The Marcos Regime and the Making of a Subservient Philippine Press: Part I

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On 22 September 1972, a day after signing Proclamation No. 1081, Ferdinand Marcos instructed Press Secretary Francisco Tatad and Secretary of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile to take over and control all mass media networks and facilities in the Philippines that were privately owned. He permitted only government-owned or controlled media to continue operating unless ordered otherwise by him or his representative. The reason behind this was what Marcos claimed to be a national emergency which had solidified into “an actual war” – a war being made by entities plotting to seize political and state power by force. In the face of such a threat, the President justified the measure as a way to prevent the use of any medium of communication for propaganda that might damage the Government’s integrity and provoke antagonism towards it.[1]

Newspapers, magazines, and radio and television networks around the country were either shut down or taken over, causing a massive loss of jobs on top of the sudden arrests of prominent media men and women who had earned a reputation of being critical towards the administration.[2] On the 28th of September 1972, Marcos ordered the takeover of the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation and the Associated Broadcasting Corporation, having declared both media giants as subversive promoters of the Communist Party of the Philippines and key instruments in an assassination attempt on the President.[3] The TV and radio facilities of ABS-CBN were turned over to the Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS), which was controlled by Marcos crony and Ambassador to Japan Roberto Benedicto. The facilities were later transferred to the government-owned Maharlika broadcasting station.[4] These events became archetypal components of a period where news and entertainment were capitalized on to project a positive image for the New Society while at the same time concealing the regime’s malignancies.

 

Loss of Jobs

As the tense atmosphere brought on by the martial law declaration gradually dissipated in the following months, private media facilities were once again permitted to operate, but only on certain conditions. First, they must secure a Certificate of Authority to Operate from the Media Advisory Council (MAC) and the President himself. The certificate was valid for a period of six months and had to be subjected to review before being renewed for another six.[5] This allowed for the establishment of new media facilities and stations, provided that all abided by the regulations of the MAC. Later in 1974, supposedly in an attempt to persuade foreign critics that Philippine Press Freedom was preserved, Marcos abolished the MAC and created the Councils for Print Media and Broadcast Media to oversee regulations.[6]

On the other hand, media facilities that were shut down in 1972 in pursuance of Proclamation No. 1081 remained banned from operations.[7] According to the National Press Club (NPC) Seminar Committee report in 1983, those that were shut down over the course of the period from 1972 to 1981 reached up to four vernacular and Spanish newspapers, eight major English newspapers, 14 English language dailies, 20 radio stations, 60 community newspapers, 66 TV channels, and 292 provincial radio stations.[8] Those that did not make it through the sieve include the following:

 

  • Signs of the Times, a publication of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, which documented over 15,000 cases of torture and other human rights violations;
  • The Communicator, edited by Fr. James Reuter, S.J., and Ang Bandilyo, a newsletter of the clergy in Bukidnon, both of which were ordered closed in 1976 for publishing articles critical of the regime (two foreign missionaries who were connected to Ang Bandilyo were also deported after its shutdown; their names were Fr. Edward Gerlock, Maryknoll and Fr. Albert Booms, PIME);
  • DXBB in Malaybalay, Bukidnon and DXCO in Tagum, Davao, which were ordered closed in 1976 for allegedly “broadcasting coded messages” to the New Peoples’ Army (NPA);[9]
  • WE Forum, which was charged with subversion and black propaganda in 1982 a month after it published a series of articles questioning the glorious war track record that the Marcos biographies boasted of.[10]

The resulting loss of jobs affected a wide range of workers, from writers and publishers to clerks, janitors, drivers, and newsboys. Writing for the Index on Censorship in 1978, Epifanio San Juan, Jr. cited a fact-finding mission by the International Press Institute (API) and the Press Foundation of Asia. It concluded that in Manila alone, the number of people who had lost their jobs as a result of media control decrees reached up to 4,500 for print media and 3,500 for broadcast media. In response to this, representatives of the two organizations signed a pledge to remind their readers that press freedom in the Philippines “and all forms of expression have been totally suppressed,” that is, “suppressed to the point of extinction.”[11]

 

Of boycotts, call-outs, and urban poor resistance. It was articles like these in the October 2, 1976 issue of Signs of the Times that ultimately caught the ire of the government. Photo from the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Digital Archive at https://www.bantayog.org/signs-of-the-times-oct-2-1976/.

Violation of the People’s Right to Information

With tight restrictions on all media facilities that managed to stay operational, there arose the question on what it was actually like to be on the receiving end of the news. How did Filipinos keep abreast of current events? Were they aware of the watchful eye that hovered above the heads of writers and reporters?

An article from the New York Times in 1973 says that newspaper readers in the Philippines, normally having access only to government-approved or produced media, had learned to get their news by reading between the lines. For example, reports on awards being conferred on soldiers stationed in Mindanao were picked at for clues on the developments of the military campaign against Muslim insurgents. When the reports were about soldiers receiving awards posthumously, it was understood that the struggle must have entered a particularly bloody phase in recent weeks.[12]

When newspapers in October 1973 proudly announced the arrest of “NoNo” Ituriaga, a  key member of the “robberykidnap gang” that targeted upper-class houses in Manila, people wondered why they were reading about the gang for the first time, when apparently it had been roaming the city for several months, augmenting its list of robberies and kidnappings, having even committed the brutal murder of a seven-month old baby.[13]

The writer of the New York Times article, Joseph Lelyveld, attributed the silence of the press to the unwritten rule that crimes can only be made public when they had already been solved by the police.[14] Similarly, phenomena like the violent struggle in Mindanao were published only if they were written in an angle that highlighted the valiant efforts of the military while diminishing the less-than-pleasant aspects of the story (that is, killings, community displacements, and persistent unrest).

If mainstream media in the country kept mum on matters unpleasant to the administration, journalists abroad like Lelyveld kept watch and reported with the freedom that their counterparts in the Philippines could have only prayed for. Naturally, the administration had to keep a special eye out for imported media. Nine issues of Time magazine that were released from January 1973 to February 1974 were banned in the country for featuring articles that either criticized Marcos or shed a favorable light on Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., a frontman for the opposition. One issue was also banned for covering “The Remarkable Renaissance of Karl Marx”. Several other issues from the Far Eastern Economic Review, The Economist, Newsweek, and others were banned for the same reasons.[15]

How did the approved local media operate? For one, they needed the blessings of the President and his aides, if they were not themselves owned by friends or relatives of the President. Neophyte newspapers like WE For the Young Filipino in 1977 introduced themselves to the public by pledging allegiance to the regulations of the regime.[16] More forthrightly were the calls editors received from Malacañang with specific instructions on stories that were to be played up and others that were to be junked. In at least one other instance, a publisher who had printed an article echoing an opinion from the opposition was berated over the phone by Palace agents the very same day the article was released; sometimes, editors were summoned and made to apologize.[17] And these were only the mild cases of intimidation. Military harassment, libel suits, and forced closures kept journalists up at night. As National Press Club (NPC) member and would-be NPC President Antonio Nieva put it, Marcos had the power to close down a newspaper and order the arrest of a newspaperman by “invoking national security on practically anything.”[18] The result? Traumatized publishers and a media landscape without variation. “If you’ve read one paper, you’ve read all the papers,” was the saying that went around.[19]

Opinions on the journalists of the time were mixed. One side fumed at the meekness of the press, wanting it to push back against the control of the government. Another side ridiculed it for failing to see the difference between censorship and discipline, or between free speech and licentiousness. Yet another side was satisfied with that belief that the press had finally learned to restrain itself from the temptations of sensationalism, while a fourth side sympathized with the press and condemned the regime for forcing its media workers into inhospitable conditions.[20] Nevertheless, all four sides had a common ground: they all acknowledged that the Government itself exercised editing powers on the media and left certain kinds of information out of circulation.

 

A Touchy Government

To better understand the attitude of the regime towards the press, one would have to look at the case of journalist Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc. What turned out to be a protracted struggle for free speech on the end of Magsanoc came into full view in July 1981 when the Philippines had just had its first Presidential election in twelve years.[21] Marcos won by a dramatic landslide against his two main opponents, having garnered 88.02% of the votes alongside Alejo Santos’ 8.25% and Bartolome Cabangbang’s 3.60%.[22] Suspicions were naturally high. Magsanoc, an editor of the Philippine Panorama magazine, wrote a bold article lambasting the President and the corruption surrounding his inauguration into a third term. The article is entitled “There Goes the New Society, Welcome the New Republic,” and was published in the July 12th issue of the Panorama. It concludes:

“The problem is a Marcos who with all his powers is powerless before corruption and corruptors. It is a Marcos astride the same tired tiger (the discarded and discredited New Society) carrying on under a different name, the New Republic. If that continues, the Filipino, docile as he has been as the carabao these 16 years cannot but give way and tear at the Republic, whatever the kind.”[23]

Magsanoc’s message was not taken lightly. Three powerful institutions – the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, the Commission on Elections, and the Ministry of Justice – scrambled the next day to warn Panorama’s publisher Hans Menzi of the penalties of sedition. They demanded him to make a public statement on the “libelous” sentiments expressed in the article. Beneath their wordy threats lay the order to swiftly and immediately discharge Magsanoc from her post.[24] The indefatigable Magsanoc did resign, but not without a defense of her conviction that “the untrammelled flow of information is the basis of an enlightened public opinion. Without it, those who would be tyrants will flourish; with it, truth is free to combat error.” Her resignation letter was dated July 13.[25]

Magsanoc’s case is a classic illustration of the regime’s hypersensitivity towards criticisms. Reuben R. Canoy posited in 1980 that the Marcos administration could and would tolerate the occasional denunciation of a public official or office, but only to make room for some semblance of free speech; however, there is an iron-clad unwritten rule that journalists should under no circumstance at all direct their criticisms towards the President, his family, and friends or else they will bear the brunt of the regime’s ire.[26] The unfolding of Magsanoc’s case a year later proved Canoy right.

Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc dauntlessly challenged the tyrant with the sharpness of her pen. Photo from WE Forum Vol. V, No. 13 (July 18-24, 1981), http://rizal2.lib.admu.edu.ph/weforum/issues/1981_07a/pages/32.jpg.

[1] Ferdinand E. Marcos, “Letter of Instruction No. 1, s. 1972,” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, retrieved online at https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/22/letter-of-instruction-no-1-s-1972/.

[2] Report of the National Press Club Seminar Committee on The State of the Philippine Press (Panay Avenue, Quezon City: Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1983), 18; 

  1. San Juan, Jr., “Marcos and the media,” Index on Censorship 7, no. 3 (May 1, 1978): 39. A digital copy may be accessed at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03064227808532787.

[3] Ferdinand E. Marcos, “Letter of Instruction No. 1-A, s. 1972,” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, retrieved online at https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/28/letter-of-instruction-no-1-a-s-1972/.

[4] Report of the National Press Club, 18; E. San Juan, Jr., 39-40.

[5] Presidential Decree No. 191, s. 1973, Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, retrieved online at https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1973/05/11/presidential-decree-no-191-s-1973/; “Freedom and the Press,” WE For the Young Filipino 1, no. 1 (Metro Manila), May 1-15, 1977, retrieved online at http://rizal2.lib.admu.edu.ph/weforum/issues/1977_05a/pages/2.jpg. The Media Advisory Council was headed by the President of the National Press Club as Chairman and one civic leader as Co-Chairman, as appointed by Marcos. The other members were representatives of the Manila Overseas Press Club, print media, and radio and television stations, all designated by Marcos as well.

[6] E. San Juan, Jr., 43; Presidential Decree No. 576, s. 1974, Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, retrieved online at https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1974/11/09/presidential-decree-no-576-s-1974/.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Report of the National Press Club, 18.

[9] Report of the National Press Club, 19. This source mentions that Signs was ordered closed by the MAC on 5 December 1974, but E. San Juan, Jr. in “Marcos and the media” dates the order to December 1976. The archive of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission also has issues of Signs dated 1975, suggesting that 1976 is the correct date; it is also possible however that Signs was opened and shut multiple times in the 1980s. Further research will be needed for a more conclusive dating of the closure/s.

[10] Boying Pimentel, “Silencing a Big Little Newspaper,” Diliman Review 31, no.2, March-April 1983, 13-14, The Diliman Review 1983-1989, Filippijnen Groep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, Quezon City, Philippines. The series, written by Bonifacio Gillego and entitled “The other version of FM’s war exploits,” was published in eight parts in the November 1982 issues of WE Forum. They can be read online through the Ateneo De Manila University’s Rizal Library website at http://rizal2.lib.admu.edu.ph/weforum/.

[11] E. San Juan, Jr., 41. The Index on Censorship is an international journal that seeks to raise awareness on instances of  tyranny by publishing censored writers from around the globe. An archive of their past issues can be accessed through SAGE Journals at https://journals.sagepub.com/loi/ioca.

[12] Joseph Lelyveld, “The News Is Read Between the Lines in Manila,” New York Times (New York, NY), October 20, 1973, retrieved online at https://www.nytimes.com/1973/10/20/archives/the-news-is-read-between-the-lines-in-manila-the-instrument-of.html.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Marcos and the Media,” 45. San Juan was citing an article by the Philippine Times in 31 March 1974, which detailed the cases of banning on issues of Times magazine in the Philippines. Unfortunately, a copy of the actual Philippine Times article has yet to be located.

[16] “WE staff draws up editorial, ad policies,” WE For the Young Filipino 1, no. 1 (Metro Manila), May 1-15, 1977, retrieved online at http://rizal2.lib.admu.edu.ph/weforum/issues/1977_05a/pages/4.jpg.

[17] Report of the National Press Club, 13, 20, 43.

[18] Ibid., 20; “NIEVA, Antonio Ma. Onrubia,” Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, November 29, 2017, https://www.bantayog.org/nieva-antonio-ma-onrubia/; Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, “The Newspaper Boycott: Why it Happened,” Philippine Signs 1, No.1 (September 29-October 6, 1983), 2, accessed through the Bantayog Digital Archive at https://www.bantayog.org/signs-vol-1-no-1-sept-29-to-oct-6-1983/.

[19] Report of the National Press Club, 13.

[20] Report of the National Press Club, 33-37. Diverse opinions are likewise referenced in many other parts of the book, since the book was designed to present a complex survey of the state of the press rather than make a conclusion that heeded only one perspective.

[21] Marcos was elected for a second term in 1969 and martial law was declared a year before the supposed end of this term. The 1981 election was an offshoot of the nominal “lifting” of martial law through Proclamation No. 2045.

[22] “Elections of 1981,” Malacañan Palace Presidential Museum and Library, accessed October 2, 2021 at http://malacanang.gov.ph/74710-elections-of-1981/.

[23] Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, “There Goes the New Society, Welcome the New Republic,” Panorama, June 12, 1981, reprinted by Raissa Robles on December 27, 2015 in “How Letty J. Magsanoc so pissed off Marcos, she got fired,” https://www.raissarobles.com/2015/12/27/letty-j-magsanoc-pissed-off-marcos/.

[24] The Philippine Press Under Siege (Manila: National Press Club and Committee to Protect Writers, 1984), as reprinted by Raissa Robles in “How Letty J. Magsanoc so pissed off Marcos, she got fired.”

[25] Letter of Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc to Hans Menzi, published in WE Forum V, no. 13 (Metro Manila), 11, http://rizal2.lib.admu.edu.ph/weforum/issues/1981_07a/pages/32.jpg.

[26] Reuben R. Canoy in the Philippine Collegian, December 12, 1980 as cited in Report of the National Press Club, 34.

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