Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume III, Number 42 November 23 - 29, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Burgos’ Final Journey
by his colleagues but reviled by Marcos and other foes of press freedom, Joe
Burgos took the path least traveled by journalists during the dictatorship.
Together with the underground press, he courageously steered an independent
newspaper that eventually led to his arrest. Awarded by several international
media groups later, Burgos fought his last battle – cancer – and succumbed
to it last week.
RONALYN V. OLEA
Gacusana Burgos Jr.or “Bugoy” to his colleagues in the WE Forum and Pahayagang
Malaya will be remembered for pioneering the so-called mosquito press during
the Marcos dictatorship.
died of stroke last Nov. 16.
He was 62.
His body was buried in his farm in Barangay (village) Tartaro, San
Miguel, Bulacan, about 80 kms northeast of Manila Nov. 22.
an interview with Bulatlat.com, his wife Edita narrated how WE Forum
– the martial law newspaper that Burgos maintained until his death - began.
Burgos’ wife Edita
1977, five years after the martial law declaration, the Burgos couple decided to
put up an independent weekly newspaper. Edita said they only had one typewriter
and a table borrowed from the National Press Club where they held an office.
whole family was involved in the WE Forum,” Edita said, explaining that
family members took charge of the production.
She said that Joe himself delivered copies to dealers.
since big newspaper dealers only sold mainstream papers – mostly
Marcos-sanctioned dailies - Edita said they had to build their own network of
developed personal relationships with our dealers. They believed in the (WE
Some dealers also wrote news articles,” she said.
recalled how they developed a support system after relocating in Quezon City.
As they were not allowed to install a telephone line, household and
business establishments lent their phones.
Burgoses knew they were treading a dangerous path. And this was impressed upon
student journalists applying for work at the newspaper. The young applicants
were asked two questions: Do your parents know you are applying for this job?
Are you ready to be imprisoned?
Dec. 7, 1982, around 12 noon, agents from the notorious Metropolitan Command (Metrocom)
led by Maj. Rolando Abadilla stormed their office. As she was making calls,
Edita heard her husband say, “Nandito na sila.
Nandito na mga hinihintay natin.”
(Here they come. It’s them we’ve been waiting for.) Instantly,
reporters came to cover the raid surprising the Metrocom men.
all of WE Forum’s columnists (including Dean Armando Malay),
circulation, advertising and production managers were arrested. Except columnist
Raul Gonzales, “pumunta sila sa office para magpahuli”
(They went to the office to surrender to the military), Edita said.
“That was how they protected themselves (from harm).”
few months after his release, Burgos founded the Ang Pahayagang Malaya (Independent
Newspaper) in early 1983.
WE Forum resumed publication in 1985.
after Edsa I in 1986, the InterPress Service honored “International Journalist
of the Year” at the UN headquarters in New York. Several years later, in 2000,
Burgos was named one of the 50 “World Press Freedom Heroes of the Century”
by the International Press Institute.
by media colleagues
it was partly idealism, a certain rebellious streak but we wrote news that
matter,” delos Reyes said.
of Malaya, we obtained records at the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation).
That’s what you get for writing what your conscience says. Minsan
naglalakad kami sa Recto, may tatlo kaming anino” (Once while walking
along Recto Avenue, three men were trailing us), he said.
Reyes also lamented the closure of Banat, a daily tabloid where he wrote
a column titled “Hindot”.
It was named after Burgos’ favorite remark of displeasure in his
Reyes said that today, there remain many newspapers but few dare to expose the
Young Media Circle, a newly-formed organization of young journalists, said in a
statement, “The courage and conviction of journalists like Joe Burgos is ever
a source of inspiration for us, young journalists, especially in the continuing
fight for a social order characterized by full democracy—a social order in
which press freedom shall be enjoyed fully.
We, young journalists, have a large stake in this struggle because we are
the heirs to the future of this nation.”
College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), an alliance of student
journalists, also paid tribute to Burgos: “Burgos taught us the real essence
He is among the few who chose to break the myth of neutrality and sided
with the people.
The alternative press that Burgos pursued paved the way for the fall of a
wielded his pen in defense of the people’s right to press freedom and other
a son’s eyes
son Jose Luis or JL recounted an incident during a hearing of his father’s
“Nakakordon ang mga militar. Hindi pwedeng
makalapit kahit ka-pamilya.
Dahil maliit ako, sumuksok ako hanggang makarating sa military line.
Ayaw akong palapitin ng militar.
Ang sabi ko, ‘Bakit?
Tuta ka ba ni Marcos?’
Sabi ng mga tao sa militar, ‘Pagbigyan ninyo na ‘yung bata.’”
father was surrounded by military men. Not
even relatives could go near him.
Because I was small, I managed to get near the military line.
When a soldier prevented me from getting nearer my father, I asked him,
you Marcos’ puppet?’ The people around us said ‘Let the child pass.’”)
said his father taught him to serve the country.
His father would usually explain the events during those times. When JL
began attending rallies during his college days, his mother would warn him of
the possible dangers.
His father would just say, “Hayaan mo siya.
Para malaman niya.”
(Let him be. So that he would know.)
said his father prepared them for his final departure. “What you see now, it
was all that he wanted.”
Torches lined the path from the entrance of the Land Farm to the chapel
where his remains were laid.
Miniature Philippine flags were found everywhere. Played continuously
were songs by Frank Sinatra and Gary Granada – two of his favorite singers, JL
collage of Burgos’ photo, news clippings and Malaya issues – made by Benjie
Laygo, Malaya’s former artist – was placed at the left side of the
altar. Opposite were other mementos: Burgos’ first and only typewriter, an
unopened bottle of Glenfiddich wine, a pack of Marlboro Lights cigarette, and a
said his father once asked that he be buried in his own farm, facing east.
And so it was how an icon of the alternative press during Martial Law was laid to rest. But his courage and principles are very much alive in the hearts of those he trained and inspired. Bulatlat.com
Photos by Aubrey SC Makilan