Edith Burgos, widow of Press Freedom Hero, urged millennials to seek the truth in Martial Law
The Ateneo de Manila University and Rizal Library gave Mrs. Edith Burgos, widow of Press Freedom Hero Jose “Joe” Burgos, digitized copies of their newspaper, WE Forum, to thank her for donating the original copies to the Rizal Library.
Joe Burgos was the founder of the daily newspaper Malaya (now Malaya Business Insight) and WE Forum, one of the main political newspapers used in the fight against the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. He was named as one of the World’s Press Freedom Heroes of the 20th Century by the International Press Institute in 2000.
University President Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, SJ, and Rizal Library Director Dr. Vernon Totanes gave the copies to Mrs. Burgos last Sept. 9, 2016 at the Xavier Hall Board Room.
Mrs. Burgos was accompanied by Prof. Johann Frederick Cabbab, former Dean of the University of the Philippines School of Library and Information Studies (UP SLIS). Also present was Joey Lagumen of the Rizal Library who converted the original newspapers into the microfilmed and digitized formats.
The copies of WE Forum are currently being modified for public use and access.
The WE Forum
The 1st copy of WE Forum was released in May 1, 1977. It began as a campus newspaper and later evolved into a political newspaper during the Martial Law period. Since the Burgoses didn’t want to go underground, they had to first come out as a school paper. Its original writers and staff members were students from different schools around the University-belt.
"Mr. Burgos really had the heart for students," Mrs. Burgos said. "He gathered them together and invested in training them.”
Without any capital, the Burgos family pursued the publishing of the paper. Mrs. Burgos recalled that they had to borrow a table and a typewriter for the journalists and even printed their papers using the printing press of Joe’s father, Jose Burgos Sr., a pioneer of community papers.
“I was the general manager. I cleaned up the office, collected sales and I would use whatever we got from that for the next issue. That's how WE Forum started. It was very crude," she said.
The paper received documents and records – proof of President Ferdinand Marcos' wrongdoings — from the Burgoses’ friends in high government positions. With these, WE Forum researched on Marcos' fake medals and non-existent war exploits and wrote an article about it.
Not long after, Mrs. Burgos said that an angry Marcos gave a speech while holding their paper, saying, “Ipapakain ko ito sa publisher, sa printer, sa editor niyo.”
That article put them in the line of fire so that on Dec. 7, 1982, WE Forum was raided. Though they were tipped off by their friends and knew it was coming, the raid itself was a dark experience.
“They took everything,” Mrs. Burgos said. "The printing press, the office, the vehicles – even the rice that was supposed to be for the employees. They broke all the furniture inside the office," Mrs. Burgos said.
That night, everyone listed in the staff box was arrested.
Martial Law for the millenials
Mrs. Burgos described Martial Law as a time of No: No one could freely say what they wanted, no one could say anything bad about the government and no one could go out of their homes freely.
“How can you deny Martial Law when there were thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings? How can you explain the thousands who claimed they were victims? And they have the scars to prove that,” Mrs. Burgos asked. To say or write that Martial Law never happened means a denial of history.
Because of the Marcos apologists and historical revisionists spreading false tales about Martial Law, Mrs. Burgos encouraged young people to uncover the truth.
“Young people should know that there are lies that should be uncovered,” she said. “If they could only use their skills in social media, look for what happened during Martial Law, they will see that so much power was concentrated in one man and this was used to enrich his family.”
Mrs. Burgos said that she doesn’t blame them if they knew very little about Martial Law. She admitted that part of the blame was on the older generation for not writing and passing on what happened in that era.
If more people wrote or talked about what truly happened, maybe the youth could have more information in analyzing political issues involving the Marcoses, such as the burial of the dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
"I firmly believe that Marcos should not be buried in there. He does not deserve to be buried alongside other heroes,” she said. “It will be a symbolic action of not only forgiving but forgetting what the Marcoses did more than 30 years ago.”
For her, allowing the burial is just like saying that the Marcoses had clean hands, that the dictator was a hero. "Not only did he not help his country but was the cause of his country's being impoverished," she said.
There is a chance that all these could happen again but Mrs. Burgos believed we could prevent it. Which is why, in spite of her age, she is active again in encouraging people to speak up.
“My effort is very small, isang tao lang ako,” she said. Just like Joe Burgos, he was only one person but he contributed to the restoration of democracy. In the same way, if people did their part, no matter how small their efforts might seem, they, too, can make a difference.