Press freedom during and after Martial Law

The battle for press freedom has always been a challenge for journalists in the Philippines. Throughout history, journalists have sought to be the voice of the people, expose the wrongdoings of government and serve as watchdog against injustice. But journalists are also victims of relentless attacks in pursuit of preventing them from informing the public of the truth. One of the major struggles of journalists in the Philippines was during Martial Law.

On the evening of Sept. 23, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos appeared on national television to formally announce the declaration of Martial Law.

Marcos was aware of how media played its role in the society and, with all his power, he made an effort to take control over it by shutting voices and setting up a media outlet that was under his control. He was able to silence public criticism and controlled the information that the people had access to.

On Sept. 28, 1972, five days after the declaration of Martial Law, Marcos issued Letter of Instruction 1, authorizing the military to take over the assets of major media outlets including, broadcast giants ABS-CBN and Channel 5 (now ESPN 5), and some radio stations across the country.

In the letter, Marcos states that these media outlets were “engaged in subversive activities against the government… in the broadcast and dissemination of subversive materials and of deliberately slanted and overly exaggerated news stories and commentaries as well as false, vile, foul and scurrilous statements and utterances, clearly well-conceived, intended and calculated to malign and discredit the duly constituted authorities and thereby promote the agitational propaganda campaign, conspirational activities and illegal ends of the Communist Party of the Philippines.”

This led to the arrest of the Philippines Free Press publisher Teodoro Locsin Sr., The Manila Times publisher Joaquin “Chino” Roces and several well-known journalists, including Amando Doronilla, Luis Beltran, Maximo Soliven, Juan Mercado and Luis Mauricio. Then more attacks against the media followed, including the series of interrogation of the media by the military intelligence where media and opposition personalities known to be critical against Marcos are taken to military camps for investigation and detention.

Later on, Marcos issued Presidential Decree 36, canceling the franchise and permits of all media facilities allegedly trying to topple his government. The decree created the Mass Media Council, which has the power to grant certificates of authority to newspapers, radio and television.

These attacks against media have been the struggle of journalists during the martial law and continue to be one in the following years and up to this day.

Today, the Philippine press is once again being challenged. Journalists and media organizations have been bullied through lawsuits, silenced through violence, and harassed through Red-tagging, death threats and cyberattacks. This includes the arrest of Rappler’s Chief Executive Officer Maria Ressa over cyberlibel and anti-foreign media ownership charges; media websites such as Bulatlat were overloaded with messages and data, which led to its shutdown; the Filipino tabloid Abante Tonite’s printing house was burned to ashes; Cagayan de Oro journalists Mindanao Gold Star Daily Associate Editor Leonardo Vicente “Cong” Corrales and MindaNews journalist Froilan Gallardo were named communists and criminals through flyers; Catanduanes News Now publisher Larry Que and radio journalist in Kidapawan Eduardo “Ed” Dizon are just two of the journalists who were literally silenced to death for releasing exposés against individuals and organizations that are involved in illegal undertakings and for writing or speaking criticisms against the government and authorities.

These attacks show that freedom of the press is being threatened and the people’s access to vetted information restricted.

The University of the Philippines Journalism Club on September 19 issued a statement on their Facebook page: “If we citizens continue to let the media be harassed and silenced, who would be left to expose wrongdoings in our democracy and assert our human rights? How would we be able to freely act upon significant political, social and economic issues?”

On the 47th year of of the declaration of Martial Law, as responsible citizens, as media literate people of the modern age and as one nation, we shall stand against anyone or anything that oppresses our rights for truth and justice; fight for the people we have lost during and after the martial law; rebuild the pillars of democracy; and create a strong foundation to prevent it from collapsing and stumbling down. As brave Filipino citizens, we shall work together to further press freedom for an ethical, independent and scrupulous press that fights for justice, speaks nothing but the truth, serves the people wholeheartedly and asserts the rights of all Filipinos.