Through the years

A clear-eyed chronicler has been telling the Filipino story over the past 12 decades

NEWS is the first rough draft of history.”

Written 75 years ago in a book review by Alan Barth, an editorialist at The Washington Post, the quoted line above could not be more meaningful to any of the Philippine newspapers than The Manila Times. Never mind that that famous line has often been attributed incorrectly to WaPo’s former president and publisher, Philip Graham, it still encapsulates brilliantly journalism’s importance in society.

As a clear-eyed chronicler of current events for the past 120 years, save for two extended interruptions—from March 1930 to May 1945 and from September 1972 to February 1986—The Times has seen how much the nation, and the world, progressed and reformed. It is more conscious than any other dailies of the resonance of that quote or more committed to writing that draft for future historians to refine on.

Readers would find no better proof of this than the broadsheet’s own front pages, particularly those published after World War 2, when these reflected truly Filipino interests. Consider the July 4, 1946 issue—headlined “The Republic!”—which reported that the Philippines was about to take that first step on the road to progress, reform and, most importantly, self-rule, and see Manuel Roxas being inaugurated as its new president.

July 4, 1946 front page

“This morning the Stars and Stripes will in reverence float down, to be cradled in tender hands after completing its mission of freedom in the Philippines,” The Times wrote in the banner story. “This morning, the gold-spangled Tricolor of the Philippine republic will soar triumphant in its own skies, over its own people, its own land.”

Such optimism would be reflected in the oathtaking of Roxas’ immediate successors: Elpidio Quirino (“Quirino sworn in packed hall,” April 18, 1948); Ramon Magsaysay (“Magsaysay inaugurated!” Dec. 31, 1953); Carlos Garcia (“Garcia takes oath as new president,” March 19, 1957); and Diosdado Macapagal (“Mac sets tone of ‘new era,’ ” Dec. 31, 1961).

But the optimism over these inaugurations, especially after Macapagal’s, would be informed, even tempered, by problems facing the country in the 1960s and beyond: Ferdinand Marcos (“Marcos advocates austerity,” Dec. 31, 1965; “FM vows new morality,” Dec. 31, 1969); Corazon Aquino (“Marcos flees,” “Cory installed,” Feb. 26, 1986); Fidel Ramos (“President Ramos vows peace with prosperity,” July 1, 1992); Joseph Estrada (“Erap: It’s jail time for crooks in rags, suits, uniforms,” July 1, 1998); Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (“GMA: Time to heal,” Jan. 21, 2001; “Sunny start for Gloria,” July 1, 2004); Benigno Aquino 3rd (“Change begins,” July 1, 2010); and Rodrigo Duterte (“Duterte buckles down to work,” July 1, 2016).

In each administration, The Times, took note of every small progress, every attempt at reform. In one issue, it reported on Roxas’ proposal to establish a bureau-size office tasked to implement a major communication system in the country (“Integrated communication system OK’d,” Sept. 2, 1947).

In another, the paper carried a story about Quirino earmarking huge funds to construct highways in the country’s south (“Mindanao aid hiked,” June 13, 1952). And in a third, it said then-President-elect Magsaysay had vowed to build fabricated school units, eyed military engineers for Cotabato, and defined the role of teachers (“Barrio program laid,” Dec. 24, 1953).

Not every progress achieved, or even promised, was purely political, though. In its Jan. 3, 1964 issue, The Times featured a story, titled “Untapped wealth: Chemicals from coconut,” in which it said the Philippine Coconut Authority had submitted to Macapagal “the blueprint of a new dollar-earning chemical industry that uses coconut oil as raw material.” Four days later, the paper reported in a story headlined “Visitors cite RP rice brown potential” that “Chinese experts on land reform … said the Philippines has a tremendous capacity to become one of the rice bowls of Asia.”

Nov. 10, 2013 front page

And more than five months after that, the daily said the country’s retail trade “is expected to be completely in the hands of Filipinos and Americans starting today” with the implementation of Republic Act 1180, or Retail Trade Nationalization Law (“RP retail trade law on today,” June 19, 1964).

Not all good news
Of course, it’s not all good news in The Times. A somber mood blanketed the nation when President Manuel Quezon’s remains landed on home soil from America (“Nation pays homage to late Pres. Quezon as body arrives today,” July 27, 1946; “Hundreds pay respects as Quezon’s body lies in state in Malacañan,” July 28, 1946). And Filipinos grieved when they learned of Magsaysay’s fate (“Magsaysay plane found!” March 17, 1957; “RM is dead; nation mourns,” March 18, 1957).

One of the worst typhoons to hit the Philippines in the 20th century, Yoling, unleashed its fury on Manila and five neighboring provinces, killing at least 350 people (Nov. 27, 1970). But that figure pales in comparison to the more than 6,000 lives claimed by Supertyphoon Yolanda (“Bodies litter Tacloban,” Nov. 10, 2013; “Yolanda death toll could reach 10,000,” Nov. 11, 2013).

And civil unrest continued to sweep the capital months after the First Quarter Storm (“Youth indignation rally today,” Dec. 9, 1970; “Students, police clash; 7 wounded,” Dec. 10, 1970), and even spilled into the following year (“Taxis, buses joining strike,” Jan. 31, 1971). The list goes on …

Amid these tragedies and trails, the country also has its fair share of triumphs, and The Times justly celebrated them. It joined Filipinos in rejoicing over the victories of beauty queens, Gloria Diaz (“RP’s Gloria Diaz wins Miss Universe contest!” July 21, 1969), Megan Young (“Jubilant Filipinos shower praise on Megan Young,” Sept. 29, 2013), and Pia Wurtzbach (“Miss Universe,” Dec. 22, 2015).

It went wild over boxing champions, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde (“Elorde KO’s Gomes,” March 17, 1960; “Elorde wins by decision,” Aug. 7, 1966), and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao (“Pacquiao dominates,” March 15, 2010; “Pacquiao shuts out foe,” Nov. 15, 2010; “Pacquiao crushes Rios,” Nov. 25, 2013, among many others). And it cheered when the weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz scored a silver medal in Rio de Janeiro (“Hidilyn ends PH medal drought in Olympics,” Aug. 9, 2016).

Aware that the Philippines is an actively involved member in the community of nations, The Times also observed what was unfolding on the international stage. The Korean and Vietnam wars—to which the country had sent a substantial number of troops to assist the US forces there—ruled much of the paper’s front pages in August 1950 and February 1968, respectively.

The Times reported on military-led regime changes in Latin America in the late 1950s (“Trouble in Peron’s Argentina,” Sept. 20, 1955; “Cuba head flees!” Jan. 2, 1959). And it witnessed how the Americans had overtaken the Soviets in the so-called space race after the successful missions of Apollo 11 (“Moon landing today,” July 21, 1969) and Apollo 12 (“Astros land on moon today,” Nov. 19, 1969).

Then The Times has had a few headlines that could lead some readers to think that nothing has really changed in the country: “ ’Pork barrel’ system is hit” (June 12, 1952); “Garcia acts on dope menace” (March 4, 1961); and “Solons warn on martial rule” (Jan. 27, 1971). And there was a time when the paper itself was in the news, when political pressure forced its then-owners, the Gokongweis, to shutter operations (“Closed,” July 23, 1999).

The last 120 years have seen The Manila Times undergo bewildering changes: in its appearance, in ownership, in its fortunes. It is certain it would continue to transform itself in the next 120. But what will not change is its commitment to chronicle the progress and reform the country has made for itself and its people—and possibly chart a way for them to move forward.

When future generations of Filipinos look back at the past and the lessons it imparts, The Times trusts they would treat its pages as valuable historical drafts for them to refine, not to revise. Such a gesture would honor the paper and, to a large extent, the industry that so many people throughout history have dedicated their lives to.

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