Joe Burgos’ legacy of freedom
STARBYTES - Butch Francisco () - November 20, 2003 - 12:00am
The other Sunday, a friend of mine sent me a text message asking me where I was. "In the hospital visiting Jose Burgos," I replied. "Jose Burgos the journalist?" my friend asked again. For a while there, I was so tempted to turn sarcastic and text him, "No, Jose Burgos of the Gomburza triumvirate" but I opted for a polite "yes" instead.

Had this communication taken place in the mid-’80s – long before the age of texting – the Burgos name would have been instantly recognized. Unfortunately, we are so forgetful – which is why we tend to commit the same mistakes over and over again.

After the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983, people who had long been suppressed by martial rule finally gathered enough courage to take to the streets to oust Marcos. But long before that, Jose Burgos Jr. had been jailed for fighting censorship through his We Forum publication.

Marcos and his minions, however, couldn’t stop him. Burgos also began publishing Ang Pahayagang Malaya which became the leading alternative newspaper after Ninoy’s death.

I joined Malaya initially as a columnist along with Mario Dumaual (We were in the same batch as Erwin Tulfo, who was a reporter then). In 1986 – a few months after EDSA I – Joe Burgos made me entertainment editor of the newspaper. It was a position I did not apply for and I only found out about the promotion when it was published in the newspaper one Monday morning. This actually put me in a crossroad because over the weekend, Jesse Ejercito just made me media director of the Film Academy. I chose the newspaper job, of course.

Six days a week, I would go to the newspaper office from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Aside from the entertainment pages, I was also working on the features page and a section called Lighter Side. And whenever managing editor Yvonne Chua would catch me looking toward her direction, she would hand me photos for captioning on page one. I eventually decided to change the position of my desk so she would no longer be in my line of vision.

But I didn’t mind all that hard work. Joe Burgos and his wife Edith were very nice people and all of us in Malaya were treated like family members. Of course, Joe Burgos had a temper, but we never had any problem between us.

Then, he decided to give up Malaya and concentrated on his other publications. We were okay with our new publisher, Jake Macasaet, but I simply didn’t get along well with the one who was put in charge of running the lives of the editors and reporters. I didn’t stay long anymore in that office.

When Joe Burgos found out I was out of job, he had me called immediately and made me managing editor of We Forum. It was around this time when he ran for the Senate. Initially, he was on the administration slate – which would have assured him of easy victory. But he gave up his slot there for reasons I don’t recall anymore. But what I remember was that it was over principles – and Joe Burgos was one of the most highly-principled men I’ve ever known in my whole life.

After I left We Forum, I would visit Joe and his wife from time to time until they moved to their farm in San Miguel, Bulacan.

In the summer of 2000, I read a front-page announcement in this paper about an international award to be given to Joe Burgos. He had been named by the International Press Institute (IPI) as one of the world’s 50 Press Freedom Heroes of the Century. The award was going to be given in Boston.

Since I was set to return to Boston, I made sure I scheduled my visit there around the time of the awarding ceremony. That was also where I met for the first time Mr. Max Soliven (who is part of IPI) and he was clearly beaming with pride that Joe Burgos, a Filipino, was among the recipients of that prestigious award. His wife, Dr. Preciosa Soliven, was also at the awards ceremony and was busy clicking away with her camera (Andy del Rosario was also there with them that time).

When I was at the Cardinal Santos Hospital the other Sunday to visit Joe Burgos, he already looked weak and was fast asleep. It was Mrs. Burgos and I who were actually swapping stories. Then, Mrs. Burgos asked me when was the last time I saw Joe. I said

September 1999 – during the Malaya reunion.

From the bed, we heard a voice – it was actually Mr. Burgos correcting my statement. Very clearly, he said, "Boston in 2000." Even in the throes of death, his mind proved to be sharper than mine.

Thursday last week, I got an alarming text message: Joe Burgos was in very serious condition and was going anytime. I rushed to the hospital at 2 a.m. and he was in the ICU. By Sunday morning, he had moved on.

Jose Burgos Jr. now lies in state in his San Miguel farm where he will also be buried on Saturday. The post-EDSA generation probably do not know him anymore – and this is sad. But I do hope the young people of today and even future generations will recognize his great contributions to this nation especially during the dark days of the Marcos regime.

President Corazon Aquino may have restored democracy in this country, but it was Jose Burgos Jr. – more than anyone else – who helped lead us on our way to freedom.

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