Welcome Remarks of Oscar M. Lopez, Chairman, Lopez Group at the launching of the book "THE POWER AND THE GLORY- the story of the Manila Chronicle, 1945-1998" held at Palm Grove, The Rockwell Club 23 Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City on February 7, 2008
The story of this book we are launching tonight began some 3 years ago at a Chronicle reunion held in my house almost on Christmas Eve 2004. For those of you who were there, you may have remembered what I said then, that there really has been no book that has dealt with the entire history of the Manila Chronicle from the time it was formed by a group of newsmen headed by Bert Villanueva on April 21, 1945 until its final demise in January, 1998.
I then added that I would like to have that book written before we all keel over, and the writing to be done by our family historian Raul Rodrigo who has written 4 other books on the Lopez Group of Companies. After 3 years of hard work and meticulous interviews of more than 60 Chronicle staffers, that book is finally finished and I believe Raul has produced what I consider as a 500 page masterpiece which will stand the test of time and scrutiny. Raul, can you come out on center stage and please take a bow to your audience of avid readers.
Just as an after thought, Raul. If you ever decide to come out with a revised edition to accommodate those you have not interviewed yet, it may be better to come out in a 2-volume format just like what you did with Phoenix, one on the pre-martial law period and the other on the post martial law incarnation of the Chronicle. This way you don't have to handle such a heavy and bulky book. I weighed it, it's almost 3 lbs. heavy!
I was asked to speak about the period right after my father acquired the Chronicle in 1947. I'm sorry but I don't have much first hand information about this period. At age 17, I was not privy to my father's important transactions at the time. Besides it was in that year that I left to study in the U.S. and except for summer vacations here, I was in the U.S. for the next 13 years.
But let me talk a bit about my experience in the Chronicle. My first stint in the newspaper was in 1955-56, after I finished my MPA degree from Littauer School in Harvard. During this one year, my father and Geny, who was already in-charge of the Chronicle, decided that I should start working at the bottom as a cub reporter.
So off to the police beat I went with now Quezon City mayor Sonny Belmonte, who was then one of our youngest reporters. Sonny was not your typical police reporter either. He was destined for greater things. We covered the police stations where we saw hardened criminals being beaten by the police. I often joined raids on houses of prostitution and dope smugglers. I am sure Sonny can talk about those days more authoritatively than I can. I also joined Nereo Andolong in covering Manila City Hall and rubbing elbows with the colorful and unpredictable Mayor Arsenio Lacson
During my year of cub reporting, I enjoyed the exhilarating experience of going from one beat to another under the guidance of Ernie del Rosario and Celso Cabrera. It was an education in itself which you could not get in any school. I also enjoyed the long conversations with Yoyong Soliongco on culture, nationalism and social issues.
At the end of 1956, I decided to get married to Connie Rufino and brought her back to Harvard to try and finish my PH.D thesis. But in time I found that instead of working on my thesis, I was growing a family fast. Our first two children, Cedie and Cary, were born in Boston.
After those 2 children, I decided to give up finishing the thesis and come home and start working. I knew I would not end up as a professor anyway!
Since I was now a family man, my father decided to put me in charge of the Chronicle. My brother Geny was happy because he had one less job to do and he could now concentrate on growing the more profitable ABS-CBN business.
Looking back at it now, the years spent in the Chronicle from 1961 to 1966 served as the best possible training program for my future business career. The Chronicle respected no sacred cows, not even the son of the owner fresh from his studies at Harvard. I was thrown into this lion's den and into a fast and furious course on how life is in the real world. My assignment to run the Chronicle was my father's bizarre way of making me realize that life in the business world could be cruel, brutish and short. Learning how to survive was best taught by being exposed to the challenges of running this group of characters in the Chronicle. I had to win their respect beyond my father's ownership of the paper. And that demanded more than the intellectual skills I had just acquired at Harvard. The Chronicle was my trial by fire. Having survived it, I could face the world with more confidence and meet any challenge that came my way.
But there was no way I could accomplish the mandate of my father to make the Chronicle profitable. I guess he knew this was mission impossible. The Manila Chronicle had always been a good paper from the journalistic sense. It was, however, a business disaster. It never made money from day one. On the contrary, it threatened our other businesses that did make money. This is why we finally sold in 1993. But at the time this never bothered my father. He would always say, "man does not live by bread alone. He has to live also by certain ideals and principles."
This was probably what made the Chronicle so colorful, lively and unique, that it reflected the basic ideas, even idiosyncrasies of its owner, my father, who was a press baron of the old style --“ like Wm. R. Hearst, Henry Luce and Lord Beaverbrook, all of whose biographies my father had in his library. These were all businessmen who built newspaper or publication empires and who also moved easily in and out of politics as a sideline. All of them also believed that their newspapers were extension of their personalities and often regarded their publications as instruments of combat.
In 1930, my father's first newspaper in Iloilo, El Tiempo, exposed illegal gambling in his province which had been abetted by the power that be, causing the downfall of the governor of Iloilo and chief of police of Iloilo City. Similarly, the Chronicle became my father's flagship for epic battles with Presidents like Quirino, Macapagal and Marcos. He enjoyed these fights immensely, especially against Marcos in the early months of 1971 when he launched his strong editorial campaign against graft and corruption and cronyism in the government. The opening salvo was entitled "Quo Vadis Marcos?" The most interesting part of that campaign were the editorial cartoons of Gat, which were really conceived and directed personally by my father from his Antipolo nipa hut retreat house. For a period of 3 months, the Chronicle ran editorial cartoons asking such questions as "who is the richest man in Southeast Asia?", "who is the biggest depositor in a Swiss bank?", "who is largest stockholder of PLDT?", "who owns the Golden Buddha?"
Of course, the Chronicle's attacks on Marcos had a sad sequel. After the declaration of martial law, the dictator went after us with a vengeance. He shut down the Chronicle, grabbed all our major companies, and took my brother Geny hostage to ensure our compliance. My father died in exile in 1975. He knew the risks he was taking when he challenged Marcos, but he did not flinch from the fight. In fact, he thought he was giving fair warning to the country in his Chronicle editorials and cartoons about the endemic greed and corruption in the Marcos regime. But the public never knew the whole sordid story about the hidden wealth of the conjugal dictatorship until after the EDSA Revolution.
In a sense, what we are celebrating tonight is the spirit that made the Manila Chronicle a great newspaper. We are celebrating the quality of excellence in journalism, of dedication to the craft and the unwavering commitment to the principle of free expression --¦ of freedom of the press as the cornerstone of our democracy. We now know from first hand experience during the martial law years that there can be no democracy without a free press. And this is a lesson we must never forget and we must defend this freedom at all cost and at all times.
Let me end this short talk by quoting a reputable and impartial authority on the Manila Chronicle. He said : "the Manila Chronicle was the finest newspaper in the country. It assembled the most journalistic talent ever gathered in a Filipino newsroom. The Chronicle newsroom was once home to all four Filipino Ramon Magsaysay awardees for journalism and many of the biggest names in the industry. Certainly other papers were more successful as businesses --- the old Manila Times and the Philippine Daily Inquirer come to mind. But none were better written or better edited."
If your guess is Raul Rodrigo, you are correct. So let's drink a toast to the best newspaper this country has ever had --- the MANILA CHRONICLE.