Perspectives on student political activism


We have been bombarded by numerous problems lately and, the events that had transpired in the previous years, especially last year (2009), did not help our situation any better. The infamous "Maguindanao Massacre" had created quite a sensation that put our nation at the top of the world once again, gaining the title of "The World's Most Dangerous Place for Journalists". Adding this award to our long list of titles in the same field like "The World's Most Corrupt Government" did not hurt either. It seems as if we are really competing against other nations for this type of recognitions. We have worked hard to beat Afghanistan, Iraq, and also our other neighboring Asian countries as well for these. How was that?

Before those things occurred, we are already internationally acclaimed due to a lot of interesting events that always put our country to the covers of international news and magazines. Before Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, there was Imelda Marcos. And then again, there was Ferdinand Marcos. Our country's been famous for being the spring for news which, more often than not, shocked the world. The "incident" in Maguindanao was nothing but an icing in the cake. For a very small country in the eastern part of the world, we are such great newsmakers.

These world-renowned events in our country are just bits of pieces of sand in the Sahara desert compared to the plentiful crimes, committed here, only here, in the Philippines. If we are to count every fraud, every Filipino suffering, every lie committed by government officials, every cent corrupted by the government, every billions of money added to their bank accounts, every Filipino dying (take note, not all are because of natural causes), every family grieving, every shattered dreams of each citizen, every student disappearing, every right violated... the list is endless! We would not be able to count at all. It was devastating, frustrating to hope for a better future here in this nation.

Unfortunately, these kinds of oppressing proceedings are not limited in the economic level alone. Narrow it down further and you will see that every small community, every region, every part of an institution has its own manifestation or miniature counterpart of unjust rulings. In every sector of the society, there is always the oppressed, and it was in different forms. If we are going to trace and recall the rich history of our nation, it would just show that we have been browbeaten most of our lives. From the colonial periods, to the series of leaders that ruled us, up to this moment, when we were supposedly independent, free and democratic, we are still struggling very hard to perceive and experience the benefits of "... the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace,..." to quote the Preamble of our 1987 Constitution.

Amidst all these comings and goings in of events in our country, the youth sector strives to be felt by voicing out their opinions, doing what they can to fight for what they believe in. To form the kind of government that ought to be what a government really is, according to what they thought what it should be. These youths, mainly students of universities, goes beyond the affairs of their universities and go as far as the affairs within the community and then to the nation. Not contented in the confines of their universities, they courageously launch their bold activities, protests, and shouts for change in the streets, encouraging more individuals to join them and fight the adversaries for real development and transparent ruling. As students learning the authentic dynamics of a society, government and economy, these freshly educated young people do their best to see in actuality what their newly learned ideologies, processes, and laws state and how they should be applied. As their eyes were gradually opening to see the reality of what is happening in their environment, in their country, seeing and realizing that they were terribly wrong about a lot of things in their surroundings, they act and do their best to change and improve the situation, hoping to save the nation from infringement. This they do by amalgamation. By uniting, using collective action as weapons, knowledge as self-defenses and courage as a motivation against hindering forces of their battle for national prosperity, they come out together as a big block of power, making them a big threat to whomever they were challenging.

Social Movement of Students

First, how do we determine a social movement? A social movement has classically been viewed as "a large group constituted in support of a set of purposes or beliefs that are 'shared' by the members... and represents an effort by a large number of people to solve collectively a problem that they feel they have in common." Social movements embrace certain ideas and philosophies that justify their aims. One necessary characteristic of social movement is the existence of Weltanschauung or a common ideology or belief system involving attitudes that are functionally interdependent, and that serve to define the mission and rationalize the goals of mass activity (Burgess & Hofstetter, 1971).

The dynamics of student movements are not unlike those of other social movements, although the specific aspects of campus life - an age-graded population, a close community, fairly common social backgrounds and other elementsmake student movements unusual from other social movements, aside from the fact that they are students who organize such organizations.

Student movements are generally assumed to be leftist in their orientations and nationalist in direction.

Student activists are generally assumed to have a strong ideological interest and to be at all times, anti-establishment and to always question the status quo. While it is true that the majority of contemporary student movements are leftist in their orientation, there are considerable variations among student movements and these are very important to realize. Edward Shilds has argued that student activists (as well as intellectuals in general) tend to be "anti-establishment" regardless of the orientation of the ruling authorities (Shilds, 1970). Why is this so?

Student politics, with some exceptions, are politics of idealism. Students look for consistent, just and far-reaching solutions for the many problems of the society. Ideologies, like Marxism, offer the kind of security and answer that student activists look for. Student leaders often embrace these kinds of political ideologies which offer a total program for society. Marxism has had a great appeal for this reason. To a considerable degree, student activists embraced ideologies which offer justice and social equality. Although, there are a few elitists among student activists, their numbers are few. Therefore, we can conclude that majority of the members of student movements have perspectives that promote the welfare of all citizens from different stratus in the society. And, as was always the situation, the government was not able to provide such condition to the society. This would now lead to criticisms about the ruling administration that would make students despise the government and eventually, create a leftist orientation by constantly questioning the ruling authority on why it can't provide social equality to all citizens of the country. Significantly, it should also be indicated that, historically, student movements in Europe were occasionally rightist in orientation. We must ponder the fact that at first, they weren't really always questioning the authority. In fact, both Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany had considerable student support (Steinberg, 1977). Also earlier, nationalist student movements in Europe were not really "leftist" in orientation. Nevertheless, as time evolved, students remained an anti-establishment attitude for many nations, criticizing political regimes for their failings and sometimes leading anti-government movements. [meron pa dito][Supply details]

Student movements are determined, to a large degree, by the social and political environment in general and by government (and sometimes academic) policies concerning student activism. Social and economic conditions affect student political movements and organization. Poor campus conditions, such as in India, stimulated activism and protest.


How does student activism attitude develop?

The different sectors of the society each has its own potential and capability to launch mass demonstrations and protests to the government. The peasants or working class, the middle class, even the members of the elite could have the means to form social movements and even work together to fight repression and support nationalist causes. But, why students? Why the youth sector who still spends time at school studying and preparing for the real world outside the university?

Students are often more ideologically aware and politically oriented than the rest of the population, in general. Ideological interests come from a variety of sources, including the nature of their university education. However, not all students develop this particular attitude towards activism. Variations by academic field and discipline can be noted, with students in the social sciences and humanities in most countries more involved in political activities than those in the natural sciences and professional fields. Although students are not necessarily involved in all political struggles, when they become mobilized, they are certainly a powerful force.

Students were the often the carriers of modern ideas of liberty, socialism, industrialization, and equality of opportunity. Especially those "returned students"those individuals who had lived and studied abroad, mostly in Europe, and returned home with ideas of modernization and Marxism, socialism and struggle. C. Wright Mills (1975) saw in the intellectuals and students a major potential mass base for new revolutionary movements. They have remained a source of new radical leadership and mass support while other elements of society have not.

The Academic Environment

Universities are unique institutions in many ways. They have a degree of autonomy rare among large social institutions and even if this autonomy has been under attack for many years, it is, nevertheless, important. The educational culture of the university is also very important. The process of learning and the nature of the curriculum contribute to political consciousness. That's the reason on why, for students in the social sciences particularly, the study of social forces contributes to understanding, and sometimes to criticism of, established institutions and policies.

The university is a community that, in almost all countries, is a more autonomous, independent and more liberal environment than its surrounding society. The faculty, the professors, while seldom revolutionary in its political orientation, tends to be somewhat to the left of the general population. Their views, opinions, and criticisms to the society and the government enormously influence those of their students. Even if there are existing significant limitations on freedom of expression and action, the campus still tends to be the boiling pot of political activist attitudes and orientation. Aside from that, universities have other special advantages in terms of stimulating student activism. Student newspapers are able to ensure that students are quickly informed of events and they are able to create an atmosphere that stimulates student activism and political consciousness. Moreover, in most countries, universitiesespecially national universitiesare geographically located in the capital city. This way, demonstrations are easily mobilized. Even if, as discussed earlier, student demonstrations are minority in phenomena, a fairly substantial group can be easily organized on a university campus. The geographical factor in student activism is often ignored but it is nonetheless, important.

The organization of studies has an impact on student activism. Academic systems which permit long periods of time between examinations, which leave students unsupervised and without direct academic responsibilities, are more prone to student activism than more regulated academic systems. Students in systems with relatively few requirements have more time to participate in political movements. The sense of constant responsibility for academic work is not strong and in general lectures and other assignments are not compulsory. In contrast, academic systems which are organized according to the American course-credit system, in which students are examined regularly by their teachers, seem to instill a greater sense of responsibility. Further, there is less time for extra-curricular activities of all kinds because of constant assessment of work. This is another reason on why student activism is highly dominant in the Third World than in industrialized countries.

The academic environment is a complex one. It is based on traditional approaches to higher education, on patterns of administration, on sets of expectations for academic work, and on particular locations and cultures of academic institutions. These factors have profound impact on the nature and orientation of student political activism. Perhaps, the most important force, however, is the very nature of university educationor the university itself. An academic institution and all that it stands for is related to the examination of society and a desire to understand reality. It is not surprising, therefore, that university students sometimes take their newly found understanding seriously and translate their knowledge into action.


When we use the term "student activism", what do we mean? It has been consistently used to refer to the deviant behavior possessed by youths, students in particular, when they resist following with the status quo, when they question the current policies of political regimes, when they used what they learn and applied it to the society in reality, when they act and boldly voice out solutions and when they come together to protest and communicate to other members of society and state their opinions about the situation in progress.

Student activism, as was always mentioned, has been relatively active in the course of history of any other nation and rising states. Student movements have been large at mass and undoubtedly created a great sensation in at least one significant part of every nation's history. In this paper, we would define student activism as an activist orientation of an individual's developed, relatively stable, yet changeable orientation to engage in various collective, social-political, problem-solving behaviors spanning a range from low-risk, passive, and institutionalized acts to high-risk, active, and unconventional behaviors. This definition of activist orientation is intended to broadly encompass the many more specific definition of activism that have been offered by social movement and collective behavior scholars (Corning and Myers, 2002). [Explain Further]

In order to understand student activism, we must consider some of the sociological variables that seem to affect it. These sociological factors are important in understanding the nature and orientation of student activism. Orientations toward the society, toward the university, and toward politics all play a role. Students from different fields, and from different type of institutions, may have varying opinions. Students from different groups have different propensities as well. Social class, religion, and ethnic group may also play a role in shaping activist movements. The relationship between the student and the university is important as well. Thus, to understand student activism, it is important to understand both the institutional context and the sociological, and perhaps the psychological issues as well, that are related to it.


Student political activism did not start in the 1960's, although much of the research and analysis on this particular topic have started on this decade (Altbach, 1989). There are several political involvements in the past that have been a significant part of history that indicate a lot of trends in student politics. Nationalism has always been a key factor in student activism. Back in 1848, students were an important force in the revolutionary forces in Germany during the rule of Adolf Hitler. Although student movement was not primarily the participants, students, professors, and intellectuals played a key role. The academic community was concerned towards pressing democratic rights against monarchies and developing a nationalist focus for the movements, especially in German states. Indeed, nationalism as an ideology which was developed out of the 1848 movement provided a very powerful force in the unification of Germany later in the nineteenth century and strongly influenced the movement for Italian unification around the same time.

Nationalism was also a key motivating force during the colonial period in Africa, and of course, in Asia. Practically every nationalist and independence struggle had a strong component of student participation. Especially during those times of colonization where students, the youth sector were the most optimistic and have the utmost yearning for independence, have the fortitude to question the status quo and was more than willing to act and fight for nationalist causes. Frequently, students who were educated abroad were actively involved in the articulation of nationalist sentiments. They were the ones who will eventually lead the battle for the independence of their mother country. Since they were the ones who have been educated, their intellect will open their eyes to the ill-fated reality and situation of their mother country. These circumstances were reflective of what happened here in the Philippines during the height of Spanish rule and the Ilustrados' role in the configuration and formulation of change for the indiostheir Filipino brothers and sisters. Students in countries as diverse as India, Kenya, Vietnam, and Burma were also involved in efforts to free their countries of colonial role.

Historically, student involvement was infrequent and generally not crucial to political developments. In colonized nations, students were more a more constant force and had a greater impact than industrialized ones. [More pa]


A lot of reasons are formulated to provide justifications on why students take on student activism instead of just focusing solely on their studies and just work hard to make something out of them if they want to succeed and release themselves from poverty and the like.

Bakke (1966), after studying student activism in six different countries, has proposed a set of insights or hypotheses about the roots and soil of student activism. First, student activism is a product of a stage of youth in the maturation process. Student activism is a function of the universal search of adolescent youth for an adult role in the society, for self-identity, and social integration and of their self-assertion at this stage of their maturation process.

Second, student activism is said to be an actualization of the image of the "Student". Here, we would later learn that there are varying image of a "student" that each and everyone has that plays a role on why students engage in student activism. It somehow connotes that we are living that kind of image we have of a "Student"...

Third, student activism is a result of the youth's involvement in societal problems. Here, we would ponder to the idea that student activism is a function of: (a) student concern about particular societal problems affecting all citizens; (b) their perception of the gap between their own and elder individuals' ideals and what is actually being done about societal problems; (c) their predilection to assert in action their conceptions of harmonization between premises and action; and at times, (d) their predisposition to seek new premises; and, (e) the indications of possible success in their efforts.

Lastly, student activism is a result of relation to action groups which highly influences the raw minds and attitudes of radical students; thus, shaping their focus into interacting with them and encouraging them all the more to participate in student movements.

Influences derivative from university experiences are, of course, not the sole or primary determinants of student political beliefs. Family perspectives often influence student's orientation.


It is very significant to know and realize the activist leadership characteristics. In many widely demonstrations done by student movements, it is not surprising that only a few percentage of the student population is really involved. It is a fact that only a minority of students are directly concerned in these activities. The majority of students do not participate in reality. Activist movements are almost always minority in phenomena. In this situation, we would have to recognize that there are, in a sense, three "rings" of activist participation according to Altbach (1989)the core leadership, which is a tiny minority and is often significantly more radical than most participants (they are the minority who's really involved), active followers who are well aware of the issues involved and willing to be involved in demonstrations, and a much larger groups of students who are sympathetic to the broad goals of the movement but who are rather vague about specific aspects and who are only sporadically, if at all, involved. Outside these rings, are a larger group of uninvolved students, some of whom may oppose the goals of the movement and many of whom are apathetic. That's why it's important to know the characteristics of an activist leader for us to understand how he/she manages to make such minority concerned students' demonstrations successful and effective.

The core of student leadership is often politically aware and ideologically oriented. And so, here's a list of general characteristics of an activist leader as given by Altbach (1989):

  1. Student activists tend to study in the field of social sciences and (to some extent) the humanities fields. Since social sciences focus on the study of society and of social problems, these may lead for the student to ask questions to himself and have a more critical perspective than other students who studies other fieldsespecially the applied professional fields. The faculty teachers of the social sciences fields tend to have a more radical view than the academic profession in general and these critical views may influence students.
  2. It has also been argued that child-rearing and general attitudinal patterns of families of activists are more liberal than in the general population and that the configuration of child-rearing and family backgrounds contributes significantly to the activists' involvement in politics.
  3. Some scholars have argued that activist students tend to be among the best students, earning very good grades in their studies.
  4. Activist leaders often come from minority groups of the country which were most of the time, if not always, not properly represented in the government.
  5. Here are the other two characteristics of student activist leader from Altbach (1989), but I don't necessarily agree that these truly apply, generally, in the context of the Philippines.

  6. Activist leaders tend to come from somewhat more affluent families than the general student population. University students overall come from wealthier families in terms of income and status.
  7. Leaders also come from families which are very well-educated and in which mothers, as well as fathers have a fairly high level of education. The families tend to be more urban in orientation and background. The families are more cosmopolitan than the norm.

These last two characteristics are debatable since if we are going to take the Philippines into consideration, these two might be unaccepted. I personally observed and saw that most of the leaders, initiators and participants of student demonstrations consistently came from the lower strata of the society. More often than not, they are from families which are not recognized and represented properly in the society and usually rural in orientation. In contrast with the well-educated and cosmopolitan type as described above.

Factors on WHY Students Engage in Activism Significance of Studying Student Activism

Understanding the dynamics of student political movements is important to achieve, not only by activists themselves but also by the academic community, since students from time to time, have been key factors in movements for university reforms and have also disrupted some academic institutions. Political leaders would do better if they would be aware of these movements since a lot of student protests and movements have threatened a lot of regimes in the past as proven in different countries. Likewise, Philippine setting is not an exception, only now, the government has found a way to dismantle the activities of student activists.



Student Activism, nevertheless, has a great role in the combat of the mass people against defective ruling of illegitimate public officials in the government. [Add more info here] Student Activism has a great deal of possible consequences for national development in the political, economic, social, and educational areas. [Add more]

Political Impact

As mentioned above, student political activism is highly minority in phenomenon. Large percentage of its population is sporadic in nature, but still, its impact to the society is immense. In one instance, it could make or break a government and it was already shown in the past that massive student demonstrations could overthrow a government.

In July of 1988, the Prime Minister of Burma stepped down after 26 years in power. His resignation was precipitated by two months of student demonstrations. The disturbance resulted in a number of deaths but did not stop. About a year earlier, student protests in South Korea led to concessions by the government which resulted in elections and a significant political change. In 1968, French students forced President De Gaulle to flee the country for a French military base in West Germany and brought their political system on the verge of collapse. A few years earlier, student demonstrations against Prime Minister Kishi in Japan forced his resignation. In the United States, student dissent against the war in Vietnam was a key factor in influencing Lyndon Johnson not to run for a second term as President. Likewise, here in the Philippines, student protests and demonstrations were rampant during the 1970's under the rule of former President Ferdinand Marcos. This phenomenon was referred to as the First Quarter Storm that happened shortly before President Marcos declared the Martial Law which enormously changed plainly everything we thought and know about the government. This undoubtedly created a great havoc in our society and marked a grand turning point of the fate of the Philippines, our history and most of all, it cost a great number of Filipinos' lives.

This is just a modest presentation of how student activism could affect and determine a society's destiny. Student activists, nevertheless, had an impact not only in the political but also in social and cultural facets of the society.

Social and Cultural Impact

Concerns about civil rights were first introduced in early 1990's in the universities. The feminist movement first gained recognition through the campus then spread. Permissive attitudes about abortion, marriage, and the use of drugs were first widespread among university students and then spread to the broader society. Indeed, it can be concluded, that one of the more important legacies of activism can be attributed to social and cultural aspect, not only of political domain.

Academic Impact

Not only student activism affected the society culturally, socially and politically but they also have impacts in the educational domain, they were, after all, students.

In West Germany, students articulated perspectives about university reform and were partially able to ensure that their ideas were implemented in the 1960's. In France, while students did not propose specific reforms, they agitated for change in the higher education and they were a key catalyst for such change. Generally, however, although student activists complain about the situation of higher education they have few concrete ideas for change and have not seen the university as a major battleground. Thus, their impact in this particular field has been limited.

Hindrances to Student Activism with regard to Student Political Movements

It was said that there was an impossibility of a "Permanent Revolution" in the university. The periodic nature of the student movements causes them to exist generally a short time - a year or two is already unusual, although there are instances of more sustained activism. Just as it is difficult to predict the rise of activist movements, it is as great a challenge to predict their demise.

The rhythm of academic life is both a help and hindrance to student activism. The amount of free time available and the weight of academic works to be done all affect the student's participation in activism. Student life, in most academic systems, permits a good deal of free time. This was common in the academic systems of universities in the Third World. On the contrary, American system, with its frequent examinations and the course-credit system, sustained activism is more difficult. That's why it was always said that student activism in the Third World is often more dynamic and successful than in those of the industrialized nations. The structural realities of academic life in a specific academic system can have a significant impact on the nature and prolonged existence of student movements.

Student "generations" are short, and this makes sustained campus political movements difficult since both leaders and followers change. Undergraduate generations or populations change every three or four years. Further, pressure to senior students to pass examinations and to complete certain requirements for them to complete their degrees is intense toward the end of their program or of their last year in the university. This would result to a necessity for assigning new members as temporary leaders. The rapid turnover of leadership makes it difficult to sustain the student movement. This will be a reason on why students toward the end of an academic year are less likely to be active. Moreover, campus generations may have quite different orientations and interests. What's important and priority of the last officials might not be the primary agenda and issue important to the new sets of student executive officials.

Sociological factors also militate against sustained student movements. The idealistic nature of student movements may be a stimulus and a limiting factor for sustained student activism. [Mag-conclude dapat ako dito]


Human Rights Violations against Student Activists

Many political systems are relatively intolerant of political activism, fearing that the students may generate political instability or cause disruption. Legislation concerning the operation of universities has sometimes included restrictions on political expression on campus by both students and academic staff. The traditional concept of university autonomy has, as a result, been weakened (McConnell, 1981). Campus unrest is dealt with harshly by political authorities, with repression of organizations, jailing of student leaders and severe limitations on freedom of movement imposed on activist organizations. Most of the time, the police or military, the supposedly protectors of the citizens which includes the youththe studentsare willing to go in the campus to deal with unrest or perceived disturbance. This illegal acts and oppression are not limited to the Philippines alone; these violations of student human rights are prevalent even in other countries as well. Malaysia's recent University Act, which was stimulated by student unrest and widespread rioting in 1969, severely limits university autonomy. Restrictions in many other countries, including Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and of course, in the Philippines, have limited the scope of student activism and indicate the concern political authorities have about the potential force of student activism.

At present, the rise of repressive military regimes with modern means of repression has, in a way, limited activism. Enforced disappearing acts, abducting of students, torturing activists in every possible manner, and when all else fails, silencing them forever through political killings have been rampant in every nation where student activism and movements have been totally full-blown in action.

Governments consider students a potentially powerful political force and have in many ways moved to ensure that activism does not become a political threat. Despite these efforts, students have become truly influential in politics and efforts at repression have not been completely successful. Given a sufficiently severe social crisislike the present situation here in the Philippinesand strong student opinion and a desire to participate, activism cannot be completely repressed without disrupting the academic system and closing the universities. There has been certain Repression, while often effective, does have implications beyond the simply stopping of rebellion.


The literature we read about student activism began during the 1960's when there was a massive outpouring of publications about it when Western nations were disrupted by student activist movements. Much of it reflects the concerns of Western social scientists and university officialsimpelled in a considerable part by a desire to understand and to "deal with" activist movements which suddenly arose. The paradigms used were largely Western in orientation. The political models used were those of North American and Western European situations. Unfortunately, this literature is not necessarily directly relevant to the situation and issues in the Third World. While academic institutions have no big differences in roots, Third World realities differ to a great extent from those in the Western societies. In most Third World nations, there was no dramatic upsurge during the 1960's (although the international current did have some impact virtually everywhere), and no dramatic decline in the mid-1970's (Altbach, 1984). There are national variations in the scope and timing of student activism in the Third World, but these are based more on national developments than on international currents, unlike in the West. In many respects, the Western "bias" of the literature about student politics has distorted the analyses of student politics in the Third World. That's why it is necessary to look at Third World student activism as a relatively independent phenomenon.

Universities in the Third world countries are especially related to and dependent on their societies. Students are also attuned to societal developments, and student political activism in most Third World countries is directly related to broader political forces and trends. It is rare for a student movement to be fully campus-based and concerned mainly with university issues. There are many reasons for this close relationship between students and the political system.

The political framework of these nations plays a major role on how student politics differs in the Third World from the industrialized ones.

Third World political systems are typically less "dense" than those in the industrialized nations. There are fewer competing political forces and this permits students to play a more direct and powerful role. The mass media are weaker, parliamentary systems are often nonexistent, trade unions, consumer groups and the myriad of interest groups usually found in the Western industrial nations are missing, and the educated middle class is small. University students, as one of the few easily mobilized and politically articulate groups in society play a crucial role in politics. It has often been said, according to Altbach (1984), that student movements constitute something of a "conscience" for their societies, as they often embody the concerns of broader segments of the population who are unable to voice out their discontent.

Without question, student activism contributes to social change in the Third World and focuses national attention on political and social questions that might otherwise be ignored by the political system.

There are quite differences in student political activism among countries, regions and by historical periods.

History as a Major Factor in Activism Attitude

Historical circumstances and traditions have quite a bit to do with the nature and scope of student activism in a national context. Perhaps the most important general difference in this regard between the industrialized nations and the Third World countries is the role played by the academic community in general, and student specifically, in independence struggles in many Third World nations. This key political role has legitimated the participation of the students in national politics (Altbach, 1982). Because students participated in the nationalist struggles, they have somehow achieved a place in history and their contemporary political role is considered legitimate. Governments have attempted to lessen this legitimacy, but it remains a powerful force. If students are somehow are expected to play a political role, their actions and opinions carry a greater weight. In the Third World generally, students as representatives of the middle class, have been expected to play an active political role.

Historically, universities have been important places of cultural ferment and debate. This is not surprising considering the small size of the intellectual class in the Third World nations. When the history of the growth of nationalism and of cultural ferment is written in the Third World nations, the academic communityboth the faculty and the studentsemerged as a very important political force.

Historical traditions function in different ways in different countries. In some there was direct student involvement in the struggle. In others, students played an intellectual and cultural rather than a political role. In a few cases, there was student involvement in campus reforms, but this was not the general situation. And in some instances, there were some international ferment among students during the important period of colonial development. In almost all cases, the intellectual influences of the WestMarxism, the ideology of nationalism, of unity, and later of socialism and Marxismall permeated academic and intellectual communities in the Third World. While the historical traditions differ from country to country, there is no question but that it remains a key factor in understanding contemporary student activism. Student political participation has, in general, been on the national level and with ideologically-based political movements.


Now, let's look at student activism in the Philippine setting. In order for us to understand better the part played by students in the fight for nationalist causes in our country during the most vital part of our history, let's trace back on how student activism emerged or rather, how it started to happen in actuality in this country.

Writings on Philippine radical politics tend to focus mainly on the activities of the Communist Party of the Philippines' (CPP-ML) military arm, the New People's Army (NPA) (Abinales, 1984). It was a mistaken notion that the Party has not given importance to the sectors and classes based in the urban areas. On the contrary, the CPP-ML's organizational efforts under martial law includes assigning its top cadres in the cities and towns to conduct organizing work and prepare the foundation for an "urban mass movement" that shall supplement the countryside resistance (Nemenzo, 1982). This event was happening under the Marcos regime.

Among the urban-based sectors where Party presence predominates, two are most outstanding: the working class and the studentry. Since 1972, these two sectors have received more than enough attention from the CPP-ML which has devoted its time and effort in painstakingly organizing, recruiting and ""mobilizing" them. These efforts had yielded good results for the Party such that in the present protest movement after the August 21, 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino Sr., CPP-ML student and worker mass organizations have consistently stood in the forefront.

Our aim in discussing the brief history of CPP-ML is to recognize the manner in which the so-called Philippine student movement has come to occupy a central role in the CPP-ML's politics. While, in the present context, the "new politics" developing in the Philippines has notably involved non-Party organizations, we cannot deny the presence of student mass organizations that clearly align themselves with the goals and program of the CPP-ML. We shall seek to determine the historical impact of Party politics on a sector which has the possibilities of generating a movement that shall embody the "new politics" of contemporary Philippine society. It is the contention of this paper that the inclusion of the studentry into the organizational framework of the CPP-ML had allowed a significant growth of the Party. But it had also undersized the development of the student sector and in so doing, limited its contributions to the general struggle for social change.

Filipino students carry traits that are not entirely different from students of other countries. Their existence is an uneasy balance between contending values inculcated and being developed in educational institutions. On the one hand, there is the strong instrumentalist view of educational institutions, that is, looking at formal education as a means towards upward social mobility after their student years (David, 1982). On the other hand, exposure to ideas contrary to the dominant social thought creates radicals and progressives among themarticulate, creative, and brimming with idealism and defiance. Yet there are traits unique to the Filipino studentthe foremost being his excessive colonial consciousness manifested in the strong identification towards everything Western, particularly American. One of the most enduring legacies of direct American colonial rule was the destruction of an incipient national consciousness through the mechanism of education and media forcefully depicted by historian Renato Constantino (Constantino, 1966).

Colonial mentality notwithstanding, the education in the Philippines, especially higher education which has pretensions towards liberalism, has allowed the introduction of ideas critical of the status quo. Students who are also exposed to ideas which tend to idealize the social order also become critical as what they learn do not always reflect social reality.

Student involvement in politics has, therefore, been characterized by duality and vacillation: on the one hand, supported of the social order, unconsciously through the instrumentalist view of the education or consciously through the reformist pressure; on the other, repudiating both the educational and social systems and seeking an alternative which negates the present (Abinales, 1984). Philippine history is abundant with students articulating and advocating these positions.

However, the communist party was not the first to recognize the potential political influence that student recruitment would bring. In fact, when the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) was founded in 1930, its leadership looked at the student sector with extreme suspicion, believing that as members of the "petit-bourgeoisie", it would be a hindrance to the opposition and to the proletariat and cannot be considered as part of the revolution. This was during the colonization of the Americans. Although they have somehow planned to build Party cells in the universities and schools, they did not really acknowledge this thought and at the time, disregarded it as a strategy. Nevertheless, they kept small underground cells in some schools but those recruited just serve as 'librarians' that were in charge of the Party documents and researchers for Party educational guides. The students who became leaders of the PKP did so only after their student days. Nonetheless, they were not official part of the Party when they were still students.

Not surprisingly, the political value of the students was recognized more by the Americans who realized that students were useful and effective agents of publicity and pressure groups for government reforms and against the PKP-led Huk rebellion of the 1950's. The Americans knew very well our nation's history, especially during the Spanish colonial period when intellectuals of the Filipino bourgeoisie or the so-called ilustrados initiated a reform and propaganda movement against the Spanish colonial dictatorship.

Then, it was only during the 1960's, when self-taught Marxists spearheaded an anti-clerical and nationalist campaign at the University of the Philippines (UP) that the PKP acknowledged the importance of the student sector. The Party could not just ignore the growing influence of these university-based radicals who apparently were able to revive nationalist sentiments in the UP and even drew national attention to their anti-obscurantist resistance in the halls of Philippine legislative bodies through organizations like the Student Cultural Association of UP (SCAUP). Afterward, the radicals who were recruited in the Party were assigned to the task of forming the Party's student mass organization. And, on November 30, 1964, the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) was formed by these radicals.

Unfortunately, there had been some conflict between the senior cadres and the youthful recruits. The latter were obviously more radical and daring and since they were freshly out from the universities, the influence by the military revolutionism of the Chinese and Vietnamese experiences has been immensely radiating from them. On the contrary, the senior cadres were the exact opposite: conservative and overly cautious due to their inability to transcend the hangover of the Huk debacle. Their conflict concentrated and started on the draft document prepared by the youth section about the assessed and evaluated history of the Party's history since 1930. It turned out that the draft was very critical of the performance of the senior cadres, especially the Lava brothers, who were at the helm of the PKP hierarchy during the 1950's and the years when the Party went into oblivion (Nemenzo, 1982).

The tension resulted with the accusation of "extremism" and "petit bourgeoisie" to the KM. Later events ended with their expulsion from the PKP and a re-establishment of a new communist party of the Philippines. The PKP ceased to exist and decided to stop all its activities in the 1950's and so, this new party by the youth section of the PKPthe KMproclaimed itself as the new leaders of the Philippine revolutionary movement. The draft document which they prepared years earlier became one of the ideological guides of the new party. Two succeeding documents were also written; one on a general history of the Philippine society and another on the "correct strategy" for the Philippine revolution (Guerrero, 1969).

The new party determined three basic problems of Philippine society: that of (a) imperialism, (b) feudalism and (c) bureaucrat capitalism. It prescribed a "national democratic revolution of the new type". This revolution was to be conducted through a protracted people's war based in the countrysides (Guerrero, 1969).

The new party called itself the Communist Party of the PhilippinesMarxist-Leninist and at times would attach Mao Tse-tung Thought to its name. As we will discover, the Party borrowed heavily from Maoism. Maoism was the most active exponent of armed resistance during the 60's, the first to defy Soviet hegemony and most importantly, the only communist party which seriously went through a "revolution within a revolution" through the Great Proletarian Revolution. Much of the CPP-ML's leadership derived their training and ideological education from the Chinese.

However, the party's concern was cadre recruitment and training. One of its weaknesses was that they need more experienced and committed members, especially from the so-called "basic masses". At that time, the party was practically composed of urban intellectuals and students (being the PKP's youth sector) who lacked revolutionary experience but made up for it with their militance, vigor, and idealism. Its only solid mass organization was the KM which in 1967 also suffered an internal split when 25 of its members challenged the policies and leadership of KM chairman, Jose Ma. Sison. This group was then expelled and later formed their own organization, the rival Samahan ng mga Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK). It was under this organizational context that the CPP-ML, apart from sending its initial cadres to the countryside and factories to establish bases of support among the masses, also set its attention to tapping the "revolutionary potential" of the youth and student sector to increase its membership.

The Role of Students According to the CPP-ML

The fact that the PKP's youth section was primarily composed of self-taught radicals who owed no ideological or educational guidance from the senior cadres, allowed them a high degree of autonomy in terms of formulating the policies and programs for the student and youth sector. These leaders of KM did not only expound the concept of "national democracy", they also were the first to conceptualize the role of students and the youth in the revolutionary process. The most productive and distinguishing among these young leadersJose Ma. Sisonbecame the first chairman of KM.

As early as 1964, KM already had a general notion of the role of the students and youth. It advocated the position that given their unique characteristic, the student's principal responsibility to the revolution was that of education and propaganda. In one of his writings, Sison (1971) argued,

On the eve of the split of KM, it was already calling this educational role of the youth by calling on them spearhead a "second propaganda movement" (patterned after the First Propaganda Movement waged by the ilustrados during the Spanish colonial period) against the ills of society and propagate the national democratic revolution. For them, Propaganda was essential in order for the Filipino people to complete the "unfinished revolution of 1986".

The propaganda movement was not to be waged solely in the academe. KM believed that student participation in the struggle would only achieve meaning if they "integrate with the masses of workers and peasants". It meant transcending the narrow confines of academic life which was, after all, according to them, considered to be bastions of colonialism and commercialism. KM also implied that the academic struggle's fitting contribution to national democracy was for students to become cadres for the factories and countrysides. For them, formal knowledge, i.e., the knowledge from classrooms, was incomplete and distorted. Real knowledge only emanated from society experiencing a state of fluctuation; not from the universities which were slow in reacting to constantly changing conditions. Thus, the necessity of transcendence.

KM emphasized the necessity of mass integration for students. It is to the credit of KM that the student and youth sector became one of the pillars of the Philippine revolutionary movement in the 60's. The student movement's goal is to cease to exist as a movement. As a movement particular of a sector, there is a tendency towards narrowing certain options for student activists. But by ceasing to be a student movement and striving to become an organic part of the larger revolutionary movement, the prospects for students became larger. After the massive demonstrations of 1970 (referred to as the First Quarter Storm), the CPP-ML even openly called on the students to become full-time guerillas and cadres of the party.

They highly rely on the advantage of intellect (which we may assume to lead a much deeper ideological comprehension) and the vigor and enthusiasm of student activists. The outright calling for the students for the rejection of their academic world resulted to a more intense critical thinking and confrontation of reactionary ideas. The enthusiasm for studying was replaced by the concept of "learning from the masses". Abinales (1984) considered this phase of the Party's revolution as the reconceptualization of the cultural struggle. The academe had ceased to be the source of resistance in view of the fact that the students had now become a station for cadre formation. They focused their attention now on revolutionary armed struggle. Radicalism was measured by the ability to memorize and interpret Maoist concepts and intellectualism was accused of being a backward practice. They lived their lives as peasant fighters and industrial workers. They definitely played as an important guerilla force.

At the height of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970, the highest point of student activism in the Philippines, the massive wall of the movement gradually shattered as their influence decline in the schools. The student Left experienced defeats in the electoral contests for official student bodies. And subsequently, their dream of being the representative of "people's war" shattered on September 21, 1972, when Martial Law was declared by Marcos. In the midst of massive state repression, student radical organizations faced almost complete disintegration. The years that would follow would see the studentry in the image of a quiet, obedient, book-and-career-oriented lota far cry from the radical personality they assumed in the early '70's (Abinales, 1984).


Student activism has been going on in different parts of the world for decades. Student movements were already established long ago in different nations and previously marked historical events at significant times. Much of what the world is now today has been, in one way or another, experienced the impact of radicalism and daring acts of these vital sectors of society. The changes and reforms they have fought for in the past had considerably defined what our society is now at the present.

The student sector's combat with repressive regimes and unjust policies shows that the youth is not blind. The young generation could see the decadent way authorities treat the masses and the whole society. The knowledge that they gain from their universities and their perceptive view about their environment combined with the untarnished enthusiasm to promote social equality and freedom of expression for the interests of their beloved country has provoked them to use their acclaimed rights to fight for democracy and justice.

It is perhaps significant to say that in those countries where activism is most widely permitted, it generally has the least impact on the political structure, precisely because there are other competing political forces at work as well.


  • Abinales, P. N. (1984). The Left and the Philippine Student Movement: Random Historical Notes On Party Politics and Sectoral Struggles.
  • Altbach, P. G. (1989). Perspectives on Student Political Activism. Taylor & Francis, Ltd., 25, 97-110.
  • Altbach, P. G. (1984). Student Politics in the Third World. Springer, 13, 635-655.
  • Bakke, E. W. (1966). Roots and Soil of Student Activism. The University of Chicago Press on behalf Of the Comparative and International Education Society, 10, 163-174.
  • Burgess, P. M. & Hofstetter, C. R. (1971). The Student Movement: Ideology and Reality. Midwest Political Science Association, 15, 687-702.
  • Constantino, R. (1966). "The Miseducation of the Philippines", Weekly Graphic.
  • Corning, A.F. & Myers, D.J. (2002). Individual Orientation Toward Engagement in Social Action. International Society of Political Psychology, 23, 703-729.
  • David, R. S. (1982). "The Social Context of Philippine Education", Dependency Paper, 43, Third World Studies Center, University of the Philippines.
  • Eisenstadt, S. N. (1971). Contemporary Student Rebellions: Intellectual Rebellion and Generational Conflict. Sage Publications, Ltd., 14, 169-182.
  • Guerrero, A. (1970). Philippine Society and Revolution. Pulang Tala Publications.
  • Lipset, S. M. (1968). Students and Politics in Comparative Perspective. The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 97, 1-20.
  • Nemenzo, F. (1982). "The Rectification Process of the Philippine Communist Movement", paper presented At the Conference on Armed Communist Movements in Southeast Asia, Singapore.

Please be aware that the free essay that you were just reading was not written by us. This essay, and all of the others available to view on the website, were provided to us by students in exchange for services that we offer. This relationship helps our students to get an even better deal while also contributing to the biggest free essay resource in the UK!