This week, I’ll take a break from discussing politics and reminisce on my journalism career that as of this month, October, has spanned 50 continuous years.
It was in the first week of October 1971 when, as a 19-year-old junior journalism student in the University of the Philippines, I took a bus to Makati to apply for a reporter position in the Makati Mirror. There I met for the first time Fred Gabot, who had been hired earlier and who became a colleague, compadre and a close friend in those 50 years.
I covered the Makati beat for almost two months until the time the publisher, Alfredo Bunye, shut it down shortly after the local elections. He was a friend of Mayor Nemesio Yabut and had put up the paper solely to support Yabut’s candidacy for Makati mayor.
The next month, I applied again for a reporter position along with another friend and UP classmate, Jun Engracia, who like Fred became a colleague and close friend for all those 50 years. Fred and Jun both became fellow reporters and later editors in the Daily Express Group of Publications. Fred is now editor-in-chief of Philippine News Today while Jun retired about two years ago as news editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Jun and I were both hired as cub reporters for the Philippine Herald, with Jun doing the police beat and I working on the health beat. After only a week as cub reporters for the Herald, Jun and I got word that a new daily newspaper, the Philippine Daily Express, would open soon and were hiring staff members.
We applied together and after an actual coverage of a MICAA game, the sports editor hired us pronto. We started work on the first day of February, covering sports events and writing stories for the daily dry run of the first-ever full color daily newspaper in the country. The Express finally published its very first issue for actual distribution on May 7, 1972, and both Jun and I were very happy to see our bylines in that first issue.
When martial law was declared, I was an activist at the UP Diliman and the Daily Express was the only newspaper left publishing. Our circulation shot to more than half a million copies daily that week. We had to work under the watchful eyes of military censors, but since we were writing sports stories, the censors didn’t affect us much.
When the business editor and his assistant were fired after an anti-government story from the wires were inadvertently published in the Business Section, I was temporarily assigned to cover the business beat, covering the Central Bank, the Board of Investments and other government agencies. After only two months, I was sent back to the Sports Section after two new business reporters were hired.
I covered basically all sports – basketball, baseball, boxing, golf, tennis, track and field, polo, chess, and my favorite of all, the annual Tour of Luzon, which along with basketball and golf, brought me to cities from Northern Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao.
In 1974, I had my first taste of overseas assignment when the Philippine team, bannered by grandmaster Eugene Torre, competed in and won the very first Asian chess team championship in Penang, Malaysia. Starting in 1980, I covered all the biennial World Chess Olympiad in Georgetown, Malta (1980), Lucerne, Switzerland (1982), Thessaloniki, Greece (1984), Dubai, United Arab Emirates (1986) and Novisad, Yugoslavia (1990).
I skipped the 1988 Olympiad in Greece because I had just arrived from a Novosti writing grant in the Soviet Union (Moscow, Leningrad in Russia, Baku in Azerbaijan, and Tbilisi in Georgia) to write about then Premier MIkhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika.
I covered the Rolando Navarette’s championship fight against Mexican Bazooka Limon in Las Vegas in 1982, and another title fight at The Forum in Inglewood in 1983.
Among my many travels through Europe, Asia and the United States, the most memorable were the ones in China in 1979, Soviet Union in 1988 and Yugoslavia in 1990. I went to China on PAL’s inaugural flight to Peking (now Beijing) in December 1979 just when the communist state was opening up to the world. I was in the Soviet Union in August 1988 just before it collapsed and broke into different republics, and I was in Yugoslavia in December 1990 before it broke into different republics.
In 1976, executive editor Pocholo Romualdez pulled me from the sports beat to cover Manila City Hall, the city courts and fiscal’s offices. It was an entirely different world from sports, but I enjoyed the beat immensely and wrote special reports.
That same year, I was appointed Metro Manila editor at the age of 24 and less than five years since I joined the Express. Two years later, I was promoted to assistant managing editor, and later to senior assistant managing editor before I was 30. At the same time, I wrote a twice-a-week column, As We See it, alternating with two other senior editors.
After the EDSA Revolt in 1986, I was named managing editor to replace Neal Cruz, who moved on to the Daily Tribune.
The Daily Express, which was sequestered by the government along with the Manila Bulletin and the Times Journal group, I thought, was finally free to write whatever the staff wanted to write. I saw the hypocrisy and deficiencies of the Cory Administration and wrote it in my columns.
Sen. Sonny Osmena and Rep. Lorna Verano-Yap, who were assigned as administrators in the sequestered Daily Express, personally requested me to stop my attacks on Aquino, to which I retorted: “I thought EDSA restored our freedoms?”
With the blessing of my executive editor, I continued my critical columns, and after one month, the government closed the Express in the pretext that it was losing heavily.
The Express closed down after its Jan. 31, 1987 edition, and I became its last managing editor. The next day, I joined the soon-to-come out Manila Standard and became its first managing editor. I left the Manila Standard to join the Daily Globe as news editor that same year, but was asked by publisher Rod Reyes to come back after two months.
I left the Standard again in 1989 to become editorial consultant of the Philippine Star Group. Later that year, I accepted an offer to become the managing editor of the Philippine Times Journal.
In 1991, I went on a one-month summer vacation to the US with my family that stretched to four months, during which time I edited Meng Gatus’ Los Angeles Monitor. I went back to Manila and was rehired by the Times Journal as managing editor, but left again after two months to resume my editorship of the Los Angeles Monitor in October that year.
That started the second stage of my journalism career in the US.
I had always wanted to be a lawyer like my father, and journalism was never a part of my dreams. But in my third year at the Manila Science High School, I chose journalism as an elective. On the first week, our journalism teacher gave us a newswriting test to see who can join the school publication, The Nucleus. I topped the test and was named News Editor. Before the end of the school year, I was promoted to Managing Editor, after winning several journalism contests citywide and nationwide.
I became Editor-in-Chief on my senior year and capped the year with first place in the nationwide copy reading and headline writing contest and fourth place in editorial writing in Iloilo, plus several citywide contests.
In college, I opted to major in Physics and forgot about journalism again. It was like déjà vu because in my third year, I took a journalism subject as an elective and was later recruited to the Philippine Collegian. I abandoned my Physics major and shifted to journalism in 1971, the year my professional journalism career began.
I enjoyed every second of my 50 years in journalism, and I look forward to at least another decade of writing, editing and designing newspapers. As many of my colleagues had done before me, I plan to leave this world with my journalism boots on.