Underground press during martial law: Piercing the veil of darkness imposed by the dictatorship


MANILA – “The sound of the typewriter then was considered subversive.”

Carolina “Bobbie” Malay said as she recalled the early years after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law.

When Marcos shut down newspapers, radio stations and television networks, she, along with her husband, Satur Ocampo, and other activists put up Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas (BMP) to fill a void. BMP ran news stories and analyses on issues and was all-out anti-Marcos.

Their operations were clandestine. With the use of the available technology at that time, they released issues of BMP and later on, other underground publications. The objective was to tell the truth, to shatter the lies churned out by the Marcos regime.

At first, they relied on the mimeograph machine, also called mimeo, a low-cost printing press that works by forcing ink through a stencil onto paper. According to Wikipedia, the image transfer medium is a stencil made from waxed mulberry paper. The stencil is wrapped around the ink-filled drum of the rotary machine. When a blank sheet of paper is drawn between the rotating drum and a pressure roller, ink is forced through the holes on the stencil onto the paper.

Preparing the stencils using the manual typewriter was meticulous, Malay said.

A stencil assemblage is placed in the typewriter. The typewriter ribbon is disabled so that the bare, sharp type element strikes the stencil directly. The impact of the type element displaces the wax, making the tissue paper permeable to the oil-based ink. Mistakes can be corrected by brushing them out with a specially formulated correction fluid, and retyping once it has dried.

“We worked in places where the sound of the typewriter could not be heard from the road,” Malay said.

They were constantly on the run.

Malay said that while they were in Manila, they usually stayed in one place for two to three months.

“There were series of arrests,” Malay said. “When someone you know was arrested and he or she knew your whereabouts, you have to leave your place immediately.”

It was not easy. At that time, Malay and Ocampo already had two children.

Later, the couple transferred to Central Luzon and continued to release underground publications using silk screen and squeegee or what Malay calls “V-type printing.” The silk screen is mounted on a wooden frame and the squeegee ink is used to duplicate copies.

By this time, they were using portable electric typewriter. “It was not noisy. It automatically justifies the text,” Malay said. “And we could work until late at night.”

For security reasons, they stayed at a house for a maximum of two nights.

With the people, for the people

Himagsik, “the newspaper of the revolutionary people of Central Luzon,” began in 1974.

Their sources for stories were the rural folk and the revolutionary forces in the region, Malay said.

While she was there, Malay said, she never felt any danger. “It felt so good to be with the masses,” she said. “My ideas on social change were validated.”

Malay, who came from a middle class family, was deeply touched by the simplicity of life of the rural poor. “I witnessed how the masses wanted change, how they were always willing to help, how they welcomed the revolutionary movement,” Malay said.

“They would always thank us and I asked myself ‘What did I do for them?’ It was really nothing. But to them, it was important that someone listened to their stories,” Malay said.

Malay vividly remembered the story of a mother, a landless farmer, who picked up rice grains to feed her family. When she took her photo, the woman blurted out in tears, saying: “Ang hirap maging babae. (It is so difficult when you are a woman.)”

“That was the only thing she said and I understood what she meant,” Malay said. “It was the first time that she was able to vent out her burdens.”

The masses, she said, were also involved in the production of underground publications.

“One time, our stencils hanging on the clothesline were blown by the wind,” Malay said, smiling.

Later, when they began using a scanner that could reproduce stencils, they were able to send sets of underground publications to the regions.

Malay also provided journalism trainings to their comrades who were non-journalists. They put up a manual with a step-by-step procedure in producing a publication. “From the concept, to how to use the V-type to distribution,” Malay said, referring to the content of the manual.

Later, regional underground publications came out, using the vernacular. “This one I am particularly proud of,” she said. Language, she said, proved very important in reaching out to the masses.

Collective life

Malay had good memories of those years of producing Ang Bayan, the publication of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

“As professional journalists, I and Tony Zumel always beat the deadline,” she said.

Before joining the underground movement, Malay wrote for several newspapers such as the Evening News and the Manila Times. Antonio Zumel, meanwhile, wrote for Manila Daily Bulletin and served as president of the then the prestigious National Press Club before martial law was imposed.

Malay said they had a system of collective editing.

After discussing the story lineup, they assigned stories to each writer. All drafts were passed on to each of them for editing, sharpening and revising. “There was no one-man rule,” she said.

“General comments were not allowed. You should be specific and should present an alternative formulation,” Malay said. The process, she said, proved to be smooth.

Ang Bayan presented the stand of the CPP on current issues. “It informed the public and became a news source for the mainstream media,” Malay said.

Luis Teodoro, former dean of the UP College of Mass Communication and deputy executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said the underground press was part of the alternative press that fought the dictatorship.

Even before the imposition of martial law, Teodoro noted that the CPP already had Ang Bayan. The preparatory commission for the formation of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) started publishing its paper, Liberation.

In fact, a day after Marcos declared martial law, Teodoro said, Ang Bayan released an issue condemning the open fascist rule.


Looking back at those years, Malay said she learned the most important lesson: “Nothing can suppress the people’s yearning to be free.”

On a personal level, Malay said her experience in the countryside formed and strengthened her belief on the masses. “They have wisdom. They know better than us,” Malay said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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