PN file photo

“The struggle for freedom is the next best thing to actually being free, ” said the late UP student leader Leandro  Alejandro.

Popularly known as Lean, he was a  student leader and later key figure in the national anti-dictatorship movement.

Lean was assassinated on September 19, 1987, after announcing a planned nationwide strike against continued military involvement in government even after Martial Law was lifted and a new administration in power.

Lean was instrumental in setting up the UP Sandigan para sa Mag-aaral at Sambayanan (SAMASA) student political party which was a key force in UP  campus politics in the  1980s  and 1990s.

SAMASA began as a University-wide alliance of student organizations campaigning for the return of student institutions such as the student councils.

When the University Student Council (USC) was re-established in 1981, SAMASA won landslide victories in that election and in several elections after. Lean became USC chairman in 1983.

SAMASA  was established when the students’ movement was at its peak to defend their democratic rights to organize inside and even outside campus grounds.

Though I was in my first semester as a BS Economics freshman in 1987, I had a vague memory of Lean at the time of his death.  

I was not aware of his popularity perhaps due to my personal struggle or preoccupation to adjust myself with the UP culture.

Apolitical was the right word as I was the typical nerd for my first two years spending most of my time in the library, classrooms and dormitory.

I was warned several times not to participate in rallies and be associated with activist groups.

Years later, if asked “Bakit ka ba naging aktibista”, I usually answer back by saying that   UP is the perfect place to grow in all aspects, whether it be intellectually, politically, socially in different  or opposing spectrum. 

Students have always been a potent force in social organization and social change in Philippine society.

The UP student politics has taught us the vision of service to the people.

The campus molded us to fight for the causes we believe in; trained us for the skills we need to communicate ideas and rally others to effect changes in society.

In 1979 Lean joined the staff of the Philippine Collegian as features writer while I became part of Kule from 1989  to 1991  as its photographer and later chief photographer.  I also became a member of SAMASA.

My mother knew that I would sooner or later be part of the student movement which in a way became my justification for using the iconic “sandals” or tsinelas during my UP days.

Of all the rallies I covered, the dispersal of the May 14, 1990 anti-US-Bases rally at the Central Bank was the most memorable.

I suffered a head injury when a tear gas canister hit my head causing lacerations that needed seven stitches. While at the hospital, I called my mother and greeted her “Ma, Happy Birthday. Please pick me up here at PGH. ”

One of the SAMASA election campaign poster in the early 1990s featured my photo with the phrase “May panahong magduda’t magtanong, ngayo’y panahon ng pagharap at pagsulong” lifted from one of the progressive songs.

More than his extraordinary height, Lean stood out as an activist because he possessed insight, a unifying approach, speaking and writing skills, and courage and boldness.

Almost three decades after Lean’s death, the Great Lean Run  was organized in 2015  by SAMASA using an innovative and  historical approach to teach the new generation lessons on martial law

The 3.7-kilometer run at the UP Diliman Sunken Garden and Academic Oval is a special distance experiential run that includes an obstacle course, race, and chase production.

Participants crawled through mud under barbed wire, got bombarded by water cannons, and ran away from truncheon-wielding military men or  “Metrocom police” and “paramilitary groups” under threats of arrest or torture.

UP SAMASA aimed to “re-introduce” Lean,  his ideals, and his works to the current generation of student activists through the fun run.

“I am sure you will agree with me,” Lean said in a  letter, “when I say that the greatest adventure on earth today is our struggle for freedom. The pain and the sacrifice are staggering. The battles are historical. And the victory shall be truly glorious indeed.”

The documentary film “Lean – In the Line of Fire is the Place of Honor” premiered live on YouTube on August 30, 2021, while a  forum was hosted by Lean’s fellow UP student activist and renowned journalist, Malou Mangahas.

The documentary that took 4 years to finish memorializes Lean so that not only can those who knew him, remember him but more importantly that future generations would come to know him and learn from his life, struggles and contributions.

Let us continue to live by the ideals that bound us together.

Let us celebrate activism.

Peyups  is the monicker of the University of the Philippines. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786