How brightly can words burn? They can burn brightly enough to break a dictatorship. That is the truth at the heart of “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship,” edited by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo (University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City, 2019, 405 pages).
This ambitious, important book is a compendium of articles—including banned ones— written during the 1980s, when the Philippine press broke away from the control of the machinery of President Ferdinand E. Marcos—but not without cost—and the stories behind those stories.
The book’s editor knows all about this. The award-winning Inquirer columnist Doyo wrote about the death of Macli-ing Dulag and the Chico Dam controversy in 1980, only to be interrogated for it. She kept writing.
Doyo is but one of the many writers whose impressive work is gathered here. The others are Ruben G. Alabastro, Inquirer founding publisher Eugenia D. Apostol, Joker P. Arroyo, Mila Garcia Astorga, Mauro R. Avena, Arlene Babst, Chelo R. Banal, Teodoro C. Benigno, Leonor Aureus Briscoe, Isidro S. Chanmag, Roberto Z. Coloma, Sheila S. Coronel, Alex Dacanay, Melinda Quintos de Jesus, Jose W. Diokno, Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, Lourdes M. Fernandez, Bill Formoso, Bonifacio Gillego, National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, Salvador P. Lopez, Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, Alex R. Magno, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, Aida Santos Maranan, Sylvia Mayuga, Al S. Mendoza, Ricky Mendoza, Antonio Ma. Nieva, Ninez Cacho Olivares, Tente U. Quintero, Joaquin “Chino” Roces, Domini Torrevillas Suarez, Lorna Kalaw Tirol, Recah Trinidad and Rene O. Villanueva. The articles are sourced from the Philippine Panorama to Mr.&Ms. (predecessor of the Inquirer), from WE Forum and WHO Magazine to Bulletin Today and Tempo, among others.
“Press Freedom Under Siege” started as two volumes titled “The Philippine Press Under Siege” published in 1984 and 1985 with the help of of the National Press Club and its president, Nieva. “The two earlier volumes were done almost undercover, almost forgotten, printed on newsprint with limited circulation more than 30 years ago, but the articles were very important, breakthrough pieces that challenged the Marcos dictatorship,” Doyo said. “Thanks to Noree Briscoe who put them together as editor at that time, with several of us women writers assisting and working in the dead of night.”
Those two out-of-print volumes became a new one. “So I thought the collection should be resurrected for today’s readers, especially now that freedom of the press is endangered—or worse—not only in our country but the world over,” she said.
It took four years to put “Press Freedom Under Siege” together. “The more challenging part was merging the two previous volumes together, rearranging the sequence according to themes,” she explained. The book landed at the University of the Philippines Press. There were changes with three new articles to add context.
There is a new Foreword from Coronel, who wrote: “In the 1980s, writers ventured farther away and found places that had been hammered by the regime’s iron fist. They gave voice to people whose lives and hopes had been shattered by the cruelties—big and small—that came with absolute, unaccountable power. Much like those they wrote about, journalists were themselves victims of that power. They were more fortunate than other victims, but it was not surprising that they felt some solidarity with them.”
“Press Freedom Under Siege” begins with the articles that got them into trouble, including the aforementioned Macli-ing Dulag coverage, the death of Fr. Zacarias Agatep and problems with the Agrava fact-finding board, among others.
Then the book turns its focus, true to its title, to the writers who dared to report the truth despite all the danger. “Press Freedom Under Siege” exhaustively details the consequences of critical reportage with detentions (among them Nieva), interrogations and libel suits. “Press Freedom Under Siege” provides a legal survey of press freedom in the country.
The book makes a most compelling case with the harassment that came the way of Magsanoc, who was then editor in chief at the Philippine Panorama and had written a sharply observed—too sharply observed—piece about the presidential inauguration in 1981 (that article is included in the book), that led to her forced resignation. “Press Freedom Under Siege” covers this event in microscopic detail, including interviews with Magsanoc and even Marcos himself.
As with many articles, there are detailed endnotes to place the articles in context and tell the reader what happened next. And Magsanoc was not the only journalist to feel the Marcos regime’s displeasure.
It’s all here. Doyo has compiled everything from transcripts of interrogations and interviews to reproductions of summons, republic acts and editorial cartoons, all with the intent of providing the most complete record of these events. There is even a list of acronyms (AP to WOMEN) and a sizable appendix.
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the past, especially now,” Doyo said. Of all the things readers may take with them after reading “Press Freedom Under Siege,” Doyo said, the most important was this: “That all that they read about actually happened. No to revising history! Some stories read like whodunits except that they were real—the victims, the villains, the writers who bore the brunt of the backlash from the dictatorship.”
It was then only proper that “Press Freedom Under Siege” was launched March 23 at that place where sacrifice for the people is remembered, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City. Many of the surviving writers attended. Here were the real people whose courageous words and actions were recorded in the book. Among the names etched on the Wall of Remembrance were three writers from the book: Diokno, Gillego and Magsanoc.
The very existence of “Press Freedom Under Siege” stands for the importance of its mission; its size and scope a testament to the tireless efforts behind it. It is a poignant and powerful portrait of the Filipino as journalist in the direst of times.
“This book is for both journalists and nonjournalists, also for lovers and practitioners of law, especially where freedom of the press is concerned,” Doyo wrote in her Preface. “This book is written for the present and the future generations, for them to appreciate the power of the written word and the importance of keeping watch in the night with their lamps trimmed while the battle rages between darkness and the light.”
Available in paperback at UP Press Bookstore, UP campus and UPper Shelf Bookstore at UP Town Center Mall on Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City; tel. 0917-5435671; e-mail [email protected], press.up.edu.ph/store.