Remembering the First Quarter Storm

By Herbert Vego

WHILE sitting down to write this article yesterday, I remembered it was January 26, the same date in 1970 or 53 years ago when the so-called “First Quarter Storm” flared up to dramatize student discontent over the re-election of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in the 1969 presidential election.

That rally coincided Marcos’ state of the nation address (SONA) in what was then the Philippine Congress (now the National Museum) on Kalaw Ave, near the Manila City Hall. I was there in my capacity as news editor and columnist of the Quezonian, student organ of the Manuel L. Quezon University (MLQU).

Senator Sergio “Serging” Osmeña Jr., the losing presidential bet in the 1969 election, had accused Marcos of using the three Gs — “goons, guns and gold” — to ensure his re-election. It was the first time a sitting Philippine President had won re-election. May I narrate my eyewitness account?

As a member of the moderate National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), I saw myself in the company of our president, the late Edgar ”Edjop” Jopson.

But NUSP was not the only student organization outside Congress while Marcos was delivering his SONA inside.  The radical ones, including the Kabataang Makabayan, dominated the “sea” of an estimated 50,000 students chanting “Marcos, Hitler, diktador, tuta!”

The chants, however, were drowned by loud speakers that echoed the President’s SONA on “national discipline”.

When it was all over, I saw Marcos and First Lady Imelda being escorted by security officers to a waiting limousine.

All of a sudden, like a flash of lightning, a cardboard coffin marked “demokrasya” and a papier-mâché crocodile were flying but missed the presumed target as the police barred the surging, booing rallyists from reaching the couple’s departing car.

I personally witnessed the police firing guns and bludgeoning students with truncheons. My companions and I were lucky to have escaped unscathed.

In the evening, my classmate Jerry Bañares – a well-known student leader at MLQU — asked me to accompany him to the office of the then mayor of Manila, Antonio Villegas, to complain against “police brutality”. He allowed us to talk to him, only to be told that we were not in the position to investigate.

The following morning, we heard the news that one of the two students killed by a police bullet was our schoolmate, identified as Rodrigo Catabay.

The then Senate President, Sen. Gil J. Puyat, announced his office’s financial assistance to the family of Catabay.  It was Jerry Bañares and I who eventually received the check for the Catabays while the Senate was in session. I could not remember the amount though.

That presidential SONA would eventually unfold in history as the beginning of the “First Quarter Storm” or a series of student actions against an emerging “Marcos dictatorship”.

It would also make a good alibi for Marcos to declare martial law in 1972, obviously to perpetuate himself in power.  Otherwise, he could not legally run for a second re-election in 1973.

I had written extensively about it in our school paper – the reason why it remains fresh in my aging memory.

There was a time when latter-day historian Ambeth Ocampo wrote a newspaper column about Macos’ January 26, 1970 SONA — “National Discipline: The Key to Our Future” — as “not in effect that day”.

Ocampo found a way to discover Marcos’ diary and reproduced the entry so dated, where the late former President blamed the SONA invocation of a famous priest for helping to bring about the violent rally. A quotation from the diary said:

“The invocation of Father Pacifico Ortiz, Ateneo head, was in poor taste. It castigated the government, referring to goons, high prices, streets not being safe, the threat of revolution and how the citizens were ready to fight for their rights even in the barricades. It was an attempt at the state of the nation. I hope he is happy with what he has helped to bring about.”

The January 23, 1970 entry in his diary, on the other hand, had Marcos citing the suggestion of then Col. Fabian Ver (head of the Presidential Security Group) that the “the conspirators be eliminated quietly before they prejudice our country and democratic institutions.”

The declaration of martial law in 1972 is widely believed to be in line with Ver’s wish.

The EDSA Revolution in February 1986 must have been the people’s answer to that. It eliminated the Marcos regime and paved the way for successors Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino and Rodrigo Duterte. The last-mentioned earned the reputation of another “dictator” who helped install a successor in Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

With Bongbong concurrently holding the post of secretary of the Department of Agriculture that has seen the price of onion jump to an unprecedented P700 per kilo, will he still be able to atone for his dad’s inadequacies?

Only time will tell.



THERE is reason to hope that the price of electricity in the Philippines would stop rising and slide down instead. As of yesterday, the Newcastle Coal Futures quoted the world market price of coal to be in the vicinity of US $350 per metric ton. Until last December, it was $400.

According to Celso Caballero, the president of the Davao-based Aboitiz Power Coal, a number of factors had been driving the cost of power, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“But we expect in 2023, barring any other unfortunate events such as wars, prices should begin to temper and go back down,” said Caballero. “It would be a gradual normalization.”

The Philippines is largely a coal consuming country with coal having the highest contribution to the power generation mix at around 60 percent in 2021.

A downtrend would certainly be good for us customers of distribution utilities like MORE Power and the Iloilo Elective Cooperative.

A weaker peso, however, could also jack up the generation rate as generation companies import equipment and raw materials.