Now It Can Be Told: Silliman Under Martial Law


At this point, it can now be told: in the history book Silliman University: 1901-1976 , published in 1977 when Martial Law was still in place, the chapter on Martial Law glossed over the behind-the-scenes political maneuverings that put Silliman in the black list of subversive universities.

There is no documentary evidence but Sillimanians knew by word of mouth that the reason many Silliman officials were on the list of people not allowed to leave the country at the time was noted writer Kerima Polotan Tuvera, who had an axe to grind against the University administration. She was the wife of Juan C. Tuvera, one of the secretaries and confidant of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos. Education Undersecretary Narciso Albarracin was their hatchet man in Silliman.

Dr. Udarbe sought the help of Dr. Josefa M. Ilano, the chairman of the Board, and former Senator Lorenzo M. Teves, vice chairman; both loyal Silliman alumni who had important contacts in government.  On the shoulders of these last three people rested mainly the task of drumming up support for Silliman among key government officials.

Dr. Udarbe went to see Dr. Juan L. Manuel, Secretary of Education and Culture.  Dr. Manuel has an honorary doctorate in education from Silliman University and was once superintendent in Negros Oriental.  So he knew Silliman University very well and he received Dr. Udarbe warmly.  He assured Dr. Udarbe that Silliman University would be reopened soon.  The military had cleared Silliman and had given assurance that the University would be allowed to reopen shortly.

Dr. Ilano and former Senator Teves, meanwhile, were making their own contacts.  Senator Teves was more gloomy.  He reported that his contacts were not optimistic about the reopening of Silliman. The Trustees came down to Dumaguete one by one in a grim mood, despite the information from Secretary Manuel that Dr. Udarbe shared with them in Manila.

On the day that the Board was supposed to meet in Dumaguete, Oct. 23, 1972, however, Silliman was authorized to reopen, as Secretary Manuel had promised.  It was in the papers the next day. The Board of Trustees meeting that was scheduled that day became to all purposes academic, but they met anyway to reassess the Silliman predicament.

It was learned later that the most urgent matters discussed that Oct. 23 were two conditions for the reopening of Silliman: the presence of a government “overseer” for the University, in the person of Dr. Narciso Albarracin, Undersecretary of Education and Culture; and the resignation of all administrators, faculty and staff.

The Trustees agreed to meet again the following week in Manila to discuss the latest developments.  On the afternoon after the Trustees left, Undersecretary of Education and Culture Albarracin came and asked Dr. Udarbe to gather the faculty and staff for important announcements from him.  It was perhaps the best-attended faculty-staff meeting in Silliman in recent history.  Practically everybody was there, on the edge of his seat at the Engineering Auditorium, waiting for what Dr. Albarracin had to say.

The Education Undersecretary told the Silliman faculty and staff that he had come with special instructions from President Marcos himself to ‘supervise’ the reopening of classes at Silliman.

On a later visit with the acting president, Dr. Albarracin insisted that the condition for the reopening of Silliman had not been fulfilled yet, and that was the resignation of everybody: administrators, faculty and staff.  Dr. Udarbe hemmed and hawed.  That was the first time he had heard of such condition being imposed.

Undersecretary Albarracin left the acting president in a quandary.  How could Dr. Udarbe tell the faculty and staff to give up their jobs and still sleep well in the next few days?  The acting president tried to delay the inevitable.  He fired off a telegram to Dr. Ilano asking her to make representations with Secretary Manuel to recall the resignation requirement.

Before Dr. Ilano and Dr. Udarbe could do anything more, however, Dr. Albarracin was back on campus to follow up on what he had told the acting president.  Dr. Udarbe said he had asked the top administration—in the Cabinet and the Deans Conference—to submit their resignation, but not the faculty and staff.  Dr. Albarracin replied that that was not enough.

When Dr. Albarracin left after this second visit, Dr. Udarbe was left with no choice.  At a meeting of faculty and staff, with the PC Provincial Commander Lt. Col. Noli V. Santua as witness, he dropped the bombshell as softly as he could.  When the bomb fell, there was deathly hush among the audience.

It was probably the blackest day in Silliman in those early days of martial law.  People started looking for other jobs. Some had already gone farming and fishing.  But most did not know what to do.

Meanwhile, Trustee Teves came down posthaste to Silliman from Manila to inform the acting president of his meeting with Secretary Manuel regarding the resignations.  At a meeting with the members of the Cabinet and the Deans, Mr. Teves said that Secretary Manuel’s stand was clear to the effect that the resignation of faculty and staff was not required for the reopening of Silliman.  Only the courtesy resignations of the top administrators, the Deans Conference, and the Cabinet were expected. On the strength of Mr. Teves’ word, Dr. Udarbe countermanded his resignation order to faculty and staff and people heaved a collective sigh of relief.

Conditions for Reopening

At the special meeting of the Board on October 27, 1972 in Makati, Rizal, Dr. Ilano was able to report to the members who were absent at the October 23 meeting that Silliman University had been finally reopened subject to government guidelines and requirements to wit:

  • The resignations of all members of the University Cabinet and deans and directors, which had been accomplished.
  • The fencing of the entire university campus, which cost Php 21,000 when finished.
  • The designation of Dr. Narciso Albarracin, Undersecretary of Education and Culture, as “overseer” of Silliman University. Albarracin had already visited Silliman University to announce to the faculty and staff his appointment by the Department of Education and Culture.
  • The wearing of identification cards by students, faculty and staff of Siliiman University which were to be checked by security guards at the gates just put up.
  • The requirement of PC clearance before admission for all students who were involved in student activism before martial law.

Dr. Ilano added that the University had hired five more security guards in order to be able to carry out all the new security regulations suggested by the military.

Silliman University was sporting a “new look” when the students came back for the remainder of the unfinished first semester of the school year 1972-73.

For one thing, the hollow block and wire fences had been put up.  It was a strange sight to Sillimanians, although it was nothing new to students of many Manila schools.  To most of the students, faculty and staff, this most visible symbol of the new restrictions was not only a physical but also a psychological straitjacket.

And then, there were the identification cards with the owners’ pictures on them which everybody had to wear to pass through the gates now manned by uniformed security guards who proved zealous in the performance of their new duties.  The identification cards became new sources of irritants between the students and the security guards: the students would forget them and the guards would demand them.  The identification card, however, had become another symbol of the times—a nuisance to some, but a security blanket to others.

The students were more docile and the teachers more subdued.  Gone were the demonstrations and sloganeering of the pre-martial law days.  The teachers were unsure about what and how to teach in some areas, especially in the social sciences—political science, sociology, law, and journalism.

They had a few guidelines to follow, issued by the Department of Education and Culture, which could be summarized as follows:  Do not incite people to rebellion, do not undermine the people’s confidence in the government and its officials, and do not downgrade the military.  Outside of these restrictions you were free.  For a while, things went on smoothly, in and out of the classroom.  Everyone was on their toes, discussing lessons in guarded tones and well-selected sentences.

Clearing of Silliman

In an effort to clear the air of uncertainty, the Board of Trustees arranged for a meeting with Dr. Albarracin in Manila on November 13, 1972.  At the meeting, the Education Undersecretary reported that according to his findings, the University “is proceeding fine and what is suspected to be subversion is not serious to warrant any apprehension” on the part of the Board.

Dr. Albarracin also agreed at the Nov. 13 meeting, in reply to a question, that there was no more need to have the faculty and staff tender their resignations since Education Secretary Manuel himself had said so to former Senator Teves.

Dr. Albarracin had given his blessing to Silliman University at that Nov. 13 meeting and the administration moved quickly to make the unofficial endorsement official and public in order, to quote Dr. Udarbe, to “wipe out the lingering problem with respect to its image.”

By: Crispin C. Maslog*


E.K. Tiempo, C.C. Maslog and T. V. Sitoy. 1977. Silliman University 1901-1976, pp. 198-210.

1 Comment on Now It Can Be Told: Silliman Under Martial Law

  1. This explains so much!

    “The students were more docile and the teachers more subdued …The teachers were unsure about what and how to teach in some areas, especially in the social sciences—political science, sociology, law, and journalism.”

    To a large extent that’s still the case. My impression of Silliman during my time there (as late as last year) was that it had seemed to have lost a life it obviously once had.

    I say tear down the fences and bring back the old gumamela hedges!

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