February 22, 2018, 5:00 pm
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1 Philippine Peso = 0.15011 Hong Kong Dollar
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1 Philippine Peso = 1 Philippine Peso
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Malaya@34: Where, how it all began

BY LOURDES-MOLINA FERNANDEZ
 
THE history of “Malaya” - then Ang Pahayagang Malaya, now Malaya Business Insight - cannot be told without going to the context of how martial law, declared in 1972 by President Ferdinand Marcos, impacted Philippine media.

Its success as a business-oriented broadsheet today owes much to that proud history, as well as to the collective effort and sacrifice of its staff, most of who have been withMalaya for much of the 34 years of its existence. Their blood, sweat and tears have amply provided crucial support to the founders and owners and leaders of the paper through the past decades.

Malaya was launched on Jan. 17, 1983 as an English-language paper, fortnightly at first, barely a month after its publisher Jose Burgos Jr. was arrested and detained along with several staffers and columnists in the December 1982 military raid of the WE Forum offices and printing plant on Quezon Avenue, Quezon City. The raid drew international outrage and attention to the state of press freedom in the country.

At that time, even the feisty lawyers of Joe Burgos defending him in the WE Forum cases had initially disapproved of the launch of Malaya (which before the WE Forum raid was a minor, sister paper, in the vernacular; hence, its Filipino name) in January 1983. In a tribute to Joe Burgos after the journalist was named by the International Press Institute as one of the 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the 20th Century in year 2000, Joker Arroyo said he thought Joe’s gambit was too risky: the inciting to sedition case was hanging over their heads and they were still begging the Supreme Court to reopen WE Forum.

Arroyo admitted he was glad, on hindsight, that Joe for once did not listen to him.

But Malaya’s strength and resilience may be better understood by considering its roots as a pillar of an independent press, a community of journalists growing out of the total shutdown caused by martial law in 1972.

After martial law shuttered all mainstream newspapers and publications, radio/TV stations, and resulted in the arrest of dozens of journalists and writers alongside other politicians and activists critical of Marcos, the regime installed a system of prior restraint through a licensing rule that favored crony-owned media outlets.

Martial law forced hundreds of media professionals out of jobs, leaving them these options: overseas exile; go underground or face prosecution/detention along with other activists and opposition politicos; shift careers to teaching, business, and sales; or join the government media or the so-called Crony Press (led by the Bulletin, Journal and Express)

Martial law also shuttered for several years the Campus Press, which had been active in criticizing the Marcos government, and blacklisted the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).
 
COPING WITH MARTIAL LAW

With the total shutdown of mainstream media and the campus press, Church-based groups became the earliest supporters of media enterprises that went against the tide of pro-dictatorship propaganda.

Meanwhile, the Left actively put out several publications, with its own underground system for dissemination.

In the mid-70s, leaders of the CEGP Alumni Association, notably its founder Atty. Ernesto Rodriguez Jr., started reaching out quietly to campus editors of various schools, with networking help provided by his godson Joe Burgos, who was then active in training student leaders for various advocacies like anti-drug campaigns and energy conservation.

The CEGP alumni encouraged the young writers to slowly re-organize the CEGP, citing the key role of the campus press pre-martial law in informing people, shaping public opinion, and drawing feedback from
people.

In the summer of 1977, Burgos Jr. - the TOYM-winning investigative reporter of the shuttered Manila Times of Chino Roces - embarked on his own “experiment” by opening the fortnightly publication “WE Forum” (first named “WE For the Young Filipino”) that, unlike the Church-backed, underground, and campus publications, was meant to be distributed alongside the then mainstream crony publications: on the streets.

Its first two years were marked by sporadic run-ins with authorities. In fact, the day it hit the streets on May 1, 1977, four of its young staffers were arrested by Metrocom while covering the Labor Day rally, and detained overnight. It took Joe Burgos himself to make representations with General Prospero Olivas to persuade him that these were legitimate journalists, albeit still students, and were there to cover.

From 1977 to 1982, the WE Forum grew steadily as an alternative paper, but competing head to head on the streets with the “mainstream” and largely crony-owned media.

Everything changed on Dec. 7, 1982: the military raided WE Forum offices, shut down the printing press, detained Jose Sr. and Joe Jr. Burgos, along with two other Burgos brothers on the logistics side of the operation; and some 10 columnists and writers including CEGP founder Atty. Rodriguez, Dean Armando Malay and ex-senator Soc Rodrigo.

Released after two weeks, Burgos Jr. reopened in January 1983 his “office” from his small QC house, publishing his newer, smaller paper “Ang Pahayagang Malaya,” this time as an English-language fortnightly in lieu of the still-shuttered WE Forum.

Just eight months after that launch, Malaya would prove its mettle in its remarkable coverage of the August 1983 airport assassination of Ninoy Aquino. In contrast to the defensive coverage by the mainstream, crony-owned media, Malaya provided its readers an extensive, first-hand view of that day’s events.
 
YEARS OF FERMENT, HEADY COVERAGE

The period between the Aquino assassination and the 1986 EDSA revolt that ended with President Marcos’ ouster was marked by nationwide, steadily growing protests.

As people demanded change and protests against dictatorship snowballed, Malaya as the trailblazer in the so-called Mosquito Press grew.

Coverage was breathless, fearless, relentless. There was so much to cover in those fevered days: besides the street protests, Malayacorrespondents from outside  Metro Manila always had their hands full covering massacres, hunger stalking communities, financial shenanigans involving cronies, and the amassing of ill-gotten wealth and the excesses of Madame Imelda et al.

In Metro Manila, most of the reporters, photographers and correspondents were young (under 30) and had one common trait: intrepid. But they survived the perilous years because they never took themselves too seriously, or went about thumping their breasts as “patriots.” After a typical day’s coverage, they’d swap stories over beer at a small hut across the street, exchanging notes on how to better handle a story and tips on how to avoid harm - physical or otherwise. One would never guess, from their laughter, that these were people who leave their homes each day uncertain if they’d end it in detention, or even alive.

The Mosquito Press, to my mind, was kept alive, less because of the courage of the journalists, but more because people demanding change and the truth were willing to pay the price for access; and Filipinos from all walks of life were doing their share to pursue change. People from all walks of life, including government agencies, provided information; opened up their homes and small businesses to Malaya, which had no telephone for most of its news operations in 1983 and 1984.

The frequency of the paper steadily increased: from fortnightly, to weekly, to thrice-weekly, to 5 days a week, and finally, to 7 days a week. Circulation also rose rapidly, from 5,000 right after the 1982 raid to hundreds of thousands.
 
COURAGEOUS DEALERS, MYSTERY PRINTER

Remarkable in that circulation growth between 1983 and 1986 was the role of the provincial dealers and distributors. The circulation profile marked Malaya as truly a national paper, with key cities boasting numbers that rivalled those of the mainstream dailies: notable were Davao (if memory serves right, it had over 30,000 daily readers); Bacolod and Cebu (with over 20,000 readers each); and in Luzon, there were the cities of Baguio, Olongapo and Angeles, to name a few, which counted loyal readerships in the tens of thousands.

When EDSA broke in 1986, Malaya’s combined circulation from three editions was at roughly half a million, thanks to those loyal readers and a network of courageous printers located in various sites in Metro Manila -- to provide fallback in case one or more of them are raided or harassed.

The main printer of Malaya has never been publicly acknowledged, not for lack of interest by those in the paper, but because the man who allowed that printing press to be used for Malaya has stubbornly resisted any public acknowledgment or tribute. In one EDSA revolt commemoration, organizers had given Malaya special recognition for its pioneering role in the Mosquito Press, but our printer declined to be mentioned in any way in the article for the souvenir magazine.

When EDSA happened, the newspapers in the Malaya group dwarfed the circulation of its mainstream competition: there was the broadsheet Ang Pahayagang Malaya which became the flagship; WE Forum, a 5-days-a week political tabloid; and Tinig ng Masa.

Note: WE Forum was being published again by then, because it had won its case in the Supreme Court. Just before Christmas of 1984, the SC declared the Dec. 7, 1982 military raid illegal, thus voiding (on basis of “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine) all charges against Burgos et al. As we understood it, none of the so-called “evidence” from the raid used in the inciting to sedition case could thus be acceptable in court.

Today, 34 years after its launch,Malaya thrives, continually drawing on the collective effort of its staff and its owners - veteran journalist Amado “Jake” Macasaet took over as publisher in late 1986 - and still drawing inspiration from its remarkable history and role in Philippine media and society.

* Ms. Fernandez was News Editor, then Editor in Chief, of Ang Pahayagang Malaya from January 1984 to March 1987. She was Chief of Correspondents of the original WE For the Young Filipino, later re-named WE Forum, in 1977.  She is now Managing Editor of InterAksyon.com, the online news portal of TV5.)
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