Stories of student activism
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - November 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The campus takeover by students at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and other institutions reminds me of a similar event in Philippine history. It was 1971 and Marcos was the president. The previous year, there was a series of student led rallies that would later be called the First Quarter Storm. In January and February, the students at the University of the Philippines took over the campus and declared it as the Diliman Republic. The campus became a battleground between the UP students protesting the deteriorating conditions of the country and police brutality. The students barricaded the whole campus and established full control of the facilities.

The campus was surrounded by police and military units. I am not from UP but one night my father and I maneuvered our way through the police barricades, no man’s land and the student barricades to enter the Diliman Republic. It was at night because daytime was the period when there were clashes with teargas on one side and petrol bombs and rocks on the other side.

I did this because my father insisted we go inside the campus and bring my sister, then a UP student, out. Of course, when we finally found her, she refused to come out and for a short period we became citizens of the Diliman Republic.

Almost exactly fifteen years later, there was a nationwide strike by students who set out to join the EDSA People Power. I am relating this story to show that student activism , through the centuries and in different countries, share the same basic stories.

Almost every day, television shows footages of the increasingly violent street protests in Hong Kong. While students are very involved, two million protesters, in a city with a population of seven million, have to include almost every sector of the city’s population. On-street interviews reveal a lot of office workers, professionals and even firefighters have joined the demonstrations. 

The student activists have gained a lot of publicity when they resorted to the tactic of taking over campuses. Student activism is not new. One of the earliest recorded was the University of Paris strike in 1229 which lasted two years. In the 1960s and 1970s there were more strikes all over the world. In the US student activism reached its peak during the Civil  Rights movement and anti-Vietnam movement. In 1970, four million students went on strike to protest the killing of student protesters at Kent State University, Ohio. In 1989 the democracy movement in China led by students ended in a brutal government crackdown which would later be called a massacre. 

There are thirteen universities and institutions of higher learning in Hong Kong. The most active students come from the top seven universities which are ranked among the world’s best. The two universities recently taken over by students were Chinese University of Hongkong (CUHK) and the Hongkong Polytechnic University ( HPU). 

CUHK is consistently ranked as one of the top three universities in Hong Kong, The Times Higher Education (THE) university ranking places CUHK as 53rd in the world and 7th in Asia. Four Nobel Prize winners are associated with the university. Its tuition is 120,000 HKD.

The HPU is the largest university in Hong Kong with 27,000 students. It is ranked 5th in Hong Kong, 20th in Asia and 91st in the world. The local tuition is 42,100 HKD and the international tuition is 120,000 HKD. The HPU campus has become a battleground partly because of its location. 

Even students from secondary schools have joined the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. For example a secondary school student said: “We cannot go to the front lines, but we can still yell slogans and show others that many secondary school students are also fighting for the five demands. An article had this paragraph: “Meanwhile the human chains brought together students and alumni from different schools. For example, on Sept. 6, more than 500 people in masks lined walls surrounding Kowloon Tong’s elite schools – including La Salle College and Bishop Hall Jubilee School – with the chain extending about 700 meters, including students and alumni from seven Tai Po secondary schools also linked up.” The Jubilee School is affiliated with the Anglican Church.

The La Salle College Hongkong  is a secondary school established in 1932 by the La Salle Brothers. It belongs to the East Asia District which also includes the La Salle schools in the Philippines. Its campus is located along La Salle Road, Kowloon.

I recently read a very interesting article written by Quennie Ann J. Palafox entitled “ The Role of Student Activism in the Philippine Independence.” She writes that the Propaganda Movement was started by men who came from wealthy families who went to Europe to continue their studies . The movement was  essentially a student movement. Among the first student activists were Felipe Buencamino who organized a student movement in Europe known as Juventud Escolar Liberal. Among its members were Paciano Rizal, Mariano Alejandrino, Gregorio Sanciano and Basilio Teodoro.

During his student days, Jose Rizal founded a clandestine organization known as Companerismo de Jehu.The idea of writing his novels was conceived in Spain when Rizal was a student of medicine in Universidad Central de Madrid.

According to Palafox: “One of the legacies of student activism in the 19th century was its active role in stimulating nationalism...they took us to the road of independence by fostering strong nationalistic mood, which paved the way to the revolution of 1896”- and made the Philippines a nation. 

Creative writing classes for kids & teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on Nov. 23, Dec. 7 and 14 (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone session) at Fully Booked BGC.   For details and registration,  email

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