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Part II - The Broadcast Media's
Growing Role in
International Politics 


Because of the effective approaches used in controlling its own media, both the widespread governmental corruption that existed and the many human rights abuses in the Philippines did not come to the general attention of the international news media.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the international media take their cues from local press coverage. The U.S. media may have been further diverted from what was happening by the long-standing friendship that existed between Marcos and Washington.

Many Filipinos, some of whom fought along side of Americans during World War II, understandably resented this lack of interest by the U.S. and international news media.

After I gave a talk at a large university in the Philippines, one professor got up and remarked, "yes, you are interested now, but where have you [the media] been all these years while hundreds, if not thousands of our people were disappearing?"

I was on the spot.  The only honest answer I could give was the simple truth: "not doing our job."

A PBS documentary can probably be credited with first bringing the magnitude of the situation in the Philippines to the attention of the American public.  Commercial network news followed.

Marcos Starts to Lose His Grip On the Media 

Although for two decades Marcos had been fairly effective in controlling his country's local media, once the international news media became interested in what was really going on in his country, things changed.

One of the reasons the United States didn't look twice at what was going on beneath the surface was that its administration liked the friendship of Marcos, who allowed several large military bases to operate in the country. Former CIA director George Bush (when he was U.S. Vice-president) lauded Philippines as a fine example of a democracy in action. Is it any wonder that the media didn't look twice at this U.S. friend and partner?

But videotapes of bodies floating in a river changed this. By 1983 there were internal protests against the Marcos dictatorship taking place. In response the military tortured, killed, and imprisoned tens of thousands of workers and peasants--a brutal response that has by no means been unique to the Philippines.

Once the international media started looking beyond official U.S. and Philippine statements and woke up to the actual situation in the Philippines, the position Marcos had so carefully built over two decades started to crumble.

The most significant event in the revolution came on when Philippine Defense Minister Juan Enrile and Philippine General Fidel Ramos hastily called a news conference in a third floor room of Camp Aguinaldo.

In an effort to gain the protection which worldwide media visibility provides, Enrile and Ramos explained to foreign reporters why they had finally turned on the leader they had served for so many years.

Shortly after the three-hour Enrile-Ramos press conference ended, Marcos used his powerful television network to strongly denounce Enrile and Ramos as traitors.

But then a top Catholic cardinal, seeing the possibility of hope after two decades, broke through his years of restraint and used Catholic radio stations to issue pleas to the Filipino people. (The Catholic radio stations were the only significant media force that Marcos interests didn't to some degree control.)

What happened next changed the course of history in the Philippines.

Thousands of Filipino people poured out into the streets of Manila to protect Ramos and Enrile ("the traitors") in their (very vulnerable) rebel stronghold.


Media-Organized "People Power"  

Throughout the tense days of one of the few bloodless revolutions the world has ever seen, the Catholic radio stations represented the guiding force behind the "people power" which eventually swamped Marcos.

But Marcos didn't give up power without the type of fight befitting the shrewd man he was.

Knowing that the Catholic radio stations had become the Philippines' most relied on source of information, the Marcos regime devised an ingenious plan to use the stations to their own advantage.

Using a point-to-point radio frequency that Marcos officials knew was being monitored by the rebels, a report was transmitted that Marcos had fled to Guam. They hoped this false report would do two things: cause the rebels to come out of their stronghold, and give them justification to declare martial law and shut down the stations.

What the Marcos regime had counted on, happened. After news of the report was broadcast, confusion (and premature jubilation) reigned.

Marcos then called a television news conference to show the world that, contrary to the widely circulated report, he was still in his Manila palace and still very much in control.

The credibility of Catholic radio stations was badly shaken. The people didn't know who to believe.

But his newfound credibility quickly faltered. In a further attempt to quell opposition, Marcos launched another televised appeal. With his wife, family, and three generals around him, and as thousands of Filipinos watched, Marcos was cut off in mid-sentence just as he was authorizing troops to use small arms against the rebels.

The rebels had taken over a key Manila television station and Marcos' picture was soon replaced by those of "rebel leaders" Enrile and Ramos.

That ill-fated television program also backfired in another way. Marcos had ordered General Oxales to fire on the rebels. (The "rebels" by this time included thousands of his fellow countrymen.)

But when Oxales saw Marcos on television with only three generals around him, he knew that his support was gone and the cause was hopeless.

Using the commandeered government TV station, the rebel General, Ramos, explained to the Philippine people that the rebels now controlled 85 percent of the nation's military.

As the outcry against Marcos rose, the liberated broadcast media in the Philippines kept Filipinos in immediate contact with changing world opinion.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the telecast revelations by the international news media were putting increasing pressure on the Reagan Administration. Complicating the matter was the fact that Marcos had some influential supporters in the United States, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a popular evangelist and founder of Lynchburg Baptist College.

However, finally the Reagan administration backed away from Marcos, but not before rescuing him, along with his family and many personal possessions, and moving them into an estate in Hawaii.

It is interesting to note that during the early phases of the revolution when his own government-controlled stations were largely ignored by his people, Marcos started to depend on the foreign broadcast media to indirectly get his message to Filipinos. (The same foreign media that, once awakened, were largely responsible for his downfall.)

In total Marcos granted more than 10 special interviews to the foreign media--primarily to U.S. television reporters. At one point when he could not get through to Enrile, Marcos responded to the rebels through "Meet the Press" host Marvin Kalb.

The Impact of the Media
Coverage in the United States

The media coverage of events in the Philippines was also crucial to Filipinos the United States.

In Southern California, where 500,000 Filipinos live, the up to-the-minute news coverage meant that scores of Filipinos did not have to return to their country to try to protect family members from what could have easily turned into a bloody revolution.

Although television cameras have been accused of having a role in promoting civil disobedience and even violence, it seems that in the Philippines the opposite was the case. Possibly in part because they knew that the eyes of the world were on them, the Filipino people assumed a historically unparalleled level of restraint.

Maybe this was best exemplified by the words of a Filipino girl the night of Marcos' downfall. As her people finally pushed through the gates of the presidential palace directly behind her, she seemed fully aware that the eyes of the world were witnessing the event. As if to justify to the world what was happening, she looked into the network television camera and explained, "you'll have to forgive our people, but after 20 years, please understand it is hard to be restrained."

Secrecy is the beginning of tyranny.   --Robert Heinlein

A 2001 Update. 

Marcos, who had been in ill health, died a few years after the revolution.

Mrs. Marcos, his wife, has since returned to the Philippines and is now involved in local politics.

Mrs. Cory Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino, took over as President after Marcos was ferreted out of the Philippines to Hawaii by U.S. helicopters. Although widespread election fraud had resulted in Marcos being "officially" elected again, it was clear from numerous polls that Mrs. Aquino should have won the election.

(Benigno Aquino, the man who represented Marcos' only real political opposition, and husband of Cory Aquino, had been assassinated in broad daylight at Manila International Airport in August 1983, after arriving from a stay in the United States.)

After free and open elections were held, Mrs. Aquino was succeeded as president by General Fidel Ramos, one of the original "rebel leaders." After Ramos' term, his vice-president (a local film star) was elected president. In 2001, that president had to resign over a scandal and the vice-president took over.

In part because of his effective control over the local media and its messages, some people in the Philippines still refuse to believe that Marcos did any wrong and now hold him in saintly esteem.

Although some money was awarded to the many who suffered the effects of torture and personal loss, in 1999 legal efforts were still underway to get control of much of the Marcos money (estimated in the billions of dollars).

Unfortunately, stories of censorship, political repression and human rights abuses are not limited to South Africa and the Philippines. Even today the leaders of many countries are using the same tactics to try to hold onto political and economic power.  Part of the job of responsible journalism is to bring such matters to the attention of the world.

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