By Teilhard Paradela

The sound and sight of static marks the memory of many Filipinos who witnessed the live broadcast of the proclamation of the Martial Law by then President Ferdinand Marcos on September 23, 1972. In one of the epilogues to the two-volume anthology, Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, the Filipino Film Studies scholar Roland Tolentino, who was in second grade in 1972, remembers the static filling his family’s television screen in the hours leading to the proclamation. Gone were the morning and noontime variety shows. Gone were the movies featuring unknown starlets courting under a mango tree or dancing comedians. To be replaced by black, white, and gray dots moving around to a monotonous scratchy noise (153). But more than a material index, static also serves as an audiovisual metaphor for the uncertainty and restlessness that mass media audiences experienced hours, days, and weeks before the broadcast. In his own contribution to the anthology, entitled “Of Orange-Colored Molotovs,” the gay leftist activist Oscar Atadero, who was the same age as Tolentino, writes that the was not exactly sure what was going on, but he sensed something major was going to happen. He had seen “the grisly photos of bombings and bonfires and people running about” in Plaza Miranda– the public square in the City of Manila that has been the main setting for political rallies and protests– within the pages of Philippine Free Press magazine. His parents were talking to each other about this and other events “in strange, hushed voices” (106). Rumours abound in his suburban neighbourhood in Greater Manila. But no one was sure. Then, on that evening, the static disappeared. President Ferdinand Marcos flickered on the screen to announce that, as the commander-in-chief of the republic, he was putting the entire country under military rule.
The proclamation of the Martial Law is arguably the most significant media event— defined by sociologists Elihu Katz and Daniel Dayan as “an exceptional happening organized with the cooperation of the media by governments, public bodies, or commercial concerns, typically broadcast live across several channels with regular programming suspended to accommodate” it— in the Philippines in the second half of the twentieth century. Those with access to radio and television would have witnessed the live broadcast on real time. Considered a new platform at time, television offered its audience the most complete and immediate experience. But, according to contemporaneous surveys, only a minority of the households in this period possessed a television set. So, most likely, they would have heard the grave voice of the president-turned-dictator on the more accessible and more intimate medium of radio. Those who missed the live broadcasts would have read about it in the front page of the Daily Express, the only print outlet allowed by the dictatorial government to publish the next day. More elaborated justifications were printed in periodicals in the following weeks, months, and even years, by government-operated or controlled press. Some of these copies would have made their way through the countryside. Then there was word of mouth, the most basic medium, exaggerating some aspects of the narrative, while eliding others. The dissemination of this media event would have transcended the limits of the different platforms of mass communication, extending its liveness, if not its simultaneity. No one with access to the mass media would have escaped the coverage of the proclamation of the Martial Law. Everyone who could be audiences was implicated in this media event.

Atadero, Oscar. “Of Orange-Colored Molotovs.” In: Cimatu, Frank and Roland Tolentino, eds. Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies. Manila: Anvil Publishing. 2010. pp. 104 – 111.

Tolentino, Rolando B. “Epilog: Mondo Marcos, Mondo Real.” In: Cimatu, Frank and Roland Tolentino, eds. Mondo Marcos: Mga Panulat sa batas Militar at ng Marcos babies. Manila: Anvil Publishing. 2010. pp. 153 -170.

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Teilhard Paradela, “[Sound Bite] Static and Philippine Martial Law”, Sonic Entanglements Website, […], […]

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