Gaston Ortigas found his way out of the Philippines during martial law, sought refuge in America, and while there continued to work for the ouster of the Marcos “conjugal dictatorship” together with other prominent political exiles.
A specialist in industrial and production management, and faculty member at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Ortigas had joined Raul Manglapus’ Christian Social Movement in 1970 as election campaign manager in what would be a frustrated attempt to make a dent in the Philippines’ traditional electoral system.
Ironically, President Ferdinand Marcos himself would dismantle that system by instituting one-man rule in 1972. The only elections allowed were those that would give his regime an appearance of legitimacy, and the only candidates allowed towin were those chosen by his party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan.
When martial law was declared, Ortigas became involved in 1974 with Manglapus' Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP) and the Bishops-Businessmen's Conference, both critical of martial law.
He also became associated with the Light-A-Fire Movement, an urban guerrilla group that carried out small-scale attacks against Marcos crony establishments. After barely eleven months of operation, by December 1979 all but two members of the network had been arrested. Ortigas then decided to leave for abroad, taking a circuitous route through the Philippines’ southern backdoor.
Arriving in the United States in May 1980, he continued his work with the MFP and, especially after the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, liaisoning with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
In April 1986 he was able to fly home, and returned to AIM where as dean for the next four years, and propounding the then-new concept of development management, he brought the school closer to the people. Local officials, lawmakers, bureaucrats and foreign service officers were given a chance to learn broader perspectives and appreciate better systems, while developing greater sensitivity and compassion to people's needs. Under him, AIM opened new programs catering to social issues, such as women in development, agrarian reform and environmental protection.
In those few short years, Ortigas also committed himself to the advocacy of agrarian reform and the pursuit of a peace process with antidictatorship movements that remained in the underground after February 1986. “Gasty” died on August 31, 1990 after a lingering illness.
Ateneo de Manila University established the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute six months after his death.