Marcos and the Press
The Martial Law-era editors look back
Marcos and the Press
By Melanie Y. Pinlac
EVERYBODY THOUGHT Sept. 25, 1972 would be another paperless day.
Just three days before, martial law had been declared and soldiers had gone around Metro Manila, padlocking the offices of major newspapers and wire agencies, and posting copies of Proclamation 1081 on their doors. Prominent newspapermen were detained on charges of subversion and other such crimes.
It seemed that no newspaper would be seeing print for a long time.
But by noon, the Philippine Daily Express was out. Alice Colet Villadolid, a journalism professor and former New York Times correspondent, says it was understandable why the Express was allowed to publish at that time. The paper was, after all, owned by Roberto Benedicto, a Marcos ally.
Four months earlier, when the newspapers had become critical of his administration, then President Ferdinand Marcos had asked Benedicto, a friend and former classmate, to publish a newspaper that would be supportive of the government.
But Enrique “Pocholo” Romualdez, former Express editor in chief and now Malaya’s executive editor, told PJR Reports that the paper was not put up to lash back at the administration’s critics.
“Para ‘di sabihing walanghiya si X, ito’ng ginagawa ko (So no one would say that he’s shameless, here’s what he’s doing),” he said, indicating that the Express was there to show that Marcos was not such a bad guy because he also did something for his country.
For almost a month, the Express dominated print media. In October, another newspaper saw print. It was published in place of the Philippines Herald which had closed down, briefly resumed operations, and then completely stopped operations.
Villadolid remembers that a few days after the declaration of martial law, her husband Oscar had gotten a call from then information minister Francisco Tatad.
Tatad told Oscar, who was then the editor of the Herald, that he could reopen the paper. Elated by Tatad’s announcement, Oscar immediately resumed newspaper operations with his staff.
But before they could go to press, Herald editors got another call requesting that they hold distribution for a while. Villadolid recalls Tatad as saying that Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez—Marcos’s brother-in-law—was going to visit the Herald office to talk to the editors and owners about some “arrangements.”
In that instant, it became clear to them. They would be permitted to open only if they would be one of the “crony” papers. Villadolid recalls that when the owners found out about this, they decided not to reopen.
“It was a blow to the editors because they pitied (their staff),” Villadolid said.
A new era
Government officials told Oscar and the other editors not to worry for the workers of Herald because they would be absorbed by another publication that would soon open.
Days after, a new newspaper corporation was indeed established. Under the management of Romualdez, the Philippine Journalists Inc. (PJI) was put up. Augusto Villanueva, group editor of the Journal Group of Publications (JGP) and one of the founders of People’s Journal, tells PJR Reports that PJI was allowed to print on Oct. 21, 1972. Its flagship paper was the Times Journal.
PJI started out at the current Philippine Star building at Port Area in Manila.
After about a month, the company moved to the old Manila Chronicle building until 1977, and then back to the piers after acquiring a new printing press. At that time, PJI was coming out with several supplements like the Campus Journal, Architectural Journal, Sports Journal, Parade, and People.
By October 1978, PJI began publishing the tabloid People’s Journal.
After the Journal, another newspaper reopened—the Manila Daily Bulletin. In November 1972, Marcos gave permission to his aide-de-camp, Hans Menzi, to reopen the Bulletin but with one condition: it should carry a new name.
That same week, Menzi returned to the President and presented several logos and nameplates. Among all the designs, Marcos chose the one with the name Bulletin Today. According to the document “The Manila Bulletin History,” Marcos chose this name because it “depicts the New Society.” By Nov. 22, 1972, the Bulletin was back in the market, with Menzi cautioning against arrogance towards the Marcos government in the paper.
Ways of coping
The journalists would see how newspapers were to coexist with martial law.
Villadolid recalls how her friend, former Bulletin Today editor-in-chief Ben Rodriguez answered when asked if the newspaper was free to publish any material: “He said, ‘Hindi, may nakabantay (No, someone’s watching us).’”
The former news editor of the Bulletin and now its editor in chief, Crispulo Icban Jr. recalls hearing stories that “at the start of martial law, the Media Advisory Council was censoring newspapers.” He adds that “during the censorship period daw, nakaupo ’yung censor sa tabi ng editor. Bago maaprub, babasahin muna daw (During the censorship period, they told us that there was a censor sitting beside the editor. The censor would read the stories before approving these).”
The same happened to PJI. Villanueva recounts that the government “had somebody looking at our stories, a military man checking our stories.” Besides military men, govern-ment lawyers also frequented newspaper offices.
It was different for the Daily Express. Unlike the other newspapers, the Express was not visited by censors.
“Bakit mo ise-censor, eh sa iyo na ako (Why would you censor a newspaper that is already yours)?” Romualdez says, stressing that there were no lawyers visiting their office every afternoon. According to him, what they had were in-house lawyers who made sure that nothing libelous was published.
Romualdez admitted that there was self-censorship in the papers during those times. But in his case, he tried to spare reporters from dilemmas by not assigning a journalist to a beat where he would have to write something against his will.
When in doubt
Meanwhile, Villanueva and other editors at the PJI tried to run the paper as professionally as they could. Other than negative stories on Marcos, his family, and his government, they were free to print anything they wished. He added: “Hindi naman nila sinarado ang bibig namin. Medyo nag-iingat lang kami noon (They did not shut us up. We were just careful).” He said a motto they had at that time was: If you are in doubt about a story, don’t print it.
Villanueva stressed that the “crony” papers were not necessarily establishment papers. He explained that, “Of course, at that time, if there were only three, four, or five newspapers, how could you afford to go against the orders of Malacañang? They gave you a permit so they could always take it away from you.” He also said that the editors were instructed to publish positive stories about the country and the orders from Malacañang.
In the October-December 1999 issue of the Philippine Journalism Review, Isagani Yambot, former editor of the Times Journal and now Philippine Daily Inquirer publisher, remembered how the government controlled the “crony” press. According to him, the Malacañang press office issued guidelines on what to print and what not to. He added that “Marcos through Information Secretary Gregorio Cendaña wanted the “crony” press to publish favorable or positive stories and rewrite negative stories.”
Laws penalizing those who published stories that “undermined” the government were also passed. Critical journalists faced libel suits. And if all else failed, Yambot said, the government resorted to assassination, or “salvaging”.
The end begins
When Marcos officially “lifted” martial law in 1981, some thought press freedom would be restored. But that was not to be.
Icban recalls, “Wala namang law na nakasulat na bawal kang mag-publish, eh (There was no law that said you could not publish).” But he adds, “everything was under the table.”
He remembers how Marcos once called up the Bulletin editor in chief about their stories. “Siyempre kapag siya ang tumatawag sa’yo, susunod ka (Of course, if its the President who calls, you have to follow).”
In 1983, despite the efforts of Benigno “Ninoy“Aquino Jr.’s sister Lupita Kashiwahara to get the widest local media coverage for Aquino’s return in Manila after three years of exile in Boston, most of the “crony” press looked the other way and simply sent photographers to the event. And despite the public clamor for information about the assassination of Ninoy, most newspapers then decided not to print stories on it.
Villadolid even remembers how people started calling up the “crony” papers about the news as it was being broadcast on Radio Veritas. But most of the media ignored those calls.
Those who tried to come out with photos or stories about the assassination were told to stop or limit their print runs.
Villanueva remembers that as they were printing an extra or a special supplement on Ninoy’s death, he received a call from a friend in Malacañang asking him to cease printing. But Villanueva said to him: “Pare, pasensya ka na, tumatakbo na imprenta namin (Sorry, friend, the presses are running).” His friend then asked him not to print any additional copies of the People’s Journal extra.
Icban had the same experience. After the Bulletin came out with a photograph of Aurora Aquino grieving over Ninoy’s body, the editor received a call from the government.
“The next day, sabi daw ng Malacañang huwag nang maglabas ng sympathetic picture kay Ninoy. And then the next day, huwag daw maglabas ng mga picture ng malalaking crowd sa libing ni Ninoy (The next day, Malacañang told us not to come out with photos sympathetic to Ninoy. And the following day, we were told not to show shots of big crowds during Ninoy’s funeral),” Icban recalls.
Despite the calls from Malacañang, the story was too big to be ignored.
“(They) could not block the story because it was the biggest funeral we had ever seen,” Villadolid says, adding that Ninoy’s death was the turning point that led to Marcos’s downfall.
Indeed, it was. After Ninoy’s death, Filipinos regained their voices. Thousands took to the streets and called for justice not just for Ninoy but for all the victims of martial law. They had had enough of the dictatorship and wanted a new president.
Villadolid says the “crony” papers “clearly did a great disservice to the nation by preventing a large body of Filipino citizens from being properly informed.” And this disservice cost the papers the support of readers. The people stopped buying the mainstream newspapers and turned to the alternative press.
After winning power, Corazon Aquino vowed to protect democracy and uphold civil liberties. She ordered the sequestration of the “crony” press to prevent the allies of Marcos from using these for their own ends. Through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the Bulletin, the Express, and the Journal publications were sequestered.
After the dictatorship
With the supposed restoration of democracy, did the new government fare better in handling the newspapers that operated during martial law?
Val Abelgas, a former editor of the Express, recalled in his article, “Nothing will Justify Government Interference in Exercise of Press Freedom,”that the PCGG told them that the paper would close because it was “losing money and that it was the duty of the PCGG to preserve the value of the sequestered assets. It was an economic decision, not a political one, they insisted (http://www.philpost.com/0799pages/pressfreedom0799.html).”
Jovito Salonga, former chair of the PCGG, reiterated that the agency has nothing to do with the closure of the Express. In his book Presidential Plunder, he said it was Benedicto and his representatives who initiated the closure of the paper because it was no longer viable.
But editors of the defunct Express believe otherwise. Romualdez thinks that the PCGG deliberately killed the newspaper because “it was a remnant of Marcos.” Abelgas also believes that the Express was forced to close down because it was critical of the Aquino administration. He remembers that the Express raised the issues of corruption and fraudulent deals by the Aquino administration.
Just like in the old days?
In the case of the PJI, now known as the JGP, the new government reportedly tried to limit the former “crony” papers’ fiscal and editorial autonomy. The broadsheet Times Journal was subjected to so many changes that eventually caused its death. Its name was changed to News Herald, to Manila Journal, to The Journal, the Philippine Journal, and back to the Times Journal. After the series of names the paper was subjected to, its circulation went down the drain.
The government allegedly also used PJI’s papers for its own propaganda. Bernadette Tamayo, a former reporter of the News Herald and now a Senate reporter for the People’s Journal, remembers that in the years following the Edsa revolt, the aim of their stories was “to uplift the image of the government.”
“Let’s face it, it was a government paper. Of course they would tell you what to do,” says Benjamin Defensor, former JGP group editor, adding that even he tried his best to run it as a regular paper they also had to accommodate Malacañang’s requests.
Tamayo narrates how in their stories, the side of the govern-ment would be highlighted while negative issues were down-played. “(The government’s side) would be written in the first eight paragraphs, the negative side probably on the ninth or tenth, she says.
Still, the reporters would continue writing their stories the way they saw fit but, Tamayo says, “We would not expect these to see print.”
Because of this, reporters often chided the paper, saying that the People’s Journal should really be called Malacanang’s Journal. Tamayo says other reporters would joke about the paper not going to the press because the Malacañang story had yet to be submitted.
Having taken over the paper, the people who were appointed by the government also took over the funds of PJI. Government nominees allegedly milked the company dry.
“Inubos nila ’ yung pera dahil hindi sa kanila ‘yun (They used up all the money because it wasn’t theirs),” Villanueva said, explaining the financial mess left by government nominees after the Journal was returned to the pre-Edsa managers. A Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) story cites a 1992 audit report by Carlos J. Valdez and Co. that showed how government appointees mis-managed Journal funds. Senior officials took home allowances amounting to P30 million from 1987 to 1992, the report said. Most of these allowances had no approval from the board. It was also reported that at least two officials enjoyed an annual pay of P1 million after less than three years of stay in the company.
The PCIJ report also said that by 1992, the number of Journal employees increased from only 300 to 615 even though the company needed just half that number.
Villanueva also recalled that some 200 employees who had been retrenched and given big separation payments were rehired in 1991. It’s unlawful, he said, adding that the former board members also deducted payments for the Pag-ibig fund, Social Security System loans, and Philippine Health Insurance but did not remit these.
“We could have filed cases against them,” he said.
Back to Kokoy
In 2004, after an 18-year court battle, the PJI was handed back to Kokoy Romualdez and some senior newsmen who used to work for it. Employees welcomed the return of Romualdez. Bonuses and benefits—which were delayed when the company was under the management of government nominees—are reportedly now being given on time.
Editorially, the paper also seemed to have learned from the past. Villanueva says he met with the staff of the paper and gave them the assurance that “from now on, we are going to run this democratically.”
“Every story has a chance to see print now,” he said.
Tamayo says this has given the reporters the confidence to write all their stories.
Villanueva says that Romualdez has not interfered with the paper’s editorial operations. The brother of the former first lady has even reminded him not to play up stories on Imelda because he did not want people to think that the paper exists for this purpose.
Being the Bulletin
But it was quite a different story for the Bulletin Today. It reopened under a new owner, Villadolid says. Businessman Emilio Yap had petitioned the government to reopen the Bulletin two months after the Edsa revolution.
During those times there was news that “(Menzi) passed on his majority shares in the Bulletin mostly to Ferdinand Marcos Jr. but that some shares were bought by Emilio Yap,” Villadolid says.
But Yap claimed he owned majority of the corporation’s shares. Before he died, Menzi allegedly sold his shares to Yap who was then the vice chairman of the Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp. But, the PCGG continued to assert that Menzi’s shares (which are now part of Yap’s) were part of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses.
Icban denies this. He says Menzi had the shares even before Marcos became president. “Meron silang agreement noong chairman si Menzi, umutang siya (Menzi) kay Yap at ang ibinabayad ay shares of stock. They agreed to sell only to each other (When Menzi was still chairman, he had an agreement with Yap and he borrowed money from Yap. He paid Yap with shares of stocks),” Icban says, adding that the two agreed to sell only to each other. This, he adds, is even stated in the company’s bylaws.
Icban also said the Bulletin was able to get a ruling from the Supreme Court “that the PCGG cannot interfere with operations.” The agency’s concern would be limited to monetary policies and would not include the editorial.
In the end, Yap was permitted to resume publishing the Bulletin.
Another factor seemed to be at work, however. “He (Yap) was pro-Cory Aquino so it became more or less a neutral paper,” Villadolid says.
Today, the paper—which went back to its original name, the Manila Bulletin—continues to be a conservative paper that stands for stability, Icban says.