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Scanning 365 years of print media in the Philippines

By Alice Colet Villadolid


In the archives of Intramuros Administration is an old photograph of the library of the University of Sto. Tomas and the order of Saint Dominic, which was then located on the north-west side of the Walled City, facing the Pasig River, roughly where Bank of the Philippine Islands stands today. The photo shows a wood- paneled hall, with crystal chandeliers, the books packed tight against the walls. Two monks and a student are engrossed in their readings.

Part of the University of Santo Tomas (at left) and the Church of Santo Domingo (rear) where both Marcelo H. Del Pilar and Jose Rizal went as young students in the early 1880s. They later launched the Propaganda Movement.(credits to Jaime Laya's "Intramuros of Memory" and the National Archives.)

In this library and its affiliated printing office was born in 1637, 26 years after the UST was founded, the newsletter, 'Sucesos Felices' or 'Glad Tidings', published on a Chinese woodblock or xylographic press. While Spain and other European countries were also publishing at the time, 53 more years would pass before the beginning of the American press with the publication of the Harris newsletter, 'Public Occurrences'.

The Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo attributes this breakthrough to a teacher-pupil partnership between the Dominican Fray Blancas San Jose and his Filipino pupil, Tomas Pinpin.

Jose Luna Castro in his 'Handbook of Journalism' published by the Cacho House in 1980 wrote a description: "Sucesos Felices' starts off with a fancy stick-in initial letter in the then still fashionable manner of preparing illuminated manuscripts … His (Pinpin's) major stories in Sucesos a Spanish naval victory over the Dutch off Ternate and a successful assault on Muslin-Filipino rebels were invoking, with some success the name of the Almighty and the Faith. Before the curliques and the colophon, this issue bore the closing invocation, 'Laus Deo'." The newsletter did not last. Like local publishers of later days, Pinpin could not make it financially viable.

For over two centuries after "Sucesos Felices,' there were many other newsletters or "hojas volantes" published in Manila, Bulacan and Bataan, this time using modern Gutenberg printing presses brought in by the Spanish religious orders and by the colonial government itself. These monthlies and weeklies are described well in Wenceslao Retana's 'El Periodismo Filipino', the English translation of which was commissioned in 1991-93 by the Philippine Press Institute.

No accounts of those years mention another beneficial partnership such as what existed between Fray San Jose and Pinpin. Such heavy censorship was undertaken by the Spanish government in Manila that the newspapers tended to avoid original material and to use rewrites of what appeared earlier in the press in Madrid and Barcelona. Their value to world journalism lay in maintaining a flow of information from the Western to the Eastern world. Only in a limited way was information transmitted to the people of the Philippines. Two papers of this period are worth remembering: 'Del Superior Govierno', edited by the Spanish Governor-General Manuel Fernandez del Folgueras, and 'La Esperanza' edited by Felipe Lacorte and Evaristo Calderon, which published daily starting in 1846.

Calle Real, as photograped in 1898, was where printing presses, lithographers and book sellers had flourished, providing support to the Filipino patriot press.

(credit to jaime Laya's "Intramuros of Memory" and Amos Fiske's "The Story of the Philippines.")

Two years later in 1848, the first regular and stable newspaper began publishing in Intramuros under the talented Spanish editor Felipe del Pan, who employed Spaniards as well as half-breeds, then called Filipinos. Its editorial printing office was located on Calle Cabildo, Intramuros a stone's throw from the Dominican press and library where the country's first newsletter had been born.

The 'Diaro de Manila' was fated to nurture the birth of the first truly Filipino newsletter, expressive of the aspirations of the new nation. Early in 1896, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto, by then the leaders of the secret society called 'Katipunan' secretly during their lunch break when Spanish administrators were not around. The articles were typeset and composed to form s newsletter under the flag name, 'Kalayaan'. The laid-out forms were secretly taken to Tondo where Bonifacio had bought a small printing press with funds donated by two patriotic Capizenos who had turned from work abroad. In March 1896. 30,000 copies of' 'Kalayaan' were secretly distributed. Agonciilo wrote that this "Kalayaan issue influenced many Filipinos to become members of the Katipunan." No subsequent issue would appear the plot was discovered by the Spanish government and the 'Diario' typesetters were arrested- along with many leaders of the Katipunan

The propaganda movement for a free Filipino nation had to be carried out abroad. Jose Rizal succeeded in writing and publishing his book exposes - "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo." Marcelo H. del Pilar. who tried putting out 'Diariong Tagalog' regularly from Bulacan in 1882 but had to fold up, decided to go to Spain where the government had become more liberal. In Madrid, later Barcelona, he cooperated with another patriot-writer, Graciano Lopez Jaena, in publishing 'La Solidaridad', financing it with their meager private resources.

In the issues of 'La Sol' and its predecessor, 'Kalayaan', the broad outlines of a Filipino national culture emerged. Writers of these publications and of those that followed - "La Independencia''. "Heraldo de Revolucion". "Republica Filipina", "El Renacimienio" expressed me consciousness of being a nation separate from Spain, wishing to be tree to determine their own destinv. Since these early newspapers were managed by well-educated writer-editors or 'ilustrados,' Ihe culture they evolved was not inward-looking but was open to desirable global influences.

Aspirations for justice, liberty and independence continued to dominate Philippine media under the American sovereignty that replaced that of Spain in 1899. The intensity of patriotic feeling reached a peak in 'El Renacimiemo' which published an editorial, "Birds of Prey" written by one of its editors, Fidel Reyes. The L'S secretary of the interior claimed he was libeled in the editorial and he filed suit against the writer, the publisher Teodoro Kalaw, and the business manager Martin Ocampo. The court found them guilty of libel and meted out fines and prison terms.

What probably enhanced the standing of the Filipino press was the leadership of liberal American and English publisher-editors who set up new dailies and employed Filipino writers and editors. A growing corps of writers and editors proficient in English had been developed here by the American language teachers known as 'Thomasites'. Recruiting staff members from among pupils of Thomasites, Carson Taylor founded the Manila Bulletin as a shipping journal on Feb. 1, 1890. Judge Kincaid and R.McCuIlough Dick published the Philippines Free Press in 1908.

The Manila Tunes was founded in 1898 by the Englishman Thomas Gowan who sold the paper to Alejandro Roces Jr. in 1930. Cablenews American. founded in 1901, was sold to a consortium of Filipinos that included Vicente Madrigal, Ramon Fernandez. Teodoro Yangco and Manuel L. Quezon. They renamed the paper, Philippines Herald, Working with the foreign publishers in these dailies were such bilingual Filipinos as Antonio Escoda, Mauro Mendez, Carlos P. Romulo, Teodoro Locsin Sr. Salvador P. Lopez, Luciano Millan, Vicenie Albano Pacis, Joaquin and Alejandro Roces Sr.

This was the print media set-up until the onset of World War II in 1941. The political and economic interests of the United States in the Philippines were often espoused by American editorial writers- At the same time, it must be acknowledged that US journalists of the period were very professional, and they set standards of work and behavior that benefited their Filipino successors.

The surrender of US-Philippine armed forces in Corregidor in 1942 to the Japanese Occupation Army did not sit well with some Filipino media leaders. Romulo and Albano-Pacis Joined the Philippine Commonwealth officials who went into exite in the United States. Antonio Escoda and his wife Josefa Llanes Escoda decided to work secretly with the US-Philippine underground. Raul Manalapus and Norman Reves broadcast for the Filipino guerrillas.

A year after liberating the Philippines from Japanese control in 1945, the United States honored its commitments to Philippine leaders by recognizing the country's independence in July, 1946- The four-year terms of office for Filipino officials meant frequent elections that embroiled the nation in the strife of political campaigns. On the geopolitical scene- the Cold War between the democracies and the communist stales added to the frenzy of political debates.

In the first two decades after World War II. the superior education and professional standards that had developed at the turn of the century resulted in Philippine newspapers and magazines that published respectable material, without catering to me base interests of the uneducated 'masa'.

Newspaper and magazine readers of the time were given in-depth articles that explained the complex political and economic developments in interesting ways. The main broadsheets had magazine supplements that featured articles of substance done by serious writers, The Times' Sunday magazine featured Francisco Sionil Jose and Primitivo Mauricio, among others. The Herald's Saturday magazine carried articles by Osmundo Abad Sanlos- Oscar S. Villadolid and Eduardo Lachica. The Bulletin's Panorama supplement had Apolonio Batalla and Ben Rodriguez. The Manila Chronicle, established by Eugenic Lopez Sr. in the late 1940s, featured a magazine called 'This Week' with articles by Neal H. Cruz, Juan Gatbonton. Eugenia D. Apostol and artwork by Malang. Outstanding were the government's international magazines Philippines Quarterly and Archipelago - which featured Armando Manalo, J.V. Cruz, Naty Nuguid and Carmen Guerrero Nakpil.

Worth mentioning among print media of the 1950s was the role of Benigno Ninoy Aquino. He joined the Manila Times as a teenage cub reporter and somehow persuaded publisher Joaquin 'Chino' Roces and editor David Boguslav to let him cover the Korean War. They went over his copy and trained the young war correspondent to be a star reporter. His bylines in the well-circulated Manila Times attracted nationwide attention, especially as his father, former Speaker Benigno Aquino Sr. had recently died.

Early in 1952 when this writer was also covering the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for the Manila Chronicle. Ninoy Aquino was assigned to the same beat by the Manila Times. The tall 20 year-old Ninoy would come striding into the press room of the DFA then located in a colonial-style mansion on Arlegui Street near Malacanang. His friendly manner and his celebrity status made it easy for him to get big stories from diplomatic sources, especially Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo. The 'star system' in the Philippine media, which accords more compensation and attention to celebrities, probably started with the personable and affable Ninoy Aquino.

The press of the 1960s and 70s mirrored the frenzied politico-economic atmosphere that led to vested interests buying into media. With the Lopez family already in the Chronicle and acquiring television rights through Chronicle Broadcasting Network. the American businessman Harry Stonehill published The Evening News.

The Soriano family bought into the Herald. Roberto Benedicto and Benjamin Romualdez subbing for President Ferdinand Marcos, established the Daily Express and the Times Journal, respectively.

Around this time, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos opted for conjugal rule under the martial law. The plot was implemented on Sept. 21-21, 1972. Imelda invited the entire foreign press based in Manila to Nayong Pilipino for what was billed as a 4 p.m. news conference. I was Philippine correspondent for the New York Times and arrived there on schedule. Soon First Lady Imelda came with a large retinue of aides escorted by two truck-loads of Armalite-bearing troops. A caterer also arrived and began setting a fabulous dinner. Imelda made small talk with all of us throughout the long dinner, but she had no real news to announce. We began asking her question about the tense political situation all of which se evade. Finally, Teddy Benigno, then bureau chief of Agence France Presse, whispered to me, "I smell something foul." He sneaked out the side door and others followed him.

Suspecting also that the Marcoses finally declared martial law, as pundits had predicted. 1 rushed home to find that my husband Oscar Villadolid (then editor-in-chief of the Philippines Herald and Mabuhay) had also gone home because a squad of "Marcos soldiers had closed their office and posted on their front door Proclamation 1081 suspending the nation's civil liberties and closing all media.

Unknown to government press supervisors, there was a teletype machine in my office at home that had been installed there at the request of the New York office of the Times. Upset and nervous. I wrote some eight paragraphs of straight news about Proclamation 1081 and telexed it straight to New York. It ran on page one of the New York Times and was picked up by Voice of America. It was one of the few news items that reported the martial law clampdown that day.

Until 11 December 1972, all materials to be printed and broadcast were screened or censored by the Marcos Ministry of Information. The foreign press was taken off the censorship list after two months when the government noted adverse reaction from foreign governments and investors. The local press remained muzzled up to the death of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. The torture and salvaging of dissenters, the extortion from corporations and bankers in order to build up fortunes for the Marcoses and their cronies - all these could not be reported to the public without reprisal, which in some cases was severe Rodrigo. Ninotchka Rosca, Teodoro Locsin Sr. Juan Mercado and Amando Doronila.

Gradually, however, the "Alternative Media" developed to report on the abuses of the authoritarian regime. From their Apostolic Center on Pedro Gil Street, Jesuit writer-editors published the tabloid Signs of the Times and The Communicator. Raul Locsin and Eduardo Olaguer published critical material in Business Day. Letty Magsanoc and Arlene Babst of the Bulletin group began writing columns on glaring abuses. Businessman Jaime Ongpin and his group supported an independent Veritas newsmagazine edited by Felix Baudsta and Melinda de Jesus. With encouragement from Jaime Cardinal Sin, Radio Veritas reported the news fearlessly. Eggie Apostol published a daring Mr. & Ms. Magazine. Earlier, the Burgos family revived its We Forum, after its forcible closure in 1982, under a new name, Pahayagang Malaya.

The free foreign media printed so many stories about die Philippines, which were repeatedly xeroxed and circulated locally that the Filipino public became finally aware of the gravity of its national predicament. The People Power Movement of 1985-86 snowballed into the ouster of the authoritarian regime.

With the Marcoses gone and the People Power Administration of Corazon Aquino installed, I decided to leave the New York Times where I had worked for a total of 16 years so as to help the new democratic government. I was named chief of the Presidential Press Staff and deputy spokesperson with the immediate assignment of putting some order into the dissemination of presidential new.

Since the entire information system was being overhauled. I saw an opportunity to organize the Press Office such that it would strengthen the newly-regained democracy. We would practise transparency and disseminate information speedily- Frequent press briefings were conducted at the new Press Office which we named Kalayaan Hall. A younger, more idealistic government media staff was put together and. for a while a vibrant democratic spirit pervaded the media releases. What spoiled it later on were the maneuverings of the power-hungry cordon sanitaire around the President.

With the idealism of EDSA People Power, the private media emerged from the repression of the authoritarian years into a completely free publishing system that bred as many as 12 national dailies and some 250 provincial weeklies. By the lime I left the government late in 1987 and joined the Philippine Press Institute, media surveys showed that proliferation without adequate audiences and markets was making the local print media poor and inferior. New reporters were being hired at monthly salaries lower than those of clerks or secretaries Prestigious editors received monthly salaries no more than P50.000 each.

With funds solicited from foreign foundations, the Philippine Press Institute conducted seminar-workshops in newspaper management. Design and graphics aimed at improving newspaper incomes. Professional skills were upgraded with seminars on news and feature writing, specialized reporting and business writing. The PPI. working with the National Press Club and the Union of Journalists. updated me Journalist's Code of Ethics and disseminated it. From 1987 to 1993,we reached 100 practising journalists through seminar-workshops.

Despite the wide-ranging discussions and seminars, corruption and irresponsibility' persisted in the media. Some editor-apologists claimed that Philippine media was merely a mirror of Philippine society which was itself corrupt. The Philippines Communication Society, composed of media teachers, refused to accept the irresponsibility and corruption as facts of life. They have lobbied for the inclusion of ethical discussions in the curriculum of journalism schools and for more liberal arts subjects that would improve the culture of graduates.

Groups like the Rotary Metrobank and Citibank, as welt as the Catholic church, give out yearly awards to deserving media members so as to-provide role models for others lo follow. Discussion forums among key people like publishers, editors and columnists continue to be organized by the Center for Media Freedom. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication, the PPI and NPC.

The skills of Philippine media practitioners have definitely improved despite the corruption. International networks and publications continue to recruit Filipinos for top jobs. Thus the country is proud to have in me international limelight broadcasters Maria Ressa, Twink Macaraig and Veronica Pedrosa; writers Shiela Coronel, Jaime Florcruz, Ricardo Saludo, Marites Vitug and Nelly Sindayen. A survey taken during the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos showed that writing and editing was an area in which Filipinos excelled.

Hope springs eternal in the breast of the Filipino. By 2037 when Philippine media reaches its quadricen-tennial. the country might celebrate the end of corruption and the survival of faith and excellence.