Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Story of Primitivo "Tibo" Mijares(Part 1)

Primitivo Mijares will always be known for his opus “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos,” a magnum that delivered a serious blow to the strongman rule. The book, published under strenuous circumstances in the United States on April 27, 1976, chronicled in great detail the truth about martial rule in the Philippines. In it, Mijares gave his readers what they wanted, an insider’s view of the shenanigans and corruption of the Marcos regime to which he claimed he was privy about—the fabrication of the 1973 referenda results, the faking of the Marcos war record, the systematic full scale seizure of government and some of the largest businesses, all this and many more. But the juiciest parts of Conjugal Dictatorship, of course, are the gossips. With obvious exaggeration and bitterness of a disillusioned journalist, Mijares wielded his trenchant pen with gustatory relish, and consequently opened up the Pandora’s Box of rumors on the private lives and loves of both Marcos and his wife, including the president’s amorous escapades every inch of the way. Needless to say, Marcos’ enemies have had their field day merchandising Mijares’ “political pornography” as solemn truth.

Just exactly who was Primitivo Mijares in the inner igloos of power? Before his defection from the Marcos regime in 1975, which he did while on a special mission to the United States to invite “steak commandos” home, Mijares was Marcos’ chief propagandist and press censor. Once upon a time, Mijares was said to be among the chosen few who could walk in and out of Marcos’ office almost any time even without an appointment. But by some mysterious act of fate, Mijares vanished from the face of the earth just eight months after the release of Conjugal Dictatorship— he has not been seen since.

“Dark ages” of Philippine press

In any kind of revolution—whether from the left or from the right—free press becomes the primary victim of control. In the experience of the world, a free press cannot survive a dictatorship; both cannot co-exist, and the reason for this startling contradiction is that “truth” cannot co-exist with dictatorship. That everyone knows. And so it was in the Marcos “revolution from the center.”

Prior to martial law in 1972, the Philippine press was looked upon— nay envied— by journalists of neighboring countries as the “liveliest and freest in all of Asia.” Free indeed, but it was also free-wheeling like a runaway dervish. Things changed dramatically on the night of September 22, 1972. Along with the subversives and anti-Marcos politicians, prominent journalists too were herded by teams of military men to the stockades. Simultaneously, “sequestration notices” were tacked on the doors of publishing houses, radios, and TV stations. By nightfall, the next day, then Press Secretary Francisco “Kit” Tatad rang the death knell of democracy as he appeared through government-controlled TV and radio stations announcing that martial law had just been declared. They never flinched— the eyes of President Marcos— when he assured his countrymen not to worry because democracy would be restored in a year or two. But for writers and journalists of that period, Proclamation No. 1081 sounded like a slow and solemn drumroll beating out as in a funeral dirge the gradual demise of press freedom. Then began what historian Charles McDougald described as the “dark ages” of the Philippine media.

Architect of press censorship

With the “death” of democracy in the country, from its ashes rose the New Society and the “conjugal dictators’’ were to be its rulers. Before martial law, no government permit or license was necessary as free expression was guaranteed by no less than the Constitution. Consequently, with martial law now in place, Marcos understood the importance of media to disseminate his propaganda. And so he took stock in designing measures—“thought control “measures— one after the other that would keep everybody in line.

Ever the methodical politician, Marcos virtually controlled the media industry from womb to tomb: ownership, censorship and licensing. During the first few days of the martial law regime, the task of strict censorship fell into the iron hands of the military through the Office of Civil Relation. But with the creation of the Department of Public Information (DPI), the task of censorship and licensing was later transferred to Mass Media Council and the Bureau of Standards for Media. Later on, Marcos yielded to military demands that soldiers share with DPI media control, and created the Mass Media Council (MMC), headed by DPI Secretary Francisco Tatad and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. But this was a short-lived solution as Tatad and Enrile often clashed on jurisdictional issues over their turfs. More than this, Marcos had another problem. Despite the regime’s effort to create a semblance of press independence, all is not well under the watchful eyes of the international media. Against this background, Marcos eventually came under attack by the World press on the issue of press freedom. He had to find a way to show gradual “normalization” and to restore the credibility of the Philippine press by showing that free expression was as vibrant as ever even under authoritarian rule. Martial law, Philippine style after all, as Marcos proclaimed to the whole world, was a “smiling” martial law.

Marcos then turned to his consigliere on media affairs with one pressing concern: he wanted to phase out the MMC. He wanted a different system of press gag that would make him look good to the international media. He wanted “media people themselves to police themselves.” Thus, Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 191 supplanting all quondam censorship bodies and in their stead sired the notorious Media Advisory Council (MAC).

The blueprint for the creation of a self-regulatory civilian media entity came from Primitivo Mijares and presidential assistant, Guillermo “Gimo” de Vega. Tibo, as friends used to call him, was a lawyer by training and president of the National Press Club (NPC) and chief editorial writer of the Daily Express— a newspaper known to be Marcos’ mouthpiece shortly before martial law was declared. MAC, as intended by its architects, would control all political news and propaganda during the upstream of the New Society. As it was, MAC had an all-encompassing authority to regulate all forms of mass communications—from dailies and broadcasting stations to films, billboards, and signs or displays on pushcarts or store windows. Under Mijares’ chairmanship, MAC emerged as the monolithic entity of the Marcos regime in the field of censorship; expectedly, with its broad powers, MAC also became a hot bed of graft and corruption.

The fallout

But for a “highly intelligent man of ambiguous morals,” Mijares knew how to navigate the labyrinth of power with his mighty pen in tow. He could be as good or as evil as the occasion demanded. Shortly after he assumed the position as chairman of the Media Advisory Council, right off, his friends began noticing striking changes in his lifestyle and spending habits. Soon, Mijares came under fire from the media industry, especially from the influential publisher of Bulletin Today, Hanz Menzi, who personally asked Marcos to abolish MAC. Sometime in 1974, the Broadcast Media Council and the Print Media Council came into being, with Teodoro Valencia and Menzi heading the two bodies, respectively.

Previous to this, however, Mijares was about to face serious criminal charges for bad debts, rubber checks, petty extortions and misappropriation of funds belonging to the National Press Club. Those accusations though unproven in court would stick with him to the very last even if he had angels on his side. That was his first biggest blunder. This was not to be, however, the proximate cause for his virtual disappearance. It became worse when Mijares clashed with the vengeful Kokoy Romualdez, younger brother of Imelda. “You will see what will happen to you. I will tell this to my sister,” Romualdez seethed. This happened after Mijares rashly accused Romualdez of cheating the Lopez family over a business deal involving the Manila Electric Company. At this point, Mijares began to fear for his life. Right around this time, Marcos was under pressure from the U.S. Congress to release some of his high- profile political prisoners to clean up his image. Witting or unwittingly, Marcos sent Mijares and other propagandists to the United States as Imelda’s advance party to lure Filipino exiles home. More than the prospect of a criminal prosecution for the NPC-MAC fiasco, foremost in Mijares’ mind was his defection from the Marcos regime and to apply for political asylum.

And so, off he went to America. Whatever happened to him here— how he tried to outwit the conjugal dictatorship of his master and how he failed and vanished are what will be revealed later.

To be continued...

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