With democratic space restored during the Aquino government, the alternative press in the Philippines receded into the background of events.

The alternative press — the roots and ideals of which can be traced to the Diariong Tagalog, Kalayaan, La Solidaridad and other publications of the Revolution of 1896 –played an important role in the eventual collapse of the Marcos dictatorship. Like the literatures of the reformist and revolutionary movements during Spanish rule, the alternative press of the late 1970s and the early to mid-1980s challenged the status quo, and served not just as a chronicler but also as an active participant in the Filipino people’s continuing quest for freedom.

Despite scarce resources and the constant danger posed by the dictatorship, the practitioners in the alternative press –among them journalists from Mr & Ms, Malaya, We Forum, Sick of the Times, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Veritas, Liberation, and campus newspapers led by the University of the Philippines’ Philippine Collegian–ferreted out the truth buried by the layers of lies and secrets of the Marcos authoritarian government. These publications filled the need of the citizenry for meaningful information, which government-controlled newspapers could not provide.

After the fall of Marcos, however, the country saw the weakening, if not actual demise, of the alternative press. Mr & Ms stopped publication; Sick of the Times, which was published on an irregular basis, disappeared, it seemed for good, and We Forum reduced its circulation to cater only to a very small audience. The Inquirer joined and later led the mainstream press while Malaya was transformed into “a conservative business paper,” as its new owners boasted. While the underground’s Liberation, as well as some campus newspapers continued publication, they were not enough to sustain the glory that was the alternative press.

The Internet as a new venue for the alternative press
Technological changes, however, are changing the alternative press. The coming of the Internet, for one, has brought with it the promise of a new, albeit still limited medium.

As early as August 26, 1996, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, which specializes in investigative reporting, had gone online. Investigative reports on current issues that they publish in i magazine, as well as others that have seen print in the newspapers, have also been posted in www.pcij.org.

On November 30, 1996, the birthday of Andres Bonifacio, founder of Katipunan and father of the Revolution, the NDF went online. Its underground publication, Liberation, became accessible to the public through the NDF website, together with other publications of the Left, such as Ang Bayan (The People) and Rebolusyon.

Meanwhile, CyberDyaryo started in 1997 as a bi-weekly online magazine that serves as a venue for information exchange between member organizations of Countrywide Development Wide Area Network or CODEWAN, a communications network for civil society organizations.

Now a joint endeavor between Pan-Philippine News and Information Network and CODEWAN, and updated from Monday to Saturday, CyberDyaryo publishes articles not commonly seen in the pages of the mainstream national dailies. It features activities by civil society organizations often ignored in the mainstream press.

Philippine News and Features (PNF) releases dispatches to its subscribers through its Internet-based email groups service. It offers readers alternative news and views of events in and out of the Philippines by publishing articles that otherwise would not have found their way into the mainstream.

Launched in 1984 by Crossroads Publications, Inc., PNF’s stories were published prominently by national and regional dailies in the late 1980s up to the mid-1990s. By the late 1990s, however, mainstream usage of PNF articles subsided as its subscriber publications consolidated their editorial positions.

Nevertheless, PNF still survives, still committed to the dissemination of truth as an instrument of change, today maximizing the use of the Internet for its advocacy.

Other websites that carry articles with the same dissident tone and orientation as that of the alternative press of the Marcos era have also found a niche in the World Wide Web.

A popular satirical site, PLDT.com , which was created by Gerry Kaimo of the Philippine League for Democratic Telecommunications, Inc., started as a protest site against the plan of telecom giant Philippine Long Distance Telecommunication Co. to impose a mandatory local metering scheme. After being sued by PLDT for trade impeachment, PLDT.com has evolved into a free speech site that features articles on issues of public interest. The site regularly attacks the PLDT, the Marcoses, President Estrada and even ousted Indonesian dictator Suharto. During the current political crisis, the site has become a big favorite among partisans of the resign-impeach-oust Erap movement.

Online critics of Estrada’s greatest performance
The Internet was already becoming more and more popular in the Philippines when former movie actor Joseph Estrada was elected to the presidency through an overwhelming landslide vote in May 1998. But even before his administration was rocked by controversy after controversy, his rise to power as well as he himself were already the objects of ridicule by several internet sites.

One such site is BobongPinoy.Com (Stupid Filipino), another satirical site that is not strictly political, but which provides humorous commentaries on Philippine social issues. Its first issue carried a commentary that criticized the election of Estrada.

In its FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, Bob Ong, the site creator, wrote: “Ito ang Bobong Pinoy, kung saan malayang ipinapahayag ng mga Pilipino ang lahat ng nasa isip nila. Nais nitong punahin ang mga maliliit na kanser ng lipunan at gisingin ang mga Pilipino sa mahimbing nilang pagkakatulog sa ilalim ng puno ng bayabas.” (This is Stupid Filipino, where Filipinos freely express everything on their minds. What it wants is to expose the cancer in society and to awaken Filipinos from their deep slumber under the guava tree.)

According to Ong, he considers his site, which is supposed to be updated bi-monthly, “[part of the] alternative press.” He also describes it as “an underground site.”

“Most of its writers and visitors are ‘common tao’ (ordinary people) — no politicos or known writers. This makes its ‘silent popularity’ safe from the tainted views of influential people, and gives raw views and fresh relief to [a] preconditioned audience,” he added.

Created and edited by Marvin P. Bionat, Philippine Political Update started as a source of information during the 1998 presidential elections. Now called Philippine Update, it remains a source of various Philippine-related information and an information database for the resign-oust-impeach Estrada movement. “Honor and Dignity in Resigning” and “In Good Company: Presidents Who Resigned” are among the topics in its latest issue.

A relatively new site, Hot Manila is a cyber tabloid produced by a group of journalist-friends. As described by i online, Hot Manila is a site that compresses news with dissatisfaction; concentrates anger; condenses plain speaking; flavors it with irreverent humor; and presents it through good writing.

Gin.ph sounds like the website address of a popular liquor in the Philippines. It is actually a news and information site. GIN stands for Guerilla Information Network, which describes itself as “a central news bureau that practices open source journalism.”

The website, organized by anonymous concerned citizens and volunteers, produces news and opinion articles about Jueteng-gate and other issues. Its maiden issue featured an interview with Mary Ong, a.k.a. Mata Hari and Rosebud, who accused the Philippine National Police under Police General Panfilo Lacson of committing several crimes.

The underground news network “uses the Internet and other communications technologies to collect background information and eyewitness accounts from its community of readers/contributors to provide independent, grassroots coverage of the burning issues currently affecting Philippine government and society. This information is then disseminated through a cutting-edge web-site accessible to anyone.”

When the jueteng scandal broke out this October, more sites critical of Estrada emerged, although not all of them in news/magazine format.

The new “alternatives” in print
When we say alternative press, we mean newspapers different from those in the mainstream, whose main reasons for existence include profit and economic and political protection. It is widely known that most, if not all, of the newspapers today serve certain interests.

However, there are some that could be exempted from this description.

Pinoy Times, a political tabloid owned by Inquirer founder Eugenia Apostol, is one such paper. Before it was launched in September 15 last year, Pinoy Times, then tentatively called Sulong Pinoy, circulated a flyer that explained the paper’s nature:

“Una, ito ay para sa Pilipino na ang nais ay tapat, malinis, at mahusay na pamahalaan, at gustong sumali sa mga usapan o pagkilos na naglalayong makamtan ito. (First, this is for the Filipino who wants honest, clean and competent government and who wants to join discussions or other efforts to achieve this.)

“Pangalawa, ito ay para sa Pilipino na ang hanap ay isang dyaryong matalino, nakakaaliw, walang lihim na agenda, walang sekretong kasosyo at walang interes na tinataguyod kundi ang sa mamamayang Pilipino. Ang mga editor, reporter, kartunista at iba pang staff na bumubuo ng Pinoy ay mahuhusay, may malawak at malalim na karanasan, at matatapang. (Second, this is for the Filipino who’s looking for an intelligent, entertaining newspaper without a hidden agenda, without a secret partner and without any interest to protect except those of the Filipino citizen. The editors, reporters, cartoonists and other staff members of Pinoy Times are competent, they hav extensive experience, and are courageous.)

“Pangatlo, ito ay para sa Pilipino na gustong makabasa ng balita na isinulat sa simpleng Tagalog at Ingles, sa paraang madaling maintindihan. (Third, this is for the Filipino who wants to read news written in plain Tagalog or English, in a way easily understood.)

“At pang-apat, ito ay para sa Pilipino na ang hanap sa dyaryo ay mga mahalaga at makatutulong na kaalaman at impormasyon…” (Fourth, this is for the Filipino looking for a newspaper with significant and useful information.)

Now on its second year, Pinoy Times has lived up to its promise. Aside from its own exposes, it is one of the few papers that published the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reports on the hidden wealth, businesses, and mansions of Estrada’s wives and children.

The staff — who are mostly from the Gokongwei-owned Manila Times that closed down due to pressure from Estrada and was sold to crony Mark Jimenez last year — do not seem to worry about a possible repetition of the Times experience as they continue to write stories critical of the government.

While publisher Vic Tirol said it does not really claim to be part of the new alternative press in the tradition of We Forum, Malaya, and Mr & Ms Special Edition, it seems all right to include their Pinoy Times Special Edition in such a list (see sidebar). Ms. Apostol was after all also the publisher of the Mr & Ms Special Edition, and founder of the Inquirer in its alternative-paper days.

From the community paper Edsa-Ortigas Village Voice, Joaquin Roces Jr. continues his father Chino Roces’ fighting tradition through a new weekly eight-page newspaper called the Sunday Paper. In a feature interview published in the paper’s maiden issue last October 15, Roces said that by publishing the paper, he seeks “to revive the good qualities of traditional journalism but in a form and style that can be appreciated by the modern and sophisticated audience of today.”

Roces said he believes that a newspaper must report the truth, and both sides of the story with utmost accuracy. Daily deadline pressures however, deny reporters and editors the “luxury of hindsight and insight.” Because they write for a weekly, the Sunday Paper’s writers and editors will have the time “to reflect, to reconsider story angles, investigate, conduct research and in-depth interviews and ponder on various ideas on certain issues.”

Like the old alternative newspapers, the Sunday Paper will not be afraid to continue the media’s role as society’s watchdog, said Roces.

The maiden issue had full coverage of the jueteng payola controversy involving Estrada. It also had a Jueteng-gate Chronicle, as well as other relevant news and feature stories.

Its editorial on the first issue said: “The Sunday Paper is committed to look into the realities of society, to ask relevant questions, to analyze and interpret information to expose concealed truths through investigative and in-depth reports.”

And if by doing so, what if they gain the ire of the powers that be? “If the Sunday Paper has to be the bearers of bad tidings and suffer the usual fate of [courageous newspapers], so be it,” Roces said.

Related Links
Bobong Pinoy www.bobongpinoy.com
CyberDyaryo /www.cyberdyaryo.com
Guerrilla Information Network http://www.gin.ph/
Hot Manila http://www.hotmanila.com/
Liberation http://members.nbci.com/LibeNDFP/
National Democratic Front http://www.ndfp.cjb.net/
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism http://www.pcij.org/
Philippine News and Features http://www.pnfnet.com/
Philippine Update http://www.philippineupdate.com/
Pinoy Parody Online http://www.pcij.org/imag/Online/pinoyparody.html
PLDT.com http://www.pldt.com
The Sunday Paper http://www.thesundaypaper.com.ph/
Resign-Impeach-Oust-Estrada Sites
Akbayan http://www.akbayan.org/
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan http://www.geocities.com/bayanorg
Cafe Loko http://www.cmfr.com.ph/pjr0012/Caf?%20Loko
Elagda.com http://www.elagda.com/
Erap Resign Central http://www.geocities.com/baylans/erap_resign.html
ErapResign.Com http://www.erapresign.com
Erap?s Official Websigh http://www.angelcities.com/members/erap
Impeach Erap.com http://www.impeacherap.com/
Impeach Erap Now http://www.impeacherapnow.com/
Iskandalo.com http://www.iskandalo.com/
Jueteng.Com http://www.jueteng.com/
People’s Action to Remove Erap http://www.geocities.com/tfdp_ncr
Resign, Erap! Resign! http://www.erap-resign.net
Sick of the times http://sick-of-the-times.iwarp.com/
The Manila Times Final Edition http://www.nayon.com/dating_times
The Erap Scandals and Brouhahas http://www.eraption.iwarp.com/
The Secret Diary of Erap Estrada http://erap.blogspot.com/


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