By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – When Ferdinand Marcos stifled press freedom, there were those who stood up for the truth.
The alternative press, defined by Luis Teodoro, deputy executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), as media outfits not tied to commercial and political interests, fought the Marcos dictatorship.
Besides the underground press, Teodoro said, publications such as the Signs of the Times, We Forum and Pahayagang Malaya, Who magazine, Mr. & Ms. ran stories critical of the Marcos regime. He said the mainstream press also published stories with alternative content.
The Signs of the Times was published by the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). We Forum and Malaya were run by Jose Burgos Jr. while Mr. & Ms. was pioneered by Eugenia Apostol.
After the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., Philippine News and Features (PNF), a news agency, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, then under Apostol, emerged.
Teodoro wrote for the PNF.
“Signs of the Times gave birth to the PNF and [was planned] with the involvement of the resistance movement,” Teodoro said. “The aim was to widen the reach and contribute to the emerging legal publications.”
The PNF also served to counter the government-seized Philippine News Agency.
PNF ran stories on human rights violations, the increasing debt, child labor, women’s issues, land reform, the environment – those that were not usually covered by the mainstream press, which were controlled by Marcos. They had a network of correspondents and bureau chiefs from different parts of the country. “All of them were politically active,” Teodoro said.
PNF’s articles were used by newspapers with alternative characteristics, Teodoro said.
Religious press, xerox journalism
Carolina Malay, also a veteran journalist who became involved in the underground press during martial law, said the religious press or publications of the Catholic and Protestant churches during martial law also played an important role in exposing the ills of the dictatorship.
Like the underground publications, Signs of the Times was mimeographed.
In Chit Estella’s article “Heroes of Press Freedom,” she cited a report by the Signs of the Times on the historic La Tondeña strike, the first strike that openly challenged martial law.
According to Estella’s story, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMFRP) later on printed a weekly publication called Various Reports. The publication contained stories on military atrocities and reprinted articles from the foreign press.
Malay said after the assassination of Marcos’s arch-rival Benigno Aquino Jr., xerox journalism became “in,” referring to the practice of photocopying and distributing stories that appeared in foreign publications about the Marcos dictatorship.
Malay said student publications were considered part of the alternative press.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), an alliance of student publications, was banned during martial law. Some of its members, however, continued to operate such as the Philippine Collegian of the University of the Philippines, Guidon of the Ateneo de Manila University and Perspective of UP Los Banos.
Even under military surveillance, these publications managed to publish stories critical of the Marcos dictatorship. Other student journalists released underground papers and circulated these even outside the universities.
These journalists knew they were courting danger.
According to Cristina Jayme Montiel’s book, “Living and Dying: In Memory of 11 Ateneo de Manila Martial Law Activists”, the military picked up Abraham Sarmiento Jr., then editor in chief of the Philippine Collegian, and Fides Lim, then managing editor for questioning.
In January 1976, Sarmiento was arrested and imprisoned for seven months at Camp Crame. A year after his release, Sarmiento died of a heart attack.
Another student journalist, Liliosa Hilao, editor in chief of Hasik, student publication of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila that ran anti-Marcos stories, was arrested by the military on April 4, 1973. Two days later, she was found dead while under the custody of the military, her body bore marks of sexual abuse and severe torture.
Meanwhile, We Forum’s expose’ on Marcos’s fake World War II medals earned the ire of the dictator. In a previous interview with Bulatlat.com, Edita Burgos, wife of Joe Burgos, said they knew they were in danger.
On Dec. 7, 1982, agents from the notorious Philippine Constabulary Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) led by Maj. Rolando Abadilla stormed their office. Almost all of WE Forum’s columnists, including the late Dean Armando Malay, circulation, advertising and production managers were arrested.
A few months after Burgos was released, Burgos founded the Ang Pahayagang Malaya (Independent Newspaper) in early 1983. We Forum resumed publication in 1985.
For the PNF, Teodoro said, they transferred their office three times from 1984 to 1986. In one instance, their office was raided. Although no one was there and nothing was taken, Teodoro said there were traces left by their unwanted visitors.
Malay said that although the alternative publications had limited circulation, they were nevertheless effective in “boosting the morale of anti-Marcos groups and individuals.”
She cited an account of the protest action in UP Diliman by Taliban ng Bayan, a one-page mimeographed publication circulated among the UP students. In its November 14, 1972 edition exhibited at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Museum, Taliba ng Bayan reported how hundreds of students held a lightning rally at the Arts and Sciences lobby singing “Lupang Hinirang.” Another account described how students at the dormitories chanted “Marcos! Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!” to the sound of their spoon and fork.
“It was very moving,” Malay said.
Although Marcos tried to suppress the truth, the truth eventually came out, Malay said.
For Teodoro, the issues during martial law that the Philippine press exposed, persist to this day. “There are human rights violations, the Philippine government is still subservient to the dictates of the U.S. These have impact on the lives of the people.”
Telling the truth as fair as possible, as complete as possible remains imperative, Teodoro said. “Thousands of details must be written for the public to gain awareness on the real situation in the Philippines,” he said. “Otherwise, the situation will get worse.”