A History of Journalism in the Philippines – Martial Law Days

by Alixander Haban Escote

On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081 and “placed the entire country under martial law.” With the guise of rebellion and insurrection against the government, Marcos manipulated events and situations to justify the declaration of martial law.

The imposition of martial law was necessary, Marcos said, “to save the republic and form a new society.” The purposes of the emergency rule were two-sided: (1) eradicating the armed force of the rebellion and ending the anarchy that prevailed; and (2) eliminating the social and economic roots of the rebellion, by causing rapid national development.

Marcos assured the people that the imposition of martial rule was “legal and constitutional…humane, fair, and just as shown in the absence of bloodshed and the almost unanimous acceptance [of emergency measure] by the people.” The autocrat reiterated that martial law was “not a military takeover of civil government functions… but is the ultimate weapon availed of to preserve the people’s life as a nation when threatened.” A war to be waged on two fronts: “On one hand, we have to completely stamp out the communist menace. On the other hand, we have to cut the powers of the oligarchs who have tyrannized the people.”

The following day, Marcos issued Letter of Instruction No. 1 ordering the Press Secretary and the Defense Secretary “to take over and control or cause the taking over and control of the mass media for the duration of the national emergency, or until otherwise ordered by the President or by his duly designated representative.”

In the first few days of military rule, the Public Information Office issued tight censorship guidelines. Department Order No. 1 signed by Francisco Tatad, ordered, “unless otherwise specified, no newspaper, radio, or television program may carry any editorial opinion, commentary, or asides, or any other kind of political, unauthorized, or objectionable advertising. The so-called society page shall not appear in any newspaper and its equivalent shall not be broadcast either by radio or television.”

As a result, all newspapers and periodicals were closed down and the Sun, Daily Star, Evening News, Manila Times, Manila Chronicle, and the Philippines Herald were sequestered. The likes of publishers Antonio Araneta, Graphic; Joaquin Roces, Manila Times; Eugenio Lopez Jr., Manila Chronicle; and Teodoro Locsin Sr., Philippine Free Press; were jailed.

Marcos also jailed the following editors and reporters: Rolando Fadul, Taliba; Luis Mauricio, Graphic; Juan Mercado, Dumaguete Times; Rosalinda Galang, Manila Times; Jose Lacaba, Philippine Free Press; Amando Doronilla, Manila Chronicle; and Napoleon Rama, Philippine Free Press.

Dolores Feria, Jose Burgos Jr., Satur Ocampo, Rommel Corro, Armando Malay, Napoleon Rama, Maximo Soliven, Petronillo Daroy, Ernesto Granada, Jo-Ann Maglipon, Ninotchka Rosca, Rodolfo Ordonez, and Antonio Ma Nieva were also jailed.

Philippine Collegian student journalists like Roberto Coloma, Alexander Magno, and Malou Mangahas were also put in jail. Mauro Avena, Jose Burgos Jr., Sheila Coronel, Rommel Corro, Domini Suarez, Armando Malay, Ma Ceres Doyo, Francisco Rodrigo, and Salvador Gonzales faced libel and subversion cases.

Arlene Babst, Mauro Avena, Antonio Ma Nieva, Ninez Cacho Olivarez, and Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc were dismissed as professional journalists. Jacinto Peña, Alex Orcullo, Kenneth Lee, Geoffrey Siao, Henry Romero, Porfirio Doctor, Demy Dingcong, Walter Sisbrenio, Noe Alejandrino, Jacobo Amatong, Florante de Castro, and Antonio Tagamolila offered their lives for journalism.

Women journalists though subjected to military threats, harassments, and intimidations proved to be equally if not more daring than men in their writings. Among them were Ceres Doyo, Arlene Babst, Sheila Coronel, Ninez Olivares, Betty Belmonte, Melinda de Jesus, Eugenia Apostol, Malou Mangahas, Domini Torrevillas, Tina Monzon-Palma, and Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc.

Within weeks, the Philippine Daily Express, published by Juan Perez and owned by Roberto Benedicto, Marcos’s friend and law schoolmate, was allowed to operate and became the unofficial mouthpiece of the administration during the historical martial law proclamation. It was an unabashed propaganda newspaper and eventually came to be known, in the kind of defiant humor popular during the martial law, as the Daily Suppress.

In its December 7, 1972 editorial, the paper praised the imposition of martial law in rather flagrant time:

“President Marcos took the decisive step to realize that Filipino dream when he placed the entire country under martial law to save the republic from foreign-backed communist conspiracy trying to seize state and political power, and to reform a sick society by eradicating the social roots of the rebellion and anarchy. (Italics Mine)

“Proclamation 1081 is not a martial law proclamation but a declaration of emancipation…liberating the Filipino mind, body, and soul from centuries of imprisonment (by social, political, and economic ills and conditions imposed by [the] Spanish, [the] American, and [the] Japanese force[s]) as well as from local tyrants and warlords… and those who took orders from Moscow and lately from the operatives of Chairman Mao” (Italics Mine).

The tightly controlled mass media had few openings for alternative versions of reality to seep through the thick mist of official propaganda. Kerima Polotan-Tuvera published the Focus, a safe but interesting magazine. The daughter of sometime presidential representative Adrian Cristobal published the Review, a short-lived literary magazine.

Only few newspapers and periodicals were given permission to operate: the Evening Post of Kerima Polotan-Tuvera, the Bulletin Today of Gen Hans Menzi, and the Times Journal of Benjamin Romualdez. These newspapers were also known as “crony press” or “establishment press.”

The boldest publication during the martial law period was the Who Magazine of the Bulletin-owned Liwayway Publications, Inc. It was intended to be a personality periodical, but Menzi gave its editorial staff some liberty to write feature stories. It tackled stories about victims of human rights abuses, public sentiments regarding the real state of things, and indigenous communities resisting development programs. Some of its editorial columns were critical of the administration.

Who Magazine editorial staff and contributors were often summoned to explain the merits of their stories. Marcos himself expressed annoyance over the existence of the publication. But, Menzi was fond of the young journalists and that he defended them and the publication. The magazine was finally shut down after he died.

Nationalistic campus newspapers were the Pandayan of the Ateneo de Manila University, Balawis of the Mapua Institute of Technology, the Philippine Collegian of the University of the Philippines, Ang Hasik of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, and Ang Malaya of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Next: A History of Journalism in the Philippines – 1986 EDSA Revolution