A Tale of Two Protests

Filipino students paint the Tufts cannon to protest the Philippine government—just like those opposed to the Marcos regime did in 1977
Timothy Manalo spray paints the Tufts cannon
Timothy Manalo, an M.F.A. student in studio art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, paints the Tufts cannon during an event marking the anniversary of the very first cannon painting. Photo: Alonso Nichols
October 19, 2018

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When he arrived at Tufts from Toronto last fall, Timothy Manalo was hard pressed to find other Filipino students, especially those who shared his passion for community activism.

In only a year, though, his networking has paid off. Now a second-year master’s student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts, he helped form a coalition of young professionals and college students into the new group Pilipino Education Advocacy and Resources (PEAR). One of their first priorities: find opportunities to voice their opposition to the current political rule in the Philippines.

Manalo didn’t need to look much farther than the Medford/Somerville campus. One of Tufts’ most popular traditions—painting the cannon—traces back to a 1970s student protest against the Marcos regime.

“The first painting of the Tufts cannon on October 27, 1977, was a stand against martial law, political corruption, and human rights violations in the Philippines,” said Manalo, who researched news reports at Tufts Digital Collections and Archives to confirm what he’d heard. “Those of us now working to raise awareness about Filipino issues and human rights wanted to honor and continue that legacy by drawing attention to injustices that exist in the Philippines today.”

That compelling cause brought students and friends to the iconic Tufts cannon on October 13, nearly forty-one years after Tufts students gathered there to amplify their protest of the country’s authoritarian regime.

Students from Tufts and other area colleges attended, some from PEAR and some who recently came together to form the Tufts Filipinx Student Union (FSU). The program included the reading of a solidarity statement from the Asian American Resource Workshop, the recitation of the poem “Isang Bagsak” (“One Down”), and painting a message on the cannon: “Never Again to Martial Law.”

“Those of us now working to raise awareness about Filipino issues and human rights wanted to honor and continue that legacy by drawing attention to injustices that exist in the Philippines today,” said Timothy Manalo. Photo: Alonso Nichols Manalo said that while Tufts students commonly paint the cannon to promote collegiate events or programs, rather than express political views, it’s important to remember how that spirited tradition started.

“It began with a call for democracy and freedom in the Philippines,” said Manalo. “Today the people in the Philippines continue to fight for freedom and human rights, against militarization and fascism, just as the Tufts community did forty years ago. What students were protesting in the seventies and what was written on their banners, from what we’ve seen in archives, is no different from the placards that are written now in protest to the Duterte regime, such as his war on drugs, which has resulted in more than 25,000 deaths so far, and martial law, recently implemented in the Mindanao region. So we accomplish two things—we reclaim that history, and we make it relevant to what is happening now.”

Erin De Guzman Berja, A20, co-vice president of FSU, said the student group stands in solidarity with Boston PEAR and the ongoing resistance against human rights violations and martial law in the Philippines, “as well as other injustices in national and global Filipinx/Filipinx American communities,” she said. “As a student group, FSU wants to create spaces on campus for Filipinx students to explore what it means to be Filipinx at Tufts and in the U.S., and to collectively celebrate our cultures, heritage, and histories.”

Students and faculty united in protest in 1977 when Tufts accepted a gift from the Philippine government. Each time Imelda Marcos, the wife of the president, visited, she was met by students and faculty protesting human rights violations in the Philippines. Eventually, said Manalo, the protesters painted their viewpoints directly on the cannon. The Philippine government ultimately withdrew the $1 million pledge.

Looking ahead, Manalo said he hopes the event helps raise awareness about PEAR, so that Filipino students who share his passion for community activism will be able to find each other.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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