First Quarter Storms

I grew up hearing much from my parents and their friends about the First Quarter Storm. I am not talking about a weather condition, but an event in January 1970 when student leaders stormed the official residence of the president, the Malacanang Palace, to protest rising prices in petroleum, tuition, and basic commodities as well as corruption, graft, and militarization of the countryside. The protests became violent when student leaders commandeered the fire truck which was used against them and drove the same engine into the grounds of the Palace. The clashes between the police and the protesters became very violent, the Marcos government imposed a curfew in the days following the storm and cited the incident as a reason for declaring martial law a couple of years after. It would take a decade and several of the lives of student leaders, human rights advocates, farmers, and workers before Marcos would lift martial law. But of course, not before changing the constitution to his liking and making himself virtually the country’s lawgiver, chief magistrate, and over-all commander of the armed forces.

All Marcos’s powers however could not stop another first quarter storm in February 1986, when ordinary Filipinos flocked to the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or EDSA to protect renegade soldiers who staged a botched coup against the dictator. The People Power revolution, as it would be later called, was actually a consequence of a failed attempt by some members of the Armed Forces to kidnap Marcos and his family, and install a “care-taker” government. The plot was discovered and its leaders placed on the wanted list. Fearing a massacre, the soldiers barricaded themselves in Camp Aguinaldo against troops loyal to Marcos. Cardinal Sin, sensing the need to prevent bloodshed, called upon the people to block the troops Marcos had sent to arrest the rebel soldiers. And then People Power would pass into history.

In the first quarter of 2001, student groups, civil society organizations, and various political groups would again converge in EDSA to call for the resignation of President Estrada after he was linked to money-laundering schemes, illegal-gambling, and racketeering. An impeachment trial was in the process of investigating the allegations when on January 2001, senators allied to Estrada prevented the opening of an envelop which was supposed to contain incriminating evidence against the president. Just minutes after the pro-Estrada senators celebrated in senate, various groups in Metro Manila and key cities of the country, aided by text messaging, erupted on a noise barrage and started marching towards public parks and monuments to express their anger. After four days and nights of protests, Estrada was forced to vacate the Malacanang and resign from office.

First quarter storms are not a phenomenon confined only to the Philippines. In Iran, the Shah was forced to leave the country in January of 1979, after political unrest rocked Tehran and several parts of the country. In January 1990, Azerbaijan had to defend its recently declared independence from Soviet Russia resulting to several days of fighting with Soviet troops. In January of 1991, Latvia and Lithuania, after having declared independence from the USSR, also had to defend their countries against Soviet agents and military units. There have been several incidents and events in history which have also occurred in the first quarters of a year. And several of these were by progressive groups and students who express disgust with the excesses of their governments and desire to create one which would be more responsive to their needs.

The most recent of these first quarter storms would be that of Tunisia’s, where a president of more than two decades was forced to flee the after unrests forced him and his family to flee the country. The protests, which were a manifestation of the people’s disgust toward the president and his family, was largely set off and fueled by online forums and reports of the excesses of President Ben Ali.

I don’t know if there is a correlation between first quarters and the storms by the people but I think that political analysts, as well as politicians and advisers should always be on the look out for the public mood at the start of the new year. It would seem that history has shown several incidents where the population of a country long oppressed, gather strength at the end of the preceding year, exploding on the first quarter of the succeeding year. And this is shown by the unrests and revolutions mentioned above. Coming from a country where the storms have been common, and having parents and myself as part of those events, I think there is just really something about January which makes one eager to once again, give the struggle another go. Or maybe I am just imagining things…

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