National Union of Students of the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines–THE NATIONAL Union Of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) is celebrating its 50th anniversary by holding its 36th National Student Congress in Cebu City on Dec. 14-18. As a founder and past president of NUSP, I keynoted the conference by recalling the vision and values that guided the union’s founding.

The cold war. In the 1950s, the world was divided into two great camps: the liberal democracies led by the United States; and the totalitarian-communist states headed by the erstwhile Soviet Union. The great powers battled the “cold war,” the insidious struggle for the minds and loyalties of the peoples of the world.

The cold war’s long international tentacles crept into the student movements in the Philippines and elsewhere. A congressional investigation in 1957 showed that the communists infiltrated the then leading student organizations, especially the Student Councils Association of the Philippines (SCAP) and the Conference Delegates Association (CONDA). Their leaders were allegedly wined, dined and indoctrinated during meetings held in communist countries.

Apart from that, the government muzzled student leaders by enlisting them in the President’s “Little Cabinet.” They were pampered with free travel, doles and other perks, in exchange for partisan political favors. During the elections of the SCAP in September 1957, I questioned–as the then new president of the FEU Central Student Organization–these communist and partisan political activities that shackled SCAP and CONDA.

Birth of NUSP. I received no satisfactory answer. Instead, SCAP leaders tried to placate me by electing me vice president for international affairs of SCAP, a much-coveted position that would have entitled me to travel free of charge to many countries, with pocket money from Malacañang. These were tempting propositions to the very poor student that I was. However, I chose the more difficult path. I walked out from the meeting, seceded from SCAP and CONDA, rejected my vice-presidential election, and refused membership in the “Little Cabinet.”

Luckily, I was not alone in my idealism. Student leaders from the University of the Philippines (led by Fernando Lagua), University of Santo Tomas (Julio Macaranas), San Beda College (Alfonso Aguirre), St. Theresa’s (Ma. Theresa Endencia), National University (Miguel Sanidad) and Sta. Isabel (Hermila Milaflor) also walked out. Yes, FEU and these six schools formed the nucleus of the NUSP. Subsequently, several others–including many “cloistered” Catholic colleges–joined.

NUSP’s ideals. Our vision-mission was stressed in a speech I delivered as president: “The NUSP was founded as the answer to the decadent state of student leadership in the country. The Union is pledged to unite and reflect faithfully student opinion on current national issues, to free the youth from undue political interferences, to fight communist infiltration in the campuses, and to redirect the youth’s thinking and energy to constructive idealism.”

Its core values were “dignity, integrity, independence, liberty, responsibility and democracy.” Let me say with pardonable pride that these ideals were achieved, because the communist effort to infiltrate student movements failed and the “Little Cabinet” was dissolved.

I was only a second-year law student when NUSP was born. So, I had two more years to help nurse it during its infancy. Thereafter, I formed and administered, for three years, the Institute of Student Affairs to secure financial aid, “without strings,” for the union while I was an assistant in the law firm of Dr. Jovito R. Salonga.

Over the years, many young leaders became involved in NUSP, to name a few, John Osmeña, Raul Roco, Rene Saguisag, Sonia Malasarte, Ricardo Puno Jr., Ronaldo Puno, Salvador Britanico, Violy Calvo, Loida and Mely Nicolas, Macapanton Abbas, Carlos Padilla, Miriam Defensor, Tina Monzon, Jose Lina, Francis Pangilinan, Lean Alejandro, Chito Gascon, Lorenzo Tañada III, Hernani Braganza, and Mike Defensor.

Some of them led the “First Quarter Storm.” They protested and rallied incessantly against the abuses of martial law. 1972 NUSP President Edgar Jopson laid down his life fighting for the union’s ideals. Ferdinand Marcos was so displeased by the NUSP’s crusade for freedom that he banned the union. But after he was toppled in 1986, NUSP resurrected and became once more the dominant student movement. Now, it boasts of over 450 member-schools.

Present problems. The twin problems of my youth, communist infiltration and government intervention, pale in comparison with the difficulties facing the nation today: wrenching poverty, declining educational standards, corruption, electoral cheating, human right violations, extralegal disappearances, lack of accountability, weakened democratic institutions, recurring insurgencies and military mutinies.

Our country belongs to the young; the seniors merely administer it for them in the meantime. When the old falter in their duty, the youth must remonstrate in the hallowed tradition of NUSP. Thus, during the Cebu confab, I urged the delegates to raise their voices, tackle these plagues, denounce their perpetrators, and offer some perspectives and solutions. I shall eagerly await their response.

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NUSP reunion. The Alumni of the NUSP are gearing for a grand reunion on Aug. 8, 2008; that’s 8-8-8. Contact the secretariat for details: Mely Nicolas (imn103@aol.com) or Me Ann Gonzales (g.meann@gmail.com).

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