There’s this opening scene in a movie where a young farmer chops wood while listening to a radio commentary exposing the town mayor’s abuses, swinging his axe harder and harder as the commentary gets sharper and more intense. “Putang ina!” he says as the program breaks for a commercial.
Whether our lead character was cursing the politician for his abuses or the commercial for interrupting the program, it isn’t clear. But cut to the end part: the young farmer has transformed himself into a hero, chopping off heads of abusive politicians with the same ax he used in the opening scene.
Whether our lead character was cursing the politician for his abuses or the commercial for interrupting the program, it isn’t clear. But cut to the end part: the young farmer has transformed himself into a hero, chopping off heads of abusive politicians with the same ax he used in the opening scene. This might be too extreme a reaction to wish for from a radio listener in real life, but what radio commentator wouldn’t feel proud of himself, even if in secret, for having elicited such murderous response from his audience? What journalist doesn’t wish to inspire an entire people to rise against evil?
The fact is that most of those who have left a mark in Cebu’s broadcast industry endeared themselves to the public during the struggle for freedom from the Marcos dictatorship. And their successes were based on how they were able to goad the people to take to the streets and defy the government. You were not making a dent if after listening to your commentary the people went on with their life and continued chopping wood, just wood, as if nothing had happened.
NATALIO “TALYUX” BACALSO (1908-1980) was a movie screenwriter and director; editor of Visayan magazines Bisaya, Tabunon and Lamdag; and political orator of former senators Mariano Jesus Cuenco and Sergio Osmeña Jr. A Constitutional Convention delegate in 1971, then opposition assemblyman in the 1978 Batasang Pambansa, he used campaign speeches as occasions to expose the ills of the Marcos dictatorship. His commentaries aired over dyRC and dySS.
Were these commentators paid by politicians to do their job, thus, effectively making them propagandists? Maybe yes, maybe no; either way it’s difficult to prove because the transactions involved usually leave no paper trail. And the word “propagandist” carries such a derogatory connotation that it’s reserved for those so lacking in principle they shouldn’t be in the media industry to begin with.
That the fine line between advocacy and propaganda is oftentimes blurred is not helping. Advocacy and media are a good tandem, ideal even. We love these two words put together in a sentence. But propaganda and media?
MIGUEL “MIGS” ENRIQUEZ (1935-1996). Despite the clampdown on the press, this lawyer spoke out against human rights violations during Martial Law. Using his mastery of the Cebuano language, he made witty and hard-hitting commentaries first over dyLA, then later at dyFX,where a sidekick provided comic relief.
A propagandist is a “person who promotes or publicizes a particular organization or cause,” the dictionary says. No harm done there; it even sounds like the beloved advocate. But what’s propaganda? It is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” And the dictionary always attaches the word “derogatory” to it.
Propaganda used to be an innocent modern Latin word, the gerundive form of “propagare,” which means to spread or to propagate. Anything that is spread or propagated, therefore, is propaganda—whether it’s a political cause or a brand of laundry soap. In some parts of the Visayas and Mindanao, propaganda is synonymous with commercial, or the more popular “pahinumdom.”
ANTONIO “ERAP TONY” AVILA JR. (died 2015) anchored anti-Martial Law radio programs with Inday Nita Cortes-Daluz. In 1994, he helped build up Bantay Radyo or dyDD, the radio network of Promdi political party chairman Lito Osmeña. He conceived of dyRC’s Balita Taxi and dyDD’s Bantay Taxi where taxi drivers were trained to become volunteer reporters. In 2012, he hosted “Banat Sugbo” on dyRF reportedly for the Cebu City Government.
“It was principle first before principal,” Torralba said of those times. “A commentator campaigned for a particular politician because he believed in the politician and what that politician stood for (principle), and not because there was money involved (principal).”
“If there was money, that was a bonus. But it was not the prime consideration. The politician was not even obliged to give to the broadcaster. Now the reverse is true. It’s now principal first before principle,” he said.
DAVID OMPOC (died 2007), a lawyer, was the sidekick of Migs Enriquez in their popular “Saksak-Sinagol” radio program in the late 1970s and ‘80s. In 1997, dyFX blocktimer Ompoc declined a bribe offer of P50,000 monthly “plus perks and privileges” to speak in favor of Constitutional amendments in his program. In 2000, he co-anchored the interaction program of then Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas national chairman Cerge Remonde over dyLA.
Torralba said he was in high school when he started listening to Natalio “Talyux” Bacalso’s commentaries on radio. “The word is mesmerize. Ma-mesmerize ka maminaw niya, very eloquent,” he said of Bacalso.
Bacalso was a top Marcos campaigner in the 1965 presidential elections. He left Marcos to campaign for fellow Cebuano Serging Osmeña in the 1969 presidential elections, which got Malacañang scared.
In a November 1969 Philippines Free Press article, Napoleon Rama wrote, “What has Malacañang worried is the phenomenal rating of a radio commentary program conducted by Cebu’s top radio commentator: Natalio Bacalso… It’s Bacalso’s radio commentaries that are hurting the NP presidential campaign in Visayas and Mindanao. Indicative of Malacañang’s apprehension over his program and respect for Bacalso’s lethal gift of gab is the frantic attempt of administration men to woo Bacalso back into the fold. The consensus among the political persuaders, LP and NP, is that Bacalso’s radio program is worth more than all the NP radio programs and gimmicks in the Visayas and Mindanao put together.”
According to Bong Wenceslao, Sun.Star Cebu opinion editor and columnist, the commentators in Cebu who carved a name via their struggle against Ferdinand Marcos studied their topics well and prepared hard before going on air.
Wenceslao remembered sitting as panelist beside radio commentator Migs Enriquez in one press freedom forum aired live on radio and seeing the radioman referring to his notes whenever he spoke.
“Klaro nga nag-research siya. Nagda siyag notes didto sa forum aron basahon ang mga quotes, data, statistics. Gipangandaman niya, lawyer pa gani to (He was a lawyer, but he brought notes with him to the forum),” Wenceslao said.
Ditto for Nenita “Inday Nita” Daluz. She might be known for her appeal-to-emotion type of delivery, “but when she talked about Marcos, she was sharp, knowledgeable and full of conviction,” Wesceslao said. Ditto for Nenita “Inday Nita” Daluz. She might be known for her appeal-to-emotion type of delivery, “but when she talked about Marcos, she was sharp, knowledgeable and full of conviction,” Wesceslao said.
Other notable names include Tony Avila, Vic Abangan and David Ompoc.
VIC ABANGAN (died 1994) The news commentator and Visayan Herald columnist used his noon-hour daily broadcast over radio dyCU to criticize President Ferdinand Marcos, the communist New People’s Army, the Philippine military and gambling syndicates. Later, at dyLA, he hosted the radio program “Kapihan sa Kahanginan.”
Good vs. evil
For Wenceslao, it’s difficult to put any label on these people other than simply as broadcasters who fought the Marcos dictatorship. The struggle during the time of Marcos was real and unique for the media. Journalists were called upon to really decide which side of the fence they were on.
Many considered the fight against the Marcoses as one between Good and Evil. If so, and given the word propaganda’s derogatory connotation, isn’t it right to say that the ones on the side of Evil were the real propagandists?
Political commentary on air was at its peak despite threats of closure faced by radio stations from the administration. One can imagine an awkward silence after the restoration of democracy. Now what? There were no more dictators to oust. Of what use now was a broadcaster’s lethal gift of gab? Where to go now for the kings of talk?
Some of them continued to use the microphone to make sure their struggle wouldn’t be put to waste. Some became politicians themselves, wondering each day if they were not becoming the dictator they helped remove. The rest slipped and slid into oblivion.
Today, “propagandist” is an old word that has been replaced by “blocktimer.” Like
propaganda, the word blocktime started out innocently, as airtime bought by a person for a radio or television program. But abuses and careless use of blocktime by its practitioners over the years has given the term a derogatory nuance.
Here’s another scene: a blocktimer commits a traffic violation, gets mad after being stopped by a traffic enforcer, arrogantly waves his press ID at the officer and drops names of his politician friends. We wish it’s a movie so that some ax-wielding hero enters the scene and chops some people’s head. But it’s not.
CANDIDO “BONG” O. WENCESLAO is a columnist and opinion editor of Sun.Star Cebu. He previously worked as reporter of the Visayan Herald and The Freeman, and broadcaster at dyLA.
CIRCE FRANCISCO “CHOY” R. TORRALBA’s 34-year commentary program “Tug-ani’ng Lungsod” has had, successively, four station carriers: dyLA, dyFX, Angel Radio and dyRF. He co-anchored with broadcast giants and lawyers Geronimo “Boy” Creer Jr., Migs Enriquez, David Ompoc, as well as Cerge Remonde.
NAPOLEON G. RAMA was a political writer for the Philippines Free Press and vice president of the 1971 Constitutional Convention. The lawyer and book author later became floor leader of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, and publisher of the Manila Bulletin.
(CJJ10 was published in hardcopy in September 2015.)