ADVOCACY MINDANOW: A press journey of 40 years

RETURN TO PPI –I attended the 2-day annual conference of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) in Manila last week. It was a sentimental “return” to an organization which I wanted to serve many years ago. It got aborted 40 years ago!

PPI, a non-stock, non-profit print media organization was founded in 1964 with journalists and editors “bonded by professional camaraderie with the main purpose of improving their craft”. Today, it is composed of editors and publishers and journalists of the leading national newspapers in Manila and in the provinces.   The PPI became moribund when martial law was declared in 1972. It was only in 1986 after the so-called Edsa Revolution, or after about 14 years of hibernation that it was revived.

I called this a return journey of four decades to PPI. It’s a long story that started about 40 years ago.

JOB OFFER  — The year was 1972.   I was a 4th year law student at the Ateneo de Davao and working with the Mindanao Times,   then a weekly newspaper.  I was also Davao correspondent to the Manila Times,  at that time the country’s leading national newspaper. Don Chino Roces, the be-moustached publisher of the Manila Times came to Davao one day and invited me to move to Manila. He told me he was looking for someone to serve as an assistant to the executive director and asked whether I was interested.  The late Ed Sanchez was executive director then, while Cebuano Johnny Mercado was head of the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA) and DepthNews, a developmental news/features agency. All shared the same headquarters at the towering Magsaysay Bldg. along Roxas Boulevard. (By the way, PFA sired PPI and kept the umbilical cord intact up to this day.)

Why the old man Chino Roces picked me out of the blue to take on what I knew then as a “big break” for a provincial journalist like me was not known.  All I could recall was that I was “in his company” as a correspondent when we were sued for libel by the late former President Marcos for a story that I wrote as Davao correspondent and headlined by the Manila TIMES years back.

SUED BY MARCOS –Let me relate that incident briefly. It was 1969 or three years before martial law. The late Sen. Ninoy Aquino was then speaking in rallies nationwide. One day, I got a call from the Manila desk of the Manila Times that I should cover, as correspondent, a rally at the Davao Rizal Park that evening. Ninoy, who was also a “darling” of the Times as he was also its correspondent in his younger days, was to “expose” the so-called “seven mansions” of President Marcos.  I was also informed that special arrangements had been previously made with the senator that I could see him at downtown Imperial Hotel even before he would go to the rally site so I could get in advance the text of his speech. Main speakers in rallies usually delivered speeches last and we reckoned that if I would wait for his actual delivery, it would be past deadline time. (Veteran newsmen, by the way, are familiar with this technique.) So I met with the senator and as arranged, I got the facts, wrote my story then dispatched it to Manila. The following day, the headline blared: “NINOY EXPOSES MARCOS MANSIONS”, of course with my name in the byline. President Marcos was so angry at the expose that he sued Ninoy, the publisher Chino Roces, and of course the unknown “me” as reporter. I recall President Marcos in one interview lashed at Ninoy and Roces “and that Davao reporter”. I was in 2nd year law then and I was terribly troubled because a libel case, by a president no less, would affect my taking the bar examinations. Fortunately, the libel case was voluntarily withdrawn later when Chino Roces reportedly, in one presidential gathering, “gate-crashed” the party and was able to talk to President Marcos. A modus vivinde was apparently forged. I did not know the details but I was so relieved when I got word that I was also off the hook.   (That was to be my only libel case throughout my media career.) So, I was not totally a stranger to Don Chino.

LEFT DAVAO –At first I declined Don Chino’s offer knowing that I was finishing my law course and transferring to Manila would make it almost impossible for me to graduate and become a lawyer.  It was towards the end of the first semester, around August and with one more semester to go to finish my law course.

But I was fascinated at the offer. I was barely 24 years old then and the prospect of working in the country’s media hub, at PPI no less, was tempting enough. This probably would not come my way again, I told myself –especially for a “probinsyano” like me. Being given this break by a media mogul like Don Chino was something. I was already about five years into my work with the Mindanao Times and I felt the printer’s ink in my blood was prodding me to give it a try. To make the long story short, I left the Mindanao Times, left my 4th year law studies, left my family (and a childhood girl friend) and flew to Manila.

MARTIAL LAW CAME –By first week of September, I was going through a series of orientation. I was scheduled to assume office October 1.  I went the rounds. Don Chino brought me to meetings, lunch and dinner and introduced me to prominent journalists and media leaders and other VIPs.  I had already met and personally knew many of them though due to my 5-year stint with the Mindanao Times and as president of the Davao Press Club. Davao was already a favorite hideaway for roving Manila and foreign journalists at that time.

Then the unexpected happened. On September 21, martial was declared.  I was shocked to know that journalists and VIPs whom I had met during the past days were all rounded up, arrested and jailed like Ninoy Aquino, “Doro” Doronila, Max Soliven, Johnny Mercado, etc.  Even Don Chino was taken in. I was afraid I would also be arrested. But I was just a “probinsyano” newcomer, I reassured  myself. After a few days when the plane flights resumed, I took the first plane out back to Davao.  I was so scared at the airport seeing swarms of military men manning the gates that I hid and tucked my press card in my socks.

PICKING UP THE PIECES — I quickly returned to the Times and to my law class (and of course to my girlfriend) after a few weeks of being away — to pick up the pieces. The late law school Dean Panyong Estrellado was forgiving and supportive although he was so adamant when I first asked his permission to quit. I guess I was able to catch up, then barely managed to graduate but happily still with my original batch. And became a lawyer. The rest is history.
Come to think of it, I would not have become a lawyer, were it not for martial law. That’s why up to this day, I still give “tribute” to martial law for “intervening” and making me a lawyer. But it was also martial law that aborted my early entry into PPI in 1972.

SUNSETS –So when I attended PPI’s annual meeting last week, it was nostalgic. It was my “return”. It took a full circle, spanning almost 40 years. Veteran Johnny Mercado, still venerable but already white haired was still there. At the closing day, he however delivered his swan song and expressed his decision to quietly fade away. I could hear audible resistance to his intentions of quitting but he persisted by  saying: “I’m now seeing the  sunset.  Yes, it’s full of colors but it’s still the sunset”.

So when someone  prodded me to consider serving PPI as trustee, I merely thought: “But what about my own sunset?” ([email protected])
(Editor’s note: Times Publisher Dureza was unanimously  chosen last week PPI trustee representing Mindanao.)