Opinion columns cannot be fiction
RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO
The Manila Times
IT is indeed an indication that the overall deterioration of Philippine journalism may have started to infect even a specialized section of it — opinion columns. It was Philippine Star’s Jose Dalisay, a novelist and biographer who was supposed to be the newspaper’s replacement for the columns of the late F. Sionil Jose, who started this assault on opinion column-writing. Obviously realizing he’s a fictionist all his life and not a column writer, Dalisay declared he was creating a new genre he calls “editorial fiction,” short fiction stories filling up his column space in that newspaper. That “genre” can exist only in lampoons, and only for student newspapers wanting to have some fun. Read his column, and you wouldn’t know and aren’t forewarned that what he writes is pure unadulterated fiction. Yesterday, another fictionist, Danton Remoto, who was appointed astonishingly, incredibly, as this newspaper’s news editor — he has never been a news reporter nor an editor in any real paper — followed suit, entitling his column “Martial law fiction” although his piece — on the Manila Film Center tragedy that was turned into powerful Yellow propaganda in the 1980s — did not give any warning that it was pure, unadulterated fiction. What the hell? What part of “opinion columns” do these jokers not understand? Columnists write opinion pieces using reason and facts. While writing itself is an art, and good writing is an advantage in writing columns, authentic opinion writers do not use some artsy-fartsy trick of fiction intended to appeal to the emotions. If Dalisay and Remoto can’t write authentic column pieces, they should lobby their publishers to create a “Literary Section,” as the pre-martial law magazines had, to contain them. Fiction and opinion columns are worlds apart. Debase Remoto should not be allowed to debase this newspaper’s opinion section, which its Chairman Emeritus Dante Ang struggled for nearly 10 years now to turn into the most respected and most read opinion section in the country, its columnists being of different political persuasions but all presenting logical arguments based on facts, instead of using fiction and outright propaganda bullshit. Rather than arguing that one of the crimes of the Marcoses was the purportedly rushed construction of the Manila Film Center in 1981, whose scaffolding collapsed, allegedly killing more than a hundred workers. The Yellows alleged that many of those killed or even half-alive were buried in the quick-drying cement, upon Imelda Marcos’ orders, where their corpses have remained to this day. Remoto uses almost two-thirds of his column narrating in melodramatic — but concocted — detail how the workers frantically tried to “crack the cement” that buried their colleagues. This of course has been the skill of propaganda art — to stir emotions rather than appeal to reason and fact. I don’t know how Remoto can have the gall to turn a part of this venerable paper into the Reds’ or the Yellows’ anti-Marcos propaganda venue. If he hates Marcos, Remoto should give us information and arguments for us to hate him, not use a mini-fiction story appealing to people’s emotions to hate them. Conjugal Accompanying his piece yesterday was the cover page of the 1976 book “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos” with its striking illustration of a vampire-like hand, on top of which is the couple, clawing into the Philippines’ map. But that image has no relation at all to Remoto’s piece. Remoto is turning this paper’s opinion pages into his personal anti-Marcos propaganda venue. That’s really not surprising. Can you imagine any other novelist as egoistic as Remoto who applauds his own novel in his own column as he did Saturday, declaring that he wrote about the “real version of people’s lives” that is different from “the official version of the news.” A columnist worth his salt, and a competent news editor, would wonder why, and do a modicum of research to answer the question: Why have the anti-Marcos forces not gone to town about this Manila Film Center disaster, especially in the recent 50th commemoration of martial law’s declaration? Indeed, the tragedy had long been forgotten, and what has stayed alive are the stories of ghosts roaming the building. The reason for its fading away is that more and more information shows that the tragedy was manipulated by the Yellow forces, exploiting the argument that a proper investigation could not be undertaken because of martial law, during which the government controlled the press and even the police. Of course, Remoto may not have heard of these, as he appears to have spent more time (reportedly to this day) roaming the globe as an acclaimed literati. Documentary What has incontrovertibly debunked the Manila Film Center propaganda was a documentary in 2005 produced by Howie Severino for GMA7’s “I-Witness” series. Severino is one of the country’s top investigative reporters, even if he is of the Yellow, rabid anti-Marcos worldview. But that only bolstered the credibility of his conclusion that the Yellow opposition manipulated the Manila Film Center tragedy to become one of its powerful propaganda thrusts against the Marcoses. Why would a known Yellow journalist debunk a piece of fake news against the Marcoses? Indeed, the Yellow regimes after martial law did nothing to investigate the tragedy, which, if true, could have been more damning — with stories of poor workers buried alive — than cold statistics of alleged killings during martial law. In fact, only a gullible writer like Remoto has tried to spread this lie at this time, which no other serious journalist has done since Severino exposed it as fake news. Here’s how Severino in his blog summarized his investigation: Catacomb “After numerous return trips to the film center’s dark and eerie catacombs, futile efforts to find a paper trail, and interviews with survivors and loved ones of dead construction workers, my half-baked conclusion: Not more than a dozen died (we heard figures as high as 169, which was based on an Inquirer account of a spirit questor expedition years ago), and none of them left behind in the Manila Film Center. Why are you surprised? “First of all, we couldn’t find anyone who knew anyone there, including relatives. If there really were dozens of skeletons still encased in cement in the film palace, we are almost sure we would have been able to trace loved ones, or they would have found us. The construction workers who survived the incident did not know anyone, nor did they know anyone who knew anyone missing in the building. “We know from years of working in the media that the relatives of missing people are extremely persistent and vocal, driven as they are by a human desire for closure on their grief. I think this would have been the case even if they were bribed by Imelda, which is one theory for why they have been so quiet through all these years. I have my own theory: the missing don’t exist.” Bombshell Another “I-Witness” summary of Severino’s probe reveals what is really a bombshell: “In search of the truth of what transpired on that fateful night, Howie Severino tries to recover official accounts and reports of the incidents. Unfortunately, no such report exists, neither with the Pasay police, who responded to the scene, nor with the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Newspaper articles tackle mostly about ghosts supposedly lurking in the area. Only a few actually printed articles on the tragedy itself. “’I-Witness’ tried to get Imelda Marcos’ account but the former first lady refused. However, the project’s contractor Eliodoro Ponio did agree to be interviewed. He claims what happened was no accident, but sabotage. Thirteen vertical supports were diagonally sewed, causing an entire floor to collapse. (Emphasis mine.) “Asked about what happened to the workers who died during the incident, Ponio replies, ‘Kahit na kuko walang nakabaon doon, maniwala ka. Kung ako may kamaganak dyan kahit na kakilala lang siguro, I would never allow that to happen, kukunin at kukunin ko ‘yun. Dedemanda ko ‘yung people who are responsible. Can you imagine ililibing mo dun ang tao? (Believe me, not even a fingernail was left there. If I knew someone buried there, I would not stop until I got the body out. I would sue whoever was responsible. Can you imagine being buried there?) That’s why I saw to it that all workers who died were buried honorably.’ “During the documentary’s making, “IWitness” did not find any family who claimed they have a relative who was left buried underneath the Manila Film Center nor did they find anyone who is still looking for someone missing since that tragedy. The team also did not encounter the ghosts believed to be haunting the building until now.” Light-a-Fire I noted above that Severino’s was a bombshell of a report because of the following. It was in October 1980 that the Light-a-Fire Movement, consisting of middle-class individuals against Marcos, allegedly financed by the Lopezes through its armed wing the “April 6 Liberation Movement.” They exploded a bomb at the Philippine International Convention Center in 1980 where Marcos was addressing an international conference of American travel agents. That dented Marcos’ portrayal of the Philippines as a safe tourist site. The Manila Film Center would have been a bigger target than the PICC tourism convention, as it was being rushed as the venue for the first Manila International Film Festival held on January 1982 where movies from 39 countries were shown. It was an ideal target for anti-Marcos forces, as it was Imelda Marcos’ pet project, which she and Marcos believed could portray the country as stable despite the global oil crisis that also affected the Philippines. What better way to spoil this important Marcos initiative than stopping the construction of the festival’s venue, the Manila Film Center, by, as that contractor Eliodorio Ponio described it, diagonally sewing 13 vertical supports, causing an entire floor to collapse? Despite the tragedy and its manipulation by the Yellow forces as black propaganda against the Marcoses, the film festival pushed through, although several US and Western movie stars backed out at the last minute. The Light-a-Fire Movement revealed its hand in this tragedy when, as the New York Times reported, its April 6 Movement warned its participants not to attend. A letter sent to them said: “We are sending you this advance notice so you can adopt extra precaution. Better yet, please do not attend the film festival.’’ The letter specifically mentioned the newly constructed film palace where the opening ceremonies were held. “The center, which partly collapsed, killing as many as two dozen workers in November, was finished moments before the 12-day festival opened, on January 18.” The Marcos government would later accuse the late Doris Baffrey as having planted the bomb at PICC. Baffrey worked at the Philippine Tourism Office in New York, and knew how important to the country’s image the PICC travel convention and the Manila Film Festival. One was bombed, the other’s venue was sabotaged. Coincidental? Indeed, supporters (maybe even active participants) of the Light-A-Fire movement had been boasting after 1986, that the PICC bombing and the Manila Film Festival tragedy marked the start of Marcos’ fall, the former revealing his vulnerability and the latter his regime’s “brutality.” Now these are facts, not fiction.