KASAMA Vol. 26 No. 3 / July-August-September 2012 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Tibak Rising: Activism in the days of Martial Law

Book Review by Dee Dicen Hunt

Tibak Rising Book Cover

TIBAK RISING was conceived in 2004 and by October 7th that year, the T’bak group announced its commitment to bring the T’bak Book Project into being and called for submissions from its network by April 1, 2005.

Seven years later the book was launched on July 21, 2012 in the University of the Philippines, Diliman — timed to complement the events commemorating the generation of anti-martial law activists who offered their lives in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.

Dr. Michael L. Tan, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, U.P., a Tibak himself in the Progresibong Kilusang Medikal in the 70s, has the first word in the book’s Foreword: “The etymology of the term Tibak — the syllables of the word “actibista” transposed in the style of slang popular among young people at that time — speaks of a rebellious time.”

And speak they do. The Tibak stories spanning 14 years from the declaration of Martial Law in 1972 through to the EDSA revolt of 1986 (which became known as the Peoples Power Revolution), narrate the experiences of the generation of actibistas who “bridged the movement of the ‘flower generation’/First Quarter Storm with that of EDSA’s ‘Yellow forces’. …It was this generation that bore the brunt of the killings, detention, torture and forced disappearances instigated by the State’s military and police forces. And then, in a twist of deep irony, it was also the generation that had to suffer death and suffering in the hands of its own leadership, an ideological mindset ossified in a schema of dogma and adventurism.”

The book’s editor, Ferdinand C. Llanes, professor of history at U.P. and commissioner of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, and the editorial team of T’bak Inc. have achieved the collection of a slice of history that could so easily have been forgotten. Ferdie explains in his introduction “Memory of a Generation”, that the clandestine way of life under a fascist dictatorship necessitates a self-censoring personality. “Identities were concealed, organizational activities were kept secret, recording or documentation was coded. The secretive nature of activism during Martial Law naturally limited public access to the nuances of day-to-day activist life.”

In the photo albums of many Tibaks you will find no pictures of those very personal events like weddings, children’s birthdays, and family gatherings, because to keep a record of those moments would expose the images of one’s relatives and friends and might put them at risk of interrogation and torture. And yet, close relationships had to form because individual survival is dependent upon the trust of comradeship and collective responsibility.

From the perspective of Marcos’ so called New Society, protest and dissent was presented in the government controlled media as threats to “peace and order”. Then, for security concerns and political reasons, many Tibaks did not want to write about their lives. Consequently, the life and times of the Tibak have been little known. “Thus,” writes Llanes, “the participants must intervene in the retrieval of the past and the recreation of collective public memory.”

Tibak Rising are factual stories that reflect the many-sided dimensions of Tibak experience and highlight the essentials of everyday life rooted in the time and place of martial law and the EDSA uprising. About three-quarters of the text is in English.

In this collection we are treated to more than 40 individual contributors of personal recollections and photos. They are first-person accounts, intimate, rich in detail and drama. Each chapter begins with a collage of photographs and an introduction, arranged under eight themes:

Ferdie Llanes, Tibak Rising Book Launch

The First Quarter Storm of the early 70s that challenged the status quo was not exactly unexpected. Social unrest and activism of the late 60s had built up, and continued to flow, unabated and expansive into the new decade. …But the days of Marcos fascism were a whole new world… This section tells of these transitions, of becoming Tibak, of reckoning with the self and then moving on to play a part in the whole enterprise of revolutionary activism in one uncommon historic time.

Prison & Beyond
The first act of Martial Law was to suspend civil and political rights and imprison all perceived enemies of the fascist state, before it resorted to killings when imprisonment failed or when resistance was emboldened or heightened… The experience thus required a mentality and a psyche of sterner stuff, or of a deeper spirituality, to endure the viciousness and the pain. But then there are limits to what a human being can endure.

Activism cultivated new friendships — the kind that was deeper, nurtured by comradely solidarity in the face of fascism, in the arduous fight for freedom and democracy… At the height of the struggle, these friendships grew and greater bonds of unity were forged, making the Movement stronger.

Picket Lines
It was at workers’ picket lines that the Tibak was many a time tested. Coming from the youth-and-student sector. He or she had to start from scratch in terms of experience in worker organizing. Martial law and trade union repression awakened more workers to mobilize for political action.

Icons & Symbols
In journalism, lampooning was found to be an effective newspaper style. In prison, meaningful pendants were crafted; these conveyed messages that sought the support of the world and at the same time inspired other activists in their struggle. Among the youth, a song came to express a generation’s awakening. Certain places turned into second homes.

Brave Moments
The period of Martial Law was a time of living dangerously. Many went underground or joined the armed struggle. Many others carried on with resistance in open and legal forms. But whatever the path one chose to follow, the dangers remained the same. Every anecdote told in many circles highlights the courage of those who resisted and inspires others. And so others carry on; and we never run out of brave moments.

Turning Points
Any such moment could be historic as it is transformative of terrains of struggle on a scale greater, or perhaps grander, than before… such moments defined new ground for moving forward or created new spaces of freedom, turning points, indeed, to exalt — a new revolutionary paper, a new worker center. Within the movement, part of the Tibak experience was the divergent opinions on the democratic practices of the organization. For both contending sides, it was also a turning point, one reaffirming traditions of centralism and the other moving on in another direction in postfascist “democratic space”.

One’s Life for the People
Often in the line of work, the Tibak does not think of death until he/she is actually threatened by it. Most of the time the Tibak is simply focussed on the tasks of activism — organizing, teaching, mobilizing, writing, meeting to plan or assess activities — to serve the people. And many took their place in the line of fire.

Tibak Rising: Activism in the Days of Martial Law
Edited by Ferdinand C. Llanes
Published by Anvil Publishing Inc., Cacho Hermanos Bldg., Pines cor. Union Sts., Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, Philippines, 2012