Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc had the balls to look at the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the face and tell him off, after he inaugurated himself as president for the nth time.
I am reprinting below the piece that got her fired from Panorama magazine, that inspired other writers to carry on the fight. She is gone now, but her fighting spirit lives on. This piece, along with the explanation is from The Philippine Press UNDER SIEGE, published by the National Press Club and Committee to Protect Writers in 1984, when it had become even more dangerous to fight the regime.
I am also reprinting this piece to give the post-martial law generation an idea of how repressive a one-man rule is. When a man promises to fight drugs, criminality etc. on condition that you totally surrender your freedoms to him, that is a warning that he wants to impose a dictatorship. Beware of such politicians who promise to deliver a crime-free society on condition that he alone will decide everything for you and me.
The day after this article came out in Panorama magazine on July 12, 1981, three high-ranking government officials wrote Panorama publisher Hans Menzi threatening libel or subversion charges.
Comelec chairman Vicente M. Santiago, Jr. wrote that Letty’s statements about the Comelec “are utterly malicious, false and unfounded and directly tend to insult, ridicule and discredit an independent constitutional body if not the entire electoral processes, and more specifically, tend to cast doubts and malign the character, reputation, honor and integrity of its Chairman and individual Members, both in their official and private capacities.”
He also said that the article “has wittingly or unwittingly placed the Bulletin Today in the category of a subversive instrument against the present government,” adding that “Before we go to court, to seek redress, we are giving you an opportunity of publicly rectifying the libelous statements in question in the next issue of the Panorama,without prejudice to or the filing of actions for contempt, libel and damages.”
Justice Minister Ricardo Puno wrote that “the entire tenor” of Magsanoc’s article “impeaches the President’s integrity and capability as a person and a leader and thus holds him up to public contempt and ridicule.”
Minister Puno also reminded Menzi that “The law punishes acts which incite or tend to incite rebellion or sedition or the undermining in any manner of the faith and confidence of the people in their Government and/or its duly constituted authorities. It condemns seditious writings and the circulation of scurrilous libels against the Government or any of the duly constituted authorities thereof or those which tend to instigate others to cabal and meet together for unlawful purposes, or which tend to stir up the people against the lawful authorities or to disturb the peace of the community or the safety and order of the Government.”
The Justice Minister ended with a warning that unless “commensurate and positive steps are taken to rectify the wrong resulting from the publication of the article. . . . the Government will be left with no other alternative but to seek vindication and redress pursuant to law.”
Minister of Local Governments Jose Rono wrote Menzi in his capacity as KBL secretary-general. His letter said: “It was indeed unfortunate that you allowed such a meaningful and historic event as the birth of the New Republic to be narrated with such a sarcastic tone and cavalier conceit, embellishing your account of the June 30 inauguration with seething mockery. . . I strongly suggest that you disassociate yourself and your publication from this sad article on the lnauguration.”
On the same day Menzi received these letters, Letty was forced to resign as Panorama editor, the first casualty in media after the lifting of martial law.
There Goes the New Society,
Welcome the New Republic
Bv LETTY JIMENEZ-MAGSANOC
How about lunch tomorrow? Can’t. Let’s go after The lnauguration. I am in great pain, doc, when do I have my operation? As soon as The lnauguration is over. What about going away with me for the weekend? No way, wait till after The lnauguration. What about school? After
The. . .
Even the weather held back its fury; typhoon Daling dilly dallied over Southern Luzon; the winds and the rains lashed at the city only in the afternoon after the morning of The lnauguration of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos as president of the Republic of the Philippines. “That’s one thing I can say about Marcos,” said a non-Marcos believer but a true believer of Amado Pineda’s weather forecast and had come to the inaugural rites burdened with a raincoat and an umbrella, “he certainly can control the
In fact President Marcos has been in total control of the country for the past 16 years. lnaugurated as the eighth president of the republic (not counting Ouezon and Osmena who were presidents of the Commonwealth under American tutelage), Marcos was also its sixth and seventh president. Those who are 30 years old today have known only one President throughout their lifetime and that is Marcos. He has been elected to a six-year term. Though the amended 1973 Constitution is silent on reelection, the April 7 plebiscite noted that reelection “is a matter for the people to decide”. Shortly before, the June 16 elections, the President expressed a tinge of disappointment as he said that a survey among 18-year-olds revealed that “they don’t know that I have been a soldier’ They only know me as their president. Nothing else.”
Again, on that bright balmy (even the sun tempered its heat when the Marcoses arrived) morning of June 30, he took the oath of the presidential office administered by Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, before 28 state visitors to the inaugural headed by US Vice President George Bush and an estimated one million people at the Rizal Park (typically a cool government newscaster spewing “monumental” and “historic” over the airwaves had escalated the figure to five million).
ln turn, the thrice-inaugurated president inaugurated the New Republic during his inaugural address that lasted for about 18 minutes. Punctuated with ringing phrases reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speeches, it heralded renewal of purpose, unity, optimism and change – from the New Society (Whatever happened to that? ) to the New Republic. “Today, we proclaim here the birth of a new republic; new in structure and character, and ordained to preside over a new time of ferment and change in our national life. . . This is the vision of rebirth that we hold out to the nation today – of a new people and a new government that will be stable, strong and capable of leading the way to the national future,” the President proclaimed. (Giveaway t-shirts echoed the newness: “a new mandate, a new republic, a new destiny.”)
But with the economy appallingly inadequate and the mounting cries against cronyism, political corruption in high and all places people waited to hold on to something more tangible than abstract ideals and soaring rhetoric on rebirth and the New Republic. It came toward the end of the President’s speech and it made the single strongest point of an otherwise uninspired inaugural address. The President said: “There is no injustice that we cannot eradicate, no corruption that we cannot extirpate, no hardship or crisis that we cannot surmount. . .”
But it seemed not enough from a man who is both writer and scholar (authored books on Today’s Revolution: Democracy, Notes on the New Society of the Philippines and the continuing series on Tadhana: The History of the Filipino People); from a man to whom words come easy in flowing abundance; of whom it cannot be said that he’s a prisoner of the clever pens of clever men. When then Vice-President Mondale at a dinner in his honor in Malacanang stood up to give his remarks following President Marcos’ speech he said it was extremely difficult to follow a man whose ‘eloquence and brilliance” had impressed him when he first heard President Marcos address a joint ‘session of the US Congress. To accentuate the praise, Mondale had then read his prepared speech; the President
had spoken extemporaneously and dazzled with his perceptive grasp of history and foreign affairs.
Despite the President’s commanding presence, his inaugural address was not unlike an entry in an oratorical contest of “l Speak for Democracy”.
If one sat entranced during the inaugural address, it was because it was delivered by a man who is considered today to be no less than the world’s most powerful president.
First elected in’65, he won re-election in ’69, the only Filipino president thus far to win a second term. Before his term ended in 1973, he proclaimed martial law in September, 1972 and ruled by decree until
January, 1981. By that time, President Marcos did not need the sweeping, unchecked powers that martial law conferred on him. Amendments to the 1973 Constitution proposed and approved in a referendum in 1976 included the controversial Amendment 6 that empowers the President/Prime Minister (as Marcos had both titles then) to override the lnterim Batasang Pambansa or the regular National Assembly “for any reason that in his judgment requires immediate action.” And soon came a confusing flurry of decrees, proclamations and executive orders, the most widely criticized being the Public Order Act issued last September and now “part of the law of the land” as are all presidential decrees.
The act provides that “whenever in the judgment” of the President, a grave emergency threatens or exists he can order the restriction of the ”movement and other activities of persons and entities with a view to preventing them from acting in a manner prejudicial to national security or the maintenance of public order.” The order includes but is not limited to preventive detention of persons suspected of acting in a manner “prejudicial” . . . etc. The restrictions range from closure of media considered subversive to banning entertainment to controlling school admissions. ln pursuance of this decree, the president can issue search warrants “for the seizure of any document or property subject of the offense or used or intended to be used as the means of committing the offense.”
Today, President Marcos holds the powers bestowed on a head of state from both the 1935 and the 1973 Constitutions reinforced by the 1976 and 1981 amendments. Yet with all the awesome powers at his disposal, he needed, he said, to go before the people “to be judged” on his performance in office for 16 consecutive years. “l want a mandate” he often repeated after the “yes” win in the April 7 plebiscite that changed the structure of government from a parliamentary to a semi-parliamentary system with full powers of government vested in the president where they had once been the prime minister’s before the approval of further amendments to the ’73 Constitution. One of the plebiscite questions that won the electorate’s nod asked: “Do you want the president to be directly elected by the people?’ Elections was set by the National Assembly on June 16. Marcos with all the built-in advantages of an incumbent plus the disarray of the supposedly United Opposition and his inept if not outright weird rivals (12 altogether) won 87 per cent of the votes. The Opposition’s boycott strategy suffered a resounding numerical defeat but claimed a “clear moral victory”.
The conduct of the plebiscites before and after martial law and the presidential election itself has been marked by suspicions of connivance, corruption and dishonest counting of votes by the Comelec.
But this is past history, whether glorious or disgraceful. And history is full of unanswered questions and unresolved suspicions. But these are but threads in the entire fabric of history though at the moment they choke our credibility and visions and strangle the freedoms, even the lives of those who are behind bars without charges or trial because they believe in an alternative course to history. But for now, let it be – let the threads dangle where they might; let loose ends hang untied. These all will come to pass; these all will fit whether coarsely or smoothly into the whole cloth of history when it presents its ultimate mandate.
With the people’s mandate (believe that or not) behind him, President Marcos has set off the signals flashing to restructure society; to eradicate corruption and injustice under the New Republic; and to redeem his campaign pledge to “go after erring officials, friend or foe”. That Marcos’ campaign slogan “There’s no substitute for victory” did not create an impact on the populace (only in the coffee shop circuit where wags and wits went to town with it) is indicative of the rising national expectation of a clean government. After the inaugural, someone suggested that for starters, Marcos in a dramatic display of the seriousness of purpose of his goals in the New Republic, publicly burn the effigies of his corrupt cronies, those who have been called “smarter than others” at the expense of others and the national economy. “It takes something like that to instantly restore public confidence in governments.” that someone added. It’s true. The first task of the New Republic is to restore public confidence in government. Only Marcos can do it. When Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address, it was 1933, a period of the most cruel depression winter in American-history. One editorial writer asked, “Why don’t they smash windows? Why don’t they go and get it?” The answer to that question was that the people were waiting for what the new President Roosevelt had to say to them, what he had to-offer them. He succeeded. Though President Marcos’ inaugural address disappoints because of its verbose generalities, it is in the final analysis, only words, words, and more words. The verbiage still holds out a promise of action. Performance is the test of the New Republic. Will there be a “new government” after the inaugural? Only President Marcos can tell, only he can make or break a truly new Republic. It is not true as that elder statesman Lorenzo Tanada has said in a speech before the Manila Rotary Club that Marcos is the country’s number one problem.
The problem is a Marcos who with all his powers is powerless before corruption and the corruptors. lt is a Marcos astride the same tired tiger (the discarded and discredited New Society) carrying on under a different name, the New Republic. If that continues, the Filipino docile as he has been as the carabao these 16 years cannot but give way and tear at the Republic, whatever the kind.