Then and now | Marcos-era mosquito press shares lessons with new breed of alternative media

Whenever allowances were delayed or the reality of scarce resources hit them, Edita Burgos said one of the staff would shout, “Para sa Bayan!” (For the Motherland!) and all of them would continue working.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Hindi lang ikaw ang baliw.” (You are not the only one insane.)

The audience roared in laughter when Lourdes “Chuchay” Fernandez said these words. Fernandez who served as editor-in-chief of Ang Pahayagang Malaya during the martial law period shared this number one lesson to the participants of the first national conference of alternative media outfits held Oct. 9 at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication.

Fernandez explained that having a successful alternative media enterprise is anchored on a good, solid network of support – from various sectors, one’s community, from groups who will provide content, helpful information and logistical assistance for contingency.

Fernandez was one of the brave, young journalists who wrote for Malaya and WE Forum of the late Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr. The two publications were part of the mosquito press, which countered the crony press of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Times have changed but the new breed of alternative media outfits could apply the lessons learned in the past into their day-to-day practices. Besides, they have a common denominator. The alternative press during martial law, like the alternative media of today, both have limited budget and resources but with a dedicated staff committed to make journalism serve the people.

Getting support

Lourdes "Chuchay" Fernandez, managing editor of Interaksyon.com, recounts her days as a journalist during martial law. (Photo by Fred Dabu / Bulatlat.com)
Lourdes “Chuchay” Fernandez, managing editor of Interaksyon.com, recounts her days as a journalist during martial law. (Photo by Fred Dabu / Bulatlat.com)

Fernandez added they had the support of pro bono human rights lawyers whenever they were charged with contempt and libel.

Speaking at the conference, Edita Burgos, wife of Joe Burgos and general manager of We Forum and Malaya, recalled how ordinary citizens would contibute office supplies, offer their houses as satellite offices and extend other forms of support.

The underground press during martial law also relied on the support of ordinary citizens. Both the legal and the underground anti-Marcos publications contributed to the struggle against the dictatorship until former President Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in 1986.

Satur Ocampo, who wrote for Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas and Himagsik during the anti-Marcos dictatorship, said the masses would help in the production of these publications, using the V-type printing where the silk screen is mounted on a wooden frame and the squeegee ink is used to duplicate copies. The masses, Ocampo said, also served as their most reliable sources of information.

Other lessons

Another important lesson shared by Fernandez is to “have the courage to engage, even the ‘enemy.’”

She recalled an incident when she went to Camp Aguinaldo to cover the press briefing of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. When she arrived, the military officials were discussing the growing threat of the communist movement, with news clippings of Malaya posted on the board. The military asked her questions about their stories on human rights violations and about their sources from the progressive movement. “I thought I would never come out of the place alive,” Fernandez said.

Edita Burgos, general manager of We Forum and Malaya, shares lessons to the participants of the national conference of alternative media, Oct. 9 at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. (Photo by Fred Dabu / Bulatlat.com)
Edita Burgos, general manager of We Forum and Malaya, shares lessons to the participants of the national conference of alternative media, Oct. 9 at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. (Photo by Fred Dabu / Bulatlat.com)

Mrs. Burgos pointed out that security precautions are necessary. Although the country is no longer under martial law, many practitioners experience harassment from state security agents.

Bulatlat.com, for one, has been tagged by the military as “Leftist.” Another alternative media group, the Kilab Multimedia based in Davao City, has been publicly vilified by the military as the media of the New People’s Army (NPA). The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The worst attack happened in 2006, when Radyo Cagayano, a radio station set up by the farmers in Baggao, Cagayan was burned down by agents of the military.

Besides security concerns, Mrs. Burgos said the problem of financial constraints should be addressed by being resourceful and innovative.

While she attributed the success of Malaya and WE Forum to the dedication of the brave and young journalists who received meage pay, she said that the economic viability of an alternative media organization should be taken into consideration.

Whenever allowances were delayed or the reality of scarce resources hit them, Mrs. Burgos said one of the staff would shout, “Para sa Bayan!” (For the Motherland!) and all of them would continue working.

Over a hundred journalists from more than 30 alternative media organizations listened intently.

With the formation of Altermidya, a national network of progressive and independent media organizations, these lessons are timely and necessary. ()

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