The Following is a draft for a profile I'm writing about a professor of mine who had lived through the Martial Law Days. Still working on the kinks of it.
We Didn’t Know How to Use Molotovs
We didn’t talk about Rizal that day when Professor Apolonio Bayani Chua decided to sit down with me and talk about revolution. In fact it was going to be his history we would be discussing on that afternoon inside the second floor lounge of the faculty center.
Stirring his black coffee as he sat in front of me wearing brown tinted aviator glasses, hiding his small and often weary looking eyes, and his usual silver hair wrapped in a ponytail, he told me that he had just come from a screening he organized for a PI 100 class at the main library. He is normally a very private man, who would much rather talk about the trends in Philippine literature, or the mark of realism that is found in Chapter 26 of Rizal’s Noli. But for this afternoon he agreed to just sit down with me and try to reminisce about the First Quarter Storm.
“Back in the 70’s he had said, “you could leave your books there and attend a rally in Mendiola that same day, and when you come back by the end of the day the books would still be there”. And indeed, he considers that time to be somewhat safer overall, despite being a time of turmoil and uprising. He hasn’t touched his coffee yet.
When I ask him of his most vivid memory of the First Quarter Storm, there would be a brief pause from him as he tries to think back, staring at the side wall, his gaze fixated onto the same area where the chemistry building stands, just beyond the walls of the faculty lounge and the faculty center.
Back in those days he was a finishing AB Filipino major, a shiftee from AB Journalism who had the unfortunate timing to be graduating when the First Quarter Storm was gaining in intensity.
He starts off by remembering running, panic stricken, by the corner of Quirino Ave. and Velasquez St. (or by the corner of the Chemistry Building and Nismed) with his friend and author Ricardo Lee and meeting with this young female chemistry student handing them these gasoline filled coke bottles that had cloth wicks stuffed inside them. He could remember just staring at the bottle.
They would eventually make their way inside the Kamia Residence Hall, a dormitory exclusively for women and briefly sharing a room with similarly startled girls, wondering whether there were military men taking aim at the dormers through the windows. He could feel his grip tighten around the coke bottle.
“they didn’t tell us how exactly to use it, later on I would find out that you would light it up by the cloth end and throw it…towards whoever it was that you had to throw it to, but at that time we really didn’t know. We didn’t know how to use molotovs”.
The scare would eventually pass and he would still safely walk home (all the way to Tondo!), passing by the University Ave. Despite the feint presence of the military around that area (“There was one military jeep parked around there”), and the paranoia of being suddenly taken captive by soldiers and taken to god knows where and being at best, interrogated.
His friend, who would eventually go on to write many screenplays, and finish two novels while making a third would go home through Krus na Ligas and evading any patrol that would be after him or anyone else, a route that professor Chua was unfamiliar with and in hindsight could have used as an alternative to the University Ave (Later on he would also discover Katipunan as another way out of the university premises, but by that time he would no longer be part of the activist scene).
Other memories would be fuzzy and incomplete, he would remember a math professor admonishing the students and faculty at the lobby of palma hall, a few days later that same professor would be involved in a shooting, and his car turned over and burned by the University Ave. and of riding on a red bus bound for the US embassy, with strangers and classmates holding signs and posters laden with the anti-administration slogans of the time, something he would later comment on with something like “the only thing that changes would be the name of the administration on those protest signs”.
He would also think back to the songs he would hear, written and sung by artists (including, in his recollection a young Jonas Baes), many of whom would never see the light of stardom shine down on them, for some they would never see the light of freedom ever again.
“Activism, he said, “was, back then more spontaneous. And there was no other discourse during that time”. The culture that they had spent the most of their youth in was to be a culture of reaction towards the Marcos dictatorship. It was the immediate agenda. And it seemed like wherever you were as a college student, part of the faculty, or as a worker, whether you had your denims or mini skirt and go-go boots on, you would be in the throngs marching towards the palace gates.
After the dictatorship, the spontaneity had diminished, and to some degree fractured. Professor Chua openly admits to not being part of the new activism of today, and so he cannot really comment on how the face of activism stands now. But he does observe that the university activism of his time has gone “On Hiatus”.
“Nung Cory na, wala na.”
When I ask him if there was anything else during that time that he would remember, he simply tells me that there isn’t. There was only this one vivid memory stuck in his mind that he would never forget out of order.
When he would walk from the faculty center to the corner of Quirino Ave. and Velasquez Street that, by turning his head to the chemistry building he would see the panicked students running past, in the periphery of his vision, the wooden school chairs piled up as a barricade along Roces Street and he would see, in front of him, this curious girl handing him a coke bottle filled with gasoline.
His coffee has already gone cold.