immigrated to the US, it also attracted Filipino
Americans who had never even visited the Philippines and could not speak Tagalog or Ilocano but who were finding their Filipino identity
consciousness within the broader Third World and Asian American
movements sweeping the country.
initially planned our conference for April 1972 but this was postponed
to June 1972 and finally to September 1972.
MEETING AT A
GIRL SCOUT CAMP
Among those flying in, or driving up, to San Francisco for the Kalayaan
conference were: Eddie Escultura from Chicago, Greg Santillan from
Philadelphia, Jaime Geaga and Esther Soriano from Los Angeles, Paul
Bagnas and Felix Tuyay from San Diego, Terry Bautista and Sylvia
Savellano from Oakland, John Foz and Joe Tolero from Daly City, John
Silva, Tessie Zaragoza and Bruce Occena from Berkeley, Cathi Tactaquin
from Salinas, Emil de Guzman, Bill Sorro, Gil Mangaoang, Estella Habal
and Gil Carillo from San Francisco.
were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and joyfully basking in the warm
glow of a glorious sunset when suddenly the news blared out over the
radio that Ferdinand Marcos had just declared martial law. We were all
shocked but not entirely surprised by the news as we had been predicting
it for months. We were saddened by the thought that thousands of our
compatriots in the Philippines were being arrested, tortured or killed
resisting martial law. We imagined the closure of democratic
institutions like the courts, the press and the Congress.
we arrived at the girl scout camp that night, we quietly gathered
together at the main cabin and decided to scrap all our painstaking
plans for the growth of Kalayaan-International as the events in the
Philippines had overtaken us. We would now have to focus on how we were
going to respond to the challenge of martial law.
decided to form a national organization and establish chapters all over
the US. We called our group the National Committee for the Restoration
of Civil Liberties in the Philippines (NCRCLP). When Sen. Raul Manglapus
later formed his own national group in Washington DC in 1973, he had the
right idea. Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP), short and sweet.
laid out plans to organize a National Day of Protest on October 6 to
show the world that Filipinos in America were opposed to the Marcos
dictatorship. We set up pickets in front of the Philippine Embassy in
Washington DC and in front of Philippine Consulates throughout the US.
In San Francisco, I invited the students in my Philippine History class
to join me in the picket line. All but one did.
was pure coincidence that our conference fell on the weekend martial law
was declared as it would have taken us months to plan and organize a
national conference to deal with martial law. It was serendipity.
analyzed that Marcos would not have declared martial law without the
consent and approval of the United States so we believed that key to
ending martial law was to lobby the US Congress to cut off military and
economic aid to the Marcos Dictatorship. That would be our national
created an NCRCLP Research Committee which met regularly in the basement
of the Berkeley home of Lydia Araneta and Nilo Sarmiento, with Craig
Scharlin and Lilia Villanueva, Mike and Elena Swanson, and Lydia’s
“kids,” Christine and Anna Tess. We would later establish contact with
Dr. Ellen Snow, the foreign policy adviser of California Sen. Alan
Cranston, regularly providing her with information about martial law.
DENOUNCES MARCOS IN THE US SENATE
information we provided Dr. Snow inspired Sen. Cranston to deliver a
speech on the floor of the US Senate on April 12, 1973, which include
this gem: “Foreign dictators seem to feel that all they have to do is
proclaim their anti-communism and we will rush to their side with
dollars and guns. A few of them, such as President Marcos, even pretend
that they are strengthening democracy.”
young activists who were arrested and imprisoned in the Philippines
during martial law were then deported to the US because they were US
citizens. When Melinda Paras and Deanie Bocobo arrived in San Francisco,
we met with them and arranged for them to go on a national speaking
Another American who was deported from the Philippines was Fr. Bruno
Hicks, a Franciscan priest who spent 10 years in Negros Occidental
province organizing farmers cooperatives, before he was arrested by
Marcos soldiers, imprisoned and deported back to San Francisco. In the
speaking tour we arranged for him, Fr. Hicks described “simple and
conscientious peasants forming their own political opinions, expressing
them, beginning to vote independently of their landlords and their
employers. Could this have been the reason martial law was declared
because democracy was actually beginning to work, because the grievances
of the masses were finally getting organized, getting aired, and
bringing pressure to bear on the political institutions?”
NCRCLP Bay Area Cultural Group was formed where the members sang
patriotic Filipino songs like “Ang Bayan Ko” and performed skits
depicting the effects of martial law in the Philippines and exposing the
US role in the declaration of martial law. We held our public forums and
cultural events at the Glide Memorial Methodist Church in downtown San
Francisco as the Rev. Cecil Williams was an early suporter.
October of 1972, the Philippine Consul-General in Los Angeles, Ruperto
Baliao, privately informed NCRCLP members of his reservations about
martial law. He joked that he may even be joining us soon. On May 18,
1973, Consul Baliao held a press conference in L.A. to announce his
defection from Marcos whom he called “the new Hitler”. He read his cable
to Secretary of Foreign Affairs Carlos P. Romulo, Consul Baliao where he
said: “after many sleepless nights of soul-searching, I have finally
decided that I cannot in good conscience continue serving your
administration which is dedicated to the perpetuation of Pres. Marcos
despotic rule and the continued suppression of our people’s civil
Consul-General Baliao revealed a telegram dated April 25, 1973 which he
received from the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (ISAFP) containing a list of over 100 Filipinos in the
United States whose activities were considered “detrimental to the
national interest.” He was given instructions not to renew or extend the
Philippine passports of those in the “blacklist”.
Consul-General Baliao accepted our offer to go on a nationwide speaking
tour to denounce Marcos and martial law. In Washington DC on June 9,
1973, he even led a demonstration in front of the Philippine Embassy
where he was joined by Raoul Beloso, the former chairman of the Small
Farmers Commission of the Philippines.
Wherever Imelda Marcos traveled in the US, she was met with NCRCLP
pickets. On one occasion, when we learned that she was passing through
San Francisco, we rushed to the San Francisco International Airport to
picket her. But when we got there, airport security stopped us from
setting up our picket line. So I went to the white courtesy telephone
and requested the airport announcer to please page a certain individual.
As Imelda Marcos was walking through the lobby of the airport, she could
hear this loudspeaker announcement “Calling Miss Ibagsak C. Marcos, Miss
Ibagsak C. Marcos, please come to the white courtesy telephone.”
April of 1973, the Methodist Church offered us free offices at the
UNITAS House in Berkeley. Next door to our office was the group fighting
the Brazilian Dictatorship. When I asked them how long they had been
organizing in the US against the Brazilian generals, a member responded
“since 1964”. That was 9 years at the time and I told him that the
Marcos Dictatorship would not last that long.
“The Filipino people will
never accept it. We will topple Marcos very soon and civil liberties
will be restored in the Philippines,” I said confidently.
wrong I was. Martial law in the Philippines would last for nearly 14
years from 1972 through 1986.
unfortunately, NCRCLP would not last anywhere nearly as long. After we
published our 36-page newsmagazine, Silayan, in July of 1973, the NCRCLP,
as a national organization, ceased to exist.
CADRE OVER MASS
Melinda Paras, who had gone on a speaking tour all over the US after she
was deported from the Philippines, forged a political alliance with
Bruce Occena of our Kalayaan Collective and together they initiated
intense discussions among our NCRCLP members about the need to create a
“cadre” organization to surpass the “mass” organization that was the
result of their efforts was the formal organization of the Katipunan ng
mga Demokratikong Pilipino (KDP) – which was formed in Berkeley,
California in July of 1973. Elected as the national chair was Melinda
Paras who insisted, despite my pleas, that NCRCLP must be dissolved in
order for the KDP to thrive.
by one, the NCRCLP chapters around the US dissolved, all except for the
Los Angeles chapter under Esther Soriano, Lilian Tamoria, and Eric
Lachica. That last NCRCLP chapter, which would later be led by UCLA
Prof. Enrique De La Cruz and Atty. Prosy Abarquez De La Cruz, would
resolutely continue the NCRCLP until the end of martial law in February
ended what began with the convoy crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge in
September of 1972.
(The author taught Philippine History at
San Francisco State University when martial law was declared and would
later serve as Secretary-General of the NCRCLP. Send comments to
mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San
Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).