By Chit Estella September 23, 2007
I KNOW I am speaking of an unfamiliar time when I begin to talk about martial law with my journalism students. I am met by blank stares and polite—if not obligatory—attention (It might come up in the next exams, you know.) All of them were born years after Edsa I and were barely in their teens when Edsa II broke out. Marked by flowers, food, and truancy, both occasions were virtual picnics compared to the imposition of martial law more than three decades ago.
But to those journalists who have lived long enough to see the beginning and end of military rule, no words are necessary. It is simply regarded as a time that must not be repeated. And that is why its specter is raised every time a president starts to enforce executive orders and proclamations that have even a whiff of the decrees, general instructions and, yes, proclamations that Ferdinand Marcos issued.
Still, we need to be reminded from time to time. It is worth remembering what this country—and what the press—went through when the nation was ruled by just one man who did simply as he wished.
The stereotypical image of that period in the press is usually that of complacent editors and reporters who complied with every directive that came from Malacañang and killed each story that might be critical of the administration. While there is more than a grain of truth to that image, there has also been a lot left unsaid about the daily struggles of those same journalists as they tried to deliver a truthful, complete account of the news.
In this issue of PJR Reports, our main story looks back to those days by interviewing the editors who once ran the big three newspapers of that time: Enrique “Pocholo” Romualdez of the Philippine Daily Express, Augusto Villanueva of the Journal group, and Crispulo Icban Jr., of the Bulletin Today.
An accompanying article was written by Jennifer Santillan Santiago who once worked for the Express as a reporter. Before the phrase “investigative journalism” became famous, Santiago was known to come up with stories that piqued and angered the newsmakers of that time. Rattling cages and going against the grain of public belief, she wrote articles that questioned the miraculous and healing powers of hyped-up practices of the day, such as Johnny Midnight’s “toning” that could supposedly cure anything from cancer to acne. A distraught Midnight had to go on air and publicly pray for Santiago’s enlightenment.
Today’s young journalists would probably not believe it, but the Express had among the most demanding editors then. Santiago used to tell friends that her editors—who were not content with her data—had just told her to “Pester your news sources the same way you are pestering us!”
And then there were those who chose to take matters into their own hands, like producing publications that carried the news that mattered to them. Way before the mosquito press came about, some members of the religious community in the Catholic Church published newsletters that reported on occurrences that wouldn’t see print in the mainstream press—stories that involved human rights violations and the latest political developments that the Marcos government tried to keep secret from Filipinos.
While the religious sector tried to keep up a legitimate image for their publications, the military responded with raids on their offices and the arrest of those involved in the production of those newsletters. But this sector persisted, putting up another publication after the previous one had been closed down. This went on until the mainstream press had regained its independence and filled the information gap that used to characterize the Marcos era. PJR Reports features the religious press in this issue.
As a final reminder, September being the month that martial law was declared 35 years ago, PJR Reports presents a timeline of events as these affected and related to media from 1972 to the present. One finishes reading the timeline with the uncomfortable thought that the battle for freedom of the press did not and should not end in February 1986.
And the journey continues.