Collective action for social change

Those who profess the futility of collective action know nothing of their history. For the tide and ebb of world events are determined precisely by collective action. As one revolutionary put it, “The history of the world is the history of class struggle.”

Throughout the world, regimes and tyrants have been toppled down, and democracies established by the strength of collective action. The wheels of history from feudalism, capitalism to socialism, from monarchies to parliaments to peoples’ governments, were concrete conclusions of class struggle. Examples of which are the anti-colonization movement in Africa and Latin Amercia, the Liberation movement in Southeast Asia and Indo-China, the Religious Tolerance and Womem’s Rights Movement in most parts of the world, the anti-apartheid movement in Africa, and the establishment of the International League of People’s Struggle against Imperialism. And even individual heroes are propelled by the thousands of men and women who clamor, hand in hand, for a common aspiration.

History itself reveals that there is no stronger mark of popular sentiment than mass actions, making collective demonstrations indispensable in the realization of our common goals. In the Philippine setting, the stirrings of collective dissent began in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest. For instance, the Katipunan was borne out of the unity of the peasants and artisans against the colonizers. From the Spanish to the American regime, a common sentiment for national sovereignty fueled radical movements for freedom. Corrupt and authoritarian regimes were crushed when confronted by the ferocity of widespread mass demonstrations. In fact, the mere existence of repression attests to the potency of collective action — why suppress mass demonstrations if it does not instigate fear in the most hardened of dictators?

Thus, our stance remains — collective action is still our most potent weapon for social change. For only by participating in a coordinated action of thousands of people can individuals pursue both their personal and social liberties. As long as there are forces and establishments that conspire against the democratic rights of the people, individuals have to unite to register their shared will.

The sharpest position is to stand for collective action, which is comprised of all arenas of struggle, whether in the parliamentary or in the streets. Indeed, claiming that collective action is passé succeeds only in exposing the crass ignorance of the groups doing the claiming.

The history of UP alone is rich with instances that illustrate the potency of concerted action. During the 1950 witch hunts, when calls for nationalism were vilified as communism, our shared efforts were crucial in the struggle for academic and press freedom. In the 1970s, at the height of political repression during Martial Law, our united dissent contributed to the struggle for democracy, with hundreds of student leaders heeding the call of history, whether in cities or in the countryside. The social ferment generated by the Diliman Commune and the First Quarter Storm pierced the core of national affairs. Student institutions, publications, and formations were reestablished in the 1980s through adamant and tireless collective action. The list goes on, from the closure of US military bases in the country, the ouster of Erap in 2001, the retraction of the largest budget cut in 2000, and the removal of Provision 444 of the University Code, which unduly prohibits religious and provincial organizations.

Despite the machinations of the state and administration, the student movement persists because it has forged an inextricable link with all sectors in the call for social change. After all, the aims of collective action are collective victories — a gain enjoyed by the broadest and the most democratic.

At present, we are facing the blatant implementation of neoliberal policies, which direct the state to fully abandon state universities and colleges. The manifestations of commercialization are increasing, from corporatization to the endless proposals to increase tuition and other fees.

As students reject this overall scheme through protest actions and other peaceful activities, the state and administration have responded with crushing repression, through direct attacks against student formations and institutions. All over the nation, there is a systemic effort to entrench an education that is colonial, commercialized and fascist. Meanwhile, in the political arena, the state continues to commit grave sins against the people — intensified suppression and repression, political killings, the neglect of social services, high unemployment, lack of genuine land reform, increasing hunger, and continuing plunder — while aiming to extend its term through Cha-Cha. Now, more than ever, we need the force of collective action.

The fact of the matter is, those who say that collective action is “illusory” are themselves in delusion — they do not understand history nor do they know their place in history. The challenge for us, iskolars ng bayan, is to participate in the struggle for social change. We must fight for an education that is nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented. Because we cannot spur change in isolation, we must therefore link arms with the broadest masses in our struggle for a better society, where there is genuine land reform, national industrialization, genuine freedom, and social justice. For the broadest collective is also the strongest. Ultimately, we must recognize that our collective is our people and our nation.


Scrap all proposed fees! Rollback the tuition!
No to commercialization!
Struggle against state abandonment of UP education!
Fight for a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education!
Strengthen our unity! Advance our struggle for greater victories!


July 10 Nationwide Youth Walkout

[Photos above, and some below, are from here (Tim Medrano) and here (Jonna Baldres)] Last Thursday, July 10, 2008, thousands of students across the country walked out of their classes to protest the Arroyo administration’s willfull refusal at implementing genuine reforms and changes in government policies that would alleviate the lives of millions of Filipino youth and their families in light of soaring prices of oil, food and other basic commodities, and a worsening crisis in the education sector. In the University of the Philippines, where students, especially those in their first and second years, are beset with a tuition increase and new laboratory fees, half a thousand students joined the simultaneous programs held at various points in campus which culminated in a demonstration at Palma Hall at noon.

National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08)

In the morning, I was at the program in the College of Arts & Letters (CAL) atrium, with Airah, a colleague in the University Student Council, the CAL Student Council and members of other mass organizations inviting students to join the nationwide walkout. Before it hit noon, we held a snake rally around CAL and marched to Palma Hall to join hundreds of other UP students in a demonstration at Palma Hall Steps. We then marched to the University Avenue, where another brief program was held while we barricaded the road. By past two in the afternoon, more than a dozen jeepneys packed with UP students proceeded to Espana in Manila to join other Metro Manila students in protest.

National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08)

National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08) National Youth Walkout (Jul. 10, '08)

From España, more than a thousand students attempted to march to historic Mendiola, near Malacanang Palace, but the bulk was stalled by dozens of policemen and a fire truck at Morayta. A program was then held in front of Far Eastern University. The program included burning an effigy of the President. Below is a repost of a press release of the nationwide youth walkout.

Nationwide student walkouts vs. oil price hikes today
Bigger walkouts set on July 18

Students from the University of the Philippines in Manila and Diliman, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Adamson University, Philippine Christian University and some public high schools walked out of their classes today to protest soaring prices of oil and other basic commodities.

The student walkouts are part of Youth Act Now’s (Youth for Accountability and Truth Now) National Youth Action Day spearheaded by the alliance’s member organizations, the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), Kabataang Pinoy, Student Christian Movement (SCM), Liga ng Kabataang Moro, Youth Revolt, Anakbayan and League of Filipino Students (LFS).

The students held simultaneous programs in their respective schools at lunch time before converging in front of UST in Espana at 3:00 in the afternoon for a centralized program. They burned a giant Gloria Arroyo puppet as a symbolic show of protest. The student participants echoed the calls of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines and other concerned sectors for the scrapping of the VAT on oil and the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law. LFS Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo said, “The Arroyo administration cannot continue to ignore demands for the scrapping of VAT on oil. Consumers, including students, are receiving the hardest blows from weekly oil price hikes. The government’s reasons for not scrapping VAT on oil are hollow compared to the reasons why students have opted to walk out of their classes today in protest against crippling oil prices.” They also demanded higher wages for their parents, saying that a wage hike is just and imperative as costs of food, tuition and other school needs continue to soar because of weekly oil price increases.

For his part, Anakbayan chairperson Ken Ramos criticized Malacanang’s refusal to even entertain calls for a wage hike. “While we understand drivers and operators’ demand for a fare increase, for instance, how can this government expect us to cope with the meager wages and salaries of our parents? So-called subsidies are but fleeting and insufficient. This government is not offering the public anything substantial to live by.”

The youth protesters also slammed the Arroyo administration’s lavish spending and blatant corruption amid the economic crisis. “Arroyo’s latest junket to the US spending millions of dollars is a disgrace and an insult to millions of Filipinos who are scrimping to survive,” said Kabataang Pinoy President Dion Cerrafon. SCM Chairperson Biyaya Quizon said, “We are expected to tighten our belts while Arroyo and cabal are flaunting their affluence. Where is the social justice in that?”

Youth groups NUSP and CEGP, meanwhile, deplored the state of the education sector saying that it is one of the most affected by the economic crisis. “The crisis of education has reached the most miserable depths when we have students opting to drop out of school because they could not afford to even pay for their transport fares, what more for high tuition rates and other school needs?” said Alvin Peters, NUSP President.

“In a time when the state’s abandonment of education is at its peak, the youth chooses to stand steadfast against this administration’s continuous neglect. In a time of greed for power, we choose to walk out for our democratic rights.” said CEGP President Vijae Alquisola.

Meanwhile, students from Metro Baguio, Cebu, Davao, Negros and Laguna also staged their own programs and protest actions in their respective key cities and provinces today. The students announced that more schools and universities are expected to participate in the next scheduled nationwide walkout on July 18.