HomeCommentaryLean Alejandro and student activism

Lean Alejandro and student activism

He was assassinated on Sept. 19, 1987, after announcing a planned strike against continued military involvement in government

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

Lean was a student leader and later a key figure in the national anti-dictatorship movement in the 1980s.

He was assassinated on Sept. 19, 1987, after announcing a planned nationwide strike against continued military involvement in government even after martial law was lifted and a new administration was in power.

Lean was instrumental in setting up the University of the Philippines 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 was re-established in 1981, SAMASA won landslide victories in the election and in several elections after. Lean became student council chairman in 1983.

SAMASA was established when the students’ movement was at its peak in defending democratic rights to organize inside and even outside the campuses.

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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 university culture.

Apolitical was the right word as I was the typical nerd during 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 by saying that UP is the perfect place to grow in all aspects, whether it be intellectually, politically, socially in different or opposing spectrum.

The Great Lean Run at the University of the Philippines. (File photo by Basilio Sepe)

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 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 teargas 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 posters 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 activist 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 Great Lean Run at the University of the Philippines. (File photo by Basilio Sepe)

The 3.7-kilometer run at the UP Diliman Sunken Garden and Academic Oval was a special distance experiential run that included 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 four years to finish memorializes Lean so that not only those who knew him remember him but more importantly future generations will 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.

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786

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