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INTERVIEW WITH PROF. JOSE MARIA SISON ON THE PHILIPPINE PRESS, 1945-72

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By Pathricia Ann Valencia Roxas U.P. Journalism Club

1. The post-war era to pre-martial law period (1945-1972) is called the golden age of Philippine journalism. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

JMS: From the viewpoint of a Filipino patriot and progressive, I do not agree with the glittering generality of golden age. The imperialists and the local reactionaries could boast of a free press but not the toiling masses and their revolutionary organizations. In most of the period of 1945-1972, the Philippine press was quite free to report and sensationalize charges and countercharges of graft and corruption and incompetence among the reactionary politicians, and occasionally to level charges of violations of civil liberties against ruling politicians up to the level of the president.

Anti-communist propaganda was rampant in the Philippine press. It was used to viciously silence patriotic and progressive organizations and personalities and to vilify the enemies of US imperialism on an international scale. The forces of the national democratic movement, which arose in the 1960s to expose and oppose US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism, gained prominence mainly through their protest mass actions and limited publications.

2. Could you describe the atmosphere during these years, specifically how the media practitioners reacted to the liberation from the Japanese?

JMS: The media practitioners followed their pro-US press lords and editors. In the years just after World War II, the US was glorified as the savior and liberator of the Filipino people. In general, the pro-US puppet politicians took over from the pro-Japanese puppets. But in the outstanding case of Manuel Roxas, a pro-Japanese puppet, the US supported him to be become president in 1946 because President Osmeña had aligned himself with the Democratic Alliance to oppose the prospective Parity Amendment.

Anti-communist propaganda was strong, because the Hukbalahap and the communist-socialist merger party had become strong in Central Luzon, Manila and Southern Tagalog regions in the course of armed struggle against theJapanese occupation. After World War II, the US and the American advertisers controlled and influenced the Filipino press lords. US wire service agencies poured in ant-communist news and articles from abroad which were published in toto in the Manila and provincial press..

3. How did you participate with the movement for a freer press?

JMS: We exposed and opposed the control of the big mass media by the US, the foreign advertisers and the big comprador-landlords. We did so on the campus and in intellectual circles outside of the campus. We published the little magazines Fugitive Review and the Diliman Observer in the years of 1960-62. In 1962, I founded the Progressive Review which lasted up to 1968. I was the editor-in-chief. These publications had a print run of anywhere between 1000 to 5000 copies depending on demand for the issue but normally 1000 or 1500. These were distributed to key political leaders, trade union leaders, academics, columnists and key journalists of the bourgeois press.

In the 1960s, the student and youth mass movement became far stronger than in the previous decade of extreme reaction connected with McCarthyism and the Cold War. Patriotic and progressive editors ran the Philippine Collegian and published articles of mine and others against US domination and the ruling system. We considered the Collegian important and influential because it had a weekly circulation of 15,000 copies and carried the prestige of the University of the Philippines. The influence of the Collegian went beyond the campus, because it published articles that took up the issues that were of national significance, that galvanized the student youth movement and that were sometimes reprinted or endorsed by progressive journalists in the big media.

Progressive journalists arose in the major mass media. Among them were Antonio Zumel, Satur Ocampo and Antonio Nieva. One after the other, progressive journalists became presidents and officials of the National Press Club. As a matter of course, they defended press freedom as in previous decades. But in the 1960s, they supported the mass struggles of the youth and toiling masses, and insisted to their publishers and editors to give more space to these mass struggles and their cause, to use the press statements and press releases of the patriotic and progressive mass organizations and to allow fair and accurate reporting of their protest actions.

4. What actions were done by you or other practitioners when you heard of the rumors of the implementation of martial law?

JMS: Starting 1969, we exposed the indications that Marcos was scheming to impose martial law in the Philippines. He became more violent in suppressing the protest mass actions and openly threatened to declare martial law in 1970. Thus, the mass protesters in the First Quarter Storm of 1970 and thereafter cried out, “People’s War is the answer to martial law!”

The mass organizations issued their own leaflets and other publications. Ang Bayan, the central news organ of the Communist Party of the Philippines Central Committee, exposed and condemned all the machinations of Marcos to pave the way for martial law from 1969 to the proclamation of martial law in 1972. Progressive journalists shared with the mass movement their information about the martial law scheme of Marcos. Some of them prepared to go underground in case of a widespread crackdown on the anti-Marcos media.

5. Tell us something about the Progressive Review and how it contributed to the shaping of public opinion at that time.

JMS: The Progressive Review carried serious analytical articles concerning the major issues in the political, socio-economic and cultural life of the country, and the foreign relations of the reactionary state. Despite its small circulation, the Progressive Review was avidly read by the student activists, teachers, labor leaders, artists, writers, journalists and other professionals. It served to enlighten them on the issues and encourage them to spread further the national democratic line of analysis and action.

6. What influenced you to found Kabataang Makabayan?

JMS: Andres Bonifacio, the Katipunan and the Philippine revolution of 1896 influenced and inspired me to continue the struggle for national liberation and democracy against foreign and feudal domination. I also read the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, and learned more about the principles and methods of waging the people’s democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class in the era of modern imperialism and proletarian revolution.

7. What is the most defining or relevant instance or happening that this era contributed to the formation of the Philippine press?

JMS: The illusion that there was a free press in the Philippines from 1945 to 1972 became exposed and unraveled. At first, the national democratic movement of the youth and the people in the 1960s exposed the control of the major mass media by foreign and local reactionary interests. Finally, Marcos wiped out the “free press” that reflected the internal contradictions of the Philippine exploiting classes, and subsequently established the media monopoly under his fascist dictatorship. This was still beholden to the US imperialists and the proMarcos section of the big compradors and landlords.

8. What lesson should future generations of media practitioners never forget during this era?

JMS: The lesson is that the Philippine press cannot be truly free if the major print and electronic media are owned and controlled by the bourgeois press lords and are dependent on advertising income from the big foreign and local corporations.

The progressive press has an important role in advancing the cause of national and social liberation, in promoting press freedom, and in defending the exploited people who have no access to the so-called mainstream. The underground press made a major contribution to the effort to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship. And to this day, it perseveres to advance the people’s democratic revolution against US imperialism and the local reactionaries, whether this takes the form of a multi-party bourgeois dictatorship, fascist dictatorship or an oligarchy.

I suggest to the UP Journalism Club to honor and perpetuate the memory of Antonio Zumel and other journalists who played key roles in upholding, defending and promoting freedom of the press in order to serve the people’s struggle for national liberation and democracy and fight the Marcos fascist dictatorship. In particular, Zumel is most outstanding because he made the National Press Club the sanctuary of mass activists in the 1960s and demanded that the mass media widen the space for the youth and the toiling masses. When martial law came, he went underground to develop the revolutionary press against the dictatorship.

You can institute a semestral Antonio Zumel Lecture Forum with the UP Journalism Club, the Antonio Zumel Foundation, and the UP College of Mass Communications cooperating. You can feature outstanding outstandingly patriotic and progressive Filipino journalists to inspire the semestral flow of journalism students. Thus, the life and work of Zumel will be perpetuated from generation to generation. ###

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