“This is Cardinal Sin speaking to the people of Metro Manila…. I am calling our people to support our two good friends at the camp. If any of you could be around at Camp Aguinaldo to show your solidarity and your support in this very crucial period when our two good friends have shown their idealism, I would be very happy…. Please come….”-Jaime Cardinal Sin, on Radio Veritas on 22 February 1986
These very lines, broadcasted in a warm Manila morning, arguably started the 1986 Philippine People Power Revolution that toppled a dictator, freed the press and political dissidents, and restored democracy in the Philippines, all without a single drop of blood shed.
What made all of this possible? It was a radio station transmitting from some rice fields in the north of Manila called Radio Veritas.
Radio Veritas started out as a very small radio station operated by the Catholic Church that broadcasted bible readings, homilies and pastoral guidance. That role eventually changed during 21 August 1986 when it was the first and only radio station in the country to broadcast an unadulterated report of the assassination of the then Senator and political exile, Ninoy Aquino at the Manila International Airport. As it was only radio station with fast fair reporting and accurate unsullied news, Radio Veritas became the most widely listened to radio station in the entire country at the time.
What makes this radio station even more fascinating is that it operated in a backdrop of a 21 year dictatorship led by the strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who jailed and tortured his political opponents, instituted military rule over the country, and shut down media outlets that were critical of him. Any media outlet even mildly against any of his policies would be raided and shut down by the military. What kept Radio Veritas alive was its connection to the Catholic Church, a power that the dictator, Marcos wasn’t strong enough to wrestle with. It is within this context that the Radio Veritas story becomes even more unbelievable.
It is hence fascinating to analyze what led to the Radio Veritas’ irreplaceable role in the People Power Revolution. What communication strategy and technological potentials did it use to enable the political, economic and social change it was able to bring? As such, what tangible effects did this communication technology bring to the Philippines?
In this analytical paper, I argue that Radio Veritas was monumental in the People Power Revolution as it facilitated freedom of expression and the press after years of dictatorship, allowed people to exercise their right to self-determine, and rallied people from various backgrounds together to peacefully oust a dictator. I argue furthermore, that the success of the communication strategy of Radio Veritas was made possible because of the design of the radio: one that uses scientific underpinnings, allows for real-time uninterrupted information propagation, and provides one-to-many communication. In all, Radio Veritas’ strategic use of communication technology underpins the current freedoms and democracies Filipinos enjoy.
First, I argue that Radio Veritas facilitated freedom of expression and the press after years of dictatorship through an ingenious use of the scientific foundations of the radio. In particular, the radio’s capability to broadcast across a spectrum of frequencies paved the way for its role as a defender of free speech and of a free press.
A clear example of this was when ten heavily-armed tanks came to silence the Radio Veritas. One eye-witness noted that: “They proceeded to our master control room and destroyed our transmitter. They also destroyed our shortwave transmitters and all broadcast equipment that they saw.” With their main radio wave transmitters destroyed, Radio Veritas had to think of another plan to continue broadcasting. They decided to use another radio wave transmitter that they had kept secret from the government in a seminary and instead broadcast from there.
They had a problem, though: how do they tell people about the new undercover radio station? They had a genius idea. What they did was to place the frequency of their radio transmissions very close to the old frequency of Radio Veritas, and play the same station ID that Radio Veritas used. It was a success. Dubbed “Radio Bandido,” Radio Veritas provided continuous access to important information, and allowed the press to report the latest news uncensored. This allowed people like Cardinal Sin, Corazon Aquino, as well as other dissenters to speak out freely and regularly. With this move, Radio Veritas spearheaded the reawakening of free speech and a free press in the country.
What enabled this was a key scientific foundation of the radio. Radios use a spectrum of frequencies in order to access different channels. This multiplicity of entry points allowed for Radio Veritas to move its frequency close to its old one. This key scientific underpinning made access to Radio Veritas possible.
Second, I argue that Radio Veritas allowed people to exercise their right to self-determine because radios were able to deliver real-time uninterrupted information.
We Forum, a publication that emerged after the revolution describes the role Radio Veritas played, noting that “only Radio Veritas was carrying a blow-by-blow account of the unfolding siege.” No other station at that time was able to broadcast these events as they were already shut down by the government. Only government-controlled media was broadcasting, and they delivered propaganda-infused information. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility echoes this, noting that: ” During the Edsa Revolution, Church-owned Radio Veritas—and later, the clandestine radio station “Radyo Bandido” (“Outlaw Radio”)— played a pivotal role as an effective and reliable source of news and information.” In fact, the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines notes that “All were guided by the voice of Radio Veritas—the one station whose dedication to truth helped topple the regime.” No doubt, Radio Veritas broadcasts allowed people to know what was happening real-time, and hence, determine for themselves which future they wish to have, rather than simply receiving propaganda from the government-controlled press.
Third, I argue that Radio Veritas successfully rallied people from various backgrounds together to peacefully oust a dictator, because radios were able to provide one-to-many communication.
A prime example of this was the message that Cardinal Sin relayed through the radio: “I am calling our people to support our two good friends at the camp...Please come…” This call by Cardinal Sin actually led to people flooding the streets of Manila, and is argued to have been the spark of the People Power Revolution. The radio effectively allowed one-to-many communication essential in social movements. What further demonstrates this is the eventual laying down of arms by the military through a command given through Radio Veritas. To this, Former President Fidel V. Ramos stresses that it was “the first time in military history that private broadcast media were used to transmit or relay military orders or directives to military units in the field.” Moreover, the Former President of the University of the Philippines, Francisco Nemenzo goes to the extent of saying that, "Without Radio Veritas it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to mobilize millions of people in a matter of hours." The success of this one-to-many communication system was even recognized at the Ramon Magsaysay Awards, when the People Power Revolution was cited as “the first in the history of the world to be ‘run’ by radio,” referring to Radio Veritas’ irreplaceable role in the Revolution.
In conclusion, with Radio Veritas’ help, the Philippine People Power Revolution eventually topples Marcos, who flees to the United States, and a new revolutionary government is established by Corazon Aquino, the widow of the late Senator Ninoy Aquino. With her government, democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press is restored in the country. These freedoms Filipinos enjoy up to this very day. Radio Veritas also remains active up to this very day, with a livestream Filipinos can listen to anywhere in the world. As a result, various organizations have showered Radio Veritas with awards, and have recognized it with citations. All of this was because of the power Radio Veritas brought to the Filipino people in a defining moment in their country’s history.
All in all, I believe that the bigger impact Radio Veritas had was that it was instrumental in actualizing a peaceful revolution against an authoritarian regime. This has become a model that many other countries have followed suit with. As Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Coloma puts it: “Demonstrating the primacy of people power is the Filipinos’ gift to the world: we paved the way for the peaceful dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the return of democracy in South Korea and Romania.” Central to this primacy was Radio Veritas, transmitting from some rice fields, a few miles north of Manila, that one warm February morning.
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