I practiced journalism under martial law

By Herbert Vego

TOMORROW (Sept. 21, 2023) will mark the 51st year since the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos supposedly signed Proclamation 1081. However, it was not until two days later, Sept. 23, that we felt its “sound of silence” in off-air radio and TV networks nationwide.

I still vividly recall that morning when I turned on the radio but not one radio station had signed on. Soon enough, my neighbors in Project 8, Quezon City were complaining of similar “damage” to their radio sets.

It was not until the evening of Sept. 23 when Marcos showed up on TV to confirm that he had declared martial law to establish a “New Society”. I was 22 years young and already a practicing journalist in that era, and so had the pleasure, or displeasure, of being where the action was.

Very few of present-day journalists and broadcasters today can make that claim because most of them had not been born yet. Whatever views and opinions they write or air today do not stem from first-hand information.

History is already full of narratives woven around the 20-year reign of the “orig” Pres. Marcos, whether true or false. We senior citizens, being already alive during the elder Marcos years, know better. But I have to “squeeze” my brain to retrieve forgotten memories that I had not written about in previous martial law anniversaries.

I have forgotten the date, but Marcos eventually restored the operation of radio, TV, magazines and newspapers on condition that every bit of information would cater to “developmental journalism”. Media practitioners criticizing the government would be arrested.

Rabid anti-Marcos journalists and politicians were already behind bars, victims of ASSO. It was no dog but acronym for “Arrest, Search and Seizure Order” issued by Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos’ martial law administrator and defense minister.

Press freedom having been restricted, the only way for us to feel safe was to lick the First Family’s boots. Former media critics could only talk or write “positive”.

I did not have to praise the Marcoses and the New Society. Since entertainment  was my regular beat for the Evening News and Philippine Sun of the defunct Elizalde Publications, I stuck to covering entertainment events and personalities, mostly movie stars and singers.

But I had been critical of the government as a student journalist. I was a news editor and columnist of the Quezonian, the weekly school organ of Manuel L. Quezon University (MLQU).

I was to learn later that Malacañang Palace had files of pre-martial law student publications. I had no inkling that it would affect my career.

And then it happened: Pete Vael – the editor of the then famous Hiligaynon magazine, where I was also writing an entertainment column — talked to me. He would give up Hiligaynon in favor of a “juicy” government job at the Ministry of Information, which was headed by Information Minister Francisco “Kit” Tatad.  Would I like to join him there for a fat income? I initially hesitated but eventually agreed for the sake of my wife and our son.

Unfortunately, I had to be interviewed by a certain Col. Vicente Tigas, who was in charge of screening job applicants at Tatad’s office.

To my surprise, Tigas pulled a sheaf of clippings of my anti-Marcos, pre-martial law columns in the Quezonian. One of them was critical of Madam Imelda Marcos for having “masterminded” the construction of the multimillion-peso Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which opened in 1969 “to promote and preserve Filipino arts and culture.”

Tigas asked  me to go to Camp Aguinaldo to see a Philippine Army officer for clearance, which turned out to be a promissory note to never again criticize the Marcoses. I signed the note but opted not to return to Tatad’s office.

My friends pitied me. By backing out, I must have lost a “good future”.

God forbid. To this day at age 73, I have survived and still write for a comfortable living.