LEAN ALEJANDRO | 10 things that made this UP student an iconic leader of his generation
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Had he not been killed 25 years ago, Lean Alejandro would have been 52 by now.
Lean was a slippers-wearing student activist who helped create (in the late 1970s at the height of Martial Law) and rode (until a year after the EDSA Peopleâs Revolt) the tumultuous waves of protests of the era that defined his generation.
Tall and thin, Lean was a heavyweight in his time, sparring in political and philosophical debatesâor chessâwith the best of them: Senators Jose âPepeâ Diokno and Lorenzo âKa Tannyâ Tanada, Profs. Alex Magno and Randy David, and UP President Dodong Nemenzo.
He was gone too soon, at 27, the age when the best rock stars die. Fellow student leader of his era Raffy Aquino waxes nostalgic about the "meteor that, for a brief moment, (marked) the dark heavens and (made) the night memorable. By his luminescence, he (gave) us a rare glimpse of dawn. He was a thunderbolt rebelling against the darkness, a spark that denied night monopoly over our collective sensibility.
"In life, Lean gave us a fine example of humanity: of commitment to grand principles, of selflessness in its heroic proportion, of courage in such surfeit it becomes contagious. He gave us a standard of passion and enthusiasm to live by; taught us how to love a cause so deeply, and feel do much for so many, that even death could not eradicate the afterglow of such love and such feelingâ¦A meteor of great intensity has passed," he says in a past tribute to Lean.
Here, Leanâs traits that substantiate what Aquino glowingly said of him:
1.Â He stood in âthe line of fire.â
âThe line of fire is a place of honorâ is one of Leanâs famous quotes.
In 1985, Lean was already a national figure, slowly letting go of student organizing work. But when a UP rally to Mendiola was dispersed by gunfire at Welcome Rotonda, he told Gonzalo âBongâ Bongolan Jr. and those he was leaving at UP: âI cannot assure you your safety. I can only assure you that I will be there and I will be shot first.â
Leanâs courage in the face of danger was inspiring. Senator Francis Pangilinan, who also became UP-Diliman Student Council chairman, says Lean âwas always at the forefront of mobilizations, in mass actions and rallies.â
And remember, he says, âWe were under a dictatorship then. He was one of those who stood up against the dictatorship.â And after the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, âhe was also one of those who actively urged students to engage society and persevereâ even as the Marcos regime was trying to tighten its grip on power.
âBecause of his conviction, at some point, he was jailed. He was apprehended and detained for his principle,â Pangilinan says. Lean was arrested and jailed for a couple of months for trying to negotiate in behalf of student marchers on their way to the Ministry of National Defense.
2. He relished âthe struggle to be free.â
âTheÂ next best thing to being freeÂ is the struggle to be freeâ is another favorite Lean quote among his fans.
And the struggle entailed some sacrifices, Pangilinan says. There were times when they couldnât be home for Christmas âbecause thereÂ was a crackdown on activistsâ¦We were told not to go home, two to three months (at a time). We were moving fromÂ one safehouse to the next.Â Hindi kami puwedeng umuwiâ¦kasi nga nagtatago sa mga ahente ng diktaduraÂ (We could not go homeâ¦because we were hiding from agents of the dictatorship).â
Ironically, âIâll be home for Christmasâ was Leanâs favorite carol, the senator says.
Bongolan, the former head of the Home Guarantee Corp. and now an investment banker, remembers one Christmas Eve that Lean spent with them in Proj. 4. His family had finished their Yuletide rituals at around 3 a.m. when they noticed that Lean had slept in the garage.
Another Christmas, Ruben "Benrubs" Felipe, a friend, says, he and Lean were wandering the streets. Lean asked why they werenât with their families. Despite his self-doubts, he remained steadfast in his commitment.
To those who wonât make a stand, Pangilinan says, Lean would quote Dante Alighieri: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of crisis, chose to remain neutral.
3.Â He created alliances among those with opposing views.
Â Or great at alliance work, as another Lean colleague Felipe calls it. He was friends with all the organizations and fraternities (League of Filipino Students, Pi Sigma, Alpha Sigma, etc.) of the UP Palma Hall âSecond Floor Republic,â the area of most orgÂ tambayans.
Lean had declined the invitation of Felipe, a Pi Sigman, to be frat brods. âI think he preferred that he be one with all the fraternities.â
This compulsion to unite people worked well for him outside UP, when he sought to get peasants and proletariats together with professionals and even politicians in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship.
âHe was always looking for commonality,â Felipe says. âMagaling saÂ (Great at) relationship.â
âPati socdem, tradpol, hinaharap nyaÂ (He engaged even socialist democrats, traditional politicians),â he adds.
4. He had charisma.Â âMapipilitan kang makinig kasi magaling ang sinasabi.â
This, from Senator Edgardo Angara, who was President of the University of the Philippines whenÂ Alejandro was elected University Student Council chairman in 1983. At that time, student activists, Lean included, were suspicious of him and called him a âstoogeâ of his Sigma Rho fraternity brother, then Minister of National Defense and now Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile.
âBut later on, we came to know each other and he became one ofÂ the closest student leaders to me. Â And up to the time he died, we were very close. So I remember him very fondly,â Angara says.
At the ceremony of incoming Leanâs batch of USC members, Angara was so impressed by Leanâs acceptance speech that he chose not read his own speech. He says he did not have anything else to add to what Lean said.
âMagaling na bata, very articulate, very fluent, andÂ may tinatawag naÂ stage presence.Â At kapag tumayo siya at nagsalita, mapipilitan kangÂ makinig kasi magaling ang mga sinasabiÂ (Very good kidâ¦he has what you call stage presence. And when he stood and spoke, you will be forced to listen because he had something to say),â Angara says.
5.Â He was inspired and inspiring. He made it easy for others to make a stand.
Rowena Paraan, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, did not work with him in college. But in a symposium at the AS Theater, she remembers Lean speaking of activism as consistent daily task.
Paraan says activists should be like the âyouth missionaries of the Campus Crusade for Christ.â Activism, Lean advised, must be âintegralâ to the activist, like a body function. When she herself started organizing journalists, she remembered the truth in his statement.
âLean made it easy to make a stand.Â Parang di mahirap makibaka pagkatapos ka nyang kausapinÂ (It doesnât seem difficult to be an activist after heâs talked to you),â Paraan says. âMagaan syaÂ (Heâs easy to get along with).â
Bongolan was training in soccer to join the UP varsity team but became an activist at Leanâs âinvitation.â
Leanâs drawing power was made manifest in his congressional run in 1987. Powered mostly by volunteersâhis campaign parades and post-election protests included a long line of tricycle drivers. The peopleâs support was so strong that the policeman who talked to Felipe could not believe Lean could lose the elections.
Felipe to policeman at the Mendiola rally protesting the vote count: âAnoâng pambayad namin sa kanila? Volunteer lahat yanÂ (What will we pay them? They are all volunteers).â
âKung ganyan ang suporta nya, hindi sya pwedeng nataloÂ (If that is the kind of support he has, he could not have lost),â the riot cop told Felipe.
6. He was a multi-tasker, even before the term was coined.
âAng swerte ng ND sa kanyaÂ (The national democratic movement was lucky to have had him),â Bongolan says of Lean the ND workhorse.
âPag inako mo ang trabaho, gampanan mo, yan ang prinsipyo nyaÂ (If you take on the job, you work it, thatâs his work ethic),â Felipe says.
For a long time, while he held positions in student organizations in UP, Lean was also an official of the Kasama sa UP, the organization of all UP university student councils nationwide, and with the national-in-scope Youth for Nationalism and Democracy.
7. He read a lot.
He never forgot to feed his mind, and to convince his comrades to read.
âMahilig magbasa,â said Felipe, who admitted to being Leanâs political officer at one time.
At the risk of being branded a Trotskyite, Lean read books critical of the Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong line of thought of the ND leadership. He devoured The Lord of the Rings, perhaps taking inspiration from the fellowship.
Pangilinan says Lean was âvery analytical and very sharp,â and he got it from reading a lot.
âDi pwedeng di ka nagbabasa. Di dahilÂ comradesÂ tayo, di tayoÂ scientific (It cannot be that you donât read. Our being comrades does not excuse you to be not scientific). Substance has to be complemented with skills,â Bongolan says, quoting Lean.
âYou cannot come to him with a bad plan,â he adds.
8. Despite his obvious intelligence, he was not arrogant. âNakikitagay, nakiki- level, not condescending.â
âHindi sya mapagmataÂ in the intellectual sense (Heâs not an intellectual snob),â Felipe says. âAng tyagang magpaliwanagÂ (He was patient at explaining).â
He was tolerant of different views, but his pet peeve was people with closed minds.
If he was with men who were drinking, heâd have his share ofÂ tagayÂ (shot), Felipe says.
âWalang ka-ere-ereÂ (He did not have airs),â he says, but his unusual approach to the normally rigid schoolmarmish standards of the ND movement got him in trouble. But heâd explain his actions.Â
Lean blazed a trail, organizationally, politically, and ideologically, Felipe says.
9. He was well rounded. He was not above âburgisâÂ activities.
He was the face of the scholar activist, a true revolutionary, a Renaissance man. He was âversatile.â He knew how to cook (his favorite was sinigang or sour pork stew).Â Â He played the guitar, singing âbourgeois irresponsible songsâ like âI have to say I love you in a songâ and other songs by either Jim Croce or James Taylor.
âHe was the one who taught me the differences in alcohol. He was a wine connoisseur. He could imbibe Ginebra San Miguel as much as he could Johnny Walker. He smoked blue-seal cigarettes. His father was an OFW who sent them these imported items,â Felipe says.
He also had a passion for chess. He had dreamed of teaching his child the games of kings.
Once, he was seen driving a BMW motorbike on University Avenue with Lidy Nacpil, his girlfriend and later his wife, riding tandem.
âHe was not the typical G&D (grim and determined) activist. He enjoyed bannedÂ burgisÂ activities.
10. He never compromised.
When the undergroundâs so-called Higher Organ ordered him to use the USC in the campaign against the US-Marcos dictatorship, Lean argued his case: We are the council. We are not the LFS (the militant League of Filipino Students). We all have roles to play. That role is not the USCâs, Felipe says.
Regardless of the battleâwhether he was fighting against tuition increases, campaigning for the boycott of the 1984 Batasan elections, or the financial impositions of the International Monetary Fund, Lean always trusted the people, Bongolan says. âThat was his true north. He was not corruptible.â
What would he have been if Lean did not die 25 years ago? How would the Left been different with him actively participating in the debate on its actions?
Invariably, the interiewees all thought he would have been a prominent figure in Philippine politicsâas congressman, senator, or even president of the Philippines. Or he would have been in the movementâ some say with the RAs (reaffirming Prof. Jose Ma. Sisonâs position), others with the RJs (rejecting).
Felipe says: âWe canât really say (where he would be now) because of the split of the Left. He was killed before the split became apparent.â
Before Lean, the standard of your commitment to the cause was joining the armed struggle, he says. But Lean believed that regardless of where you are or what youâre doing, you can still serve the people.
And thatâs true now, says Bongolan, listing the many brilliant former student leaders who now serve inside and outside government: Pangilinan, LFSâs Nat Santiago, migrant workers rightsâ advocate Rex Varona, Congressman Miro Quimbo, and lawyer Prof. Dan Calica.
Bongolan says, Lean lives on in us. With Karl John Reyes, InterAksyon.com