‘Proklamasyon, Kontraproklamasyon’ exhibit tackles media discourses on Martial Law

| Written by Louie Jon A Sánchez

One of the panels on display at the exhibit. Photo from the UP Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts Facebook page.



In commemoration of the 38th anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution, the University of the Philippines Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (UPD OICA), with the support of the UP President’s Committee on Culture and the Arts and the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP), mounted the exhibit, “Proklamasyon, Kontraproklamasyon: Mga Diskursong Midya Hinggil sa Batas Militar”, from February 20 to 29, 2024 at the Palma Hall Lobby in U.P. Diliman.

Working with the notion of “proklamasyon”, which primarily alluded to that ominous proclamation of Martial Law by President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. over dictatorship-controlled television in 1972, the exhibit drew from various multimedia sources during and especially after the regime that drew dissent against what is currently being peddled by influence groups as a “golden age” in the country’s contemporary history.

The team, led by Monica Fides Amanda W. Santos, UPD OICA Director and Assistant Professor of Anthropology, and the curator, Mark Louie Lugue, curated the said pieces of multimedia to organize what the exhibit described as “kontraproklamasyon”, a timely calling out of the regime’s historical atrocities and excesses, and surely, a necessary exposition of resistance as chronicled through mass media. The exhibit argued that while Philippine mass media was utilized to the hilt for Marcos Sr. propaganda, some quarters remained to be potent platforms for critique and exposé. When the dictatorship finally fell in 1986, mass media reclaimed its role as watchdog and played a vital part in remembering and bearing witness to Marcos Sr.’s tyranny, nowadays being whitewashed and subjected to orchestrated forgetting, particularly in social media.

The exhibit’s introductory note read: “Ang mga balita, larawan, bidyo, atbp. sa eksibit na ito ay pagsasatinig ng midya hinggil sa Batas Militar. May ilan ditong mula sa panahong iyon na nagtatanggol at nagpapalayaw pa nga sa pangangailangan nito upang mapangalagaan ang kalinangan at kalagayang pambansa. Samantala, karamihan ay naglalaman ng mga pagbubunyag matapos ng diktadura, mga kontra-proklamasyon hinggil sa madilim, marahas, at masaklap na bahagi ng kasaysayang, na baluktutin o ipalimot man, mananatiling totoo anumang panahon.”


The other panels on display at the exhibit. Photo from the UP Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts Facebook page.



The exhibit opened with images of the Martial Law proclamation broadcast and broadsheet headlines bannering a new age and life for Filipinos. This was exemplified in the lines of the infamous “Bagong Lipunan” hymn, “May Bagong Silang, May Bago nang Búhay”, the very title the section takes for itself. The images’ signification of doom and gloom was reinforced by disquieting articles defending Martial Law and what was then called “constitutional authoritarianism”.

The “proclamations” earlier carried out through television and print propaganda were vigorously contravened by counternarratives, as exemplified by the panels, namely, “We Haven’t Learned Our Lesson”, which featured real testimonies of suppression; “Makibaka! Huwag Matakot: Kabataan at Kalungsuran”, a photo documentation of street protests and the pivotal First Quarter Storm (FQS) of the 1970s in the streets of Manila; and “Sa Kabukiran, Walang Kalungkutan. Lahat ng Araw ay Kaligayahan”, an ironic and biting documentation of crackdowns on and stifling of dissent in the Philippine countryside. A centerpiece of these interconnected sections was poet and journalist Jose F. Lacaba’s celebrated Philippines Free Press reportage of FQS, later gathered in the 1982 book, “Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage”. A thought-provoking quote from Lacaba’s reportage embodied the ethos of the tumultuous times: “In the parliament of the streets, debate takes the form of confrontation.”

Forms of grassroots and partisan resistance in mass media were also on display in the exhibit. The section, “Táyo ang Pag-aari ng Lupa: Katutubong Kulay Karahansan”, featured reports of repression among indigenous peoples, the most prominent of which was that of the Butbut Kalinga tribe elder and martyr, Macli-ing Dulag, whose insistence on the dominion of nature and environment over man inspired the section’s title.

Notably, the exhibit located a revered fragment of Dulag’s house door that bore the gunshots that felled him in 1980, after leading the opposition to the controversial Chico River Dam Project. To this day, that part of the door is both testament and relic of his convictions to fight for indigenous culture and identity. Meanwhile, extant mimeographed copies of underground publications of the Communist Party of the Philippines were also showcased to provide programmatic coverage and analysis of the Marcos dictatorship.



Two key sections revalued the role of mass media during the waning of the dictatorial regime in the 1980s. “Babae, May Tungkulin Ka” took after the iconic lines of the popular Inang Laya song to foreground the role of women journalists in what is remembered today as the rise of the “mosquito press”. Ultimately, the materials gathered by the exhibit illustrated their tenacity, even as the entire fourth estate of mass media remained on its knees, trying not to offend Marcos Sr. in any way.

On what made it possible, a quote on display from the journalist, Niñez Cacho Olivarez, offered a conjecture: “The thing with Marcos that a lot of people haven’t realized, and why women journalists got away with it—Marcos followed tradition or the code of conduct of Filipino males. A man never quarrels with a woman. His stature and esteem go down. It’s never done. You can quarrel with a woman in private but never in public.”

Finally, “Kulungin Mo at Umiiyak: Midya sa Pagbasak ng Diktadura” inspired this time by the nationalistic song “Bayan Ko”,showed portions of the unforgettable 1997 documentary, “Batas Militar”, produced by the Foundation for Worldwide People Power of the Philippine Daily Inquirer founder, Eugenia Apostol, another stalwart of the mosquito press era.

A forum held on February 23, 2024 at the exhibit venue synthesized the insights of the exhibit, with a panel composed of: Dr. Maria Diosa Labiste, Associate Professor of Journalism; Maureen Loste, Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center Chair; Karlo Mikhail Momgaya, Assistant Professor of Filipino and Philippine Literature; and Daniel Sebastianne Daiz, Philippine Collegian News Editor. The panel discussion was moderated by Professor Emeritus Elizabeth Enriquez.

Louie Jon A Sánchez is an Associate Professor of Broadcast Communication at the College of Mass Communication, UP Diliman.