As survivors near twilight years, the young vow to preserve truth on martial law

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 21 2022 05:34 PM

Edita Burgos sifts through newspapers from the martial law period. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News
Edita Burgos sifts through newspapers from the martial law period. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — On a rainy Tuesday night in Quezon City, Edita Burgos sits in her secluded home, leafing through a stack of yellowed copies of newspapers bound together for almost 4 decades now.

The compilation consists of copies of the WE Forum and Ang Pahayagang Malaya, known for their hard-hitting stories on corruption, scandals and human rights abuses during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. — a rarity in those days.

Her late husband, Jose Burgos, Jr., or “Joe” to his peers, is considered a pioneer of the so-called “mosquito press” — small and independent newspapers that published articles which never saw print in the then-highly-regulated media industry.


Edita’s eyes lit up as she recalled how they managed to put to bed what started as a fortnightly publication for campus journalists that eventually morphed into an almost daily newspaper that reported on sensitive issues.

It was a family effort, she said, that also placed their family at great risk.

Joe and Edita soon found themselves under surveillance. 

An exposé of the fake war medal claims of Marcos by then-retired AFP Major and Constitutional Convention delegate Bonifacio Gillego did not escape the dictator’s attention.

“We were already extremely cautious when Marcos said that I will let the publisher eat this newspaper. Hawak-hawak niya yung WE Forum sa Veterans…Ipapakain ko to sa publisher…So we had to prepare,” she told ABS-CBN News. 

(He was holding the WE Forum at Veterans and said, 'I will make the publisher eat this.') 

Before long, authorities raided WE Forum’s office on Dec. 7, 1982, putting an end to its publication.

But Joe Burgos continued publishing soon after he was released from detention, this time through Malaya.

When opposition figure Senator Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in August 1983, Malaya was one of the few that wrote about it, devoting an entire 8-page issue to his killing.

“Nation mourns,” read Malaya’s headline, as it raised questions about the assassination and printed, in full, Aquino's arrival statement.

Burgos himself admitted how difficult it was to produce that issue.

“But how can one organize one’s thoughts, steadily type out words that have to have meaning while at the same time, one’s emotion is swiftly being drained? How can one be indignant in the heart and at the same time, detached in the mind?” he said in his column on the same issue.

That same edition also included Marcos' denial of any involvement.

Aquino's death is widely credited to have spurred opposition to Marcos’ authoritarian rule.

Marcos would eventually leave the country 3 years later as the bloodless EDSA People Power Revolution toppled his 14-year dictatorship. 

Edita acknowledged the role that the mosquito press played in Marcos’ downfall.

“I think the impact was great. And in all humility, I think Malaya helped restore democracy and freedom of the press. Hindi ko sinasabi kami lang. Marami talaga. But we did our job. Joe did his job,” she said. 

(I am not saying we were the only ones. There were many others.)

But 50 years after the declaration of martial law and 37 years after the first EDSA revolt, another Marcos is back in Malacañang.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. won in the May 2022 presidential elections, with an overwhelming 31 million votes.

“After the elections, ang pakiramdam namin, nawalang saysay, nawalan ng saysay yung buhay, yung pawis, yung pagod. We all grieved, the family” Edita said. 

(We felt our lives, our efforts lost sense.)

Amid fears of historical distortion and whitewashing, some groups have initiated efforts to preserve accounts of what really happened during martial law, including the pages of WE Forum and Malaya.

A digital copy of the Malaya banner story. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News
A digital copy of the Malaya banner story. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News


Project Gunita is one of these initiatives, a volunteer-driven group that seeks to digitally archive materials on Martial Law.

Nineteen-year-old Karl Patrick Suyat, a student from the University of the Philippines, thought of digital archiving soon after the May polls closed and it became apparent another Marcos will take the presidency.

Two Twitter friends Sarah Gomez and lawyer Josiah David Quising, later joined the initiative.

“They like to call it a passion project. Pero sa akin talaga (but for me) until now, it was almost a desperate one. It is a response to how misinformation and historical distortion allowed the son of Marcos to win the presidency,” he said.

“I thought of the archives because in world history, not just in our history, ang unang tinitira ng mga diktador ay yung archives and the libraries,” he explained.

(Dictators first target archives and the libraries.)

Members of Project Gunita look at a pile of newspapers for archiving. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News
Members of Project Gunita look at a pile of newspapers for archiving. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

He cited a January 2020 public statement by Marcos, Jr. about wanting to revise children’s history books because they supposedly contain lies about his family.

“Doon pa lang makikita mo na yun ang main goal nila. Their goal isn’t to, hindi nila gustong pababain ang presyo ng bigas sa P20. Ang gusto nila linisin ang pangalan nila. Ang gusto nila, tanggalin ang mga ebidensya na nagkaroon sila ng malalaking kasalanan sa taumbayan,” he said. 

(From that alone, you can see their main goal. Their goal isn't to bring down the price of rice to P20. They want to clean their name. They want to remove evidence that they sinned against the people.)

“And as we mark the 50th anniversary of Martial Law this week, under another Marcos, ganun ang gagawin nila. Itatanghal nila yung sinasabi nilang golden years of the Marcos dictatorship without mentioning the poverty, the very impoverished state of our people during that time. Itatanghal nila yung so-called peace and order during the Marcos dictatorship pero hindi nila sasabihin yung libu-libong pinatay, tinorture at dinukot noong panahon ng diktadura,” he added. 

(They will tout what they say are the golden years under the Marcos dictatorship... They will laud the so-called peace and order during the Marcos dictatorship, but they will not discuss the thousands who were killed, tortured and abducted.) 

Suyat started posting about the project on Facebook and Twitter and people started chipping in — providing funds to buy books or donating books, newspapers and magazines themselves.

After 2 months, the group launched their first batch of documents and by mid-September, Suyat said they have cataloged between 430 to 450 materials, some of which they have already digitized using a scanner purchased through donated funds.

Their most prized possessions include accounts of Aquino's death.

Two Malaya issues reported that millions marched and paid last respects to Aquino. 

A Mr. & Ms. special edition used a photo of Aquino's funeral with a picture of his blooded corpse for its cover.

The collection also includes a book on the result of the inquiry of the Agrava Fact-Finding Board which found the military responsible for Aquino's death.

While Judge Corazon Agrava, the head of the commission, cleared Marcos’ right-hand man Gen. Fabian Ver, the majority of the board included him among the list of individuals indictable for the “premeditated killing” of Aquino.

“The military killed him. They didn’t just kill him in a very grotesque way. They planned it, they orchestrated it and they implemented a coverup. That’s basically what the Agrava fact-finding board says,” Suyat said, emphasizing the need to preserve this fact to fight off disinformation.

He said this "demolishes the lies about the Aquino assassination" and "shows us that this was how the military was during the dictatorship and until now." 

"We have seen in our lifetime, the killings of suspected addicts or suspected rebels during our time. Pero noon pala, kahit isang VIP, isang very important person na kilalang leader ng opposition, he can be killed by the military at an international airport at high noon. That was something that struck all of us until now,” he added.

(But even then, a VIP, a very important person who is a known leader of the opposition, he can be killed by the military at an international airport at high noon.) 

But scanning page by page every material in the group’s catalog is a tedious task, one that Suyat said will have to continue even after Marcos, Jr. steps down from office.

For now, the group is relying on donations to continue its work.

It intends to form a legal entity soon and to publish digital copies of its work online, in an effort to reach more Filipinos.

“Wala ako noong martial law, wala akong noong panahon ni Marcos. Yung tatay ko nandun. Yung lolo ko nandun. Yung ilan sa mga tito ko nandun. Hindi lang sila basta andun, lumaban sila sa diktadura. And in the case of my lolo, he paid the price for it. He was a political detainee under the Marcos dictatorship,” Suyat said, explaining his motivation to keep the project running. 

(I was not there during martial law, I wasn't there during the time of Marcos. But my father was there, my lolo was there, some of my uncles were there. They weren't just there; they fought the dictatorship.)

“This is my only way to pay back to them at least, hindi lang sa kanila pero sa lahat ng Pilipino nag-alay ng buhay nila to end the Marcos dictatorship,” he said.

(This is my only way to pay back to them at least; not just them, but all Filipinos who sacrificed their lives.) 


Project Gunita’s archiving effort is welcome news to Edita, now 79 and well into her twilight years. 

“I’m very happy and I’m very grateful,” she said. “When I learned that they are going to preserve all these things, may pag-asa.”

“We owe it to our children and the next generation, generations. This is very important that they know. Otherwise, we fail by the sin of omission. We commit the sin of omission. Kasalanan yung kung hindi mo sinabi kung ano ang katotohanan. So how will they know if you don’t record it and make sure that it’s preserved for the next, for our children, grandchildren,” she added.

(It's a sin to not tell the truth.) 

For Suyat, the end goal is clear: “Wala tayong isang bansang kikilalanin kung wala tayong isang kasaysayan na tinatanggap at binabalikan.”

(We will not belong to any country if we do not accept one history.) 

“It is important for us, for our generation to go back to history para maintindihan namin na ito yung nangyar,” he said.

(It is important for us, for our generation to go back to history so that we could understand what happened, why those before us fought.) 

“At hindi simpleng opsyon yung paglaban. It is the only choice that we have as it was during the Marcos dictatorship at maiintindihan lang yun ng henerasyon namin kapag binalikan namin yung tunay na kasaysayan,” he continued.

(And fighting is not a simple option... And our generation can only understand that if we go back to the real history.)