In pre-Edsa Philippines, the media fell into two groups: establishment and alternative. In the first were mass media owned by the cronies of the dictatorship, who practiced the freedom of the press for as long as the reportage did not antagonize the censors and lead to midnight visits, disappearances and shutdowns.
Like many Filipinos who turned to alternative media for realities denied or glossed over in the “komedya (farcical media),” Papang and I listened religiously to the AM radio broadcasters who did not water down their “bomba” like the attack-collect, defend-collect (AC-DC) “balimbing nga oposisyon (starfruit representing turncoats and the fake opposition).”
In our home were copies of “Jingle,” “Mr. & Ms.,” “Veritas,” “Inquirer” and “Malaya.” The hodgepodge of alternative publications reflected not just the censorship by authorities but the lack of logistics backing the attempts of the mosquito press to crack the state-manufactured veneer of the “Bagong Lipunan (New Society).”
Coining the slur, Ferdinand Marcos claimed he tolerated the “mosquito press” because they stung but did little damage to the monolithic dictatorship. Papang was loyal to the “Inquirer” broadsheet, but copies of the paper “with balls” (his sincere, if backhanded, praise for Eggie Apostol’s fiercely independent newspaper) quickly ran out on the streets even if newsboys kept these under piles of the bloated-with-ads Big Three: “Bulletin Today,” “Daily Express” and “Times Journal.”
Despite Macoy’s dismissal of the mosquito press, batches of anti-government publications were regularly confiscated by authorities. When he would come home with no paper or a replacement, Papang joked that the mango raisers in Guadalupe bought again the “Inquirer” for wrapping unripe fruits as protection from the “peste sa kinabuhi (fruit flies),” which he often said aloud in case Big Brother was eavesdropping.
In high school, my favorite was “Jingle,” a magazine that contained the lyrics and guitar chords for popular songs. I liked the “Grin Page,” which introduced me to toilet humor, green jokes, and anti-government cartoons from contributors.
Contradicting the establishment media were the “Jingle” back pages, a freedom wall for Filipinos discontented by bad music, bad reviews and bad administration. The magazine’s music review scale featured a cherub for “superior,” the highest rating; and a fly for the lowest review, summed up as, “forget it.”
These days, whenever the playback from Malacañang reminds me of Macoy tunes, I remember the fly and the mosquito. And Papang fake-whispering, “peste sa kinabuhi.”