Since Spanish colonial times, the Philippine press has played a major role in expressing popular grievances against the country’s rulers. Knowing this, among the first actions taken by President Marcos in imposing martial law was to control the mass media: newspaper offices, radio stations and television channels were all taken over by his regime.
Prominent media personalities were jailed right at the start. Longer detention periods were suffered by many working journalists. Eventually, some media outlets were allowed to operate, but only news and opinions favorable to the dictatorship were allowed to appear.
Word of mouth filled in the very big blanks in the information system. Guerrilla groups put out their own underground newspapers. “Xerox journalism” consisted of photocopied articles from foreign media. Mimeographed sheets were circulated by church workers.
Before martial law, Jose (Joe) Burgos Jr. had already received praise for his investigative reports on political violence in Ilocos Norte, his home province and that of President Marcos. For this he was named one of the country’s Ten Outstanding Young Men in 1970.
In 1973, with martial law in full swing, Burgos accepted a Jefferson fellowship to study at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center. He then worked for a while in two government agencies.
In May 1977, however, he began publishing the modestly-sized We Forum.It was a success, as the public soon discovered that it was reporting news and commentaries that could not be found in the Marcos-controlled press. Burgos also launched three other publications (Midday, Malaya and Masa).
Marcos tolerated these publications for a time, because their existence allowed him to claim that there was press freedom in the country. But after We Forum published a series of investigative reports about the dictator’s fake war medals, in December 1982 the police raided its offices and arrested Burgos and the newspaper’s columnists and staff.
Undeterred, Burgos put out Ang Pahayagang Malaya instead. By then, opposition to the dictatorship had become more openly defiant. Like We Forum before it, the newspaper ably mirrored the mood of the times and gained a broad, supportive readership. It was well positioned to reflect and amplify the huge protest movement that reached new heights after the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
Joe Burgos was named International Journalist of the Year by Inter Press Service in 1986, and by the International Press Institute as one of the 50 “World Press Freedom Heroes” of the 20th century.
He died of cancer in 2003, at the age of 62.
BORN : January 4, 1941 in Manila
DIED : November 16, 2003 in San Juan, Metro Manila
PARENTS : Jose Burgos Sr. and Tomasa Gacusano
SPOUSE/CHILDREN : EdithaTronqued / 5
EDUCATION : Elementary:
Secondary: University of Sto. Tomas High School, Manila
College: University of Sto. Tomas, Manila