How The STAR came to be
- Art Borjal () - July 28, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It is mystifying, how images of the distant past can return so vividly, how the hands of time can be rolled back so easily, to as far back as 25 years ago when four adventurous souls planned to go on a journey, to launch a newborn star.

I still remember that day in 1986 – was it in April or May? – when Betty Go Belmonte, Antonio Roces and I met over lunch at the National Press Club restaurant along Magallanes Drive. We occupied a small table beside the window overlooking the Pasig River. As cargo boats plied the Pasig’s murky waters and as passenger jeepneys and cars wheeled in and out of Jones Bridge, Betty, Tony and I discussed the trappings of putting out a new newspaper.

Several weeks earlier, I had walked out of the corporate board meeting of the Philippine Daily Inquirer where I sat as a director. I told the directors present I was resigning – irrevocably. A few days later, in an evening meeting at her home in Quezon City, Betty tried a last-ditch effort to reconcile the founding members of the Inquirer. Things did not work out as Betty envisioned.

The breakup of the original Inquirer group led to that initial noontime meeting at the National Press Club among Betty, Tony and I.

Betty, who was dressed in white, had some misgivings about the planned newspaper, which Tony was ardently pushing. She said she had read the Bible, and some pertinent passages told her that there should be three men, not merely Tony and I, as her partners in putting out the newspaper.

The third man turned out to be Max Soliven whom at the time Betty, Tony and I were meeting was being wooed by the Lopezes to join their own planned newspaper, which eventually became the Manila Chronicle. I do not know how Betty was able to woo Max away from the Chronicle proposal and agree to become the third man who would work with her in putting out The Philippine STAR.

A few weeks after our first meeting at the National Press Club, our Gang of Four – Betty, Max, Tony and I, drew up the plans and charted the course of The STAR. Betty asked each one of us how much we wanted to invest in the newspaper. Because I do not belong to the burgis, I asked to be allocated only five per cent of the total number of shares. The initial investment for my five per cent was P50,000.

Betty, whom we looked up to as our “godmother”, understood our financial predicament. She agreed to shoulder the major bulk of the required investment. And she had no qualms at all about pushing through with the birth of The STAR.

Yes, she appeared so optimistic of The STAR’s future. That the new newspaper would become the brightest star in the firmament. Apparently, Betty’s sixth sense was working efficiently, and she was not worried at all of the stiff competition that the old existing newspapers would put up.

Soon, I was coordinating with the ACCRA Law Office in the drafting of The STAR’s Articles of Incorporation. Soon, Betty, Max, Tony and I were interviewing editors and reporters from other newspapers for their possible transfer to The STAR. At the same time, our Gang of Four was churning out ideas on how the newspaper should look.

It was during the third week of July 1986, a few days before July 27, when the dry run for The STAR’s maiden issue began. Everyone –– from the editorial to the production to the circulation staff –– awaited with bated breath of the birth of the new STAR. And when the maiden issue, all eight pages of it, without any paid advertisement, came out of the press, everyone heaved a sigh of relief that at last, a blinding, hurtling star had finally been born.

For the next five years, The STAR floated in the firmament. Advertisements were hard to come by. Pushing the paper’s circulation was a day-to-day struggle. When times got rough, Betty would ask us, her partners, to put up an additional investment, just to keep The STAR afloat.

Eventually, The STAR sparkled. Slowly but surely, it caught the attention of a large cross-section of the reading public. A dozen years after it was born, The STAR became a dominant figure in Philippine journalism, shining brightly in the firmament.

Turning back the pages of time and scanning The STAR’s existence, I am awed by the power of the pen. Indeed, The STAR has become a mighty instrument for public service.

I am inspired by the images of the sick and disabled to whom Betty, through her Pebbles column, and I, through Jaywalker, were able to lend a helping hand and spread some shafts of sunlight to fellowmen in need. I am also moved by images of the political leaders in the corridors of power who, because of STAR stories, opened their eyes and ears to the cries of anguish or anger of the populace. Of plain and ordinary citizens who, because of the space given them by The STAR, were able to make their voices resound far and wide, even in the innermost chambers of power.

It is said that many stars in the firmament have been there for thousands, perhaps even millions, of years. And it is satisfying to see signs that The STAR, which was born out of lofty, ennobling dreams of four adventurous spirits, is going to last forever. (Reprinted)

ANTONIO ROCES AND I ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION BECAUSE I BETTY BETTY GO BELMONTE GANG OF FOUR NATIONAL PRESS CLUB STAR TONY AND I
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