SC verdict rewrites established history
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc () - December 19, 2008 - 12:00am

Just before midnight of 22 Sept. 1972 soldiers stormed media offices nationwide with orders to padlock them till further notice. Troops also shut down Congress and the Constitutional Convention, handcuffing resisters. President Ferdinand Marcos secretly had signed martial law the day before, though he would announce it only three days later. By virtue of military rule thousands more critics were to be jailed in the following months, and hundreds of businesses seized. Agents were deployed to spy on opposition moves. Cronies partook of the plunder. Marcos prolonged his term 14 years, using guns and guile to stifle dissent and amass untold wealth.

Everyone at least in his teens then knows that 1972 to 1986 are among the darkest years in Filipino history. It was a period of fear and submission, interrupted only by the sacrifice of a few martyrs, till people rose in revolt at EDSA and elsewhere. And then the Filipino regained his dignity.

A Supreme Court verdict can have the effect of reversing that chapter of recent past, though. One of its divisions has ruled that Marcos’s secret decrees were valid, as were contracts to legitimize business snatchings. In effect, even arrests, tortures and killings could be deemed okay, because covered by a martial law declaration and ensuing orders. Even the fight for indemnity of 10,000 victims of torment could be deflated.

The case concerns one of the networks that Marcos shut down: ABS-CBN of Eugenio Lopez Sr. All personnel were shooed away by raiders that night of 1972 from the Broadcast Center in Quezon City. Seven television and 21 radio stations were seized. Included were land and edifices, towers, transmitters, broadcast gadgets, studios, record and film libraries, and vehicles. Pretext for it was Letter of Instruction No. 1, in which Marcos authorized the defense secretary “to take over and control all newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities, and other media.”

Marcos had also abolished the Vice Presidency held by Eugenio Sr.’s brother Fernando. Clamped down was their newspaper, Manila Chronicle. And occupied was Meralco electric utility, which they had bought from American founders decades before. Eugenio Jr. (Geny) was then training to be ABS-CBN top man, with brother Oscar and college buddy Jake Almeda Lopez. When the network stayed shut for months with no clear chance of reopening, Geny sadly let go of the staff.

Kokoy Romualdez, Marcos’s brother-in-law, lusted for the Lopez businesses and pressured Eugenio Sr. to hand over everything for a song. The old man hedged. To up the ante, Geny was imprisoned in Nov. 1972 on trumped up charges. Meanwhile, on 3 June 1973 fire razed the KBS studios, the only radio-TV service open at the time because owned by Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto. Hours later Benedicto urged ABS-CBN chair Alfredo Montelibano to lend him the Lopez broadcast facilities, as Marcos wished. Broadly hinted was that Geny’s freedom depended on it.

And so it came to pass: with Geny hostaged, Romualdez took over Meralco and the Chronicle press; Benedicto got ABS-CBN.

Upon occupying the Lopez network on 8 June 1973 Benedicto’s men immediately went on air as KBS. They signed with the hapless Montelibano a lease agreement. Rent was to be discussed only when Benedicto returned from Japan months later. No amount was ever tabled, however. Oscar tried to meet with the Marcos crony several times to collect and complain about the misuse of Lopez property, but was rebuffed. KBS simply operated the ABS-CBN equipment, aired its films and records, and used its spare parts and vehicles — all for free. Benedicto even expanded affiliate, RPN, and put up another network, BBC, piggybacking on the Lopez assets for six-and-a-half years. In Jan. 1980 on Marcos’s behest, Benedicto turned over the Lopez network to the dictator’s propaganda arm, the National Media Production Center.

After the EDSA Revolt a new government slowly returned the Lopez firms. In 1994 ABS-CBN, brothers Geny and Oscar, and Jake Lopez charged Benedicto and cohorts before the Ombudsman. Apart from civil damages, the victims sued for robbery, execution of deed by means of violence and intimidation, fraud, usurpation of rights to real property, and other acts of deceit. The Ombudsman then was one-time judge advocate in Marcos’s military. Only late the next year did an investigation report issue — against the Lopezes. Supposedly Marcos’s Letter of Instruction No. 1 was legal, and that the signed lease agreement was proof that the ABS-CBN takeover was in order. Too, the Ombudsman said Benedicto already was immune from suit due to a 1991 compromise with the government, although it did not include the Lopezes. Lastly, the family was told to stop ranting because it has recovered ABS-CBN anyway. Case dismissed.

To the Supreme Court the Lopezes appealed. Geny and Benedicto passed away as the case pended. In Oct. a division of five justices upheld the Ombudsman’s disregard of Geny’s coercive incarceration in the network grab. The remaining Lopezes have asked the en banc to reverse the decision, if only to set history aright.

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Intel reports say the Iraqi journalist who flung his shoes at George W. Bush not only was seen spotted loitering earlier, but also managed to enter the high-security press con. Police are unsure if he was a loafer or a sneaker. Bush it seems was the sole target.

An unconfirmed item in Manila has it that Imelda will donate her 3,000 pairs of shoes to whoever will throw it at Gloria. But the latter has warned anyone who dares to do that: “ChaCha-patusin ko sila.”

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