History of Filipino Youth Activism: An Overview

By Richmond Uy, Anakbayan Toronto

Youth and students have led the charge for change in the Philippines throughout history and into the present: whether it be through raising the consciousness of fellow Filipinos, or through full blown revolution and claiming independence for the Philippines. Our youth struggle is inseparable from the struggle of the Filipino masses, from the peasants in the countryside to the urban poor. Together we  fight for national independence and genuine democracy. Whether that be in the past in the 1800s to now, we the youthful spirit resists the oppressive system and its tyrannical figures. 

The Propaganda Movement

From the 16th century to the 19th century, the Philippines was under Spanish colonial rule. At the beginning of the 19th century, Spain made their education system (which was controlled by the Church) accessible only to wealthy Filipinos. The small educated class of Filipinos, who traveled to Europe for their studies, became known as the Ilustrado class. The Ilustrados experienced racism as students in Spain, which sparked an aspiration of Philippine independence from the colonizer. 

Jose Rizal was one of these inspired Illustrados, and went on to lead the Propaganda Movement. They circulated novels, poems, pamphlets and magazine writings critical of Spanish rule. Spain was threatened by the spread of these subversive materials and captured by Rizal. He was executed in 1896, and is honored as a national hero until today.

The Propaganda Movement was successful in promoting a national identity of the Filipino people, who began to see themselves as a nation rather than scattered islands in an archipelago. However, it would be the broad Filipino masses, not the upper-class Ilustrado men, to lead the Philippine Revolution of 1896 through armed struggle and overthrow Spain. 

The Katipunan

Emboldened by the writings of the Propaganda Movement, the Katipunan was established in 1892. Andres Bonifacio was one of the prominent figures in the movement, with him being Supremo on the council in 1896. The majority of the members in the Katipunan were youths throughout its existence. They saw it as a personal responsibility to help the poor and oppressed, and even made the effort to recruit farmers and peasants into the movement. This made the movement national democratic. 

After the movement was discovered in 1896 by Spanish forces, this became the catalyst for the Philippine Revolution to occur, where the Katipunan was fighting for independence through armed struggle. Ultimately they won, through the power of youth, and claimed this independence on June 12 1898. Unfortunately, there were some underhanded aspects of this victory, with the general, Emilio Aguinaldo that led the revolutionary movement (after the passing of Bonifacio), made backdoor dealings with the US and sold the Philippines to the US under the Treaty of Paris. 

Resistance Against the Marcos Dictatorship

It’s 1969, after four years of Ferdinand Marcos as president, he gets re-elected to the disappointment of many people, namely the youth of the Philippines. Earlier, in November of 1964, the Kabataang Makabayan was formed, which was a mass student organization. As established before, there had been growing unrest with how the Philippines has been operating, with protests occurring against the administration, mainly led by students. 

In the beginning of 1970, protests occurred which is now known famously as the First Quarter Storm (because it took place in the first quarter of the year – from January to March 1970). This was a mass student protest against Marcos’ State of the Nation Address in front of the Malacanang Palace. On January 26-31 1970, The Battle of Mendiola/Protests at Malacanang Palace took place. This was pivotal as it not only took place in the beginning of the First Quarter Storm, intense action by the state took place as the protesters were trying to ram the gates with a firetruck, with the state killing four students in the process. This led to the Plaza Miranda Demonstration on February 12, 1970 to memorialize those students who had been killed, with 100,000 people showing up. This also sparked more protests at the US Embassy to denounce US imperialism. These protests lasted until March. As a result of the First Quarter Storm, 10-30,000 youth showed up to these protests, with not only students, but also youth from rural areas of farms and factories, with a lot of student movements and organizations birthed from these protests such as MAKIBAKA and the League of Filipino Students (this one in particular was later on in 1977). 

After the First Quarter Storm, there had been a handful of protests, such as the one that took place at the Diliman Commune in 1971 on February 1-9 and was a protest that took place due to the oil hike price hikes. 

On September 21 1972, Marcos then declared Martial Law, which directly impacted student organizing, with one of the rules under Martial Law banned group assemblies and strikes (At the time, soldiers would even be sent to universities to see if there was any student organizing occurring, with some students being arrested and red tagged). In 1986, Marcos was ousted by the People’s Power Revolution, where he fled to Hawaii with his family, and the Philippines installed a new president, Cory Aquino. 


    In 1998, to fill in the need for activism under the weak presidency of Joseph Estrada, Anakbayan was born from the proper understanding of the role of youth in history, with an emphasis on comprehensive youth organization. The founding of Anakbayan on November 30th shares the date with Bonifacio Day and the founding of Kabataang Makabayan. Its goals are to arouse, organize and mobilize the youth for national democracy. Anakbayan played a role in the oust Estrada campaign, calling out the unfair hikes to tuition and increase in budget cuts by the administration, and was able to organize and boycott the administration with 45 schools across the country. 

Now, Anakbayan has around 20,000 members across the world, with members in the Philippines and in overseas chapters in Europe, Australia, United States and Canada. In Canada, there are chapters in Alberta, BC, Manitoba, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. 

Today Anakbayan Toronto celebrates 8 years arousing, organizing, and mobilizing youth in Toronto. There have been many mobilizations to note such as the recent protests against Duterte’s SONA, Anti-Terror Law, and climate justice. Previously the youth have campaigned against racial discrimination and tuition fee increases, and for the protection of worker rights including the rights of domestic workers in Canada. Through Kapit-Bisig Laban COVID, the youth aided their communities during the pandemic, delivering food boxes and integrating with the masses. In addition, through educational discussions about the history of Philippine society and the current situation in the Philippines among others, the youth are continually aroused and informed in their work. The struggle for the rights and welfare of Filipino youth was always fought for, while also fighting alongside the broader masses in the revolutionary movement for fundamental social change.

As we can see, there is a strong legacy of youth activism in Philippine history. Organizations such as Anakbayan carry out the tradition of using the power of youth to empower and mobilize for the right to land, decent jobs & wages, education, & social services. Together with our fellow Filipinos and allies, we fight US imperialism in order to see a brighter future, one where we have autonomy of ourselves and our voice is properly heard, and where the exploitation of our country and many others does not occur anymore. There is so much power in youth!

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