SOCIO-ECONOMICS, POLITICS and CULTURE in the most popular country in the CHRISTIAN WORLD

Sunday, November 26, 2006



BY EUGENIA DURAN APOSTOL, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Mr. & Ms. Magazine
2006 Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts
Presented at the 2006 Magsaysay Awardees? Lecture Series
Magsaysay Center, Manila, 1 September 2006

Two years ago the University of the Philippines gave me a prestigious award named after Plaridel, the hero of Philippine journalism of the late 1890?s. What I am delivering today is an updated version of that speech ? since thoughts of that day are still the same thoughts I have today. So if any of you were present at that Plaridel lecture you may have my permission to leave and go for a nice siesta in this siesta hour.

I began that lecture by saying that in the 1880?s, during Plaridel?s time, the Filipino was suffering from being subject to our Spanish colonizers. Today, after having gone through American and Japanese colonizers, we are free. But suffering just the same. From what? From our own injustice towards one another.

After the Japanese left in 1945 and the United States gave us back our freedom, we enjoyed freedom of action and freedom of the press for some 20 years. But an Ilocano lawyer who became congressman, senator and then president, thought we needed to become a New Society and thus declared martial law to achieve it.

In 1972 Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed himself president-for-life and closed all newspaper offices and radio and television stations. I am recalling this for the sake of those of you who are below 25 and therefore have no recollection of the 14 years of Marcos repression.

In general, during the martial-law years, the Filipino remained quite docile. But there was one ex-newspaperman who became a senator whom Marcos identified as his most vocal critic. This was Benigno Aquino, Jr., who was kept in prison until he suffered a heart attack, leaving Marcos no choice but to allow him to travel to the US for medical treatment.

Seven years later, after he had fully recovered his health, Aquino learned that Marcos had become ill with lupus and so decided to return to the Philippines. Almost immediately upon arrival at the airport, Aquino was shot and killed.

The Filipinos were outraged and more than two million of them joined his funeral procession. But the Marcos media hardly took note of the event. That was when I decided to do a 16-page special issue on Ninoy Aquino?s funeral, using the resources of a woman?s magazine called Mr. & Ms. which I was then editing.

The response to the funeral issue was unbelievable. The agents kept coming back for more, and so we had to print 500 thousand copies. After that, I had to ask Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc to help me edit a weekly Mr. & Ms. Special Edition just to feed the hunger of the readers for more about Ninoy and a growing anger towards martial law and Ferdinand Marcos. Every week we felt called upon to record the various demonstrations of civilians against Marcos, and when no reprisal came (except for an invitation to an interrogation at Fort Bonifacio in January 1983), we went on for three years, up to and beyond EDSA I.

After a hundred issues, we grew bolder and brought out the Agrava Commission Report in book form. At this time also, the need for a daily newspaper began rolling in my mind.

The dream of a daily drove me to gather for breakfast one day in January 1985 the main stalwarts of what was then known as the ?alternative press?: Joaquin ?Chino? Roces of the Manila Times, Teodoro Locsin, Sr. and Jr. of the Philippine Free Press, Raul Locsin of Business Day, Betty Go-Belmonte of the Fookien Times, and Joe Burgos of Malaya. I asked them if they thought it a good idea to band together into one combined newspaper, the strength of numbers supporting a united effort to oppose Marcos.

Chino said no, he would not be responsible for the safety of the reporters or editors of such a venture under the Marcos regime. The Locsins, father and son, did not think it was possible to operate freely while the Marcoses still ruled. Their properties having been forced into a sale they did not want, they bitterly said ?No?, to honor the regime with legitimacy. Betty?s parents were in self-exile; a newspaper they owned had been closed. Joe Burgos?s We Forum was closed as well and some of his assets sequestered; he was not looking for new trouble. Raul Locsin was hiding safely behind the shield of business while reporting ?subversive? political news. Why not be more patient, he advised.

Having had very little first-hand experience with media repression, I guess I was more stubborn than they. And so I went into the publication of a weekly called The Philippine Weekly Inquirer, which would bravely monitor the Sandiganbayan trial of the so-called Aquino 26, from February to November 1985. I had planned to close the paper and disband the weekly Inquirer after the trial. But Marcos called a snap election to try to prove to the world that the Filipinos still loved him.

Here was the opportunity for a daily newspaper to help the Marcos opposition. Shall we? Should we? We must. As Letty Magsanoc put it, ?In the best of times (for commitment) and the worst of times (fun and games) we managed to have both. Which is why, with fire in the veins, heart pounding, fist clenched, eyes closed and armed only with the courage of our doubt, we said, ?Let?s do it.?

Here was a chance to extend the life of the Inquirer, at the same time help anti-Marcos forces win that election. But the campaign period was to last only two months. What could a weekly do? What was needed was a daily.

So re-group for a daily we did, organizing a cooperative newspaper so that all those working for it could share the responsibility and hopefully, the rewards. I informed Juan and Cristina Ponce Enrile, who had shares in Mr. & Mrs., of the plan and he said, ?A noble idea.? I emphasized that no politician could be part of it.

The new group bought the name Philippine Inquirer from Mr. & Mrs. and later paid P900 thousand for it. The group also borrowed a million pesos worth of cash, paper and equipment from Mr. & Mrs. and paid it back (with interest) in two months.

In three months the Philippine Daily Inquirer had not only helped to oust Marcos, it was also making money! And in several coup attempts inspired by Enrile, the PDI stood by duly-elected Cory and Doy. Johnny Enrile must have felt betrayed because in 1989 he (through Nora Bitong, his accountant) filed a suit against Apostol, Magsanoc and Doris Nuyda for ?breach of fiduciary duty, mismanagement, etc.?

For five years we went up and down the elevators of the Securities and Exchange Commission to attend hearing after hearing. In August 1993, the lower court ruled in our favor and lifted the injunction of our PDI shares.

I decided to sell my shares immediately so that Enrile would not be able to touch them in the future. My lawyer, Enrique Belo, was not in favor of my selling, knowing we had a good chance of winning the case. But I was not willing to take a chance with the unpredictable judiciary.

If Enrile or any other politician for that matter were to end up owning even a single share in PDI, I would never forgive myself. And I had a ready buyer for my shares: Edgardo Espiritu. I quickly negotiated the sale before Nora Bitong could file an appeal with the SEC. Sure enough, Bitong (or Enrile) went to the SEC en banc, only to find out that the Apostol shares had been ?espiritu-ed? away.

But a complication had arisen in Bitong?s favor.

In September of 1993 the Inquirer had come out with the Baby Arenas-Fidel Ramos romance and she was so angry she called her cousin, Joaquin Yasay, the SEC chief whom she had recommended for the SEC post. In three months, the SEC reversed the lower court?s decision.

Although my shares had been safely spirited away, we still had to go to the Court of Appeals with the case. Espiritu was then named in a separate pleading from Bitong. In mid-1996 Justice Ramirez ruled in our favor, saying Bitong was not the right party in interest.

Bitong took us to the Supreme Court in 1997, but the following year the Supreme Court also ruled in our favor, saying Bitong was not real party in interest.

This sidelight brings us to the subject of newspaper ownership in Manila.

Sheila Coronel of the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) wrote about it in 1999 in the book From Loren to Marimar: The Philippine Media in the 1990s. In the chapter titled ?Lords of the Press,? she focused on the policies and practices of the owners of those newspapers with numerous and wide-ranging business interests: the Inquirer, the Manila Bulletin, The Manila Times (which was then owned by the Gokongwei family) and The Manila Standard. The Philippine Star and Malaya, being owned by the families of their editors, were not included in the report.

Sheila wrote: ?Most of the business people who own newspaper are too busy to intervene in day-to-day editorial decision-making, but that has not stopped them from inhibiting journalists from exercising their duty to report fairly and responsibly.

Newspapers have been used, some to a greater degree than others, to defend their owners? political allies or otherwise advance their proprietors? business concerns. In many cases, newspapers have tended not to rock the boat on issues involving government officials and agencies regulating business. Newspapers have also been utilized by their owners to wage political and business battles.? Sheila, however, made an exception of the owners of the Inquirer. She wrote: ?Editors are at the frontline of the battle against interventionist publishers. Certainly, one reason why the Inquirer has kept its independence is that its editors have jealously guarded their prerogatives. Moreover, its owners know that the paper is profitable because it is hard-hitting and that it risks losing its market if it is perceived to be losing its critical edge. At the same time, the business interests of the Prieto family, which owns two-thirds of the paper, are much less spread out and less vulnerable to government regulation than the Gokongweis?.

?To its credit, the paper had printed stories alleging pollution by a Prieto-owned firm. But it has also been less than critical of a key stockholder of the paper, former banker and current Finance Secretary Edgardo Espiritu, who owns about a third of Inquirer shares. When other papers were highlighting charges made by Sen. Sergio Osmena III against Espiritu during the congressional confirmation hearings, the Inquirer was noticeably circumspect. Still, despite this paper has not exactly handled Espiritu?s boss, Estrada, with kid gloves. Thus, critics say, the problem with the paper is not owner meddling but a tendency to shoot from the hip and to sensationalize stories.

?The Inquirer?s strength is that it is the country?s biggest paper, and politicians are wary about being perceived as intervening in its affairs for fear of being accused of muzzling the press. The smaller newspapers are generally more vulnerable to outside intervention because they have less clout. But the news pages of even a big paper like the Star, whose circulation ranks third after the Inquirer and the Bulletin, are sometimes cautious because its main owner, the Go family, is itself wary of making too many enemies, whether from the private sector or from the government. If it is true, though, that the controversial beer and cigarette tycoon Lucio Tan is a secret shareholder of the paper, then the Star?s defense of Tan on its editorial and news pages and its generally flattering reporting about the tycoon can be said to be due to proprietorial intervention.?

Please note that those are Sheila Coronel?s words, not mine.

It is relevant to add here that the Inquirer, to its credit, also has a manual of editorial policies which states that it is committed to excellence. The manual spells out in details the mission, vision and values of the paper, as well as how to ensure the accuracy of a story, fairness, objectivity, attribution, how to handle letters to the editor, the editorial cartoon, use of press releases, gifts in kind and travel invitations, canons of taste in stories and photographs.

All employees of the Inquirer are made to sign the Journalist?s Code of Ethics upon being hired.

The Inquirer is the only newspaper in the country that has an ombudsman or reader?s advocate to ensure observance of this Code and of the provisions of the manual.

Its first ombudsman, who served during my time as board chairman, was the late Domingo Quimlat. He was succeeded by Alice Colet-Villadolid. The next reader?s advocate was Raul Palabrica, a writer-lawyer who weeded out a few editorial people caught breaking company policy. Being a lawyer, Palabrica was instrumental in documenting evidence against two section editors who were found to be inefficient. Also removed was a reporter who was so clever in sourcing materials that no evidence of blatant wrongdoing could be traced to her. But this reporter, like Al Capone, got fired through simple neglect ? she failed to file the correct documents for a leave of absence.

Last year, 2005, Palabrica resigned and the new reader?s advocate is Lorna K. Tirol.

From my nine years as board chairman, I have a few stories to tell in relation to the development of strict adherence to the company?s journalism ethics.

Our first editor was a lovable character who looked fat and fun-loving, like Garfield. He was such a talented writer and speaker he became not only editor of the Inquirer but also a radio and TV commentator, so eloquent was he. From the start, I was uneasy about his trimedia involvements. One day he attacked President Cory Aquino's executive secretary, Joker Arroyo, on his radio and TV programs and in his column in the Inquirer. Joker sent an answer but Garfield refused to run it in the Inquirer. So one night Letty Magsanoc and I sat at the news desk and made sure Joker's answer was printed on the front page the next day. Garfield did not show up at the office the next day and the next, and on the third day our board of directors met and decided he could no longer be editor and columnist at the same time. He had to choose one or the other. He chose to resign, and I had to look for a new editor.

This one turned out to be a brown-skinned Clint Eastwood. He was okay for four years, during which time PDI continued to climb up the circulation and business ladders.

In the meantime, the business executives to whom I had given 49 percent of the shares in the company became more ambitious and wanted control. When I went to the US for a vacation, they saw in the company's books that I had forgotten to put a share in my name - and they took advantage by ousting me as chairman, despite the fact that I owned another 49 percent of the stocks. The remaining two percent were owned by Doris Nuyda, Vie Agustin, Ceres Doyo and a few other members of the editorial staff.

At the next stockholders' meeting, we surprised the new board with the votes of the two percent minority, whom I brought in with me - and I regained ascendancy.

But this was four years before I decided to sell my shares to prevent Juan Ponce Enrile from getting any of them -which I described earlier.

How then was I to handle the Clint Eastwood at the editor's desk who had sided with the business group?

I had to fire him, for loss of confidence. But he would not let go - until I asked the janitor to please take his computer and his desk to the boardroom, which functioned as my office, and then I locked the room.

He went off to the National Labor Relations Commission and filed suit against Mrs. Apostol. In a few months.the NLRC ruled victory for him and he was awarded P3 million from the PDI treasury - a mere pittance for what the company was making in 1991. That was how Letty Magsanoc, who had been my first choice as editor from the start, finally came in as editor in chief. Come December 9, she will have been editor for almost 16 years, and her record of crisis management can fill a whole book or even two.

But before I go into Letty's record, let me share with you some valuable information which I found recently in the book Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. Its subtitle is "What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect." This book, by the way, should be required reading in all journalism schools today. It is perfect for us all.

For three years, according to this book, a committee of concerned journalists studied how excellence in journalism could be attained. They finally came up with nine basic elements:

1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

Here are some stories from the Inquirer experience:

January 25-28, 1995
The Inquirer ran a four-part series on Speaker Jose de Venecia's behest, loans for his Landoil Group of Companies during martial rule. During the Ramos administration, De Venecia came back to power in a big way for the first time since Marcos. It was an open secret that he was gunning for the presidency and was flexing his muscles, a hangover from the martial-law regime. So the series had to go through a thorough legal scrutiny by an assorted number of people and lawyers, and even went all the way to the Supreme Court - to a retired SC justice, that is.

It took weeks before PDI could run the series. Finally, the paper was given the go-signal to publish, but on the condition that a series presenting De Venecia's side run parallel to the behest loan series.

With that condition, PDI had to hold publication again until the De Venecia interview was completed. Never mind the wait. The main thing was, the Inquirer ran the series and put on record De Venecia's still-unpaid behest loans.

May 1996
PDI ran a story on the North Luzon Expressway Rehab contract awarded to the Lopez-owned Benpres Corporation that the House of Representatives was investigating because of allegations that its members had been bribed by the Lopez group through then Rep. Albertito Lopez. The loudest voice came from neophyte congressman Mike Defensor, a member of the committee on public works and highways, who seemed determined to clean up the House. PDI backed Defensor in his lonely struggle in the wilderness of congressional corruption. But when it came time to subpoena Eugenio Lopez III, the ABS-CBN chair, Defensor lost his voice and his nerve. The probe fizzled out.

PDI was the only paper that gave the story page-one treatment for as long as it was news, despite retaliatory threats and pressure from ABS-CBN. In a subsequent news story, Jay Sonza, who had just quit the giant network, disclosed that his instructions from the network's top management had been to destroy the Inquirer.

August 1998
PDI ran a series of stories that showed Erap's fondness for luxuries, among them the P100-million repair work on the presidential yacht and the P10-million kitchen makeover TnThe Palace Guesthouse. The paper was also assailed by the Palace for reporting that Erap's US-based cousin Celia Ejercito de Castro was on the Palace payroll (PDI had the payroll document) as a "consultant." Trade Secretary Jose Pardo himself called up the editor in chief. But both men failed to make first base. PDI went ahead and published the stories.

April 1999
The next time the Inquirer angered Erap, the paper was hit hard. His businessmen friends, led by his colleagues in the movie industry, withdrew their ads from PDI starting in April 1999. Government institutions also pulled out. The boycott lasted five months. The Inquirer's Palace reporter was also ostracized, excluded from informal chats with the President. The press secretary said that the paper "twisted" its reports.

In a formal letter the Palace informed PDI that the paper was banned from covering the President's state visit to Brunei in August. As if on cue, the BIR also conducted a tax audit of PDI's senior officers.

Still in the grip of an ad boycott, PDI was attacked on the legal front by an Erap-identified lawyer. He filed several libel cases against PDI for committing "terroristic acts" and inciting the public to sedition, citing its articles on the following: Erap's alleged connivance with the Marcoses to hide the latter's secret Swiss accounts; Jude Estrada's flying on a military plane for a private trip with his friends to Cagayan de Oro and paying his hotel and food bills, which were picked up the local tourism people; and Erap's extramarital relations with Laarni Enriquez. Other stories at about this time included Enriquez's link to a bribery attempt in connection with an anomalous textbook deal.

The ad boycott appeared to be over by late November 1999. Malacanang may have finally given up on the Inquirer as it continued to report the news about its occupant with neither fear nor favor.

An unexpected outcome of the ad boycott was the unprecedented outpouring of public support which translated into the projection of Erap's' image as a bully and further eroded his authority to govern.

But it was really after Chavit Singson's friendship with Erap died that the people were outraged. Like the death of Ninoy, the whole country was outraged by the sins of Erap as told by Chavit.

Whereas only Mr. & Ms., Malaya and Radio Veritas covered and reported the truth in Ninoy's time, in Erap's time all newspapers, radio and TV covered the impeachment trial every minute of every day.

Our own Pinoy Times sold hundreds of thousands of its Special Edition, which photographed his mansions, mistresses and money. We even foretold two months early the outcome of the voting by the senators on the opening of the envelope. Eleven to 10, the Erap diehards would vote in Erap's favor, we said.

Sinabi nang "Huwag magpakatuta" - nagpatuta pa rin! This cover came about because at a rally in Makati one anti-Erap dog lover showed up with her dog all decked out with little placards that said "Erap, Resign." At about this time, one of our reporters submitted a story that ex-President Cory Aquino was warning the people to watch the impeachment proceedings because Malacanang was bent on influencing its outcome. That story led us to count 11 senators who seemed to be pro-Erap. Using our photo of the dog at the rally, we asked our artist, Nonoy Marcelo (God rest his soul), to lay out the message to these 11 senators: Huwag magpakatuta (Don't allow yourselves to be used by Erap as puppy dogs.) This we published on November 19, 2000. Two months later, on January 17, 2001, our cover became real - those same 11 senators voted not to open the Jose Pidal bank account of Erap.

The people were furious. Their outrage triggered the gathering at the EDSA Shrine which led to Erap leaving Malacanang, to be replaced by his vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as the new president on January 20.

It was mass media's finest hour. That admonition to the 11 senators, "Don't be puppy dogs of the ruling elite," should be addressed as well to all journalists of the world.

To be beholden to any news source is tragedy for a reporter.

To be beholden to any advertiser is tragedy for a newspaper.

To act like puppy dogs to public relations officers makes the editorial staff lose confidence in the editorial desk.

The main job of the newspaper is to be a watchdog, not to be anybody's puppy dog or tuta.

It is now time to end this lecture, although we have not had the space to talk about community journalism and its 400 practitioners whose lives are endangered because of their dedication to local reporting that is so important to nation-building.

Nor have we had the space to discuss the Philippine Press Institute, the supposed watchdog of local journalism, and how it lost its teeth. I hope you are concerned enough about these issues and others such as the impact of technology on journalism to bring them up at the open forum.

But I cannot leave you without paying homage to our best literary writer and journalist Nick Joaquin, whom we lost last April, 2005.

Nick said that "journalism is responsible writing. The reporter is duty-bound to communicate - and to communicate as sensibly as possible. He must not play games with the reading public. Communication is serious business."

Thank you all for being here today.


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