This Week in Media (September 19 to 23, 2022)

Palace silent on Martial Law’s 50th; Few in the media remember dark period

FIFTY YEARS since Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s declaration of Martial Law, his only son is now president. The Marcos family’s efforts to return to  power have culminated in Marcos Jr.’s election, with many Filipinos believing that  Martial Law was a “golden age,” an era of peace and progress. 

Given their promotion of how great the period was, it was a bit strange that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. chose not to be in the country to celebrate it and to seal with Marcosian pageantry the myth his campaign had spread to win voters – that Martial Law was a benevolent period in Philippine history. 

His “working visit” to the US could have been postponed. His speaking during the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, the sounding of the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, even the chat with President Joseph Biden -– all could all have been delayed for later when he has adequately warmed the presidential seat. And yet he rushed away for what turned out to be pretty humdrum ceremonies, although in the company of his wife, sons and cousin — a family affair. 

The Philippine Daily Inquirer correctly pointed out that Marcos had no comment on Martial Law’s 50th anniversary; nor was there any official statement from the Palace in his absence. The Inquirer recalled that in 2017, then President Rodrigo Duterte had declared September 21 as a National Day of Protest. 

With enough newsrooms still waiting for government’s lead to set their own coverage, some reporters let the day pass without notice, ignoring the protest actions of those who still remember that period of peril, the countless lives lost, the many disappeared,  and the unrecorded deaths. 

On the part of government and family, Senator Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos felt obliged to observe the day for the purpose of repeating the family narrative by holding a press conference in her San Juan residence to defend her father’s declaration of Martial Law. She said Martial Law was necessary to combat communism and that according to her father, even former United States presidents had approved of it. She then lassoed a certain Ka Peter Mutuc, who introduced himself as a former guerilla of the New People’s Army (NPA), and apologized for taking up arms. Media, particularly broadcast, covered this press conference without questioning Senator Marcos’ claims.

To support this feeble gesture perhaps, the family’s political allies in the Senate, Jinggoy Estrada and Robin Padilla did their own presser to say that it was time to “move on” and that the sins of the father were not passed on to his son. Media did not pick up the dissonance in the message, as the Marcoses have been adamant about restoring the honor of their father’s name, as though the father had been blameless and without sin. 

In a hearing by the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Juan Ponce Enrile, who served Marcos Sr. and is now legal counsel of Jr., talked about the supposed need to adopt the 1935 Constitution which did not have the provisions in 1987 that make it difficult to declare Martial Law. Only ABS-CBN countered the idea, citing framers of the 1987 Constitution who, given the experience of Martial Law, wisely included provisions that enable the legislature to counter the dictatorial tendencies of an elected Chief Executive.   

Some journalists made some effort to help Filipinos who were too young or were not even born yet to learn the truth about what happened fifty years ago. After all, history can be a most reliable source of current news. Unfortunately, editors and reporters are moving away from their role as “watchdog” and seem content to report only what government sources are saying. 

CMFR notes that only a handful of news organizations produced exceptional pieces. 

TV5 and news.ABS-CBN.com produced explainers based on research, introducing the audience to the background of the times and the context which Marcos Sr. used to justify the declaration of Martial Law. Both reports recalled the immediate arrests of political figures and the forced closures of media organizations following the declaration.

The Inquirer’s print edition picked up on the simultaneous and complete closure of the media, featuring a very personal account of a veteran journalist who experienced firsthand Marcos’ shuttering of his newsroom. The Inquirer’s online counterpart produced an in-depth article that challenged the “move on” call of the Marcoses and their allies. The report presented data on victims and survivors of the Marcos regime, many of whom remain unrecognized and undocumented. Inquirer.net added that not all survivors have received reparations as mandated by law. 

Meanwhile, Philstar.com listed five “legacies” of Martial Law, which have undermined the fundamental rights of citizens: 1) the exportation of human resources or OFWs; 2) the country’s current lack of good leaders, as many of them died in their youth; 3) the strengthening of the NPA, as Marcos’ rule served as its “top recruiter”; 4) government control of the press , which have led filmmakers to be more creative about the use of subversive content; and 5) the monopoly over sugar production which caused extreme hunger in Negros island. 

A separate Inquirer.net report presented the economic costs of Martial Law, showing the country’s fall into its worst post-war recession in the 1980s. Poverty had worsened as agricultural wages declined amid rising costs of basic commodities. 

TV Patrol turned current with its report showing the different ways in which the youth today are preserving Martial Law history with the guidance of those who survived it. The story explored another path for the transfer of historical knowledge and vital information that must be transmitted from one generation to another. Intergenerational dialogue must do its part, given the decline of reading and the difficulty of access to records and the scant availability of books in the country. 

Unfortunately, journalists refrained from pointing out the irony in the absence of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on the 50th anniversary of Martial Law, a milestone he could have used if indeed that was the point of his campaign — that another Marcos deserved to lead the country, because the first Marcos was such a great leader whose martial rule did the country good. Bongbong Marcos’ claim to be a president for unity requires greater clarity. What else could be the basis of national solidarity but truth? 

Clearly, he did not do anything in New York to build a more solid foundation from which Filipinos can “move on.” 

The present generation of journalists has to work together, building solidarity based on truth, so that news, analysis and interpretation can help Filipinos understand the lessons of the past.

The practice of truth-telling cannot be limited to a few journalists. It must gain more adherents in the rest of the media. Otherwise, the watchdog’s bark will be nothing but fleeting sounds only a few can hear.