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And then she laughed

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At the onset of martial law, then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile shut down a total of 16 dailies, 19 magazines, three trade/business publications, one news service and seven TV stations in the Greater Manila Area, as well as 66 community newspapers and 292 radio stations nationwide.

Only two broadsheets were allowed to continue: the Manila Bulletin, owned by Gen. Hans Menzi, an aide-de-camp of Ferdinand Marcos, and the four-month-old Daily Express owned by Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto. The Times Journal, owned by Imelda Marcos’ favorite brother, Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, joined this elite circle a few months into martial law.

On Nov. 2, 1972, Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 36 canceling all existing media franchises and permits to operate because “the mass media have been used for the conspiracy against the Government and have taken part in that conspiracy either by direct willful participation, or by indirectly giving aid and comfort to the forces of insurgency and subversion seeking to overthrow the Government by organized violence…”

PD 36 also created the Mass Media Council, tasked with the power to review, reject, or grant applications of the mass media for permission to operate. Then Information Secretary Francisco “Kit” Tatad chaired the MMC, with Enrile as co-chair. No media entity could operate unless either or both of these men said so.

To institutionalize media censorship, the Marcos dictatorship instructed Tatad to clear “all materials for publication and broadcast … including all foreign dispatches and cables.”

In his memoir, Enrile says that Eggie Apostol “acted as though she was a member of my family. This became a problem for me with the Marcos Regime. But I never told Eggie about it to spare her the anxiety.”

When Mr&Ms first went on sale in 1976, it strictly adhered to all media guidelines on how to promote “New Society” values. It had a regular column by Ileana Maramag titled “The Week with Sir…and Ma’am” and especially dedicated to chronicling the public appearances of the conjugal dictatorship. The maiden issue had a literal graphic of the Marcos family tree, and a writeup titled “How To Collect Bote Garapa.” In its fifth week, Nic Tiongson wrote a piece titled “An Analysis of Philippine Toilets.” Nestor Torre’s “Anak ng Mmmmedia” talked about show-biz personalities. Its Sept. 14, 1976, issue, carried a photo of Cristina Ponce Enrile with a caption identifying her as the chair of the Kagandahang Kayumanggi Fashion Show/Fundraiser featuring the designer Ben Farrales and his special guests Pilita Corrales and Boots Anson Roa.

Issues like political repression, the curtailment of the right to free speech, warrantless arrests, forced detention and summary executions were not touched by Eggie Apostol and her staff. As far as the Marcos dictatorship was concerned, Eggie and Mr&Ms were not worth its time or attention.

Enrile says that “Eggie Apostol had an advantage over the rest because she enjoyed the protection of my family. The minions of the Palace and the NISA had not molested her or her group, which included Maximo Soliven, Luis Beltran, Betty Go Belmonte and several others.”

Max Soliven and Louie Beltran were among the first journalists to be arrested in 1972 by Enrile’s officers. Marcos expressly forbade Soliven from writing for seven years. That meant that the earliest Soliven could work was in 1979. He, however, vowed not to write until Ninoy Aquino had been freed. His first writeup for the Mr&Ms Special Edition was on Sept. 9, 1983.

Beltran, on the other hand, was almost financially bankrupt after his incarceration. He had to resort to raising fighting cocks to make ends meet. He joined Mr&Ms shortly before Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. No one protected Soliven or Beltran, covertly or explicitly, from the so-called Marcos minions.

By 1979, even as it catered to the whims of the alta sociedad with its coverage of weddings and 5-star hotels, and through its very popular recipes prepared exclusively by the University of the Philippines home economics faculty,  Mr&Ms began to draw progressive writers like Pete Lacaba, Nick Joaquin, Teodoro M. Locsin, F. Sionil Jose and Domingo Landicho. By 1983, Rene Saguisag, Alfredo Navarro Salanga and even Kit Tatad had become regular contributors. Mr&Ms crossed its Rubicon when Ninoy Aquino fell dead on the tarmac on Aug. 21, 1983.

Eggie Apostol herself went through a transformation. When she introduced Mr&Ms to the public in 1976, she wrote that she and her editorial team did so because they wanted to “give more attention to the male reader, who has been complaining that he has little to read.”

In the Sept. 9, 1983, Mr&Ms Special Edition, Eggie wrote that “this supplement is offered as a venue for those who find no room for their freedom-loving thoughts in other media and for the credible reportage of the events that may happen in the Ninoy aftermath. This is a task we would rather not do, a task we quake in our sack dress to do. But we perceive it as a mandate from our readers… If in this issue we seem to be highly provocative, to have given space to opposition views, it is because we have no others at the moment.”

Given his intellect and all that he went through at that time, Enrile could have had a similar epiphany. He was in an excellent position to tell Marcos that martial law brought pain, suffering and the loss of loved ones to thousands of Filipino families. History shows that he did not. Not even his memoir can change that.

We recently bought a copy of Enrile’s memoir for Eggie Apostol. She must have found it very interesting, because she stayed up all night reading it. By the time she was finished with all 750 pages, it was already 5 a.m. As she turned the last page, she closed her eyes…and laughed.

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.


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