When the late ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed Martial Law on September 21, 1972 via Proclamation 1081, the first casualty was the country’s free press and mass media.
A free press is a key feature of a functioning democracy, where media serves as a government watchdog and source of information for citizens.
Marcos knew the pivotal role of the media and made sure to remove all their powers and privileges the moment he declared Martial Law.
Marcos controlled people’s access and the kind of information they got. He also stifled public criticism and ensured he had the final say on what he claimed was the truth.
Here were the ways Marcos attacked press freedom during his dictatorship:
On September 22, 1972, Marcos issued Letter of Instruction No. 1, authorizing the military to take over the assets of major media outlets nationwide.
Marcos justified the order by saying it was done to prevent the use of privately-owned mass media against the government.
“[I]n order to prevent the use of privately owned newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications, for propaganda purposes against the government and its duly constituted authorities or for any purpose that tends to undermine the faith and confidence of the people in our government and aggravate the present national emergency, you are hereby ordered forthwith to take over and control or cause the taking over and control of all….for the duration of the present national emergency or until otherwise ordered by me or by my duly designated representative.”
Here is a copy of the order:
On September 28, Marcos issued Letter of Instruction No. 1-A, ordering the military to specifically sequester facilities of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation and Associated Broadcasting Corporation.
ABC facilities included:
Marcos linked the networks to a conspiracy with the communist party. He said the owners and officers of ABS-CBN and ABC “are engaged in subversive activities against the government” and are “participants in a conspiracy to overthrow the government”
Marcos’ order said the networks have “actively engaged in” or “allowed the use of its facilities and manpower in the broadcast and dissemination of subversive materials,” as well as “slanted,” “overly exaggerated news stories and commentaries,” “false, vile, foul and scurrilous statements and utterances.”
The dictator also said that these networks “had been used as indispensable instruments in the assassination attempt against the President of the Republic of the Philippines by maligning him.”
Almost 10,000 people lost their jobs, according to Filipino author E. San Juan Jr, citing reports from the International Press Institute and the Press Foundation of Asia.
It was the first time ABS-CBN was shut down. Almost 48 years later, it would again encounter a similar fate under President Rodrigo Duterte after the network failed to secure a franchise renewal.
According to San Juan’s 1978 article, which was published in the award-winning magazine Index of Censorship: “On the eve of the proclamation of martial law, leading mass-circulation dailies, weekly magazines and journals, radio and television stations, were shut down by soldiers in full combat gear. Thousands of journalists, editors, radio and television personnel were arrested and thrown into jail without due process.”
Teodoro Locsin Sr., publisher of the Philippines Free Press, was arrested and imprisoned on the first week of Martial Law.
Manila Times publisher Chino Roces and several journalists including Luis Beltran, Maximo Soliven, Amando Doronila, and Juan Mercado were also arrested.
ABS-CBN owner, Eugenio Lopez Jr, was also arrested and imprisoned in Fort Bonifacio.
More journalists were harassed or imprisoned during the regime.
On September 25, the Department of Public Information issued Department Order No. 1, which prescribed policies and guidelines for the news media, strictly defining the kind of reporting they should do.
According to San Juan, the order said there was a need for “news reports of positive national value” to assist the administration of martial law.
He added that the order prohibited media from carrying “any editorial opinion, commentary, comments or asides” or any material critical of the military or law enforcement agencies.
The order also required news agencies to get clearance from the agency before publishing or airing any content. This extended to all foreign dispatches and cables.
At the time, only Marcos-controlled media, operated by his cronies, were allowed to operate. The Banahaw Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), owned by Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto, took over ABS-CBN. The National Media Production Center (NMPC) under the Ministry of Information took over Channel 4, which became the government’s official TV station. The Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS), another Benedicto-owned television station, took over the provincial stations to serve as platforms for government’s mass media peace-and-order campaigns.
Other Marcos-controlled media included Radio Philippines Network, the Voice of the Philippines, Philippines Broadcasting System, and the Daily Express.
With mass media becoming a propaganda tool for Marcos, people created an underground media, with activists establishing community papers and Filipino journalists writing for the so-called mosquito press in the 1980s.
In December 1976, Marcos ordered the closure of two church publications, the last free publications left, according to San Juan. This included the Signs of the Times, a mimeographed weekly put out by the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, the largest Catholic organization, and The Communicator, a weekly newsletter published by the Jesuits.
Marcos also shut down two church-operated radio stations in Tagum, Davao and Malaybalay, Bukidnon in Mindanao. Catholic bishops were the fiercest critics of the martial law regime in the areas.
In 1976, Marcos expelled foreign journalist Arnold Zeitlin, bureau chief of the Associated Press, after accusing him of “malicious, false reporting” of the Jolo fighting.
In 1977, the government also denied the visa application of Bernard Wideman, correspondent for the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review and The Washington Post, but later on rescinded the order. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com