Kit Tatad and the old Manila Times
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - March 16, 2019 - 12:00am

I also read Kit Tatad’s last column for The Manila Times, and the rebuttal of the paper’s publisher, Dante Ang. It is an undeniable fact there is overt censorship in the media today because of the President’s hypersensitivity to criticism. 

Kit Tatad is a superb writer and an enterprising journalist. I first met him in the 1960s when he was covering the Department of Foreign Affairs on Padre Faura, which was close to my bookshop. He was an avid reader and often dropped-by.

He became Marcos’s Minister of Public Information in 1969, yet on the morning of the first day of martial law, I was still surprised to see him on TV, reading Marcos’s martial law decree.

During the martial law years, Kit kept his office open to journalists. At a recent Philippine PEN conference which he attended as a speaker, some of the writers were angry that he was there. I said Kit was one of PEN’s earliest members, and during the martial law years it was he who brought PEN officials and foreign writers to Malacañang so Marcos could hear their plea to release the writers in jail.

A writer, someone I counted as a close friend, had placed me on the blacklist, and for four years I was not allowed to travel out of the country. It was Kit who helped remove me from that blacklist so I could attend a couple of conferences in Dublin and Paris. 

After the lifting of martial law, Kit ran for the Senate and was elected. As a politician, he had the best tutor on opportunism in the country – Marcos. President Duterte admires Marcos, and it would have been logical for Kit to become the President’s comfortable ally. That Kit chose not to be speaks volumes for the man. 

I know he has already written a novel and I hope he will release it soon. In the meantime, although he is no longer a Manila Times columnist, I hope he will continue writing even if he is the last writer to rail against this erratic presidency.

All these brought to mind those ten years, 1949-1960, that I worked at the old Manila Times, first as associate editor of the Sunday Times Magazine which was then the most widely circulated magazine in the country. I also edited Progress, the Manila Times’ annual publication. I never took a vacation. Instead, I travelled all over the country, from Sabtang in Batanes in the north, to Sitankai in Tawi-Tawi in the south. I remember the first advice given to me by Primitivo C. Mauricio, the editor of the magazine. He said: “We don’t own the magazine. It belongs to the people who buy it.” 

Joaquin P. Roces, the Manila Times publisher, was a hands-on executive. Every day he was in the newspaper and there were occasions he went to the upper floor where the magazine offices were to talk with me. I was usually there after office hours, working on my novels and short stories. We had protracted conversations about current events, national personalities, and the books I had read. He wasn’t a reader but he kept himself informed by being a good listener.

All of us in the editorial department called him Chino, his nickname because he looked Chinese. But I always addressed him as Sir when he was talking with me as publisher. Chino was warm-hearted and so was his older sister, Isabel, who was the company treasurer. We called her Bebing. I felt she was the paper’s real boss. Both of them never interfered with the work of the editorial department.

Not once in my ten years at the Manila Times did Chino tell me what to write or criticize what I wrote. I had absolute freedom even when I got to be the editor of the magazine itself. He also gave me the most expensive cameras at the time. He never examined the figures in my travel and expense vouchers. He signed them immediately.

When I left the Manila Times in 1960 to go to Hong Kong to work for the Asia Magazine, I was one of the Times’ ten highest-paid employees, but still I did not have a car. Chino gifted me with a Volkswagen. 

His sister called me to her office twice. The first time to tell me she had accepted an award at the National Press Club on my behalf and to ask why I had not been there. I told her outright – I did not have a barong tagalog. Within the hour I received one.

On another instance, she sounded very anxious and worried because some of her landlord friends had questioned her about my articles on agrarian reform. I told her that if I were to be sued for libel, I would stand by everything I wrote. Not only did I know the libel laws, but my articles were filled with facts. Immediately, she smiled. She then asked me if I had problems writing those articles. They were to win several awards later. I told her I had difficulty because they involved a lot of research. She told me to hire a researcher immediately.

Journalism in the 1950s was already tainted with some corruption. It was obvious in the lifestyle of some journalists. The Manila Times was the most profitable paper at the time, primarily I think because of the great freedom that its writers enjoyed. The paper had credibility. In remembering those days, I understand why Marcos closed the Manila Times and the other newspapers. It was not so much because media were critical of him but because he wanted the profitable papers, and the radio and TV stations to be in the hands of his cronies. 

There is apprehension in the country today that we are on the verge of a dictatorship. I don’t think so but just the same, I hope that the cry, Never Again, is being heard by all those who hold enormous power today.

KIT TATAD
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