Thursday, May 7, 2009

1986 Martial Law in the Philippines backed by U.S. Military Aid

On September 21, 1972, Martial Law was declared in the Philippines by President Ferdinand Marcos, reportedly backed by the United States’ Reagan administration. Although this story did not appear on Newseum’s top news stories of the century list, I find the events leading up to dictator Marcos’ demise a milestone not only in my people’s history, but for third world people everywhere and for American citizens who found themselves accountable in proving to the world that Martial Law was illegitimate. During this time, a curfew was set for all Filipino citizens and any dissent was met with intimidation, prison time, or death. Marcos controlled everything, curtailed press freedom and other civil liberties, and contributed to the massive debt that is still felt by the Philippine economy today, a debt that the Filipino people are merely paying the interest for.

Ultimately, the People Power I movement in 1986, an uprising of millions of Filipinos supported by the pressure of the international community, toppled the widespread government corruption, lavish lifestyle (Marcos’ wife and first lady, Imelda, owned millions of shoes), and human rights terror of the Marcos’ dictatorship with the sheer power of the people fighting with every fiber in their bones. This period in history echoes across time and should remind citizens that they can be connected to what seems so far in the most concrete ways. It is also a reminder that the citizen journalist has a critical voice in our own country’s foreign policy and international relations.

The U.S. has provided almost $1 billion in military and economic aid to Mr. Marcos since he declared Martial Law, according to a New York Times article entitled, “Washington, Amplify the Filipinos’ Voice,” written by Richard Kessler. In this article, little to no sources were cited, leading me to believe Kessler acted as a citizen journalist, advocating against U.S. involvement in the Philippines. The angle of this story is a critical one, providing concrete reasons as to why American citizens should have even cared; we were implicated because our tax dollars funded military aid going abroad.

In a Los Angeles Times piece entitled, “Starving Children, Jobless Workers: Outside Manila, Little People Power,” by Haleh Wunder, this article is loaded with context. The writer succeeded in gathering the voices of the poorest Filipinos, such as the farmers and peasants, and included anecdotal stories that gave the story an appealing human face. “In talking with farmers, farm workers, landowners, government officials, leaders of mass organizations and social workers, I began to see that the extreme rural poverty is not simply a result of Marcos’ infamous corruption. It has to do with the structure of the Philippines economy, a system grossly manipulated by Marcos, reinforced by U.S. economic aid and ripe for excessive corruption,” Wunder said.

Examining these two articles as well as two other Los Angeles Times articles about Martial Law, the coverage of this topic reflects what was happening in the profession at the time. In Discovering the News, the term “adversary culture” was introduced by Lionel Trilling. “Literature in the West has had the ‘clear purpose of detaching the reader from the habits of thought and feeling that the larger culture imposes, of giving him a ground and a vantage point from which to judge and condemn, and perhaps revise, the culture that produced him” (176-177). Because of the political turmoil felt in the 1960’s, many people, especially journalists, were beginning to feel skeptical about all that was happening around them. In this case, the four articles I came across were extremely critical of what is seen by many as the U.S.-backed Martial Law era.

“The critical culture deeply affected journalism. There was a direct effect: journalists were citizens, too, susceptible to the same cultural currents as anyone else” (179).


Washington, Amplify The Filipinos' Voice
Richard Kessler. New York Times. (1857-Current file); May 22, 1984; Proquest Historical Newspapers. The New York Times (1851-2005) pg. A27

Starving Children, Jobless Workers: Outside Manila, Little 'People Power'
Haleh Wunder. Los Angeles Times (1886-Current File). Los Angeles, Calif.:Jun 8, 1986. p. F2 (1 pp.)

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