Profiles of Courage

Jo-ann Q. Maglipon

In the summer of 1971, Jo-ann Q. Maglipon, an incoming senior at the Maryknoll College (now Miriam College) was the lone representative of the Chi Rho campus newspaper to a nationwide conference of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), held at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She was a 20-year old Comparative Literature major, born to a lawyer and a public school principal, with several years of Catholic school upbringing behind her. There, at the UP campus in Los Baños, surrounded by young writers who talked and talked of ideas and big issues, Maglipon found herself at the cusp of an artistic awakening. The conference was where she saw her first activist play – a piece about the abduction of Carlos “Charlie” B. del Rosario, a college instructor who had last been seen on March 19 that same year.[1] [2] Maglipon now recalls the experience as an “explosion of all [her] senses,” a realization that she could put her angst and anger to artistic use, that she did not have to look to faraway sceneries and different times, the likes found in Western Classics, to create literature – because stories were present outside of where she stood, waiting to be written. She simply had to look and listen.[3]

But the CEGP was facing challenges. Campus administrations in various provinces were warning student editors of expulsion for publishing pieces that were considered “subversive”. In Manila, schools were threatening to stop providing funds to student publications for the same reason.[4] When Maglipon returned as a features editor for the Maryknoll newspaper that academic year, the Chi Rho staff was torn between two factions: one side wanted to write exclusively about campus concerns, like lavatories and parking spaces, and another side wanted to bring in stories of national concern, like student protests and the extension of Marcos’ term limit. The situation heralded her first personal encounter with censorship. Overpowered by the editor-in-chief and the college administration, Maglipon, who supported the latter stance, decided to leave the newspaper. When the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus was suspended on August 21 that year, she recalls, much of the campus was unaware of its implications.[5]

Meanwhile, members of the CEGP continued to circulate reports, manifestos, and petitions. The guild forged a network of support and reached out to lawyers, nuns, and businessmen when a colleague was in need.

Maglipon graduated in 1972 and began writing feature stories and interpretative articles for magazines. That same year, Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081 on September 21, placing the country under martial law, and the following day, signed Letter of Instruction No. 1, ordering the taking over and control of all privately owned media of communications.[6] She recalls the impact of the two declarations on the careers of many writers, encapsulated in one instance, when she met a friend and former CEGP President, Tony Tagamolila. Because of the decimation of publications, Tagamolila had begun working as a grocery store manager rather than as a writer. Of this instance she says, “I thought of him, and many intellectuals like him, now scattered everywhere, making do with anonymous jobs that were honest and necessary but none of which tapped an iota of their skills and gifts.”[7] But Maglipon felt she could yield no other skill than writing. As opportunities for work diminished, she decided to accept the invitation of a fellow writer, Obet Verzola, to go Underground.[8]

 

Maglipon graduated in 1972 and began writing feature stories and interpretative articles for magazines. That same year, Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081 on September 21, placing the country under martial law, and the following day, signed Letter of Instruction No. 1, ordering the taking over and control of all privately owned media of communications.[6] She recalls the impact of the two declarations on the careers of many writers, encapsulated in one instance, when she met a friend and former CEGP President, Tony Tagamolila. Because of the decimation of publications, Tagamolila had begun working as a grocery store manager rather than as a writer. Of this instance she says, “I thought of him, and many intellectuals like him, now scattered everywhere, making do with anonymous jobs that were honest and necessary but none of which tapped an iota of their skills and gifts.”[7] But Maglipon felt she could yield no other skill than writing. As opportunities for work diminished, she decided to accept the invitation of a fellow writer, Obet Verzola, to go Underground.[8]

Maglipon kept her family clueless of her whereabouts, for safety reasons, as she worked with a complex network of artists, writers, cultural workers, and mobilizers in clandestinely subverting the dictatorship. She and a small group put together the Taliba ng Bayan, a bi-weekly newspaper that they distributed in Manila and some provinces during a climate that saw the harassment, abduction, illegal detention, torture, and murder of individuals under suspicion of activism. She spent her days in the Underground gathering sources, writing, fact-checking, and proofreading stories that would otherwise be bypassed by mainstream media outlets for their subversive implications. Already, the Comparative Literature graduate was risking life and limb to tell stories unfolding around her.[9]

An issue of Taliba ng Bayan dated 15 April 1974. Photo from “Lessons from the underground press of the martial law era,” http://iraia.net/blog/2011/09/25/lessons-from-the-underground-press-of-the-martial-law-era/.

Maglipon and her Taliba colleagues were arrested when she was 23 years old. She recalls being kept incommunicado for eight days and being transferred from Camp Aguinaldo to the Ipil Detention Center in Fort Bonifacio.   While in prison, in 1974, news came to her of friends and colleagues being captured or killed. Tagamolila himself was murdered while mobilizing the mass movement in Aklan.[10] Maglipon summarizes the experience thus: “It was life and death. Just life and death. The loss of friends so harrowing, you cried and no sound would come out.”

Alliances and bonds of friendship were forged as detainees organized themselves, both to maintain some form of social order and to plot each other’s escapes.[11]

Working in the media after being released from prison was no easy task. Maglipon’s status as an ex-detainee spelled danger for hiring editors. She continued to scout for stories and write them freelance, but no editor would publish her work, not even her documentation on an Aeta village that had been burned by soldiers, for which she had to travel to the Paquibato mountains of Davao using money from her own pocket.[12] She eventually found a willing publisher in the Philippine Panorama, which released her article entitled “Where the Men with Guns Tread, Nothing is Left But Charred Remains and the Skeleton of a Village” on 4 July 1982. Maglipon was later summoned for interrogation by the National Intelligence Board (NIB) for this piece.[13]

 

“It was life and death. Just life and death. The loss of friends so harrowing, you cried and no sound would come out.”

In this climate, Maglipon learned the art of self-censorship in order to keep writing and earning. For her and her fellow writers, she says, “It was not an inspired time. Most reporters were just grateful to have jobs.”[14] However, acts of courage and heroism from peers kept alive whatever drive they had left – a drive that years of terror and grief had not quite weathered down – in order to keep opposing the dictatorship. In 1981, Maglipon and 49 other women organized themselves into the WOMEN – Women Writers in Media Now.[15] The group started as a collective of writers who wanted to hone each other’s skills with workshops and critiques, at a time when journalism, commentary, and creative writing stayed wedged beneath the magnifying glass of state censorship. However, as martial law continued, the group’s mission zeroed in on promoting press freedom.

Many of their members became the subject of harassment and threats from the NIB. It was at this time when the group established close ties with the lawyers of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism, Inc. (MABINI), who represented them in court pro-bono.[16] Sparking up a cycle of protest and peer-protection, Maglipon reported on the stories of lawyers who were detained for representing “subversives” in court, that their plight be not kept in the dark. When Benigno Aquino, Jr. was assassinated in 1983, WOMEN joined a throng of writers in expressing the rage of the times.[17]

 

Maglipon, flanked by fellow WOMEN members Ceres Doyo and Marites Vitug during the 18th Paz Marquez-Benitez Memorial Lecture-Exhibit at Ateneo de Manila University on February 21, 2013 entitled “Women in Media Now.” Photo from Rappler, https://www.rappler.com/life-and-style/her-story-women-journalists-speak-out.

Today, Maglipon recognizes the need for writers her age to release more content on what they experienced under martial law. The pains of their times have a potency that cannot be revisited without discomfort, not even after nearly five decades, but she knows that it is a necessity to keep the memory of martial law alive. “Once, I was saved by the writing,” she says. “In the fight against a dictator, it was my only slingshot.” She hopes that writing, too, will serve the same purpose for younger Filipinos.[18]

 

[1] Jo-ann Q. Maglipon, “I Knew Marcos, the Dictator,” (speech, 7th Philippine International Literary Festival, National Book Development Board, April 28, 2016). Edited transcript published April 29, 2016, at https://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/the-latest-news-features/66151/joann-maglipon-saved-by-the-writing-a1123-20160429-lfrm4.

[2] Charlie del Rosario was a member of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MPD) who had helped organize conferences and mass demonstrations during the First Quarter Storm in 1970. At the time of his abduction, he was 27 years old and was teaching at the Philippine College of Commerce (now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines). He remains missing to this day. Today, he is among the recognized martyrs of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani and is included in the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission’s (HRVVMC) Roll of Victims. To know more about his story, read his profile by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani at http://www.bantayog.org/del-rosario-carlos-b/.

[3] Maglipon, “I Knew Marcos.”

[4] Jo-ann Q. Maglipon, “Martial Law Stories: Remembering,” (talk, “PERSONAL STORIES: Writing and Documenting Martial Law,” Ateneo de Manila University, April 2, 2019). Edited transcript published April 24, 2019 at http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/martial-law-stories-remembering.

[5] Maglipon, “I Knew Marcos.”

The suspension was made through Proclamation No. 889 in response to the Plaza Miranda bombing of 21 August 1971.

[6] Letter of Instruction No. 1, s. 1972, addressed to the Press Secretary of the Office of the President and to the Secretary of National Defense, was created in pursuance of Proclamation No. 1081 to prevent the use of privately-owned media for anti-government propaganda.

[7] Maglipon, “Martial Law Stories.”

[8] Maglipon, “I Knew Marcos.”

[9] Maglipon, “Martial Law Stories.”

[10] Antonio “Tony” S. Tagamolila is among the recognized martyrs of Bantayog ng mga Bayani and is also in the HRVVMC’s Roll of Victims. A short piece on his legacy can be found at http://www.bantayog.org/tagamolila-antonio-s/.

[11] In Maglipon, “Martial Law Stories,” Maglipon tells of “The Great Escape,” which succeeded in breaking out three male and three female detainees, including the activists Judy Taguiwalo and Lorena Barros. Those left behind in prison bore the brunt of the operation in a succeeding series of raids and interrogations, but she chose not to share further information on this episode in time.

[12] Maglipon, “I Knew Marcos.”

[13] Arlene Babst v. National Intelligence Board, GR No. L-62992, 28 September 1984.

[14] Maglipon, “Martial Law Stories.”

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, “Women Writers in Media Now in Aliww Exhibit,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 21, 2013, https://opinion.inquirer.net/47313/women-writers-in-media-now-in-aliww-exhibit.

Arlene Babst v. National Intelligence Board.

[17] Maglipon, “Martial Law Stories.”

[18] Maglipon, “I Knew Marcos.”

Jo-ann Q. Maglipon. Cropped photo from the profile gallery of the Women Writers in Media Now blog at http://womenwritersinmedianow.blogspot.com/.

Maglipon, Jo-ann Q.

Birthday: N/A

Parents: N/A

Spouse: N/A

Children: N/A

That is one sad development I keep hearing about [the youth today]. No consciousness about [Martial Law], how it was during those dark years,” laments Rene Saguisag about the perception of Martial Law today. “For one to take part in an electoral process in a dictatorship is to help forge the links in your own chains,” he also warns of the dangers of complicity of the citizenry amid tyranny.

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