'Freeman' celebrates its 93rd anniversary
- Honey Jarque Loop (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2012 - 12:00am

Anniversaries are a time to reminisce about the past and recognize the valuable roots that set the stage for a solid and lasting institution. One such institution is The Freeman. The publication is synonymous with the Gullas name. It is the oldest community newspaper in the Philippines, and recently celebrated its 93rd anniversary.

The moving force behind the sustainability and success of The Freeman is Jose Dodong Gullas. With his kind permission, here is his moving and inspiring story.

“My father, Don Vicente Gullas, was a lawyer by profession and educator by obsession,” he says. “His love and concern for the youth drove him to start the Visayan Institute — what is now the University of the Visayas in 1919.

 “My mother, Inday Pining Rivera Gullas, was my spiritual force, the guiding light in all the challenges I faced in life. She was a mother, doctor, and adviser all rolled into one.

“My uncle, Paulino Gullas, was a lawyer — an acknowledged abogado de campanilla — but his passion lay in journalism, which led him to establish The Freeman in 1919. He was also involved in politics. He was a member of the Philippine Assembly and was one of seven who drafted the 1935 Philippine Constitution. Eventually his role in politics drove him to give up The Freeman in 1934, the year I was born.

“The paper went into hibernation until 1965, when at the age of 32 and guided by the Holy Spirit, I decided to revive The Freeman with the blessings of Tiya Hilda Kilayco Gullas.

“I strongly felt that Cebu needed a fair and fearless newspaper that would be truly independent, a newspaper that would persistently search for truth and print it. I tapped the knowledge and expertise of veteran journalist Juanito Jabat, as well as my man Friday, Balt Quinain. The three of us worked diligently together and came out with the first revival issue of The Freeman, which was in magazine form.

“The late Senator Gerardo Roxas, a close family friend, advised me that in order for the paper to be a part of the people’s day-to-day routine, it should be a daily paper and not weekly. It was another challenge, especially since the expenses would come straight from my own pocket, the advertising revenues at the time not being consistent enough to turn a profit.

“With the Señor Santo Niño, Mama Mary and the Holy Spirit by my side, I was able to manage The Freeman singlehandedly for 39 years.

“But the years with managing the paper were not a walk in the park. The most painful episode happened in the midst of those years when the people I trusted and helped in countless ways — the editorial staff in particular — left en masse to start another paper.

“Nonetheless, through the years, slowly The Freeman won many prestigious local and national awards and that was more than enough payback for me. This, plus the ability to say without fear of contradiction that The Freeman served as the training ground for many of the present crop of newspapermen and women who have grown prominent in their field.

“Looking beyond my years and what the future holds for the paper, I simply cannot entrust it to just anyone. And so in 2004, The Freeman merged with the Star Group of Companies headed by Miguel Belmonte, president and CEO of The Philippine STAR, which shares many of the principles that guided my own stewardship of the paper.

“Over the years, The Freeman has made such a significant difference. It is a beacon of light and an instrument of hope for our society. And we will continue to be that beacon of light with your help, our dear readers and advertisers, as we move ever closer toward our first century as Cebu’s oldest existing newspaper — now just a short seven years away.”

Juanito Jabat, publisher, has been with The Freeman for 47 years. He was the editor in chief from 1982 to 1995. “We prided ourselves on being the only newspaper in Cebu and in the whole country to come out with an extra edition on the assassination of Ninoy Aquino,” he shared. “It was former President Cory Aquino who confirmed this when she visited Cebu prior to her becoming the president.”

Jerry Tundag is the editor in chief of The Freeman. He has been with the company for 30 years. He was asked to beef up the paper and assist Jabat. He brings to The Freeman his personal experience as Reuters’ Cebu stringer for 17 years. His other achievements include attending the ASEAN editors’ confab in Bali and being the only Philippine representative to Print Journalism USA, an international visitor program of the United States Information Agency.

Boy Mendoza is the manager of The Freeman. He has been with the company for eight years.

The Freeman, being the oldest regional paper, has established its credibility and its readership through the years,” he says. “And I believe that The Freeman surely knows Cebu better.”

Highlighting the milestone was the presentation of service awards ranging from 10 to 39 years of loyalty.

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