The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) was borne out of necessity in 1974, shortly after the Southeast Asian country was placed under martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
As his government began curtailing freedom of the press, a few foreign correspondents led by Teodoro Benigno, then the bureau chief of Agence France-Presse, created the institution that challenged the narrative of the authoritarian regime to the world. Amidst all the media darkness at that time, FOCAP held court under full lights, and has continued to do so the past 45 years.
The group’s constitution and by-laws say, among other things, that FOCAP was formed to “achieve an effective and harmonious relationship between the government and the working members of the foreign press.” It effectively meant that the organization was offering itself as a bulwark against efforts to intimidate and harass the foreign press, a guiding principle that FOCAP carries to this day.
As the Marcos government cracked down on the press, padlocking press offices and detaining journalists for reports that questioned excesses, members of FOCAP continued with their work and relentlessly stood their ground. This tradition lives on.
FOCAP also played a key role during the 1986 People Power Revolution that toppled the dictatorship. Leaders of a group that pulled away from the crumbling Marcos regime invited the press, specifically the foreign media, to their announcement to defect. The rest was forever ingrained in history. The group was credited by the national Movement for Free Elections, as well as the Catholic Mass Media Awards, for its courage and professionalism in pursuing the truth.
The dictatorship may be long over, but FOCAP remains committed in giving the public a balanced view of history.
Perhaps there is no better way to illustrate what members of the free press felt then, than in the words of FOCAP founder Benigno. He said: “The chains had come in a rattling clank. They bound me, emotionally and professionally from head to foot. Almost all my adult life, I had been a journalist, taking all my freedoms for granted, especially press freedom. Now I heard the bolting of iron doors, figuratively. And the poignant singing of the national anthem, figuratively. I was close to tears.”
As the organization nears its golden anniversary, those chains are once again threatening to shackle the Philippines’ free press. But FOCAP, as it always has, will continue to cover events in the Philippines dauntlessly.
“The chains had come in a rattling clank. They bound me, emotionally and professionally from head to foot. Almost all my adult life, I had been a journalist, taking all my freedoms for granted, especially press freedom. Now I heard the bolting of iron doors, figuratively. And the poignant singing of the national anthem, figuratively. I was close to tears.”
Teodoro Benigno Jr.
The FOCAP Officers
German Press Agency
Asia Pacific Daily
New York Times
Sara Gomez Arma