‘Two of a kind’
May 12, 1999
This is the intro to an interview set casting light on the recent press muzzling brouhaha in Manila. See web address above for full (lengthy) text of interviews (mostly in English) & color photos.
ON THE face of it, they are two women with similar backgrounds making strikingly different choices in the name of one cause—press freedom.
One-time president of the UP student council and editor-in-chief of The Philippine Collegian, Malou Mangahas spent three and a half months in Bicutan (prison) for printing stories critical of the Marcoses. A strongly principled woman, Mangahas figured prominently in two newspaper walkouts in the late ’80s, over issues of crony ownership and a less-than-independent stance towards news sources. Her frustration with mainstream media found expression in the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, which she founded with six other journalists in 1989. Shortly after, Mangahas married fellow activist Roel Landingin, current business editor of The Manila Times, with whom she has a nine-year-old daughter. She became the Times’ editor-in-chief in 1994.
When all hell broke loose in the The Times newsroom last month on account of President Estrada’s P101-million libel suit and the subsequent front-page apology from The Times president Robina Gokongwei-Pe, Mangahas was away at Harvard enjoying the second half of her nine-month Nieman fellowship.
She had been in close touch with her staff via e-mail, creating a pile of print-outs at least two inches thick while debating the options left to them as their paper faced severely strained relations with the highest office in the land.
No stranger to controversy herself, The Times managing editor Chit Estella was the woman in charge in Mangahas’ absence. The former president of the UP Journalism Club started writing for the human rights magazine of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) shortly after graduation, before moving on to the Manila Evening Post, Tempo and Malaya as a reporter. She joined the Inquirer desk in 1994, and became The Times managing editor under Mangahas in 1995.
Backed by an equally young and idealistic staff, the Mangahas-Estella partnership flourished until it was sorely tried by the paper’s apology published on April 8.
While Estella resigned along with associate editor Booma Cruz, chief of reporters for national news Ed Lingao and chief of reporters for business news Joel Gaborni, Mangahas and news editor Glenda Gloria opted to stay. It was a decision that came at the cost of friendships and professional relationships dearest and most important to us, Mangahas admitted.
Outside the The Times, the apology was seen as a blow to freedom of the press under the Estrada administration and, unfortunately for the men and women who worked so hard to win readers’ respect, as a major blow to the credibility of the paper itself.
In separate interviews with the SIM staff, Mangahas spells out why she is staying while Estella explains why she had to go. Theirs is a story which raises important issues for the ordinary Filipino. The Times case not only casts doubt on the principle of press freedom in a democracy but raises questions about the limits of press freedom in the Philippine context, where media is both a public trust and a private enterprise.
From Philippine Daily Inquirer Magazine,