(Jan 25, 1933 – Aug 1, 2009)
No other profession takes on so large a province of truth as journalism, and that journalists are tasked to search for truth throughout the human condition wherever lies have made it worse.
President Corazon C. Aquino, in a speech inaugurating Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism, on June 8, 2000 at the Ateneo Professional Schools, Rockwell Campus, Manila.
Cory had a conviction regarding freedom of speech that is not seen in many leaders in Asia, then and now. It is likely to have come her husband Ninoy Aquino Jr who was among others an award-winning journalist.
Ninoy was a former Philippine senator, governor, vice governor and mayor and a leader of the opposition to the rule of Ferdinand Marcos. He was assassinated at the Manila International Airport (later renamed in his honor) upon returning home from exile in the United States. His death catapulted Cory to the limelight and subsequently to the presidency, replacing the 20-year Marcos regime.
When Cory became the president, the first thing she did was to throw out the old constitution.
Cory adopted a new constitution in which she introduced Article IV, Section 4 of the Bill of Rights that says:
- No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.
- No government body oversees or supervises the press.
- No license or permit is required to publish a newspaper or magazine.
- There is no prior review of censorship.
This was so significant because she saw the need in giving people a voice. (maybe the constitution in all other countries should do the same; maybe the people of Malaysia should initiate action to have this bit included).
Here’s a bit of background – it’s from a paper I did a while ago on the press policies in the Philippines. You will find so many similarities with those in Malaysia and you would start to wonder if the guys here copied them from Marcos:
In the presidential election of 1965, Ferdinand E. Marcos became the youngest president, when he triumphed over then president Diosdado Macapagal (Arroyo’s dad who was said to be extremely partial towards US).
In his first four years as president, he built more roads and installed more power lines than all his predecessors combined. He brought his country self-sufficiency in rice, formulated a national ideology that stressed pride in the country’s heritage, and initiated bold foreign policies. (the golden years of Mahathirism?)
In 1969, he became the first president of the independent Philippines to gain a second term – the atmosphere of optimism that characterized his first years in power was largely dissipated. Economic growth slowed.
Ordinary Filipinos, especially in urban areas, noted a deteriorating quality of life reflected in spiraling crime rates and random violence. The Communist Party of the Philippines-Marxist Leninist was “reestablished” in 1968 and on Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago, violence between Muslims and Christians was on the rise.
On Sept 21, 1972, Marcos issued Proclamation 1081, declaring martial law over the entire country. Under the president’s command, the military arrested opposition figures, including his nemesis Ninoy, journalists, student and labour activists, and criminal elements (ISA and Operasi Lalang, perhaps?).
A total of about 30,000 detainees were kept at military compounds run by the army and the Philippine Constabulary. Weapons were confiscated, and “private armies” connected with prominent politicians and other figures were broken up.
Newspapers were shut down, and the mass media were brought under tight control. With the stroke of a pen, Marcos closed the Philippine Congress and assumed its legislative responsibilities. Prior to this there been no tradition of party or state ownership presses in the Philippines. (the press in the Philippines had a differnt history and role in society – it was started by activists and revolutionists and it acted as the voice of the people; in Malaysia most of the newspapers were started by the colonialists and businessmen, and the tv stations were state-owned, the media was regarded as a vehicle for control since the early days).
On Sept 21, among the immediate targets of the military for arrest were journalists and other media practitioners who shared one characteristic – all had been critical of the Marcos government, including Luis V. Teodoro (who taught me op-ed writing when I was doing my MA in journalism at Ateneo de Manila Univ, where Ninoy had enrolled to do his BA in the early 70s but never completed it – writestreet).
He said all media organizations were also shut down and in the morning of Sept 22 people awoke without a newspaper on their doorsteps and with only the hiss of empty air over their radios.
Only the Daily Express was allowed to continue circulation. Sometime later other papers and broadcast stations that belonged to Marcos family and friends, were allowed to be open but only under strict guidelines set by Marcos. (a case of media owned by the state of those linked closely to government officials – sounds familiar?)
Among the conditions were not to criticize the first family, not to jeopardize national security, not to publish stories that would peril military operations and police investigations, and not to report on matters that are in conflict with the interests of the Philippines, its culture and the people. (again- sounds familiar?)
We Forum was the first protest newspaper, and that it was allowed to exist as an example of freedom of the press and also because its low circulation did not make it seem dangerous enough to stop. (and that’s what they said about the internet several yaers ago)
However, in December 1982 (after martial law was called off), the paper’s equipment and office were sealed when the paper published a story on the false Marcos medals. This case along with others united the press, laying part of the foundation for the emergence of other alternative press – mosquito papers – especially after the Aquino assassination.
Support for these mosquito press mounted and so did the sanctions in the form of threats, arrests, detentions, closure of publications, firing of reporters, libel suits and deaths. Despite these, the underground press became vigorous, eventually assisting in the downfall of Marcos.
There is hope. People can move mountains, change societies and destroy tryranny – at the blink of an eye.