Profiles of Courage

Arlene babst

On the eve of September 1972, Arlene Babst had just completed university and was nearly five months into her first job at Pace Magazine of the Evening News. The morning after the declaration of Martial Law, she awoke to find that her office had been shut down alongside nearly every other paper in the nation. The robbery story which she had been working on seemed to pale in comparison to the mass arrest of opposition figures and journalists that had commenced.[1]

The Marcos administration under Martial Law oversaw hefty control over media publications, and was especially adverse towards voices critical of the regime. It was in this vein that only a small number of publications remained operational – those co-opted by the government or integrated into a network of crony-held assets. Even following its supposed lifting in 1981, freedom of the press remained a fragile and vulnerable aspect of the nation, and could easily be tagged as subversive activity.

Under this context, Babst found herself working for the Bulletin Today – helmed by Marcos Ally Hanz Menzi.[2] Undeterred, Arlene released publications criticizing the administration, the ruling family and their cronies as well as a number of their programs. She did not hesitate to write in 1982 that “press control, which is still abundantly in operation… is the first requirement of anyone who has wants and wants to keep power”.[3]

In one particular article, “Let the lady do the talking,” she reviews an interview of Imelda from the Newsweek Magazine. Babst cheekily singles out a number of her statements:

“’Yes, they are living in slums and hovels. But what counts is the human spirit, and they are smiling. For me the real index of this country is my smiles of the people, not the economic index.”

“I am always criticised for my jewellery; for what they call my lavish lifestyle, my extravagant frivolity. But I have always been criticised for my sense of beauty.”

“I will continue to be a soldier for beauty because that is the only thing which feeds the human spirit.”[4]

Unsurprisingly due to efforts such as these, Arlene and other journalists would be subjected to individual interrogations by military forces.[5] Each of them received letters of “invitation” to appear before a military committee to “shed light on confidential matters”.[6] Their failure to appear would be considered as a waiver on their part, allowing the committee to “proceed in accordance with law.”

On the same day she received the notice, Babst learned that two military men arrived at her parent’s home in Quezon City looking for her, causing much distress in their household. When she did appear before the Intelligence Board itself, she was subjected to a ‘dialogue’ with a panel of military officers for almost four hours. While they would be asked not to write anything about the interrogations, Committee stenographers seated at the sides did so in their stead.[7]

Some of the questions she would be asked specifically targeted her “attitude, style, tone, point of view” in a number of columns she wrote.[8] Among such pieces included those on persons such as Edgar Jopson and Fr. Agatep, whom her interrogators pointed out were activists or radicals. Her lawyer, Atty. Joker P. Arroyo, pointed out that out of some 450 columns that Arlene had written, only a few seemed to be questioned by the military panel.

Other questions that were asked by military personnel looked into why she left the Catholic religion, her trips abroad, her marital status, if she was censored or edited, or if she was familiar with brainwashing. She was asked if she considered that she may have been manipulated, or may herself be manipulating the minds of her audience. One colonel directly asks why she writes to “agitate the mind and arouse the passions”, and how she should “consider the effect” of her columns on her readers. “I was ‘on the borderline’ between legitimate journalism and writing things that arouse the people.” She recalls in her affidavit. “Arouse them to what, I asked? To think, I hope.”[9]

Captive to the questions of her panel, the journalist was also presented a dossier alleging that she had disappeared for a month and probably joined the underground. At another point, she was presented with an application form she had supposedly signed to join the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Intelligence Service (ISAFP) in 1973. Arlene did not recognize any of the documents or allegations she was presented with.

Menzi was pressured to let go of Arlene and a number of other journalists from the Bulletin soon after in 1983. In the same year, Babst and other women journalists filed a petition which reached the Supreme Court. They called for the National Intelligence Board (NIB) to cease conducting further interrogations against journalists and from using libel suits to intimidate them into silence.[10] Recounting her “Panel interview”, Arlene told the court that the perceivable objective that her captors undertook was “to intimidate and instill fear in [her](as well as all writers of the press) to the point that [they] will suppress the truth and not freely write or express [her] views on matters of public concern.”

           

 

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[1] Forbes, Amy (May 2015), “Courageous women in media: Marcos and censorship in the Philippines”, Pacific Journalism Review, 21 (1). 195-210.

[2] Ibid. Forbes recalls that Menzi had himself managed the Manila Daily Bulletin before it was shut down by Marcos following Proclamation 1081. He would be called by the president a few months afterwards to take control over the revived newspaper, now recasted as the Bulletin Today.

[3] Babst, Arlene (30 April 1982), Press freedom and press control. Bulletin Today, 6.

[4] ibid (15 September 1982), Let the lady do the talking. Bulletin Today, p. 6.

[5] Duran-Apostol, Eugenia (24 September 2014), “Questions military intel asked women journalists”. Philippine Daily Inquirer, retrieved from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/640294/questions-military-intel-asked-women-journalists

[6] Arlene Babst, et. al v. National Intelligence Board. G.R. L-62996 (28 September 1984).

[7] Torrevillas, Domini M. (16 March 2006), “Interrogation of Women Journalists: Good or Bad?”, Philippine Star, retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2006/03/16/326494/interrogation-women-journalists-good-or-bad

[8] Babst v National Intelligence Board

[9] Ibid.

[10] Aside from the interrogations, a criminal libel suit was also filed by Brigadier General Artemio Tadiar Jr. against Domini Torrevillas-Suarez, editor of Panorama, and writer Ma. Ceres Doyo based on an article she had released in the previous year. The charges asked for a ten million peso (Php10,000,000.00) claim for damages.

Sill Female 2

Babst, Arlene

Birthday: N/A

Parents: N/A

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