CONTINUING the legacy as the Philippines’ oldest and most trusted newspaper since 1898, then-The Manila Times owner and publisher Joaquin “Chino” Roces signed as guarantor for a Social Security System housing loan for more than 100 workers with 10 years of regular tenure with the publication in the late 1960s.
Truly concerned about the welfare of the newspaper’s workforce since his father Alejandro Roces Sr. acquired The Manila Times, the maverick publisher agreed with a proposal from the employees union–a shuttle bus that would enable personnel to work even under adverse conditions.
“Mr. Roces saw the wisdom of having employees living in one place because of disasters and calamities that plagued Manila. Most of the employees were living in Sampaloc at pag bumagyo at bumaha, marami ang hindi nakakapasok [and when there is a typhoon and there is flooding, many are unable to come to the office]which is a no-no in a newspaper,” Teddy Mercado, who was then with the newspaper’s Advertising and Classified Ads Department, told The Manila Times.
The newspaper’s offices then were located in Manila’s Santa Cruz district.
Mercado is now the vice president of the homeowners association of The Manila Times Village in what is now Las Pinas City in Metro Manila.
Of three prospective locations in Las Piñas for the The Manila Times Village, only the one in Pamplona Tres materialized as a site for the future home of the newspaper’s employees.
Las Pinas became a first-class municipality in 1960s largely because of the construction of the South Superhighway.
The town’s proximity to Manila made it attractive to real-estate developers.
Divided into 200- to 300-square meter lots, the new village was named after the newspaper and the streets took the names of the other publications under the Roces group–Taliba, Variety, Sunday Times, etc.
The main road was called Manila Times Avenue.
Not everyone took the offer to live at the village, with many of those in the higher salary scale contented in living in apartments that at the time fetched for only P115 per month.
Most of those who signed up were from the younger set–in mid-20s to mid-30s.
With a daily circulation of 300,000 copies, The Manila Times then was the most popular, most influential, most widely read newspaper in Asia and the Philippines’ top company too, with its employees getting higher salaries than those of San Miguel Corp. and Caltex Philippines and with its janitors getting a monthly take-home pay of P1,000 per month.
Construction began in 1969 for two- to three-bedroom bungalow-type houses and the workers of The Manila Times started moving to the village even when there were no water and electricity yet.
But just a year into the project, the developer abandoned the construction.
The residents were left to fend for themselves, eventually deciding to organized a homeowners association.
They filed a case against the developer, Angel Bautista.
Chino Roces came to the rescue by posting a bond with Meralco for the installation of electric power in the village.
On September 21, 1972, then-President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law and cordoned off The Manila Times office and printing press, prohibiting the publication of the issue headlining the supposed ambush on then-Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile.
“We learned that the government told Mr. Roces he can continue publishing The Times but with certain conditions, as conveyed by then Press Secretary [or Minister of Information and now The Manila Times columnist]Franciso Tatad but our boss decided to just close the paper rather than losing freedom of the press,” retired Polytechnic University of the Philippines professor Percelio Solis recalled.
Solis is one of the surviving members from the editorial department.
In the early hours of September 22, he said, six-by-six military trucks full of soldiers descended on The Manila Times printing plant and editorial offices, and under the command of the information minister, halted the printing of the Extra! issue bannering the “fake ambush” of the then-Defense chief.
“Pinauwi naman kami [They allowed us to go home], they [also]allowed us to take our things, but prohibited us to take any material about the Extra! issue of The Manila Times,” Solis said.
Families of the employees living in The Manila Times Village were surprised that the shuttle bus arrived so early that day, and when they learned what happened, everyone was in tears, others wailing loudly that the only breadwinner had lost his job and no chance ever to gain it back.
With the closure of the publication, many found themselves working in different industries but a few continued to work in the print media, like the Philippine Daily Express and in Chino’s brother Ramon’s Graphic Arts Service Inc. (GASI) that specialized in komiks and magazines.
“It was the call of Mr. Roces not to continue but since we were terminated, we got our separation pay and benefits from our tenure,” Solis said.
Collectively, the homeowners donated a lot for the Last Supper of Our Lord Parish Church, which later became part of the strip occupied by University of Perpetual Help owned by the Tamayo family.
For the residents, their faith served them well.
“It brought us luck. It kept us together and made us weather all the storms, nandito pa rin kami [we are still here],” homeowners association president Arnel Agbay said.
Already a second-generation resident, Agbay’s father, Salvador, who was with the Classified Ads, was indisposed for this interview and pictorial with The Sunday Times Magazine.
The village was said to be under surveillance by the Marcos government, which feared that the residents were capable of publishing a newspaper even under military rule.
‘In union there is strength’
Alex Fernando, librarian, editorial department, from 1954 to 1972, still keeps his collection of preserved journals, magazines, souvenir programs and other memorabilia during his stint with the publication.
Of the original 115 families in The Manila Times Village, only 26 percent now are left, with some second- and even third-generation residents occupying the houses.
Believing in the dictum, “In union there is strength,” the villagers have long followed a provision of the homeowners guidelines–an election is held every two years.
For 2016 to 2018, the board of directors of The Manila Times Village Homeowners Association Inc. is composed of Arnel Agbay, president; Teddy Mercado, vice president; Rowena Garces, secretary; and Felicisimo Mendoza, Alice Casupanan, Nestea Valenzuela, Jun Monroy, Amor Firme, Myrna Gallego and Jojo Marbibi as members.
Actively supporting the villagers as everyone’s handyman is Joel Vejerano, son of Stevan Vejerano; and Anthony Pineda, who mans the guardhouse, and whose father was Bienvenido Pineda of the production department.
Surviving original and first generation The Manila Times employees are Felix de la Cruz (Roto Greveur, 1951 to 1972), Alex Fernando (Librarian, 1954 to 1972), Rodolfo Flores (Roto Press, 1965 to 1972), Onofre Rigor (Roto Greveur, 1956 to 1972), Manuel Javate (Composing, 1955 to 1972), Felicisimo Mendoza (Circulation, 1957 to 1972), Salvador Agbay (Classified Ads, 1957 to 1972), Anastacio Nulud (Carrier), Alfredo Arriola (Roto Press, 1956 to 1972), Rodolfo Infante (Headliner, 1957 to 1972) and Teddy Mercado (Classified Ads, 1951 to 1963; and Advertising, 1963 to `1972).
Along with their spouses and children, they said they are thankful that The Manila Times Village was put up or they may not have owned a piece of property until now.
The residents regularly conduct medical missions and hold a Christmas party year after year, keeping them abreast with one another’s condition as they reminisce the good old times with The Manila Times.