|Journalism as agent of change: The Philippine experience|
|Written by Alexander Martin Remollino|
|Sunday, 04 July 2004 03:00|
The press is not called the Fourth Estate for nothing. It is called the Fourth Estate because its great influence on public opinion can make it a potent force for social change. Even the poet John Milton went into journalism for a while, and figured significantly in the installation of England's republican government led by Oliver Cromwell, unfortunately a shortlived one.
The people tend to be guided, in their reaction to social and political developments, by how the press reports on and analyzes these.
Like much of the world perhaps, the Philippines is prey to a mainstream media that largely says everything is all right with the world even as millions of people are dying in the villages and in the slums, and asking themselves not why they are dying but why they had ever lived.
But the Philippines can also boast of quite a long line of journalists belonging to a distinct group that criticizes the status quo and works with the people in their search for alternatives to it.
What may be called progressive media in the Philippines started to take root in the Propaganda Movement of the late 1880s and early 1890s. Counting among its leaders such illustrious names as Jose Rizal (who would eventually be recognized as the Philippine national hero), Marcelo del Pilar, and Graciano Lopez Jaena, the Propaganda Movement agitated for reforms in the way the Philippines was being run by the Spanish colonial government.
The Propaganda Movement did much of its work in Spain because it was there where they had their democratic space, and agitating for reforms was illegal in the Philippines. But it had a support network that circulated and discussed its work clandestinely among the people.
The Propaganda Movement did not realize its goals of reform, but the wave of nationalist thinking that it had helped to develop among the people paved the way for the revolutionary movement called the Katipunan, which called for armed revolution with the goal of separation from Spain.
The Katipunan put out a paper called the Kalayaan (Freedom), which was edited and staffed by revolutionary leaders Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, and Pio Valenzuela. Though it managed to put out only one issue, Kalayaan was instrumental in making the case for revolutionary struggle and increasing the membership of the Katipunan, which would oust the Spanish colonial regime in 1898.
When the Americans, who had previously played a small part in the war against Spanish colonialism disguised as liberators, usurped the Filipinos' hard-earned freedom, journalists like Apolinario Mabini and Fidel Reyes helped a lot in sustaining the people's resistance. The likes of poet-journalists Jose Corazon de Jesus and Amado Hernandez were of considerable importance in the campaigns for independence in the 1920s and 1930s.
During the Japanese occupation there were a number of underground newspapers which proved valuable in providing information to the armed resistance fighters. Particularly notable was the Free Philippines, edited and staffed by members of the Civil Liberties Union like Lorenzo Tañada and JBL Reyes.
After the granting of nominal independence in 1946 and in the midst of the subsequent Cold War hysteria that affected the Philippines, patriotic and pro-people journalists like Renato Constantino, Indalecio Soliongco, and Armando Malay put up a streak of nationalist thought, supporting Claro M. Recto's crusade for nationalist industrialization and independent foreign policy.
The nationalist wave of thought they sustained would find full flowering in the 1960s, filling up the streets with protesters.
In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos stemmed the growing tide of dissent by declaring martial law.
In the early years of martial law, there were several underground newspapers that reported what the government-controlled press could not report. These did much in encouraging the people to engage in anti-dictatorship resistance in a variety of means — both armed and legal.
When Marcos was forced to do a paper lifting of martial law in 1981 because of the growing people's resistance, there arose an above-ground alternative press that reported extensively on corruption and human rights violations perpetrated by the government.
In the end, the progressive press was instrumental in the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship.
In the post-Marcos years the progressive press continued to play the role of social critic, continuing the campaigns for alternative economic frameworks and social justice. It played a particularly important part in the campaign to oust Joseph Estrada who became notorious for his government's subservience to US neocolonial interests, corruption, and inefficiency.
Under the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the progressive press has been important in campaigns against the US-led war of aggression which the government wholeheartedly supports.
At particular junctures the progressive press in the Philippines has made an impact on public consciousness strong enough to make even the country's mainstream press tend toward alternative views at various levels.
The record of the Philippine progressive press shows that journalists can indeed be powerful catalysts for social change.
If journalists stayed away from the struggle for social change, the world would be the same whether or not they existed, and it would be as if they never existed at all. They have the responsibility to take part in the fight for a better world. Bulatlat
[This article was based on a talk delivered by the author July 17, 2004 at the Oceania Indymedia Conference in Melbourne, Australia. QC Indymedia has close links with IMCs in Australia and New Zealand.]