By VICTOR GREGOR LIMON
When asked what their mothers does for a living, most children would have a ready answer: “My mother is a teacher” or “My mother is a lawyer.” For one young man who would become perhaps one of the most popular student leaders of his time in UP, the answer is not so simple. Often, he would just reply that his mother is a doctor–only she treats an illness not usually treated by other physicians.
The young man is, of course, Atom Araullo. His mother, Carol Pagaduan Araullo, is a graduate of the UP College of Medicine, a student leader during the early years of Martial Law under the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and now she is the chair of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) since 2008.
Often hailed as a model UP student activist by both her seniors and contemporaries, Araullo delivered the valedictory speech at UP’s 1975 Commencement Exercises–two years after she was released from prison by a government who feared students like her: articulate, fearless, militant.
Araullo said she had had a rebellious streak even as a teenager studying at a Franciscan high school. She remembered being once called out for turning her back on the school’s headmistress who was telling her to do something she did not think was right. “I couldn’t recall what it was exactly, but I met the same principal many years after and she said she has forgiven my impertinence,” she recounted with a laugh.
When she entered UP Diliman as a psychology major, she became active in the student council: first as a councilor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and later as vice-chair of the University Student Council. As a member of the UP Student Catholic Action, Araullo for a time joined tours of the campus dormitories to talk about and condemn both police brutality and the militancy of the student activists. “That is until I myself became radicalized,” Araullo said.
Today, there are some students and faculty who brand activists as ill-mannered and irrational. During the 1970s, however, to be a “hooligan” was to be grounded in reason and fueled by passion. It was a badge of honor and excellence. Like many UP students who would become leaders of the national democratic movement, Araullo said the turning point in her radicalization was the uprising that led to the establishment of the Diliman Commune in February 1971.
In solidarity with the jeep drivers who were protesting the oil price hike and in defense of UP’s academic freedom against the intrusions of the Philippine Constabulary, students barricaded all entrances to the campus and declared the university outside the jurisdiction of the police and military. The uprising was largely tolerated by the UP administration and fiercely supported by the progressive faculty and residents of the communities inside the campus.
“I was actually studying for an exam during the Diliman Commune,” Araullo said. “And then my colleague from the AS student council would tell me: ‘Mahiya ka naman. Nasa labas na ang mga estudyante. Ikaw diyan, nag-aaral pa rin?”
Araullo eventually went underground, dropping out of college to do organizing work in sectarian schools like Miriam and Ateneo. In August 1971, Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus, thus allowing the police to detain activists without a warrant of arrest. In defiance, the students of UP, Ateneo, and Miriam flooded Katipunan Avenue in a series of protest marches.
Araullo would return to school upon her parents’ request. Shortly after, the police raided a house where she was having a meeting with other student activists. She was thrown in jail for four months and only allowed to take exams with two guard escorts. One day, she was blindfolded, brought to an open grass space where she was forced to kneel. She refused the police’s orders to take off her clothes. “Iyak lang ako nang iyak until a woman approached me and whispered to me,” she said. “She told me to be strong, that she herself had been raped many times over by the police.”
Because of her father’s connections with a Marcos crony company, however, Araullo said she was largely spared from the many horrors that other student activists had to suffer. Many activists were kidnapped and never again found, while others were tortured or murdered. Araullo was eventually released only because her father bribed the police, but many other students stayed for a year or longer behind bars.
When Marcos was finally overthrown and Corazon Aquino became president, the national democratic movement realized a valuable lesson, Araullo said. “Tinanggal si Marcos, pinalit si Cory, pero ang sistema nanatili,” Araullo said. Some defected to the false democracy “restored” by Cory and became reformists. Many others continued the fight, in the cities and in the countryside.
Araullo, for her part, would never practice medicine. She spent the best years of her youth organizing health practitioners in rural communities and eventually graduated to doing political work for BAYAN. “When one realizes that so many people are sick because they are poor and ignorant, one realizes that the illness of the people is caused by a diseased social order,” she explained.
“Ah, you’re one of those young ones who are still around,” UP Dean Armando Malay would tell Araullo when they met again years later. People in fact would ask her the same question her children sometimes ask her: “Why are you still an activist after all these years?”
She would give the same answer each time, that there is still a need for student activism even after Martial Law and Marcos, the same way that many social ills have remained rampant up to this day. Farmlands are still in the hands of hacienderos like the Cojuangco-Aquinos, many workers still leave the country because of unemployment and low wages, scores of human rights violations go unpunished, and corruption still riddles the government.
As long as the demand for genuine and lasting democratic reforms remain unheeded, students must never be complacent and comfortable within the bounds set by the status quo, Araullo said.
For nobody has more cause to challenge the status quo than students at the national university, those whose education is still largely paid for by the taxes of the poor and the marginalized. She delivers a sharp rebuke to those who claim students have no place in militancy, in asking big questions and demanding solutions to the ills of the prevailing social order. “Unless students live inside a cocoon, they live in this society,” she said. “Unless students are going to the moon after graduation, they cannot forever insulate themselves from reality.”
It is the same message Araullo delivered in her valedictory address at UP’s 1975 Commencement Exercises. It is still the same message she hopes to impart now, forty years later, to the heirs of UP’s militant and fearless tradition. ●
Published in print in the Collegian’s October 23, 2015 issue, with the headline “Rebel with a cause.”
Victor Gregor Limon edited news for the Collegian and served as associate editor in 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. He studied geography at UP Diliman and is now living in Honolulu while finishing his master’s in urban planning at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
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