Press Freedom and National Survival; (Speech Delivered at the Induction of Officers and Directors of the Capampangan in Media, Inc., on Tuesday, March 27, 2007.)

Article excerpt

Byline: Chief Justice REYNATO S. PUNO Supreme Court

LIKE water seeking its course, press freedom, no matter how suppressed, rises to give life to democracy. This unalterable truth is emblazoned in our history.

Hindsight provides the best vision; hence, let us revisit our history, albeit very briefly. When our country was under Spain, Filipinos were treated no more than as tribute-paying subjects. They hardly had any reason for being, except to obey the orders of the Spanish monarch. The laser-like pens of Rizal, Del Pilar, Mabini, et. al. exposed the excesses of the Spanish authorities and slowly opened the eyes of the Filipinos to their dehumanized state. Spurred by nationalism, Del Pilar and Lopez Jaena established the reformist paper La Solidaridad. Ideas that assail a stinking status quo all too frequently lead to mass movements. The KKK, the Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan led by Bonifacio emerged from the masses. In due time, they toppled the throne of Spain in our country.

It is interesting to note, however, that during this struggle against Spain, the press was not totally suppressed. UP Professor Cesar Adib Majul opined that it would not be turning somersaults with history to conclude that the press during the revolution was "relatively free.'' Indeed, the Spanish government even established an official newspaper on July 4, 1898, and encouraged people to contribute articles to the publication to raise the political education of the Filipino people. The government also encouraged privately owned newspapers. There was only one instance when Aguinaldo demanded that the editor of La Independencia, a revolutionary paper, desist from printing views prejudicial to the government. It was a reaction to the lacerating criticisms of Mabini expressed in an article entitled, "Something for Congress.''

We then came under the colonial yoke of the United States. Continuing to be fired with nationalism, Filipinos put up newspapers calling for our early emancipation. Among the fiery newspapers were the El Renacimiento, Los Obreros, Katwiran and Lunas ng Bayan. The Americans dealt differently with the Filipino rebels. More democratic than the Spaniards, the Americans checked their critics, especially those from the press, with velvet hands and not with iron fists. The critics were silenced with the use of legal weapons. They were charged with rebellion, sedition, and libel. El Renacimiento collapsed because of a libel suit filed by the Secretary of the Interior. The office of Los Obreros was raided by American police officers on orders of the governor-general. Copies of the paper were used in a rebellion and sedition charge against a labor leader who had led a Labor Day rally, chanting "Down with American imperialism.''

Next, Japan invaded the Philippines. It was wartime, and the restrictions imposed on the press by the Japanese to win the war were again different. They were designed to strangulate press freedom. Under unmitigated military terror, publications folded up. Still, some guerrillas-turnedpublicists put out the Matang Lawin and called on the people to monitor and report the movement of enemy spies. Not to be outdone, the Hukbalahap writers circulated the Ing Masala (The Light). The press went underground and refused to compromise with the Japanese military.

After World War II, the country experienced relative peace. In the 1970s, however, another kind of crisis rocked the nation. Peace and order was shattered in the countryside due to the rampaging New People's Army (NPA) and Muslim insurgencies. The economy slumped and hunger threatened the people. Seizing the crisis as a convenient excuse, former President Ferdinand E. Marcos invoked his extraordinary powers under the 1935 Constitution and declared martial law on September 21, 1972. He targeted the recalcitrant press. He immediately directed the Secretary of National Defense to take over and close all newspapers, magazines, and radio and television facilities allegedly being used "for propaganda purposes against the government. …