June 21, 2018, 8:00 pm
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Malaya on the eve of EDSA

BY CARLOS HIDALGO
 
REMINISCING about Malaya, there’s only Hemingway’s last line in “A Moveable Feast,” which is about his life as a struggling writer in Paris, to encapsulate my experience in the newspaper: It was a time when “we were very poor and very happy.”

I came in sometime in 1985. Tony Nieva’s (RIP) weekly magazine where I had worked had folded, leaving me drifting from one rickety job to another. It was the height of the backlash of the Ninoy Aquino assassination against the Marcos regime, a year before the EDSA revolution, one year after the Agrava Commission released its damning report, the year when the Sandiganbayan exonerated General Ver and the military from the crime, and the year when Marcos announced the holding of a snap presidential election in 1986.

It was a tumultuous year in the life of the nation. As for me, I was just happy to land a job, thanks to Noel Albano, a university classmate and frat brod who was an editor at the paper.

Malaya, of course, was the opposition newspaper. My suspicion then was that most of my colleagues were somehow members of the underground movement using the newspaper as a front to hasten Marcos’s downfall. I’m not sure why I had that impression. It’s probably because our office on West Avenue in Quezon City, with its labyrinthine passageways, looked like a UG house, as one visitor once remarked.

There was Jun Lopez who anyway you looked at him left you with no doubt that he was an NPA operative being hunted by the authorities. There’s Joey Salgado who I first met in one of the catacombs of the Press Club working for a leftist labor newspaper called Bagwis.

Anyway, there were also former members of the Marcos press: Yvonne Chua, Joy de los Reyes (RIP) and Des Carlos of Daily Express, Chuchay Fernandez, Joel Paredes, Noel Albano, Tony Modena (RIP) and Ef Campos of Times Journal, etc.

But I never felt I was a member of the alternative press. On the beat, I always thought of myself as a legitimate journo who was only after earning my day’s keep: getting stories to call in to Irma Isip, the editorial assistant at the time, if I was lucky enough to get hold of a phone, and be able to connect to Malaya’s single land line.

Of course, my news sources knew I was from the opposition press. But at that time when the Marcos regime was no longer as impregnable as before, and the Marcos press had lost much of its legitimacy, even government officials knew they had to get their message across through the opposition press.
 
NOT BEHOLDEN TO ANYONE

In a way, that made my task easy. When the opposition made an allegation/accusation, I just had to make sure I get the other side. Sometimes, it’s hard because in order to cover, say, a minister or a labor leader, you had to be close to him, and that meant riding with him in his car or on his plane or accepting a free lunch or dinner.

The most important thing was that you didn’t become beholden to anyone, and that your sources knew you weren’t.

I was then living in Intramuros, and I was covering education and Comelec. The education ministry was then at the Palacio del Gobernador and Comelec was that decrepit post-war building next to it. And so after phoning in my stories, I would proceed to the Press Club, which was also in Intramuros, to unwind.

I didn’t have to leave Intramuros to conduct my affairs. And yet I always made it a point to bear the long commute through the afternoon traffic to touch base and be with my colleagues.

After work, we retired to a tiny sari-sari store in front of the office, where salagubangs from a mango tree would drop on our heads as we drank iced-cold beer and talked about how the day unfolded.
 
WATERING HOLES

Then Malaya transferred to Timog Avenue, in a building called CC Castro, and our hangout was a Japanese restaurant in front of the office called Inakaya. That was where we discovered our singing talent.

One morning, our sports writer Abac Cordero, after taking a shower at home, was singing, “The Things We Did Last Summer.” His dad was dumbfounded. “My child, how come you know that song? That was when I was just 13!”

We had many other watering holes, of course.  One Valentine’s Day, I remember, we went to Harbourview by Manila Bay. It was a candle-lit kind of place, and it being the day of hearts, the customers were mostly lovers who were holding hands and whispering sweet nothings to each other.

But we were so boisterous, as we always were. There was Alex Baluyut, Doc Billones, Joy Taller, Romy Tangbawan, Noel Bartolome -- the whole gang.

Cheers, but I happened to clink my glass a bit more forceful than usual, and Joy Taller, not to be outdone, swung her mug even harder, and broke it. It was such a mess, but the waiters were tolerant -- probably because we were such a big group.

Someone started throwing the coasters like ninjas would with their star knives. Joy Taller was pissed -- and so drunk -- and failing to find any more coaster, threw her mug. Luckily, we were all able to dodge it.

Meanwhile, Alex, heeding the call of nature, stood up and staggered his way to the edge of what looked like a pier -- the restaurant was ship-themed, you see -- opened the zipper of his pants, and while sweethearts around us were pledging their undying love for each other, accompanied the romantic music in the air with the steady splashing sound of his pissing.

It’s amazing, really.  At daytime, we took on the serious task of chronicling some of the most momentous chapters of our nation’s history, and at night, we behaved like kids enjoying each other’s company.

Mr. Hidalgo has been in Hong Kong since 1998, working as copy editor for several English-language newspapers and websites. He first posted this article on his Facebook page.
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