The birth of the Philippine Daily Inquirer… or what I recall before years of drinking diet cola fry my brain.

Note: This is the original version of an article I contributed to the most recent anniversary edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 9, 2014). Since they did not come out with a digital version in Inquirer.net I could neither cut and paste nor provide a link of the final version. Given that I’m just too lazy to compare this with the final print published version word for word, I am posting this original version which I believe is substantially the same.

THE BIRTH of the Philippine Daily Inquirer was a result of a crystal clear vision, unrelenting pursuit of a mission, impeccable timing, flexibility in leadership and a healthy dose of humor.

Eugenia Duran Apostol, PDI’s founding chair and Publisher, met with me in one of those lean coverage days of the Trial of the Century: the Aquino-Galman Double Murder Case in 1985. She had called me to join her in this Manila Bay restaurant. It was a small wooden pier for cheap bay cruises, between the pricier Harbor View seafood restaurant and then exclusive Army Navy Club, at the driveway to Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

Court of Appeals found SM Baguio action legal and environmentally sound

Discussing strategy with Founding Publisher Eggie Apostol… or was it what to order for lunch? Photo from PDI

Tita Eggie (she was not officious and actually liked being called with her nickname, but I still used “Tita” as a form of respect. She was, after all, still the boss) said the tapsilog was good there. She asked me how the trial was going and my thoughts on its progress. We could all see that the trial’s end was coming up, especially since I was working on a story that the original game plan of then President Ferdinand Marcos was to run the trial to appease people, then have the court find everybody in the conspiracy innocent and this putting an end to the case and protecting all against double jeopardy.

I was focused on the exposé of the day: Malacañang’s deceit. But Tita Eggie was many steps ahead, just as she was in her numerous publishing projects. The business model she so admired, believe it or not, was MAD magazine. It had mass appeal, its issues and material were timely, and its content could be reused and recycled into thematic, author-based and various other types of books, magazines and merchandise.

And so, in her publishing career Tita Eggie founded Mr. & Ms. Magazine, a general knowledge, lifestyle and entertainment magazine which, over time, spawned other books and publications like cookbooks, literary anthologies and the like.

With the assassination of former senator Benigno S. Aquino in 1983 she responded with the need for information on the unfolding historical events with the Mr. & Ms. Special Edition, a black and white all newsprint weekly. Again these spawned other publications, like the book on the majority report of the Agrava Commission which had the full presentation of the assassination by lead investigator (and later Chief Justice) Andres Narvasa.

In late 1984 the Aquino-Galman double murder case was set to move to its trial phase, and again Tita Eggie assembled her core staff at her Dasmariñas Village home – Editor Letty Jimenez Magsanoc (now PDI Editor in Chief), staff writers Joey Nolasco (PDI Managing Editor), Fe Zamora (PDI staff), Candy Quimpo (now Gourlay, multi awarded London children’s books author), Frankie Joaquin (now Drogin), J.R. Alibutud and myself to brainstorm on a vision she had. Marcos had said that the trial would be intense and may run on a daily basis and thus it would need a totally different publication than what Mr. & Ms. SpeEd could do. The trial was too important and economically, the Friday published Mr. & Ms. SpeEd would suffer losses from the additional pages without an adjustment in cover price, something that the market would not appreciate from a single publication.

The solution: a new publication that would give the importance the Aquino assassination case deserved published every Monday. Two issues were then brought forward to the group: first, a name. It had to be catchy and reflective of its content and direction.

Discussing this over Macapuno ice cream (hey, we had to make do with what we were served) Candy and I proposed the Philippine Inquirer. It was, after all, the coverage of the “Inquiry of the Century” and we thought it was cool to be writing for something called the Inquirer since we were hanging out with a lot of foreign correspondents and parachute journalists anyway.

(In the PDI print version Letty’s handwritten note indicated that my memory was mistaken, that it was she who suggested the Philadelphia Inquirer reference having spent time there in her early career. I defer. Perhaps I should have said Letty moved for the name Philippine Inquirer and Candy and I seconded… and even made kulit.Like I said… dementia.)

The meeting... the 80s... the box fan. From left, Letty Magsanoc, Candy Quimpo (now Gourley), myself and what is supposed to be macapuno ice cream. Photo courtesy of Candy, although I don't know who took this.

The meeting… the 80s… the box fan. From left, Letty Magsanoc, Candy Quimpo (now Gourley), myself and what is supposed to be macapuno ice cream. Photo courtesy of Candy, although I don’t know who took this.

Tita Eggie wasn’t convinced. She was worried that the newsboys would not be able to sell it in the streets. “They would say ‘In-queerer! In-querrer!’” she said, mimicking street kids running around flashing the paper. “It’s going to be queerer and queerer.”

Her idea was “JAJA”, a takeoff from the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All movement that had been born from the assassination. It was clear and concise, she argued, it was associated with the words “justice” and “Aquino” and a movement growing in popularity. Most important of all, it was easy for newsboys to say.

Somehow, as she again mimicked a newsboy strutting about in her living room, holding up an imaginary newspaper repeating “JAJA! JAJA!” Tita Eggie finally paused and said, “Okay, Philippine Inquirer.”

Second point: content. Outside the 360 degree trial coverage, Philippine Inquirer  had to have some other content to give it some added flavor. Here, under deeply disguised pseudonyms, the waning journalistic legacies crushed by Martial Law years were revived: Louie Beltran, Art Borjal, Max Soliven.

Society columnist Maurice Arcache and photographer partner Alex Van Hagen provided their social scene coverage in the hopes of pulling in the some business from Manila’s high society. Some of us cringed at this section at first, feeling it had nothing of substance to offer this type of publication. But we changed our minds when Fe Zamora pointed out it was, in fact, a very clear and graphic hit list for the New People’s Army’s assassination teams called Sparrow Units. Ah, a broader market.

To balance it off, Mr. & Ms. Magazine editor Doris Nuyda was tasked to collate all press releases from the Malacañang news desk and compiled it in a special section called “The Week with the President” and a small subsection on Imelda’s press releases called “…and Mrs. Marcos”. They were practically unedited and provided a buffer for the more controversial material on the Aquino assassination trial coverage.

Candy's depiction of our newsroom action. On top in a ponytail is another staffer, Frankie Joaquin (now Drogin) who now wonders why she looked so angry. The other characters should be obvious.

Candy’s depiction of our newsroom action. On top in a ponytail is another staffer, Frankie Joaquin (now Drogin) who now wonders why she looked so angry. The other characters should be obvious.

And that went on nearly a year. And as the trial was about to wrap up and my story about what a sham it was from the start was about to go to press, Marcos again provided the impetus for Tita Eggie’s vision: he announced in a live satellite interview with Ted Koppel over ABC News that he would declare a snap presidential election, if only to prove that he still had the mandate of the people. Seeing that all the daily newspapers were Marcos controlled, she saw the need to equalize the snap election coverage.

Thus, there we were, over tapsilog, shooting the sea breeze over the new Philippine Daily Inquirer. We would need to put together a bigger staff – news desk, reporters… the works. Those who were writing under pseudonyms would be called to the light and lead the paper. Recruitment, however, must be done with one steep and specific condition: work may last only two months.

It was simple, really. Marcos could just close us down on a whim. That was the best case scenario.

Worst case? Well, as the story goes (and this was a scene in that EDSA-inspired movie with Gary Busey called A Dangerous Life) all Marcos opposition was supposed to be shipped off to a concentration camp in Caballo Island (where the Ph Military contingent to Liberia is in quarantine now due to the Ebola Virus). Tita Eggie – as seen in the movie – was number one on that list for arrest: Apostol, Eugenia D. And, no, it wasn’t in alphabetical order.

But we didn’t know that then, as we discussed the new daily. She wanted me to take charge of covering the Marcos campaign and Malacañang. If I were as experienced then as I am now (I’m in my 50s) I would have said: “Are you nuts?” That was like Daniel thrown in the lion’s den. But I was in my 20s and felt indestructible, raring for some action.

The next few days were a frenzy of setting up facilities. Tita Eggie and I visited with Betty Go-Belmonte for discussions and inspection for the use of their offices and printing facilities in 13th street corner Railroad in Port Area, Manila.

Using Tita Eggie’s trusty Nissan pickup truck (converted like a station wagon), we would go to furniture shops along Buendia in Pasay City to buy chairs and tables, the cheaper the better. Second hand typewriters were acquired, although as some sort of a favor for me she also bought a couple of Apple II clones from a supplier who looked like Mr. Magoo with thick glasses and nerdy grin, since she was so into “the wave of the future.”

Max Soliven, who was named publisher, arrived from Hong Kong and handed me a pair of ICOM VHF walkie-talkies to aid my Marcos coverage. I did not know what to do with them because they were just simple radio sets that worked if the line of sight was clear, no repeater system that will allow broad coverage. Hide behind a wall and the guy at the other end could not hear you. Besides, they did not come with battery packs.

And so it finally came out. December 9, 1985, Volume 1, number 1. Headline: “It’s Cory-Doy,” the story written by Belinda Olivarez Cunanan confirming the unification of the Marcos opposition, with Ninoy Aquino’s widow Cory picking up from the popular, mass-based call and Salvador Laurel, long time opposition politician, taking aback seat for unity. (Hmmm, sounds familiar)

Along these early days Max Soliven almost became the earliest casualty of Tita Eggie’s management style. He had caused a delay in the production of the newspaper by making it wait until his column was done. He was, after all, the publisher. She would not have any of it and so he threatened to pack up and leave.

Tita Eggie raised an eyebrow. “Nobody is indispensible,” she said.

The next day Max came to the office with a bag of siopao, which he handed over as a “peace offering” (his words) to Tita Eggie. She smiled her little smile, and as she turned around and passed me, handing me the siopao bag to share with the staff. That was that.

Thus, the it came to pass that the honor of being the earliest unemployment casualty went to one reporter who, assigned to the Manila International Airport, could not get beyond the departure ramp because he could not get accredited. Not having any stories and complaining about his lack of access to boot, the reporter found himself at the receiving end of Editor in Chief Louie Beltran’s first management decision: “You’re fired!”

Later a quick succession of events –  a sham election, a failed coup attempt, and a people’s revolt – put an end to Marcos’ plan for our Caballo island vacation. The staff of 40 or so reporters, editors and administrators suddenly found themselves with some job security.

Tita Eggie just last November 2014, in an intimate birthday dinner hosted by Belinda Olivarez Cunanan and attended by her closest friends and associates. Photo by Fe Zamora of the Inquirer.

Tita Eggie just last November 2014, in an intimate birthday dinner hosted by Belinda Olivarez Cunanan and attended by her closest friends and associates. Photo by Fe Zamora of the Inquirer.

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