SINCE 1986, conventional wisdom in the Philippines has paid tribute to the role of the “alternative press” in the overthrow of the Marcos regime that year.
During the period of open dictatorship (1972-1986), the alternative press was defined, though only tacitly in most cases, as that part of the press separate from and independent of the controlled or “crony” press– i.e., the press consisting of newspapers and broadcast media owned by close Marcos associates and that were under government regulation. In the “alternative” category were the semi-legal and underground newspapers, news dispatches and magazines published by Church and human rights groups as well as by the armed resistance movement led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, and such tenuously legal publications as Jose Burgos’ WE Forum and Malaya.
Despite their ideological differences, these publications were united by a common purpose: they provided information the controlled press was unable and unwilling to provide, and the corresponding analyses the information called for, in behalf of the argument that such realities as the violations of human rights, the war in Mindanao, the corruption that was approaching record levels, the energy and rice crises, and the exponential growth of the anti-dictatorship resistance were the best arguments against the Marcos kleptocracy.
They were, in short, alternatives to the captive and crony press that had made commitment to reporting “good news” in behalf of the dictatorship its collective mantra. The conclusion that the alternative press, because driven by the imperatives of anti-dictatorship resistance, was a new phenomenon in Philippine press history rapidly became unquestioned, and eventually conventional, wisdom.
The term “alternative press” has been variously defined as that part of the press consisting of magazines and newspapers published by groups, movements or individuals advocating social and other changes, as distinguished from that part of the press consisting of publications published by business and political interests committed to the defense and preservation of the status quo.
The publications so categorized are “alternatives” to what is usually referred to as the “mainstream” publications in that they provide options for the public other than what is dominantly available in terms of information the latter either do not provide, or, if they do provide them, interpret according to the interests of those who control them.
In the Philippine context, Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar and Graciano Lopez Jaena’s La Solidaridad, Andres Bonifacio’s Kalayaan, and other publications of the revolutionary movement and government during and after the reform and revolutionary periods of the late 19th century as well as such publications during the US occupation of the Philippines as Teodoro M. Kalaw’s El Renacimiento constituted the alternative press in that they were alternatives to the Spanish and early US colonial press.
The alternative press was therefore also the alternative to the dominant interests and corresponding viewpoint of those in control of the ruling system. Suppressed during the US colonial period (the “Aves de Rapina” libel case silenced El Renacimiento), the alternative press went underground during the Japanese occupation to provide Filipinos information on the real state of the country and of the resistance against the Japanese. Again receding into the background at the end of the war, the alternative press assumed the various forms (semi-legal, legal, and underground) Filipinos became familiar with during the Marcos dictatorship.
So understood, the alternative press in the Philippines is therefore not a development born out of the martial law experience, but a tradition over a century old. Inherent in the alternative press tradition is its serving as an instrument of both exposure of as well as resistance to the realities and abuses of the prevailing social, economic and political systems by providing the information citizens need in furtherance of understanding, and, what is equally relevant, changing those systems.
Historically, once “normalcy” has been restored (e.g., when US power was consolidated enough at the turn of the century, the Japanese driven out and independence “granted” in 1946, Marcos overthrown and democracy “restored” in 1986) the alternative press has either receded into the margins of Philippine culture, or parts of it absorbed by the “mainstream” (e.g., Malaya and the Philippine Daily Inquirer).
But what is currently noticeable is that, together with the urgency of the need to address the crisis of Philippine society—the persistent and growing poverty, injustice and violence of it; the decline and mockery of what has passed for democracy— is the only too evident failure of the “mainstream,” or more properly, the dominant, press to provide the information and analysis understanding the crisis requires. The economic interests of media owners and the sheer intellectual vacuity, the corruption and the incompetence of too many “mainstream” practitioners are at the roots of that failure. As a result, the alternative press is becoming a major source of citizen enlightenment during supposedly “normal,” but actually critical times.
While they no longer publish hard copies, the advent of the Internet has enabled such alternative publications as Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly not only to survive, but also to lengthen their reach to those disaffected by the bias, triviality, sensationalism, and shallowness of the dominant (“mainstream”) press and who’re anxiously looking for relevant information and analyses. Among their growing constituencies are students and young professionals, social and political activists, and those Filipinos resident in and/or working in other countries across the globe.
The worsening crisis of Philippine society, and with it the inability of the dominant press to explain or even to simply document it, are making the current forms the alternative press has taken more relevant than ever to a people desperately in need of the information and analyses akin to those that, over a hundred years ago, such alternative publications as La Solidaridad and Kalayaan provided.