Illness in the past few weeks finally caught up with this writer last Thursday, and he regretfully advised that he could not submit a column for last Friday’s edition. That was the text to editor-publisher Rene Bas, a friend of nearly three decades since my days as an editor and writer with Asiaweek in Hong Kong.
Then Rene replied that the Times was marking 115 years today since its founding amid the waving flags, blazing guns, and bloodied bolos of the Philippine Revolution and Asia’s first republic, founded just four months before. No way I would miss that birthday and milestone of Philippine journalism and nationhood, this writer thought.
So here’s the product of frenzied typing to beat a deadline already past. The copy was too late for the big issue. Still, let this crush of copy relay at a late date the gush of mind and heart brimming with fond memories and soaring respect for this bastion of truth, justice and freedom in our beloved Philippines.
In my years growing up in Paco, Manila, and schooling in San Beda near Malacañang and three years at Ateneo High School in Loyola Heights, The Manila Times was the newspaper to read and believe. Period.
There were other respected publications, for sure. The Manila Chronicle of the Lopez group and The Philippines Herald, backed by San Miguel and the Sorianos had their following, as did political magazines like The Examiner and The Philippines Free Press.
But The Manila Times was the doyen, the authority, the leader, just as The New York Times and The Times of London also ruled their metropolitan media. And since television was not as widespread as it is today, the printed word was the arbiter of truth for most Filipinos, setting the agenda for broadcasters, citizenry, and rulers.
This writer recalls a visit to the Times newsroom and printing press in Manila’s Intramuros area, where then editor Teddy Owen greeted our group of visiting young Ateneans, sniffing at the smell of ink and newsprint from the giant rolling presses.
As this writer did when he saw the first issue of Asiaweek in December 1975, he dreamt of one day writing for the Times. And as with the idea of penning copy for the Hong Kong-based newsmagazine, the fleeting thought of seeing my byline in the paramount Philippine paper was instantly discarded as soon as it flickered in the mind.
Of course, God has a way of making things happen when we least expect, and especially for souls who doubt their own abilities. Thus, from 1984 to 2001, this hack got to say his piece in Asia’s largest-circulation weekly publication till it closed a dozen years ago, and since 2010, a thrice-weekly column in this vehicle for professional, responsible, and excellent journalism in the Philippines.
To be sure, this newspaper is far from its once-dominant status, at least circulation-wise. Returning to that former glory proved a mammoth challenge after about a decade and a half of closure under martial law. But freedom and truth can never be extinguished forever, and the Times rose again under various guises till its present incarnation.
No doubt, too, there is a world of difference from the linotyped dailies of the 20th Century and the offset and online editions of the 21st, with probably more people reading its articles via the Internet, including thousands receiving forwarded and “liked” news and opinion or trolling through the electronic archives, than the printed paper.
But there is one constant: truth, justice and professionalism. In a national media that may swing this way or that, blown by powerful, moneyed winds, The Manila Times still stands for the unbridled press constantly seeking to portray the national condition and direction as our dim lights, enlightened by human diligence and divine inspiration, show.
That journalistic ideal is espoused and enacted from the very top of the Times, with no less than Chairman Emeritus Dante Ang Sr. putting his name to front-page reports and commentary which challenge the spread of unfounded rumor and unmask the pretences of the powerful. That he was a leading figure in the public relations industry, rather than diminishing his credibility, only shows that Dante knows well how to distinguish between reality, rumor and rhetoric.
The Manila Times ideal stands out even more today, when mainstream media seems to have taken the side of the dominant political force, as seen in its 180-degree reversal of the past anti-administration thrust to highlight failings and constantly hammer at unresolved controversies. Today, the most widely read and watched have become key planks in Malacañang’s unbridled campaign to push President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s ratings ever higher.
But then, truth and justice never burn brighter than in the pitch black of falsehood and unfairness. While many media sing paeans to the administration’s purported Tuwid na Daan, the Times has recounted the explosion in pork barrel and smuggling, the uninvestigated anomalies involving presidential associates and allies, and the mounting hunger, poverty and unemployment despite Asia-pacing economic growth.
At the same time, when speculative news reports got tongues wagging over a presidential sister’s alleged involvement in attempted extortion from a foreign company, the Times chairman himself set the record straight from his perspective. After all, truth takes no sides but its own and those willing to stand naked in its unflattering rays.
So here’s wishing The Manila Times a proud and much-deserved celebration of the past century and 15, with many more years, if not decades, telling the Philippine story like it is, warts, wrinkles and whatever else. For only by seeing his true image in a mirror untarnished by bias and bribe can the Filipino know himself and remake it into someone greater. So help us God.