Sunday Lifestyle

A century-old tradition of journalistic courage and excellence

- Wilson Lee Flores -
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. – Helen Keller

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence.
– Nobel Prize-winning writer Pearl S. Buck

It was inspiring to witness 43-year-old Philippine STAR president and chief executive officer Miguel G. Belmonte represent the newspaper in receiving the prestigious Agora Award as "Marketing Company of the Year" from the Philippine Marketing Association (PMA) last Nov. 28 at Hotel Intercontinental, Makati City, not only because he was humble in acknowledging the support of his team in the newspaper and of the public, and not only because he used the occasion to pay tribute to the late publisher Max Soliven. It took only 20 years for The Philippine STAR to achieve print media leadership in terms of credibility, business success (as a P2.5-billion enterprise), in circulation and in numerous honors.

Excellence, courage and public service in journalism are strong family traditions in The Philippine STAR. Just a day before receiving the Agora Award, Nov. 27, it was Miguel’s birthday and also coincidentally the 100th birth anniversary of his late grandfather, the legendary newspaper publisher/editor Dr. James "Jimmy" Go PuanSeng of the pre-martial law Fookien Times. The coincidence is very rare, because both of them also share the same birth date based on the Chinese lunar calendar – which usually happens about once every 60 years.

Business leader John Gokongwei Jr. told this writer he admires the family of Go PuanSeng for sustaining three generations of business success in mass media, and how his grandsons – CEO Miguel, editor-in-chief Isaac and Philstar.com CEO Kevin – are hardworking in managing the STAR. Founded in July 1986 by the late Max Soliven, founding chairman Betty Go-Belmonte and Art Borjal at the bottom of the heap as 23rd in rank out of 23 newspapers then, The Philippine STAR is now the flagship of the country’s biggest print media group which includes top-selling Pilipino Star Ngayon, the Pang Masa tabloid as well as top Cebuano newspapers The Freeman and Banat News.

Also part of The Philippine STAR management team is executive vice-president Grace Glory Go, youngest sister of the founding chairman who came in to help build up its marketing team. She is the chairman and CEO of the Fookien Times Yearbook Publishing Co. Inc. Her son, Vernon Go, is publisher and editor-in-chief of the Philippines Yearbook of The Fookien Times. Another grandson of Dr. Go PuanSeng is Time magazine’s editor and Columbia University summa cum laude journalism graduate Howard Go Chua-Eoan.
Revolutionary & Fighting Editors
Unknown to Gokongwei and most people, the prime movers behind the STAR are not third-generation media people, but they’re actually upholding four generations of tradition of leadership in mass media. I had the privilege to interview the late Dr. Jimmy Go PuanSeng twice at his one-hectare home in Quezon City when I was a student and it was arranged then by his daughter late Betty Go Belmonte. Although the late Dr. Go was legendary as the publisher and editor of the leading Fookien Times Chinese-language newspaper in the Philippines from 1926 to its closure by martial law in 1972, it was his father Go Bieng Un who was the pioneer of the clan’s journalistic tradition. Both Go Bieng Un and his son would become well known as "fighting editors."

An immigrant from rural Yu Chao village of China’s coastal province of Fujian (formerly spelled "Fukien" or "Fookien" by the West), the elder Go was the courageous editor of Manila’s first revolutionary Chinese newspaper called Kong Li Po which supported Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s 1911 revolution against the Manchu-led and corrupt Ching Dynasty. The Kong Li Po was founded by the first ethnic Chinese licensed to practice Western medicine in the Philippines, a schoolmate of Dr. Sun, co-founder of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1904 and head of Chinese General Hospital – Dr. Jose Tee Han Kee.

It was an amazing coincidence that the Kong Li Po revolutionary newspaper editor’s granddaughter Betty Go Belmonte would strongly support the 1986 EDSA revolution against the Marcos dictatorship, and the new President Cory C. Aquino of the revolutionary government would be sworn in at Club Filipino, Greenhills, San Juan by the revolutionary newspaper founder’s son, Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee.

The late Dr. Jimmy Go PuanSeng recounted to me that his dad had used the pen name Go Puan Lin, with "Puan Lin" meaning "half-man" since he had defective legs due to an illness. So when he himself started to write in Chinese newspapers, he used the pen name "Go PuanSeng," with "PuanSeng" meaning "half-born." Years later when he converted to Christianity due to his wife Felisa Velasco (great-granddaughter of the Philippines’ wealthiest 19th-century retail tycoon Mariano Velasco Chua Chengco), there was a pre-war evangelist named Dr. John Soong who advised him to change his pen name to "Go Chiong Seng" because "Chiong Seng" means "born again."

Ruth Velasco Yu, younger sister of Felisa V. Go, recalls his brother-in-law Dr. Go as a very hardworking man who migrated to the Philippines in his early teens. When his father died early, Go’s mother became a widow at only age 18. He practiced the Confucian tradition of xiao sun or "filial piety" towards his mother. Though the self-made Go couldn’t afford to finish formal schooling, he loved to study. He mastered the Chinese language and English, also attending classes at Far Eastern University. He further improved his command of the Chinese language by working as proofreader and typesetter in local newspapers; he once also worked as a cook. In those early years, his closest friend was fellow Fujian immigrant Go Kim Pah (also known as "Go To Sieng"), who would eventually become founder of Equitable Bank after World War II and who late in life would be converted to Christianity by Dr. Go PuanSeng.

Dr. Jimmy Go PuanSeng told me that he was only 20 years old when my grandfather’s cousin, pre-war Philippine "Lumber King," 1920 China Bank founder, nine-term Chinese Chamber of Commerce president and activist tycoon Dee C. Chuan founded the Fookien Times in 1926 and appointed him as the young editor and general manager. Dee later became godfather at his wedding, and Grace Glory Go remembers her dad held such respect for Dee that he always had a portrait of Dee in the newspaper’s office. Dr. Go told me: "Dee himself was a young community leader, he had believed in me and supported me through all my various battles. Later on it was I who kaw-siaw (introduced) his eldest son George Dee SeKiat to his future wife Mary Sycip, the eldest child of Chinese Chamber of Commerce president Don Alfonso Sycip." Mary is the first cousin of SGV founder Washington Sycip.
Fearless Crusader Against War & Oppression
Dr. Go recounted that Dee C. Chuan was idealistic and wanted the ethnic Chinese minority in the Philippines and Southeast Asia to help in the economic reconstruction of our ancestral place of Fujian province which was at that time wracked by warlord chaos and other problems. Almost 90 percent of the ethnic Chinese in the Philippines trace our roots to Fujian. The Chinese name of the Fookien Times newspaper was Sin Man Dit-Po which literally meant "New Fujian Times." In those times, Dee and the young editor Dr. Go PuanSeng supported General Tsai Ting Kai who was a hero in China’s resistance to Japanese military aggression and who had set up a rebellious but short-lived independent Fujian government.

When Dee C. Chuan established the Anti-Japanese Aggression League throughout the Philippines in response to Japan’s invasion of China, two of his most passionate supporters were Dr. Go PuanSeng of Fookien Times and Yu Yi Tung of Chinese Commercial News. When the Japanese military invaded the Philippines, Dee was hunted but had earlier died of illness in the US; Go PuanSeng was hunted but managed to escape with his whole family through sheer faith in God; while Yu Yi Tung was arrested and executed with nine other Chinese activists (who included my grandfather’s 34-year-old cousin Dy Hoc Siu).

In his book entitled Refuge and Strength and published in 1970 by Prentice-Hall in the US, Dr. Jimmy Go PuanSeng recounted: "From the day way back in 1931 that the Japanese set aflame (in conflagration) the northern barracks in Mukden, Manchuria, to their invasion of Shanghai, on the incident of Lukouchiao (Marco Polo Bridge) in northern China which set Japan and China at war, my newspaper had all along advocated resistance against Japanese aggression and their encroachment of Asia. I was one of the main orators in the various mass meetings among the Chinese people in Manila. The metropolitan dailies, including Carlos P. Romulo’s, called me the ‘fiery editor’; at times, they even addressed me as the ‘fighting editor.’ I sponsored and directed boycotts against Japanese goods and was one of the founders of the Anti-Japanese Aggression League. Under me, a group of patriotic youths risked their security for the cause."

When Philippine STAR founding chairman Betty Go Belmonte died, the New York Times on January 30, 1994 reported: "Betty Go Belmonte, president of The Philippine STAR newspaper, died Friday. She was 60. Mrs. Belmonte died of cancer. She was among a group of journalists who founded The Philippine STAR in 1986 after the ouster of the late President, Ferdinand Marcos. She was the daughter of Go PuanSeng, a Chinese immigrant who became one of the country’s leading journalists. His acquittal on libel charges in the 1930s, which followed an exposé on official corruption, established the foundation for Philippine libel laws."

The New York Times seems to have erred. I remember Dr. Go PuanSeng telling me that the libel case from 1929 to 1931 which made him famous involved his fearless newspaper exposés on a prominent insurance tycoon’s mistreatment of a young Chinese slave girl – slavery was then still existent in China which was a throwback to the feudal conditions of the earlier pre-revolution era. I recalled Dr. Go telling me that pre-war "Alcohol King" and Chinese Chamber of Commerce president Don Carlos Palanca (Chinese name "Tan Guin Lay") had assisted him during this long libel case.

In his book, Dr. Go PuanSeng recounted: "Even before launching the boycott (Japanese goods) campaign, the Philippine cosmopolitan journalistic circle had already regarded me as a combative editor in my own domain. I had had experience of a long court fight in a libel suit in defense of a slave girl against her master, and was sentenced by the lower court to two months’ imprisonment. My stand, however, was upheld by the Supreme Court and my acquittal was hailed by all newspapers and celebrated as a victory of the freedom of the press. When the boycott movement was at its height, I came to face another court dispute. The City Fiscal’s office had only recently dismissed a complaint against me by the Japanese Consul General with the Commonwealth Government for allegedly insulting the Japanese emperor in my writings. It was beyond doubt that the enemy had marked me for liquidation."

As World War II drew to a close, Go became one of the pioneers of the Japanese-language newspaper called Bakkassan Shimbun ("Parachute News") for the Allied propaganda efforts and which American war planes dropped on the Japanese military. In February 1945, when battles were still raging to defeat the Japanese, the Fookien Times became the first pre-war newspaper in the Philippines to resume publication and rallied the ethnic Chinese minority to help rebuild the war-ravaged Philippines.

Reflecting on his life as pre-war Manila’s fighting editor and a fearless activist, Dr. Jimmy Go PuanSeng once wrote: "By heredity, I belong to the third generation of a Buddhist family. By education, I was steeped in the philosophy of Confucius. By profession I was a newspaperman, inclined, like most of my colleagues, to be a free thinker. By the love and grace of God, my wife had brought me to know Christ. But only after I had suffered tribulations (of being on the run for three years from the Japanese military wanting to execute him) did I begin to lose myself in the divine contemplation of a life reborn."

It is not surprising to witness The Philippine STAR’s phenomenal rise to success, its unerring commitment to truth, public service and Christian ideals, because of the century-old journalistic tradition of excellence by its founding family started by a courageous revolutionary editor and built upon by his son, the legendary Fookien Times publisher/editor Dr. Jimmy Go PuanSeng.
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Thanks for all your messages. Comments, suggestions, jokes and criticisms are welcome at willsoonflourish@gmail.com or wilson_lee_flores@yahoo.com.
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