‘Tatang’ of the masses


    HE would have chosen to be a caretaker of their family cattle farm in Bukidnon and enjoyed obscurity rather than to suffer the consequences of being a media man in midst of colonialism and authoritarianism. Joaquin “Chino” P. Roces never imagined that he would inherit the management of the family-owned Tribune and later on resurrect The Manila Times. But he had to because of political affairs, family tradition and compassion.

    Chino was after all the least favored of the nine children, born on June 29, 1913, to Don Alejandro Roces and Antonia Pardo. He remained to be the treasurer of the Tribune until after Don Alejandro’s and Alejandro (Andong) Jr.’s death, the latter by anti-Japanese guerrilla assassins, on July 8, 1943. He became the assistant manager of the Tribune when the second-born successor Rafael “Tuti” also died.

    After his homecoming from attending Oxford Extension College in Reading, London, Chino joined TVT (Tribune, La Vanguardia, Taliba) which his father had founded in 1916. He served as circulation clerk for P40 a month. Later on, Don Alejandro ceded TVT, the war-propaganda daily Tribune in particular, to the Japanese military government on October 8, 1942.

    While he managed the Tribune during the occupation, he never sacrificed all he had for the Japanese government just like what his father and brother Andong did. Instead, he helped his cousins who joined the guerrilla force by secretly providing them Tribune trucks to smuggle men and supplies.

    Chino wasn’t born a newsman, but he had the initiative to understand the newspaper industry and make the Tribune as successful as the TVT. After the American-Japanese war of liberation in Manila, he bought an old linotype machine and revived The Manila Times on May 27, 1945 which had been dormant for 15 years. The Roces family bought The Times to disguise the comeback of the Tribune and to acquire its competitor.

    James Copley, American publisher, was the first one to notice Roces’ will to learn when, in 1959, Chino visited Copley’s The San Diego Union-Tribune plant in San Diego, California. Chino’s remark of “I wish” for his Manila Times moved so him that he sent his director for training to Manila, dubbed later on as “Mission to Manila,” to transform the Times’ page layout, editing, and writing style.

    Adding these upgrades in news making to their editorial independence and market success made The Times the preeminent independent and profitable Philippine daily, from being a Sunday paper, with a circulation of 200, 000 copies every day.

    Veteran journalist Vergel O. Santos, who also edited The Times later, said in a quick interview that Chino Roces was “a man who fought for freedom on his own terms, influenced by no one, not class, club, compadre, or even family. He fought continually and consistently on the democratic principle of freedom of expression.” Santos wrote the book Chino and his Time, the primary source of this article.

    Santos wrote in his book that Chino wouldn’t be a good reporter anyway because the youngest of seven siblings was in fact a humanitarian. Many times he would stray from his press duty during national calamities only to come back covered with soot from assisting in rescue operations. The soft-hearted Chino brought his compassion to people ever since he was in the Tribune to his management of The Times.

    His employees in The Times would recall that he never attended a single meeting so he could not disturb in ranking up the important news to be off in the printing press in the evening. He would just call the office to know what was happening, without even leaving any comment—just “thank you.”

    If anyone saw him drop by the office, Chino’s presence was to light up the newsroom with casual conversations. The old man was a man of few words and Santos described him as “a walking editorial cartoonist, indeed a walking cartoon himself.”

    More than that, he acted as “Tatang” or father to his reporters even in the middle of their duties. Employees were free to form their union, although it bothered Chino, and they needed not to think twice before asking for any financial help from him.

    Chino admitted he lacked the aptitude for letters, but defended press freedom anyway. When President Ferdinand Marcos’ military men forcibly closed down The Manila Times and other media outfits, Chino took his fight for press freedom to the streets. Those who joined the Martial Law rallies while being bombarded by water cannons would remember Chino in his ragged loose shirt, old jeans, sturdy sandals, and wide-brimmed hat while pulling a small toy tank.

    After the 1978 elections for a transitional legislature, he emerged as the pop star of the masses and joined them walking across five cities in Metro Manila to campaign against the fraudulent turnover of votes in favor of Marcos the dictator’s side. Chino himself spent the last drop of his vigor to deliver his promise of what seemed an impossible million signatures to endorse Corazon Aquino to run against Marcos in the 1986 snap elections.

    Several decades later, everybody who survived martial law would remember “Tatang” Chino wearing the iconic wide-brimmed hat who defied the standards of a highly stratified hierarchal society to join the masses in their fight for the nation’s democracy.

    As Santos puts it, Chino “spoke little yet said much—instead of talking, he acted.” In his 40 years in journalism, Santos said since Chino died of lymphoma on September 30, 1988, no one alive is even approximating him.

    Santos commented that if “Tatang” is still alive to see the plight of ailing press freedom and politicking today, he would be disappointed. Santos said: “Given that all public and social institutions, the media themselves included, have contributed to the situation, I guess he’d be speechless in despair.”


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    1 Comment

    1. Claro Apolinar on

      The Manila Times is again like the one that was coming ut when Tatang was alive.
      May God give it more ads and followers among the Filipino people.