Harnessing student power

By Leonor Magtolis Briones
The Business of Governance

The phrase “student power” came into vogue during the sixties. This was the time when thousands of students all over the world marched on their governments, whether in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia or Africa. A common theme was the war in Vietnam . The global call of the students was for the United States to get out of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara were the most popular icons. So it was in the Philippines.

The students also found reason to engage their respective governments on other issues as well. American students complained about the activities of the CIA in developing countries. They rebelled against the draft which would have sent them to Vietnam. In England , students criticized their government’s domestic policies. Rallies drew students by the thousands.

In Paris, they tried to recapture the days of the French revolution where the students played a major role. Students stormed Paris a number of times to set up their version of the Paris Commune. In UP the students took over the university and established the Diliman Commune.

In the Philippines, the focus was on American imperialism. The battle cry was “Ibagsak ang Piyudalismo, Pasismo at Imperialismo!” “Maoismo, Marxismo-Leninismo” were frequently uttered by students. Privately, the women would complain about “Machismo-Leninismol”

Teach-ins would last till morning. Those of us who were members of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation would camp in the house of Dodong and Princess Nemenzo. We would cross over to the house of Merlin Magallona and pester him with questions.

And the mammoth rallies! I must say the youth rallies of today can’t match the vast numbers of students who would march from UP Diliman , walk all the way to Tondo and end up in Malacanang—singing, chanting, and shouting all the time.

Student Power and the 2010 elections

Time to “fast forward” to the present. Since the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship, it seemed that student power like Merlin the Magician has faded away.

Globalization is largely to blame. Students spend their time getting ready for jobs here and abroad. During the 60’s, the most powerful lure was radicalism. At present, students have many more choices.They can go abroad. They can get cushy jobs. They can spend long hours in cyber space with their laptops. They can do many things— set up businesses, become chefs, write plays, make movies and even enter show business.

Things have changed, though. The emergence of political, social and economic crises is radicalizing the students. They are aware of the disarray in governance They now attend rallies and assemblies in greater numbers. They are busy organizing forums and symposia. Slowly, the sleeping giant is awakening.

Their elders are beginning to see the potential of student power. Now it is fashionable for young and old personalities to go on campus tours and stir the students into action either for their candidacies or for national reforms.

Two trends are discernable. Students are seduced with offers to be on the staff of 2010 candidates. As early as last year, the bulletin boards of the College of Public Administration and Governance were plastered with ads inviting students to be part of the team of a presidential candidate. Political parties are busily organizing youth organizations. The students are beginning to sense their power.

Another trend is to encourage students to participate in reforming the present system. The “I Am Change” Movement started by Harvey Keh is going on campus tours. “Kaya Natin ‘To” is led by Governors Panlilio and Padaca. From Ateneo, they are crossing over to UP and on to the other schools. The Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO) is also going on campus tours.

The Young Turks are themselves politicians. However, they are introducing new politics to the students. Traditional party members usually stick together and spend their waking hours plotting the destruction of the other parties. Atty. Adel A. Tamano, Mayor JV Ejercito, Cong. TG Guingona, Cong. Erin Tanada, former Cong. Gilbert Remulla and Prof. Danton Remoto come from different parties, but they have bonded together in order to reach out to the young. They encourage students to dialogue with them on political, economic, and social issues. Their theme is, “there is hope” in response to the apathy and indifference of the youth to national problems.

To repeat, the decade of the 60’s saw the global rise of student power. Students of that decade proved they were a formidable force. They contributed mightily to the downfall of dictators, fascists, and warmongers all over the world.

Will Filipino students rise and mobilize their power to reform this country, or will they succumb to the siren call of tradpols ? Let us see.



  1. Student Blog said,

    August 12, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for this one… A clear information from a one post… i have to know more about student power from some blog before, but it just more clear now. Btw, nice to meet you and your blog here….

  2. liling magtolis briones said,

    August 15, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    dear student blog,

    thank you for your comments. students have great potential for tremendous power. many of the much admired icons at present started their activism as student leaders. Actually I was going to write sana on a technical issue but I thought that students have to be aware that such power can be used to maintain the status quo (as in trapos recruiting young students) or in bringing about earthshaking changes like what happened during the sixties and seventies. Student leaders can be corrupted ; they can get drunk with their own ambitions. But they can also use such power for their country and bring about genuine and meaningful reforms.

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