Former President Corazon Aquino on Saturday paid tribute to the indispensable role of the Alternative Press in the overall struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, and said its work and the lessons from its experiences should be disseminated so that people will always remain vigilant over their freedoms.
In a speech at the prelaunching of the book The Mosquito Years: The Alternative Press in the Shadow of a Dictator at the National Press Club in Intramuros, Manila, Aquino recalled how difficult it was to publicize any critical comment against martial law, with the dictatorship having full control of mass media.
It was on one such attempt to sneak out a critical commentary to the foreign press by her martyred husband Sen. Benigno ?Ninoy? Aquino that he and his cellmate Sen. Jose ?Pepe? Diokno incurred the ire of the military, which, quite alarmed by the publication of one commentary in the Bangkok Post, suddenly clamped down.
Their jailers moved the two top detainees from Fort Bonifacio in Makati to Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, in the dead of night, and kept them incommunicado for several months.
Thus, recalled Aquino, when Jose Burgos Jr. and company set up in 1977 what became an organized Alternative Press — derided by then-First Lady Imelda Marcos as the Mosquito Press — it became much easier to marshal the prodemocracy forces. Aquino said the country owed Burgos and all who helped him an immeasurable debt of gratitude for this galvanizing role in the struggle.
In the year 2000, Burgos was selected one of the 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the Century by the International Press Institute for this feat. Earlier, in 1986, he was named International Journalist of the Year by the InterPress Service in rites at the UN headquarters in New York.
In his response at Saturday?s pre-launching, Burgos lamented that 20 years after the full flowering of the Alternative Press, many problems — ?the same problems of poverty, political divisions, and the very same overwhelming foreign forces trying to dictate our national life? — remain the same.
He took a dig at sectors trying to sanitize the record of the late dictator and hoped such efforts would not destroy the legacy of ?such nationalist heroes as Ninoy Aquino, Soc Rodrigo, Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Diokno and Chino Roces, just to name a few.? Or, he said, of the ?thousands of unsung activists, religious workers, farmers, laborers, etc. whose struggles provided the rich tapestry on which was reflected the work of these more famous heroes.?
In brief speeches dedicating the book project to Burgos, other companions of Burgos in the struggle graced Saturday?s prelaunching. Sen. Joker Arroyo, one of his lawyers during the WE Forum raid in 1982, said Burgos actually defied the dictator twice: first, in publishing the WE Forum, initially as WE For the Young Filipino in 1977, in a climate where Marcos controlled all the mainstream press; and second, in publishing Malaya as a thrice-weekly, then daily national newspaper, even after the WE Forum raid and despite the fact that sedition and rebellion cases were hanging over his head. (See Journalism when it matters: the Mosquito Press under Marcos.)
Former senator Rene Saguisag and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, then human-rights lawyers under MABINI, recalled their close encounters with the WE Forum raiding party and Burgos?s trial in a Quezon City court.
Former senator Wigberto Tanada, another counsel for Burgos, said his father, the late senator Lorenzo Tanada, assigned the WE Forum case to him as a baptism of fire. He said his role in the case — now deemed a landmark judgment in Philippine-press freedom history, having scored a victory despite martial law — was one of the most defining moments of his life.
Party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna, one of the key leaders of the broad antidictatorship movement, recalled the crucial role played by the Mosquito Press in such struggle, and his own interaction with the Burgos papers.
The book will be a compilation of stories and recollections from the former staff, editors and reporters of Ang Pahayagang Malaya, We Forum, Masa, Midday and Sunday Malaya magazine. This year marks the 20th year when the alternative press reached its peak as the only source of credible information on the state of the country — economically, politically and socially. This unprecedented strength, the result of years of struggle in the antidictatorship movement, was fueled by the assassination of former senator Aquino on August 21, 1983, which, in turn, led to the mobilization of even larger protests against the Marcos dictatorship.