Today, as the incumbent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte continues to dangle the threat of Martial Law and snarls at professional media for doing its job, the story of journalist Alejandro “Alex” Esclamado becomes quite relevant and poignant.
In this guest post, Yvonne — a long-time member of Cyber Plaza Miranda — recalls the bravery of Esclamado who could have had an easy life. He was a province mate of Imelda Marcos – Raissa
Remembering Alex Esclamado and the tentacles of Marcos dictatorship
Guest post by Yvonne
When Raissa Robles was writing her widely acclaimed book ‘Marcos Martial Law Never Again’ I shared with her some leads on Alejandro “Alex” Esclamado, one of the many oppressed victims of Marcos martial law.
Alex was a victim of a different type of torture – economic and mental anguish.
What stands out about Alex is that he was an American citizen living in California; his torture highlighted the far-reaching tentacles of the Marcos dictatorship beyond Philippine territorial boundaries. And it showed clearly how the Marcos regime would stop at nothing to protect its dictatorship.
But Alex’s torture did not make it to the cut in Raissa’s book. [Note from Raissa: Actually, I ran out of pages. So I decided to concentrate on the torture and atrocities in the Philippines.]
I’m reminded again of Alex when House Representative Gary Alejano of the Magdalo Group filed an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte.
People are asking: why would Alejano file his complaint when it is likely to fail in the House where Duterte supporters comprise the super-majority? Surely, it is an act of futility, so they say.
Or, is it?
Maybe one of the reasons for Alejano’s action is the same reason that prompted U.S. Congressman Phillip Burton to take the floor of the U.S. Congress on October 8, 1975 to talk about Alex – to put into the official records of Congress the atrocities of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship against Filipino-Americans so that those atrocities may not be forgotten by future generations.
Hopefully the impeachment complaint against Duterte will likewise provide a window where future generations of Filipinos can take a look back at the Duterte administration many years from now.
Indeed, after some 40 years later I’m able to glimpse back into a dark episode of the Marcos dictatorship, thanks to Congressman Burton. And because Alex and his fight against the dictatorship are not widely known in the Philippines, I want to share his story so that he may be a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving Filipinos.
Let me start by quoting from U.S. House Congressional Records of October 8, 1975, page 32448:
MARCOS THREATENS U.S. CITIZENS
The SPEAKER pro tempore:
Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from California (Mr. PHILLIP BURTON) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. PHILLIP BURTON:
Mr. Speaker, according to reports published in Washington and San Francisco among other places, the Marcos regime in the Philippines, which is presently under investigation by the U.S. Attorney General for allegations of attempted bribery of a witness before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, is using intimidation, blackmail, and economic reprisals against American citizens critical of the Marcos regime. [NOTE from Raissa: Burton was referring to Primitivo Mijares, Marcos’ chief propagandist who had turned whistleblower and testified in the US Congress.]
A distinguished publisher, Alejandro Esclamado, owner of the Philippine News, has been singled out by the Marcos government in an attempt to silence American journalistic criticism of that regime.
I deplore these outrageous practices and I am asking the Attorney General to expand his investigation to include this matter. Such practices are all the more
shocking in view of the long tradition of deep friendship and respect between the
Philippine and American people. I am placing in the RECORD at this time two newspaper columns outlining this monstrous behavior on the part of a foreign government toward U.S. citizens.
With his speech Representative Burton provided the full text of the articles ‘THE MARCOS AFFAIR’ written by Jack Anderson and ‘ANTI-MANILA PAPER-EDITOR CLAIMS MARCOS THREAT’ written by Andrew Curtin. The articles have since then been included in the U.S. Congressional Records.
The U.S. Congress and Justice Department investigated the bribery allegation in 1975 – it charged that President Ferdinand Marcos offered Primitivo Mijares a $50,000 bribe not to testify on Capitol Hill about the widespread corruption and tyranny in the Philippines. When Mijares refused to accept the bribe, Marcos brought criminal charges against him and sought his extradition to the Philippines. Mijares was Marcos’ former press censor who turned against the dictatorship and wrote the widely revealing book ‘The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’.
The Philippine News, a weekly newspaper in San Francisco that was owned and published by Alex Esclamado, covered the bribery story extensively in its front pages. It was the latest of a string of explosive investigative news reporting by the Philippines News, the only major Filipino newspaper in the U.S. to oppose and fight the Marcos dictatorship from the start when martial law was declared.
Among others, Alex wrote extensively about the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino, and had strongly lobbied the U.S. Congress to cut off U.S. military and economic aid to the Philippines to manifest its displeasure and apply pressure on Marcos.
Alex and the Philippine News were at the receiving end of Marcos’ ire when the bribery scandal was exposed. Through his various emissaries, Marcos exerted immense pressure on Filipino-owned travel agencies in the U.S. to boycott and withdraw their ads from the newspaper. The travel agencies, which accounted for about 80% of the newspaper’s income, were intimidated into closing their advertising accounts. The resulting severe financial hardship for Alex and his family nearly caused the newspaper to fold.
The pressure on the travel agencies came in the form of requests for cooperation from Marcos emissaries. These “requests” were veiled threats that failure to cooperate with Malacanang would have adverse effects on the travel agencies. It was implied that the government would withdraw the privileges given to these agencies to engage in the travel and tourism business. Visitors and tourists to the Philippines were given privileges such as free customs inspection and other courtesies at the airport. Those courtesies could be withdrawn from passengers or clients of travel agencies that did not cooperate with the government. And the government could also deny visas, commercial papers and other documents to clients of the non-cooperating travel agencies.
Alex and his family ran into financial hardship as a result of the boycott. They lost all their properties that they had mortgaged to keep the newspaper running.
A Marcos emissary offered to buy the Philippine News for $10 million, an offer he thought the heavily indebted Alex, could not refuse. But Marcos was mistaken, Alex rejected the offer.
When the boycott, the threats, and the buy-out offer did not work, Marcos tried a different tactic – he financed new Filipino community newspapers to compete with the Philippine News to force it out of business.
Here is an excerpt from Andrew Curtin’s article:
“They’ve tried everything in their efforts to silence the paper,” Esclamado said. “Coercion, threats on my life, pressures on my family, attempts to buy me out. They offered me a very handsome price.”
Esclamado, his wife Lourdes and their seven children all are American citizens.
But some members of his staff are not, he said, and Marcos officials have subjected them to possible deportation by canceling their passports, compelling them to seek political asylum here.
“Every time we’d break a major story,” · Esclamado said, ”I’d hear from some anonymous male caller. He’d say things like I ought to be afraid for my life, or remind me that I had children who could be in danger.”
On three occasions, Esclamado said, he reported the calls to San Francisco police. “I asked the phone company if there was any way to stop or trace the calls and they said no, he said. “
“The basic issue here is freedom of the press,” Esclamado said. “What it amounts to is that a foreign government is trying to put an American newspaper out of business.
In 1989, Alex received the Philippine Legion of Honor Award from President Corazon Aquino. The award reads in part:
“For his distinguished and outstanding service to the country during the past 20 years. Often a lone voice in the United States, he relentlessly championed Philippine freedom and democracy without regard for personal safety in the face of the threatening might of the dictatorship.”
“Through his newspaper, the Philippine News, he continuously published the truth about the repressions of the dictatorial rule, suffering great financial loss and harassment of his family. His testimony before the US Congress revealing facts about the assassination of Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., and the oppression of the Filipino people, helped change US policy towards the Philippines.”
In 2011, Alex returned to his hometown in Leyte. He died there in 2014 after a long battle with illness.