By Chit Estella
February 2, 2006
‘It’s not just the leadership that must change. The people, too, must change’
AFTER TWO people power revolutions where her publications played a role in removing disgraced presidents, Eugenia ‘Eggie’ Apostol retains an optimism that can only come from one who has scaled the mountains and sees the larger view.
“It’s not just the leadership that must change,” she says. “The people, too, must change.”
More than 20 years ago, it had seemed that once the dictator was removed, the ills plaguing this country would also be gone. But, alas, that was not to be. Edsa had become less of a cause for celebration and more of an occasion for asking: where did we go wrong?
“We did not apply the lessons to daily governance,” says Apostol. “People themselves haven’t changed. The politicians haven’t changed.”
There is a lot of sadness in that, a sadness unforeseen in the days when everyone seemed to know who the enemy was. In the dying days of the Marcos era, nothing could be clearer than that.
“Those were very heady days,” says Apostol, recalling the success of the Mr. & Ms Special Edition soon after the 1983 assassination of Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. Apostol had been was dismayed to find “only one paragraph” about Aquino’s funeral in just one of the newspapers the next day. “It was completely disregarded by the Marcos press,” she says. In what became her style of starting a publication, she told her magazine staff: “Tomorrow, we come up with a funeral issue.”
Thus was born the Mr. & Ms Special Edition. On the cover was the bloodied face of the slain opposition leader. “The whole issue was sold out right away. Agents kept coming back for more,” Apostol says.
About 750,000 copies were sold at P2 each. She realized that “we (had) to keep coming out because Ninoy had such a huge following.” Long after the Aquino funeral, the magazine kept selling at 300,000 to 400,000 copies every week. From 1983 to 1985, its circulation alone enabled it to survive even without advertising — and even as the authorities kept a watchful eye. (One of the reasons why the regime’s military attack dogs were kept at bay was perhaps the fact that the defense minister’s family had some money riding on the venture.)
With the start of the trial of the suspects in the Aquino assassination, Apostol thought another weekly publication was needed to document the proceedings. Thus was born the weekly Inquirer. It would run for nine months.
“When the trial was finished, we were losing P100,000 per month,” Apostol says. Another publisher might have thought of cutting his losses and stopping the publication altogether. But not Apostol. Not when strongman Ferdinand Marcos provided another reason for the paper to keep going.
“Marcos announced the snap elections,” she says, and “I thought, kawawa naman ang opposition, walang paper.” The only other opposition newspaper around then was Malaya. “So I thought, we should have a daily newspaper also,” Apostol says
In a story she would relish retelling, she asked the old publishers to breakfast in her home — the venerable Chino Roces of the old Manila Times, Teodoro Locsin senior and junior, Jose Burgos, Raul Locsin of BusinessDay, and Betty Go-Belmonte.
“All of them said no,” she remembers, “Chino said no way because he already sold his printing press. The Locsins said they would not like to legitimize the regime. And Burgos already had Malaya.” Go-Belmonte’s parents were in exile but their printing press in Intramuros was still functioning.
Where others saw bleakness, Apostol saw a shining opportunity. “Having seen the beauty of Mr. & Ms’s success, I thought we could push things farther,” she says. With the Go family’s printing press, a P1-million loan from Mr. & Ms., and another P1 million from Fe Panlilio, the Philippine Daily Inquirer was born on Dec. 9, 1985.
No doubt, Mr. & Ms., the Inquirer, and other “alternative” publications played a big role in raising awareness on the abuses of the Marcos regime and in mobilizing people for anti-dictatorship protests. The part the media played in the struggle ensured they would remain forces to reckon with even after Marcos had fallen.
THE FALL in fact took place two months after the Inquirer had become a daily. Apostol remembers, “One Saturday, at about 3 p.m., I got a call from (Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile’s wife) Cristina. She said, ‘You know, Johnny and Eddie (Ramos) are going to be arrested. They were found out and now they’re going to Camp Crame to defend themselves there. Please call (Jaime Cardinal) Sin for us.’”
But Apostol could not contact the cardinal. It fell on Betty Go-Belmonte to track him down, while Apostol checked on her friend Cristina. By then the Enrile children had been dispersed to other houses. Cristina was to take shelter in a cousin’s place in Alabang with an aide de camp. Instinctively, Apostol asked to go with Cristina, who then called her husband and said, “Hey, Egs wants to come with me.”
The two women left the Enrile house in Dasmariñas Village at six p.m. to take advantage of the darkness. Apostol worried that Cristina’s famous blonde hair would attract too much attention. “So I covered her hair with a cushion and told her to lie low in the car,” she says.
In their hideout, Cristina clutched the statue of the Lady of Fatima in her arms as Apostol listened to June Keithley on the radio. The next day, Apostol returned to the office for the production of an Extra edition of the Inquirer. She returned to keep Cristina company on the second and third days of Enrile and Ramos’s breakaway.
Tension was not just in Edsa but at the Inquirer as well. “I was told we would be rounded up and taken to Carabao Island,” she says. The information was tipped off to Inquirer editor-in-chief Luis Beltran, who was once jailed by Marcos. It turned out to be one of the rumors that flew thick and fast in the fluidity of the political situation.
On the fourth day, news of Marcos fleeing the country was announced. The Inquirer chose from three possible banner headlines for the following day. The editors decided on “It’s all over; FM flees.”
With the dictator gone, the Inquirer buckled down to the job of operating under the Aquino government. “We knew we had to be less partisan but still very sympathetic to the things that had to be done,” says Apostol. “We tried very hard not to favor the new government.”
It was an orientation that differed from that taken by Go-Belmonte, who went on to found The Philippine Star. Unlike Go-Belmonte, who was friends with Corazon Aquino (“they had painting classes together”), Apostol kept her distance from the new president. She recounts, “Cory came to the Mr. & Ms office once or twice whenever she would pass by Edsa on her way to her Makati office. It was always nice to see her but Cory was not the kind who liked to be palsy-walsy with anybody.”
The post-Marcos era was boom time for the media. But it was hardly a honeymoon with the new government. A few years into her presidency, Aquino sued Beltran (then already with the Star) for writing that she had allegedly hid under her bed at the height of a coup attempt.
The Inquirer, meanwhile, was by then the country’s most popular broadsheet. But it was a distinction it fought to hold onto as competition became fierce. From just three or four nationally circulated broadsheets during martial law, more than half a dozen suddenly sprouted in the post-Edsa era. There had been more immediately after the revolt, but economics quickly determined which newspapers would survive.
SINCE EDSA 1, the media themselves have come under fire for not making good use of the freedom they had regained. They have been criticized for too much fluff, sensationalism, and mediocre reporting.
Apostol thinks media ownership is an important factor. But this, she says, goes beyond the question of who publishes a newspaper or runs a station. “Ownership is not just about who controls the finances,” she says. “Media is really owned by advertising people because every paper has to have three-fourths of its papers devoted to ads in order to survive.”
She rues how advertising has dominated television and complains especially about the proliferation of shampoo ads. Apostol asks, “Don’t Filipinos do anything else besides washing their hair?”
She grumbles about the race for ratings, which has pushed news programs to the very late hours to make way for soap operas. Yet, Apostol still believes the media deserves the freedom it now enjoys. “It should always be given freedom,” she says, including those who do not use it well.
“It is not a perfect newspaper,” she says of her baby, the Inquirer, but it remains very independent. When she sold her shares to the Prietos, she asked them for only one thing: to respect the independence of the editorial department.
In 1999, a threat to press independence moved Apostol to re-aim her guns at the government. When then President Joseph Estrada called for an advertisers’ boycott of the Inquirer for its critical reporting and sued The Manila Times for P100 million over a corruption story and harassed its owners until they were forced to sell the paper to a presidential crony, Apostol set up a newspaper that would appeal to Estrada’s followers: the non-English-reading masses. So began Pinoy Times, a tabloid in Filipino with the mission of exposing “political pornography,” that is, political scandals.
In 2001, Estrada was ousted via People Power 2; Pinoy Times folded up about a year after. Estrada’s successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has shown greater staying power, despite the numerous crises and calls for her resignation.
While not particularly happy with the Arroyo administration, Apostol, now 80, is not about to join the call for its removal. Her question is the same as nearly everyone else’s: “Who will take over?”
After Edsa 1 — and Edsa 2 — it became clear that something more lasting than the ouster of presidents was needed by the country. “It’s Filipinos who have to change, not so much the people in politics,” she says. That is why she has embarked on a long-term project called “Education Revolution” where schools are “adopted” by concerned individuals and groups to boost their resources.
Filipinos, she says, have not been able to take full advantage of people power because of lack of awareness. She says, “We should begin from the lowest level, the barangay, and go up from there. It will take some time but that’s the way it is. We cannot change in one night.” Not even in one revolt — or two.
From Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (http://pcij.org/stories/eugenia-apostol/)