I 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.
One 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.
We 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.
We 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.
When 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.
We 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.
MAPPING STRATEGIC PLANS
We laid out plans to organize a National Day of Protest on 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.
It 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.
We 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 strategy.
We 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.
SEN. CRANSTON DENOUNCES MARCOS IN THE US SENATE
The 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.”
Two 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 tour.
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?”
The 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.
CONSUL-GENERAL BALIAO DEFECTS
In 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 liberties.”
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.
PICKETING MARCOS EVERYWHERE
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.”
In 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.
How wrong I was. Martial law in the Philippines would last for nearly 14 years from 1972 through 1986.
But 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 NCRCLP.
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.
One 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 of 1986.
So ended what began with the convoy crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge in September of 1972.