Betty Go-Belmonte: The journalist-entrepreneur an LRT-2 station was named after
Composite image of the platform of the LRT-2's Betty Go-Belmonte station and Betty Go-Belmonte.
Korean Rail Fan via Wikimedia Commons | Everyday History via Philippine STAR

Betty Go-Belmonte: The journalist-entrepreneur an LRT-2 station was named after

Jeline Malasig (Philstar.com) - December 31, 2020 - 12:15pm

(Updated 1:39 p.m.) Every train commuter who regularly rides the Light Rail Transit-Line 2 or the Purple Line is familiar with that station at New Manila with a woman's three-word name. It is located near religious landmarks such as the Cubao Cathedral, the Holy Buddhist Temple and the Religious of the Virgin Mary Mother House. The station is also near Kalayaan College, a private four-year college founded by a former president of the University of the Philippines.

The distinct station, Betty Go-Belmonte, is named after the journalist who founded Manila-based broadsheet The Philippine STAR, when the country was freshly celebrating its newfound freedom after toppling the Marcos dictatorship.

Journalistic roots

Go-Belmonte's journalistic roots can be traced back to her father, Go Puan Seng or Jimmy Go, who founded the biggest Chinese-Filipino newspaper in the Philippines, The Fookien Times, in 1927. He arrived in the Philippines at age 14 as an immigrant from Xiamen, Fujian, and later pursued a career as a reporter and editor. He fearlessly wrote against Japanese aggression that General Douglas MacArthur thought he would be the first Chinese-Filipino to be executed for being vocal against Japanese propaganda.

After baptizing his daughter with the name "Billie Mary," Jimmy Go, later on, gave her the nickname Betty when she was being teased at school for having a boy's name.

Her mother, Felisa "Fely" Velasco, was from whom she got her steadfast devotion to God, which eventually trickled down to her work ethic at The STAR. The paper did not use to have a Sunday edition since it fell on Sabbath day, according to Max Soliven.

When Go-Belmonte was born on Dec. 31, 1933 in Sta. Mesa, Manila, her father described it as a "gay New Year's Eve." She was the firstborn among six children, namely Cecily, Dorcy, Elsie, Gracie and Andrew. She grew up at the Kamias district of Quezon City in a devout Protestant household.

At eight years old, Go-Belmonte's early schooling was interrupted by the Second World War. Fearing persecution from the Japanese forces who placed her father on their blacklist, the family was forced to flee to the foothills of Sierra Madre near Ipo Dam. There, they lived in poverty for 1,105 days, as her father wrote in his chronicles, but she was able to continue her English lessons with the help of a family friend.

After the war, Betty Go and her siblings studied at Kamuning Public School and Hope Christian High School for elementary and went to Philippine Christian Colleges and UP High School. Their father continued to write about government abuses and the oppressed. He saw himself facing libel charges—for which he was eventually acquitted by the Supreme Court—set precedent for today's libel laws, according to a biographical post.

Dissuaded by her father from pursuing fine arts and by her mother from a single missionary's life, Betty Go went on to finish a degree in English at the University of the Philippines-Diliman and then pursued English Literature from Claremont Graduate School in California. Her father saw her potential in running the newspaper and worked as an editorial assistant.

Betty went on to manage The Fookien Times, which continued its critical reportage. Then already married to lawyer Feliciano Belmonte Jr., she and her father were forced to close the publication when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Jimmy went on self-imposed exile in Canada but Go-Belmonte stayed in the Philippines even as Imelda Marcos threatened to have them exiled.

Feliciano Belmonte and Betty Go-Belmonte

With an adamant sense of duty, Go-Belmonte could not put her pen down and continued to write an advice column for another newspaper, The Daily Express. In the early 1980s, she started a small monthly magazine called The Star, which—along with Mr. & Mrs. Special Edition, Panorama, We Forum and Tempo—was part of an alternative press keeping tabs on abuses of the Marcos regime.

Balancing her family duties and responsibilities at the newspaper, Betty Go-Belmonte was active in her civic engagements where she was a member of humanitarian and religious organizations. Some of these include the Quezon City Associated Ladies Foundation, Inc., where she was the president, and the Philippine National Red Cross, where she sat as a governor.

She was also an awardee of the 1993 Gintong Ina award for media and journalism.

At Jimmy and Fely Go’s 25th wedding anniversary in 1957. (From left) Dorcy Go, Mother Fely, Betty, Gracie, Father Jimmy, Cecily, Elsie and Andrew. They are joined by American guests and Luz Magsaysay (on Betty's left), widow of President Ramon Magsaysay.
Sonny and Betty Belmonte with Kevin, Miguel, Joy, and Isaac


Go-Belmonte is survived by her husband, former house speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr. and their children: Isaac, Kevin and Miguel are involved in news media businesses while Joy serves as the mayor of Quezon City.

Legacy

Thanks to Betty Go-Belmonte's vision, the STAR is today considered the largest and most successful print venture in the country. The STAR Group also publishes The Freeman, the tabloids Pilipino Star Ngayon, Pang-Masa, and Banat, as well as the magazines Starweek, People Asia and The Fookien Times Yearbook. In 2002, the newspaper's online counterpart, Philstar.com, went live and is today one of the top news destinations in the region.

Carmelea Ang See, a Chinese-Filipino historian and museum director, described Go-Belmonte as "a diminutive woman who used her pen to fight and help fell a dictator, Ferdinand Marcos."

"Go-Belmonte was tolerant and easily forgave those who wronged her, but people often underestimated her political savvy and business acumen," Ang See wrote in biographical dictionary Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese descent. "In fact as a news correspondent, she braved Martial Law and fought the Marcos dictatorship that suppressed freedom of the press."

"At the height of the nation's martial rule, arbitrary arrests, murders, torture, and abuses were rampant. Journalists and opposition leaders were disappearing one after the other, to be found dead later or never to be found at all. Major newspapers preferred to keep silent and stay alive rather than court the wrath of Marcos. Freedom of the press was irrelevant as daily newspapers passed through government censors.

"Throughout all this repression, Go-Belmonte continued to write stories the government did not want people to read. She wrote of the 'mosquito press' or the biting and irritating alternative press that photocopied articles about Marcos family abuse for distribution."

Go-Belmonte was not only remembered for her dissent against Marcos but also for founding the Philippine Daily Inquirer alongside Max Soliven in December 1985. Due to questions on finances and priorities, she and Soliven decided to leave the Inquirer in July 1986 to turn her side project, the Star magazine, into the Philippine STAR with Art Borjal. She is thus known to be the only journalist in the Philippines to have founded what would become two of the country's largest newspapers.

The Philippine STAR was an entrepreneurial success but was also unique for its commitment to charity work, such as in building libraries and classrooms, helping ill children and providing relief during calamities.

"Even in the last year of her life, when she was afflicted with cancer and obvious pain, she continued to publish patient appeals and insisted that the paper should continue to help sick patients," the biographer wrote.

Go-Belmonte's message and approach to journalism is also resounding, as Ang See describes it: "Go-Belmonte faced... cynicism with her usual calm and equanimity, remaining steadfast in her belief that journalistic integrity is nothing but God's own message of honesty, truth and fairness." — with reporting from Interaksyon

 

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Editor's Note: Philstar.com is a publication of Philstar Global Corp., the digital counterpart of the STAR Group of Publications that Betty Go-Belmonte founded.

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