Harassment of Journalists
To the journalists of the period, collaboration came with an assured set of rewards. For one, they retained their employment and had the opportunity to flourish in their careers; more importantly, they were safe from the brute force tactics of an easily-angered powerful few who had the military at their beck and call. But despite the intimidations, those like Magsanoc, who kept their eyes peeled and pens sharp, continued to write. They wrote knowing that only the most tyrannous of governments persecute journalists for fulfilling their professional duties.
One other journalist who heeded the call was Demosthenes “Demy” Dingcong, a provincial correspondent of Bulletin Today in Lanao. He was shot on the head by an unidentified gunman in his house in Iligan on 5 December 1980. His killing took place after he published an exposé on the missing 1.35 million-peso fund intended for the food and allowances of students of Mindanao State University, where then-Lanao del Sur Governor Ali Dimaporo sat as Board Chairman. Dimaporo was a loyal ally of Marcos who had enjoyed many years of political dominance in the province. The exposé was not his first brush with Dingcong. The journalist had already written about anomalies in local government spending, on military abuses, and the situation of the province’s political prisoners. Neither was the incident on the 5th of December Dingcong’s first brush with death. He had already received threats from local officials; on one occasion, he narrowly escaped death when two armed men tried to shoot him in a market. Dingcong, however, continued to scrutinize the local government’s activities, and was ultimately killed for it.
At least two more journalists met the same fate in southern Philippines. Atty. Florante “Boy” de Castro, who had reported suspicious local government activities in South Cotabato, and Geoffrey Siao, a radio commentator and writer of the Phil. Post in Iligan City, were murdered less than a week apart in March 1984.
On 3 March 1983, a group of at least nine women writers – including Arlene Babst, Odette Alcantara, Ma. Ceres Doyo, Jo-ann Maglipon, Domini Torrevillas-Suarez, Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, Cielo Buenaventura, Sylvia Mayuga, and Sheila Coronel – petitioned the Supreme Court to prohibit the National Intelligence Board (NIB) from further subjecting their group to acts of harassment and intimidation in connection with a series of articles that they had written on military atrocities in the countrysides. These articles, published in the Panorama on different dates from 1981 to 1982, exposed the massacres, cases of torture, village burnings, and the gruesome desecration of the bodies of dead civilians committed by the military in Bataan, Northern Samar, and Davao del Norte. The NIB reacted by issuing subpoenas, conducting interrogations, and threatening to file libel suits against the individual members of the group. Another reporter, Isidro Chammag, was charged with libel in 1983 for writing about the abuses of the military in Abra.
Anyone can be a suspect
There is something fundamentally wrong about a government that insists on keeping the mouths of critical observers shut. Not only does it violate the basic rights to life, safety, and free speech of its journalists; it also subverts its citizens’ right to make informed opinions on the way they are governed. It is an insidious affliction, and its effects reach beyond a single generation – here lies the silent brutality in the Marcos government’s penchant for keeping things secret.
On 10 May 1983, a group of lawyers filed a petition for mandamus at the Supreme Court to demand that all laws enacted by the President since the start of martial law be made public. The incident revealed a number of previously unknown laws that had already been signed by Marcos but not yet made public; the Philippine Signs, one of the period’s “mosquito press” publications, tallied nine general orders, 33 letters of implementation, 72 administrative orders, 124 presidential decrees, 291 letters of instruction, 405 executive orders, and 711 proclamations, all signed but not published as of October 1983. In its defence, the Government maintained that no law can come into effect unless it had been published in the Official Gazette. Nevertheless, it came as a shock that the public was kept in the dark on such matters.
One of these “secret laws” in particular sounded the alarm bells for journalists. Presidential Decree No. 1834, “Increasing the Penalties for the Crime of Rebellion, Sedition, and Related Crimes, …” drew up a broad range of crimes punishable with reclusion perpetua to death. Under this law, anyone found to promote, maintain, head, execute commands, incite, or simply conspire towards committing sedition or rebellion could face the electric chair. “Inciting to sedition” included speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, cartoons, banners, and the utterance of seditious words. It also stated that any person who uses printing, broadcast, television, or any other form of mass communication for “mounting sustained propaganda assaults against the Government” could receive the same penalty. Practically anyone can be held liable under these provisions because anything construed as seditious in the slightest sense was punishable with the gravest penalties the state could impose.
P.D. 1834 was signed by Marcos on 16 January 1981 but only circulated two years after. Lawyers argued that since it had only been officially published on 29 September 1983, it could only take effect fifteen days later, or on the 14th of October. However, arrests on individuals charged with inciting rebellion or sedition were carried out as early as the 21st of September as demonstrations marked the eleventh anniversary of the martial law declaration and condemned the assassination of former senator and opposition leader Ninoy Aquino just seven months prior. An article in the Philippine Signs reported that a total of 107 individuals had been rounded up from 21 September to 21 October. Most of them were mere victims of circumstance – individuals who happened to be walking nearby and had nothing to do whatsoever with the demonstrations. It was said that the careless arrests were inspired by an arrest quota for members of the military who were keen on receiving rewards and promotions; the lawyers of the detained also believed it was done to further discourage the public from joining the increasing number of protests.
P.D. 1834 induced the arrests of youths like Jean Fulgencio, a 22-year old student in Kalibo, Aklan, who was detained for carrying with her a tape recording of nationalist songs entitled Ibong Malaya. Fulgencio’s tape was discovered by members of the 313th Philippine Constabulary company during a raid conducted on the jeepney in which she and other passengers were riding. She was detained on 28 December 1983; by 4 May 1984, she was still in detention. Similarly, Jarammie Palma, a student of the University of Santo Tomas, was detained for up to five months for allegedly carrying a newsletter published by the League of Filipino Students – UST Chapter. He was charged with sedition for possessing subversive material. If the State had decided to mete out the full penalty for his charge, Palma could have been punished with death.