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Letty Jimenez Magsanoc-the bedrock of free journalism

By Carlos A. Arnaldo
December 28, 2015


Her most important contribution to our national journalism was her free and independent writing during the most inhibiting times of our republic, the martial law years. Our young people today do not know what it’s like to be awakened at night by growling jeeps in the neighborhood, night visits and people mysteriously ‘invited’ to Camp Crame. To be ‘invited’ became a sacred phrase, especially for the more daring and free spirited journalists. Between 1976 and 1986, 25 journalists were “salvaged” for their critical and oppositionist views on martial law and the Marcos administration.

From 1969 to 1981, Letty worked for the Manila Bulletin, the only old newspaper allowed by the Marcos regime to continue publishing, partly because the Bulletin was mainly a shipping paper, listing the arrivals and departures of ships from Manila North Harbor, partly because its publisher General Hans Menzi was a conservative, though thoroughly professional kind of media owner, and less inclined to saber rattling. Over and above that it is said that Menzi actually had a friendship with Marcos, though he was afraid of Imelda!

Under the editorship of Letty Jimenez, the Sunday supplement of the Manila Bulletin, Panorama, soon began to explore issues more critically and publish investigative reports, playing on satire and irony.

In his MA thesis Democracy and the Media in Developing Countries:  case study of the Philippines, Desmond Smith describes Letty’s daring article:

One of the articles published became a cause celebre for liberalising journalists, because it set a precedent as a direct challenge to Marcos's authority. This was Letty Magsanoc's "There Goes the New Society; Welcome the New Republic." It heaped gentle scorn on Marcos's rhetoric ("ringing phrases reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt's and John F. Kennedy's inaugural speeches"), whilst reminding her readers of the "suspicions of connivance, corruption and dishonest counting of votes" in previous Marcos elections and plebiscites (Panorama, 12 July 1981). She also drew attention to the "appallingly inadequate" economy, and "mounting cries against cronyism, political corruption in high and all places.

Letty was hailed by Time magazine as an Asian hero: "Magsanoc had written a tongue-in-cheek story on Marcos' third inauguration as President. Marcos had sought to fend off criticism of his rule by staging a faux election. His ‘victory’ was celebrated in a sumptuous, if surreal, ceremony, in which a choir sang Handel's Messiah. Magsanoc led off with a line from Handel: "And he shall reign forever and ever." Marcos thought that blasphemous and got her fired [as Editor of Panorama]."

Letty decided to resign from the Bulletin rather than let it face a 10 million peso libel suit. The forced resignation created a furor among independent journalists, but only let her to the Inquirer and more stun gun articles against the martial law administrators.

Her gutsy, hard grit sense of justice and human rights, hopefully, shall inspire and guide our young journalists today!

    Add a Comment

    Dominiek Leah Segaert Gallego Magalie
    Knokke Heist Belgium
    Sun 10th January 2016

    Rest in peace Letty. Your immense open heart for independent and respectful journalism is a true example for all those who want to put there feet in your steps: steps for opening the mind of the Filipinos to form their own meaning and freedom of speech. A lot has already happened in the Philippines in more freedom of speech but a lot still has to be done. Her input in the Philippine Inquirer was is truly a milestone. May you Letty rest now in the hands of God and please inspire us from above. Dominiek Leah Segaert Gallego Magalie Knokke Heist Belgium Davao City Philippines
    Celia Lamkin
    December 28, 2015

    Our deepest condolences and sympathy to the family of late Letty Jimenez Magsanoc! Our prayers and thoughts for the family during this difficult time. May she rest in peace.

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