February 24, 2018, 11:02 pm
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AS MALAYA CELEBRATES ITS 35TH ANNIVERSARY: The commitment continues

MALAYA enters another phase of its journey both with a feeling of sadness and determination to carry on.

As we celebrate Malaya’s 35th anniversary, we will miss one person who has been Malaya’s anchor and guiding light: our publisher Amado “Jake” Macasaet.

At the same time, we owe it to Sir Jake to carry on especially at this time when the political environment is becoming hostile to a free press.

Malaya is not new to challenges.

Born at the time when the country was struggling against a well-entrenched dictatorship, members of the media industry can draw strength from Malaya’s experience.

In last year’s anniversary issue, Lourdes Molina- Fernandez, one of pioneers of Ang Pahayagang Malaya, traced the newspaper’s beginning even before 1983. This explains why a national newspaper in English carries a Filipino name, “Malaya” which means “free.” 

Excerpts from Fernandez’ narration:

“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).

“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.”

During the politically Marcos troubled years of 1983 to 1986, Malaya was at the forefront of giving the public the truth.

Fernandez describes the coverage best as “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, Malaya correspondents 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.”

The end of the Marcos regime changed everything in the country especially the media landscape. It was whole new ballgame altogether.

Burgos sold to Macasaet, who was then Malaya’s business editor.

Under Macasaet’s ownership, Malaya underwent changes in its orientation. From a newspaper that was identified as “leftist” to pro-capitalist. Macasaet was asked about it and he said, “It was a long and painful decision.”

He explained: “I happened to believe that in free enterprise which allows everybody to make something out of himself on his own initiative. Because in a democracy, the state exists for the people. In communism, it’s all people exist for the state and it has been proven that the system will never work.”

Malaya is now in the hands of the younger generation of Macasaets, faithful to the mission their Lolo has laid down which is to give the public the truth fairly and responsibly. 

The commitment continues.
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