Profiles of Courage

Roberto Ordoñez

For an administration presenting itself as a Utopian rule for a Utopian society, news outlets publishing articles critical of it and transparent of its failures will disrupt the façade it has carefully constructed. At a time when people relied on newspapers, televisions and radios for information on the current state of the country, shutting these down proved consequential, as it meant robbing the Filipinos of their main instrument in keeping up with the affairs of the state. The Marcos dictatorship matter-of-factly struck against the resistance movement during the nascence of Martial Law by cutting off one of its most significant tools: the media.

Roberto “Bobby” Ordoñez was a journalist and reporter of the Philippines Herald during the Marcos administration. The proclamation of Martial Law was done through a television broadcast on September 23, but the military had already begun arresting critics and members of the opposition the night before. Journalists were among those who were arrested for articles they published that were deemed critical of the administration.[1] Media and news organizations were also promptly shut down, including numerous newspapers, Filipino and Chinese dailies as well as weekly magazines. A total of seven television stations and 292 radio stations were shuttered.[2]

 In his Letter of Instruction No. 1, Marcos claimed that this was to “prevent the use of privately owned newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications, for propaganda purposes against the government” by “those who are actively engaged in a criminal conspiracy to seize political and state power in the Philippines.”[3] He also claimed that some media outlets were themselves directly “engaged in subversive activities against the Government.”[4]

            Ordoñez was among those arrested, along with Luis Mauricio of Graphic magazine; Amando Doronila of Daily Mirror; Rolando Fadul of Taliba; Rosalinda Galang of Manila Times; Ernesto Granada of Manila Chronicle; Ruben Cusipag and Luis Beltran of the Evening News; radio and TV broadcasters Jose Mari Velez and Roger Arrienda; Manuel Almario of Philippine News Service; Ninotchka Rosca of Asia-Philippines Leader; and Teodoro Locsin, Sr. and Napoleon Rama of the Philippines Free Press.[5] They were reportedly included in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ “National List of Target Personalities.”[6]

Ordoñez had written an in-depth series of articles about the New People’s Army (NPA) unit operating in Bicol. Other journalists have also written about communist elements. Thus, some of them assume that they were going to be charged for “impersonating a radical.” Very few journalists and writers were able to evade capture and went underground. One was Antonio Zumel, who was president of the National Press Club (NPC). He had also been accused of being a communist like many of those who were arrested. Past midnight of September 22, he, along with Ordoñez and their NPC colleagues, were out drinking when he got news that martial law was declared and they forebodingly bid farewell to each other.[7]

 The media shutdown did not cover all media agencies. The Philippine Daily Express remained open, as it was controlled by Roberto Benedicto, a Marcos ally, and was wholly supportive of the government. Other prints such as the Philippine Herald were given a chance, but they had to become a crony newspaper publishing highly censored materials.[8] Many were left with the tough decision to remain closed, lest they be complicit in the media blackout. After this, Marcos effectively had a stranglehold on truth as he could fully control the information people had access to.

Ordoñez and many of those who were arrested filed for a petition of habeas corpus. All their petitions were consolidated and handled by the Supreme Court. By the time the petition was decided in 1974, however, most of them had already been released, and so it was dismissed as moot.[9] The media agencies still remained closed after their release, however, and whatever information came out of those few which were open were heavily policed. Primitivo Mijares, as Marcos’s media czar, was behind the censorship of the newspaper, radio, and TV stations’ content. By the end of it all, Mijares himself could not conscientiously continue with what he was doing and submitted a 24-page tell-all memorandum in the United States detailing how Martial Law and the suppression of all perceived enemies of Marcos were all carefully orchestrated. He himself detailed how he had willingly — later on, unwillingly — been involved in the manipulation of the truth for the benefit of Marcos and his cohorts.[10]

With this, the veil slowly began to crumble for the regime. Journalists like Ordoñez were subsequently vindicated. They are recognized as those who did not cower in fear when reporting about the political conflict gripping the country. They did not hold back from criticizing the administration and they did not isolate those who were deemed subversive, communist and anti-government in the narratives they published. They simply cared about one thing: the pursuit of truth, protecting it from subjugation and conveying it to the people who need to hear it.

 

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References:

G.R. No. L-35567 (1974), accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.chanrobles.com/cralaw/1974septemberdecisions.php?id=337.

Marcos, Ferdinand E. “Letter of Instruction No. 1, s. 1972.” Official Gazette of the Philippines. September 22, 1972. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/22/letter-of-instruction-no-1-s-1972/.

________________. “Letter of Instruction No. 1-A, s. 1972.” Official Gazette of the Philippines. September 22, 1972. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/28/letter-of-instruction-no-1-a-s-1972/.

Mijares, Primitivo. The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. 1976 Ed. Martial Law Chronicle Project. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://martiallawchroniclesproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-Conjugal-Dictatorship-of-Ferdinand-and-Imelda-Marcos.pdf.

Pinlac, Melanie Y. “Marcos and the Press.” Center for Media Freedom & Journalism. September 1, 2007. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://cmfr-phil.org/media-ethics-responsibility/ethics/marcos-and-the-press/.

Stuart Santiago, Katrina. “Marcos Loyalist.” The Manila Times. November 19, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.manilatimes.net/2016/11/19/opinion/analysis/marcos-loyalist/297405/.

Teodoro, Luis V. “Forgetting or Not Knowing: Media and Martial Law.” LuisTeodoro.com. October 5, 2002. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.luisteodoro.com/forgetting-or-not-knowing-media-and-martial-law/.

________________. “The Press on the eve of Martial Law: On a Learning Curve.” Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility. September 1, 2008. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://cmfr-phil.org/media-ethics-responsibility/ethics/the-press-on-the-eve-of-martial-law-on-a-learning-curve/.

[1] Luis V. Teodoro, “The Press on the eve of Martial Law: On a Learning Curve,” Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility, September 1, 2008, accessed May 20, 2021, https://cmfr-phil.org/media-ethics-responsibility/ethics/the-press-on-the-eve-of-martial-law-on-a-learning-curve/.

[2] Katrina Stuart Santiago, “Marcos Loyalist,” The Manila Times, November 19, 2016, accessed May 20, 2021, https://www.manilatimes.net/2016/11/19/opinion/analysis/marcos-loyalist/297405/.

[3] Ferdinand E. Marcos, “Letter of Instruction No. 1, s. 1972,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, September 22, 1972, accessed May 20, 2021, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/22/letter-of-instruction-no-1-s-1972/.

[4] Ferdinand E. Marcos, “Letter of Instruction No. 1-A, s. 1972,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, September 28, 1972, accessed May 20, 2021, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/28/letter-of-instruction-no-1-a-s-1972/.

[5] Teodoro, “The Press on the eve of Martial Law.”

[6] Luis V. Teodoro, “Forgetting or Not Knowing: Media and Martial Law,” LuisTeodoro.com, October 5, 2002, accessed May 20, 2021, https://www.luisteodoro.com/forgetting-or-not-knowing-media-and-martial-law/; Teodoro, “The Press on the eve of Martial Law;” Katrina Stuart Santiago, “Marcos Loyalist;” Primitivo Mijares, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, 1976 Ed. Martial Law Chronicle Project, accessed May 20, 2021, https://martiallawchroniclesproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-Conjugal-Dictatorship-of-Ferdinand-and-Imelda-Marcos.pdf, 71-72. The entire list is compiled using the aforementioned sources.

[7] Primitivo Mijares, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, 35-41.

[8] Melanie Y. Pinlac, “Marcos and the Press,” Center for Media Freedom & Journalism, September 1, 2007, accessed May 20, 2021, https://cmfr-phil.org/media-ethics-responsibility/ethics/marcos-and-the-press/. Two other newspapers were allowed to circulate by the end of 1972, The Times Journal and Bulletin Today, both similarly producing censored and overtly pro-government content. Benedicto ran the Kanlaon Broadcasting system, which consisted of television, radio stations and the Daily Express, which all became Marcos’s mouthpiece for his propaganda.

[9]G.R. No. L-35567, September 17, 1974, accessed May 20, 2021, https://www.chanrobles.com/cralaw/1974septemberdecisions.php?id=337. “In the Matter of the Petition for Habeas Corpus of Amando Doronila, Juan L. Mercado, Hernando L. Abaya, Ernesto Granada, Luis D. Beltran, Tan Chin Hian, Bren Guiao, Ruben Cusipag, Roberto Ordoñez, Manuel Almario and Willie Baun, Petitioners, V. Hon. Juan Ponce Enrile, Secretary of National Defense; Lieut. Gen. Romeo Espino, Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines; and Brig. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, Chief, Philippine Constabulary, Respondents.”

[10] Mijares, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, 35-41. This memo was presented by Mijares in June-July 1975 to the US Subcommittee on International Organizations led by Don Fraser, Democrat Representative of Minnesota.

Arado, Reynaldo

Ordoñez, Roberto

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