by Ferdinan S. Gregorio
Periodicals are the most accessible and affordable sources of daily information because of their availability. For more than a century, print media in the Philippines has been instrumental not only in promoting the government but also in voicing out the grievances of a populace in dilemma.
According to the late journalist Amando J. Malay, “In struggles for freedom, armed or otherwise, newspapers always play a major role in rallying the people to the cause and making known the principles for which the struggle is being waged.
History has borne witness to the Filipino’s struggle for freedom and justice. History records how the colonial governments suppressed the freedom of expression during the 1800s and 1900s. Any criticism to foreign tyranny was associated with rebellion. In an age when the internet, radio and television were still non-existent. La Solidaridad became so widely circulated that it helped awaken the upper class to the horrors of colonial oppression. aside from the Illiustrados (the educated Filipinos), the Katipuneros also attempted to have their own publication, purchasing a printing press through the generosity of Francisco del Castillo and Candido Iban. The Kalayaan was publish as the Katipunan’s official organ. Unfortunately, the government’s discovery of the organization led to the immediate closure of the newspaper, with only one issue dated 18 January 1896, being published.
The 1896 Revolution and the Spanish-American War of 1898 ended. Emilio Aguinaldo declared the first Philippine Independence. However, the Filipinos’ dream of absolute sovereignty was derailed with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. In response to this injustice, nationalist newspapers such as the La Independencia (Independence), El Heraldo de la Revolucion (Herald of the Revolution) and El Renacimiento (Renascence) were established to campaign for recognition of Philippine sovereignty.
With the outbreak of the Philippine-American War in 1898, the country’s newspaper continued to rally the Filipino people to fight for their nation. Some newspapers even resorted to reporting on the corrupt practices of the American military, if only to bolster the people’s morale. One of these newspapers was El Renacimiento.
In 1942, when the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the nationalist aspiration for independence was hampered once again. Through the media, the Japanese government promoted “Asia for the Asians” policy. According to writer Dominador Buhain, “Japanese propaganda methods included the monopoly of all forms of media”… The press played a major role in the propaganda movement. It was asked to disseminate to the public the perceived common objectives of Japan and the Philippines.” The Japanese took control of the Tribune, for propaganda purposes, which eventually became a daily serial.
Nonetheless, the Japanese gag of mainstream media caused the birth of the underground press. It became a nationwide phenomenon that intensified the desire of Filipinos to end Japanese abuses. A popular newspaper established by Leon Ty, with the title The Liberator, was widely read by the guerrillas in Manila, Rizal, Bulacan and Cavite. Other underground publications also appeared such as The Lico Chronicle, Ateneo War News, Kalibo War Bulletin and Matang Lawin. The Huks also printed their own papers namely The Aspirant, Hukbalahaps, Katubusan and Ing Masala, to inform the readers on the continuing guerrilla activities. During the Japanese-American War, Amado V. Hernandez, president of the Philippine Newspaper Guild, published several articles which discussed political issues including Japanese collaboration, the resurrected landlordism, executions of guerrilla leaders and re-arrival of American military forces in the Philippines.
Press censorship ended after the Second World War. Competitiveness in the print industry was revived and only a few pre-war newspapers resumed publication at the beginning of the post-war period. Among of those which were able to withstand the financial crisis caused by the devastating war were The Manila Times, Manila Chronicle, Manila Daily Bulletin, The Philippines Herald, Daily Mirror, The Evening News and Taliba.
Three decades of free press ensued from this period-only to be silenced by the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. Press censorship of the past reared anew its ugly head, shaking the pillars of our democratic nation. President Ferdinand Marcos issued Letter of Instruction No. 1, instructing the Press Secretary and Defense Secretary to take over the privately owned media facilities to prevent them from aggravating the national emergency and influence the public to undermine the administration’s competency in addressing social dilemmas. The government immediately sequestered the following publications – Daily Star, The Manila Times, Evening News, Manila Chronicle and Philippines Herald. Presidential Issuances No. 1834 and No. 1835 served as media warnings to “self-censorship” and “responsible reporting.” Newspaper publications were closed down by the government. Journalists who had published anti-Marcos articles went under military interrogation. Some of them were jailed and killed.
The 1980’s saw a resurgence of Philippine journalism with the rise of the alternative press such as We Forum, Who Magazine and Pahayagang Malaya. In 1981, the Philippine Panorama editor Letty Jimenez Magsanoc was reprimanded by Malacanang for its editorial which cast aspersion on the inauguration of the new Republic. In 1983, the authoritarian regime closed down We Forum, for publishing articles which were considered subversive by the Marcos administration. However, its sister publication, Malaya continued the crusade of We Forum. On December 9, 1985, the Philippine Inquirer (now Philippine Daily Inquirer) was founded by Eugenia Apostol and Letty Magsanoc-Jimenez. The Inquirer enthusiastically documented the presidential campaign of Corazon Aquino and openly attacked the Marcos dictatorship. On February 5, 1986, The Manila Times was reopened. Veteran journalist Amando Doronila resurfaced as a columnist of the Times during those years and wrote hard-hitting commentaries that contributed to the fail of the dictatorial government.
The triumph of the people in the 1986 EDSA Revolution re-opened the doors of a vibrant and dynamic media. Freedom of the press was redeemed.
Through the various phases of our history, the print media has contributed substantially to our emancipation from being colonial subordinates. It has guided us in discerning the deceptions of dictatorship. It records daily our defeats and victories as a people. The print media continues to be an agent of change in the continuing socio-political transformation of our nation.
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The Fighting Newspapers (Article from The Filipino Heritage Volume 8. pp. 2068-2070) 1978. Lahing Pilipino Publishing Inc.
Valenzuela, Jesus Z.
History of Journalism in the Philippine Islands. 1993. Central Printing Press.
Woods, Damon L.
The Philippines: A Global Studies Handbook. 2006. ABC-CLIO Inc.