The FREE PRESS Story
By Filemon V. Tutay
Highlights of its first 50 years, including its wobbly start, its many libel suits and how the publisher was nearly deported.
August 30, 1958—WHEN R. McCulloch Dick first thought of starting a paper of his own over 50 years ago, he was editor of the old Manila Times with a handsome salary of P550 a month. He had two weeks’ vacation coming to him and one day he told Martin Egan, the Times’ managing editor and Associated Press correspondent, that he wanted to take the two weeks off and canvass some businessmen to find out what they thought of his idea to put out his own paper.
Egan, who also left the Times later and joined the business firm of J.P. Morgan & Co. in New York, replied simply: “All right, go ahead!”
During the couple of weeks that followed, Dick made the rounds and consulted about a dozen businessmen, most of whom had their offices on the Escolta. Only two of the businessmen were in favor, a few had their doubts, while the rest predicted failure for his project.
In the face of these gloomy prospects, however, Dick decided to “go ahead.” His total resources amounted to P8,000 which represented his savings during the five years that he worked for the Times. How to begin was his next problem.
Before proceeding any further, however, a word of explanation is in order.
Dick’s decision to publish a weekly was probably influenced somehow by his close association with F. Theo Rogers, who was then a vocational teacher connected with the Bureau of Education. After his day was done as a teacher of carpentry in the old Philippine School of Arts and Trades, Rogers used to drop around almost every afternoon at the Times’ office for a chat with his close friend. They invariably talked about the political issues of the day, especially those bearing on the political aspirations of the Filipino people.
When Rogers was sent to Bacolod, Negros Occidental, to organize a school of arts and trades, he kept track of happenings in Manila through his correspondence with Dick. Rogers says that the mails were pretty slow that time and he received letters from Manila only once every two weeks. He recalls that in one of his letters to Dick, he stated that “the paper for this country is a weekly magazine costing about 10 centavos a copy and P2.00 for one year’s subscription.”
So, while Dick was groping for a solution to his problem on how to begin, he thought of the Philippines FREE PRESS which was started by Judge W.A. Kincaid as an organ of the Moral Progress League. The league had been organized to crusade against vice in Manila. The paper was in circulation for about a year and then died a natural death. It was a losing proposition. The paper had been dead for some time when Dick thought of reviving it.
Judge Kincaid was in the United States at the time but he had left a power of attorney with Atty. Charles A. McDonough. Upon being consulted by Dick, McDonough informed him that Kincaid would be glad to see him revive the paper. McDonough added, however, that there was not much to start with; only a few lists of subscriptions, the title and the good will. For all these, Dick paid the token amount of one peso.
The New Free Press
Two weeks after this transaction, the first issue of the Philippines FREE PRESS of today hit the streets. Old subscribers of Kincaid’s organ of the Moral Progress League were without doubt pleasantly surprised to receive copies of the new FREE PRESS. The issue, which had English and Spanish sections, was dated August 29, 1908. Whereas the old FREE PRESS had been a newspaper, the new one was a magazine.
The paper was then published on the second floor of the same building at No. 44 Escolta where Carson Taylor’s Manila Daily Bulletin also had its offices and printing plant. Through an arrangement with Taylor, the FREE PRESS was printed on the press of the Bulletin.
The FREE PRESS occupied only two rooms in the building, a composing room and an office, the latter combining the business and editorial departments. Quite a bit of the original P8,000 capital was spent for type and furniture for the composing room and office equipment. Except for Dick who had his hands full as editor and business manager all rolled into one, nearly everybody else on the staff was on a part-time basis.
Editor of the Spanish section was Don Alberto Campos who, among other things, was then also associate editor of El Mercantil, professor of Spanish at the Centro Escolar de Señoritas (now Centro Escolar University) and translator of the Bulletin’s editorials into Spanish. The indefatigable Don Alberto came to the Philippines as a major in the Spanish army. Upon his retirement from the service, he remained in Manila and engaged in newspaper and educational work.
To help get things done in the advertising department, Percy Warner Tinan was taken in. At that time, Tinan was handling the streetcar advertising for Meralco. Rogers also helped in soliciting advertising for the FREE PRESS whenever his time allowed but refused to be paid for his efforts. Eventually, however, when funds became available, he was persuaded by Dick to join the FREE PRESS to look after the business end of the publication. Rogers now holds the position of general manager of the paper.
Dick and Rogers recall that the early days of the FREE PRESS were days of continuous struggle and hard work. Working up to one or two o’clock in the morning seemed to be the order of the day. But no one on the staff complained about the heavy routine. Rogers recalls with a glint in his eyes that, when walking home from work in the wee hours of the morning during those hectic days, he always took care to use the middle of the street to avoid stepping on some people “squatting” on the sides of the streets for lack of toilet facilities.
From the beginning, the public response to the publication was generally friendly. There were instances of strangers who solicited subscriptions without accepting the usual agent’s commission while some businessmen helped along with advertising.
But the friendly response of the public was not good enough. After seven months, the P8,000 capital was gone. Dick was in dilemma. What to do? Give up the whole thing as a total failure? Or, “go ahead?” Characteristic of the “Old Man,” Dick chose to “go ahead.”
Much as he hated to go into debt as a matter of principle, Dick was forced to borrow money to keep the FREE PRESS going. Through a friend, he borrowed P2,000 at 8-percent interest per annum. But in six or seven weeks, this was also gone. Dick was still determined to “go ahead” and secured an additional loan of P1,000. This turned the trick and the paper started to making a little money. There were occasional periods of stringency, it’s true, but the FREE PRESS had definitely become a going concern.
Later, when the Bulletin moved to the Cosmopolitan Building on the north approach to Sta. Cruz (now MacArthur) Bridge, the FREE PRESS went along. The paper continued to be printed on the press of the Bulletin. It was not until sometime in 1921 that the FREE PRESS erected its own building on its present location on Rizal Avenue and installed its own printing plant.
Tinan did not stay very long with the FREE PRESS. After leaving the FREE PRESS, he worked for La Estrella del Norte where he took charge of the automobile department. Then he went to South America and became the manager of the Studebaker agency in Buenos Aires. It seemed, however, that he could not stay put in any one place. He returned to the Philippines later and put out various automobile publications. Tinan had the distinction of driving the first car to Baguio.
Don Alberto stayed with the FREE PRESS as long as its Spanish section held its appeal for a substantial Spanish-speaking segment of the publication. The Spanish translations of the English editorials were especially appreciated in the homes of the aristocracy and in the high places in the government which were held by Spanish-educated Filipino officials.
The Spanish Section
This appeal, however, wore off with the years. More and more English-speaking Filipinos were being turned out by the public school system and FREE PRESS readers clamored for more space for English than Spanish in the publication. More significant was the fact that very few businessmen cared to buy advertising space in the Spanish section.
Don Alberto was succeeded by Roman Joven, a Filipino from Pampanga, as editor of the Spanish section. Antonio Ma. Cavanna, who is now with El Debate, was the last Spanish editor of the FREE PRESS.
Of the Grand Old Men of the FREE PRESS, Frederic S. Marquardt, one of the ablest associate editors ever to work for this paper, had the following to say in his book, Before Bataan And After: “It would be difficult to find two men more radically different in temperament than R. McCulloch Dick and F. Theo Rogers. Dick was an intellectual type, an introvert who shunned social gatherings and had only a few intimate friends. Rogers was an extrovert, who numbered his friends by the thousands and was at his best in a convivial gathering or on a speaker’s platform. Yet they pulled in harness together amazingly well, and they built a new magazine which influenced the lives and thoughts of many thousands of Filipinos.”
Dick was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, some 86 years ago. He emigrated to the United States while he was in his teens and attended Park College in Missouri. He spent some time in California where he held various jobs, including one in a grocery store. Then he went east and found employment on a weekly newspaper in New Rochelle, New York.
As to how he finally wound up in Manila is a long story. Suffice it to say that when he discovered to his dismay that his hair was falling out in alarming quantities, he consulted a doctor who advised him to take a long sea voyage. Naturally anxious to keep his hair, Dick went to the waterfront in New York and shipped, as a deck hand at $14 a month, on a sailing ship bound for the Far East.
He left his ship in Hong Kong with the intention of getting a job on a newspaper in the British crown colony. He eventually took passage for Manila when he was told that English-speaking newspapermen were badly needed in the Philippine capital. Dick started as a reporter on the American owned Manila Times.
Rogers comes from Boston where, he says, “the best Americans come from.” At 14, he volunteered for service in the US Army and was sent to the Philippines to help quell the insurrectos. After a semblance of peace had been restored in many provinces of the islands, he was pressed for service as a vocational teacher in the old Philippine School of Arts and Trades.
Gifted with the knack of making friends very easily, Rogers was soon counting his friends by the thousands, both great and small. He became immensely popular not only among Filipinos but also among the various foreign communities in the Philippines. He is the only non-Spaniard who was extended an honorary membership in the Casino Español. He enjoys the same privilege in the exclusive Swiss Club.
Even as a humble vocational teacher in the early days, Rogers was already rubbing elbows with the highest officials in the Philippine government. On the recommendation of then Speaker Sergio Osmeña, Rogers was designated to accompany then Assemblyman Manuel Luis Quezon on a mission to the International Navigation Congress in St. Petersburg, Russia, some time in 1908. The third member of the group was the late Teodoro Kalaw, who acted as technical assistant to Quezon.
By virtue of an Act of Congress, Rogers, a couple of years ago, was made “an adopted son of the Philippines” with the same rights as any Filipino citizen.
Not a few people have often wondered how Dick and Rogers, radically different in temperament as they are, have been able to pull smoothly together and build up the FREE PRESS to what it is today. The only plausible explanation for this seems to be that the nature of their work on the paper does not necessarily throw them together. They have entirely different and distinct responsibilities. While Dick takes care of the editorial end, Rogers looks after the business side of the publication.
Both loved to travel in their younger days and they were seldom together in Manila after the paper had attained a state of financial stability before the war. When one was abroad, for periods ranging from six months to three years, the other got things done in the office. Since liberation, however, only Rogers has gone abroad.
They are held with the highest respect by the FREE PRESS personnel and are never addressed without the “Mr.” Not that they ask for it, but it is given voluntarily. (The customary “Mr.” has been purposely left out from this write-up for reasons of space.)
As Fritz Marquardt put it in his Before Bataan and After, Dick was and still is “a fiend for orderliness.” When he walks around the office and spots a paper clip, or a small piece of paper, he never fails to stop and pick it up. Naturally, everybody in the office takes the hint and no one wants to be caught with any such thing, or worse still, a cigarette butt on the floor near his desk. He knows that the “Old Man” is sure to spot it and pick it up and make him look like a fool.
Dick is a stickler for correct spelling and grammar in accordance with the rules. An error in spelling or grammar is enough provocation for him to raise the roof anytime. He is a perfectionist. When he takes up something with any of his employees, he expects that employee (no matter if he is only a janitor) to speak out his mind without fear. The “Old Man” definitely hates a “yes” man.
This, as in many other things, is where Rogers differs with him. You cannot argue with Rogers. This is because he will insist on doing all the talking. And, of course, he is always right. He is “the boss.” On at least four occasions before the war, Rogers “fired” this writer on the spot for talking back. Being really stubborn, however, the writer came back each time. As for Rogers, an impulsive Irishman, he soon cools off after outbursts of temper.
Among the many men, too numerous to mention, who have contributed to the growth of the FREE PRESS, two may be mentioned: Domingo Magsarili Sr., and Robert S. Hendry. Magsarili, now 75 years old, started his career with the magazine with its very first issue 50 years ago, and is still going strong. As a composing room foreman, it is doubtful whether he has a peer. He has the touch of an artist in his skillful handling of ads and editorial copy and pictures.
Robert S. Hendry was the associate editor for nine hectic years from 1947 to 1955. Those were exciting, eventful years for the FREE PRESS in which it more than doubled its prewar circulation. His astute editorial judgment and honorable conduct greatly impressed those privileged to work with him. Leaving the FREE PRESS at the end of 1955, he died in 1956.
The FREE PRESS story will not be complete without a word about the many libel suits brought against the paper and its editor and the various members of its staff because of its militant policy. About the biggest libel suit ever instituted against the FREE PRESS was filed at the instance of the late President Quezon when he was Senate President. A libel suit filed against Dick and staff member Teodoro M. Locsin by former Gov. Eliseo Quirino took some four years to thresh out in the Court of First Instance of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Besides the libel suits, there have been death threats against the magazine’s staff members.
Dick himself was once ordered deported from the islands by then Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison. But before the order became effective, Harrison left the administration in the hands of Vice-Governor General Charles Emmett Yeater. By the time that Harrison returned to the country, he had undergone a change of heart and the deportation order was eventually abrogated.
How does the FREE PRESS manage to maintain its circulation at a high level? That is the pet problem of Circulation and Office Manager Floro A. Santos, a veteran of 46 years on the FREE PRESS. The beauty contests held by the FREE PRESS before the war might have had something to do with it, but it has been largely the industry and resourcefulness of Floro which kept the circulation of the paper consistently high. However, if you ask Rogers how the FREE PRESS has managed to maintain its high circulation during those years, he will tell you that this paper’s circulation manager used to be his pupil in the old Philippine School of Arts and Trades.
My Years with the FREE PRESS
By Frederic S. Marquardt
‘None of us worked for fame or glory, but I think we all had a sense of doing a good job at an exciting time in the life of a people emerging from colonial to independent status’
August 30, 1958—TWENTY-FIVE years ago I helped prepare the silver anniversary edition of the Philippines Free Press. The depression we wrestled with in those days has passed. The Japanese menace we wrote about has come and gone. The independence we discussed on all occasions is an established fact. Quezon and Osmeña and Roxas have left the scene. It’s a different world, a world of television, of Sputniks, of intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with hydrogen warheads. But the Free Press hasn’t changed, not really, during the second quarter century of its existence. It still holds fast to the high standards of good English that have marked every issue. It still is ready to break a lance on corruption in government. It still fights for a better Philippines in a world at least slightly mad. And I am happy indeed to be able to salute it on its golden anniversary.
Not many newspapers have managed to survive 50 years of what is, I suppose, the toughest competition that exists. I know of no other which has been edited and published by one man for half a century. Certainly none of the world’s other great national publications have had one hand at the tiller for so long.
Since R. McCulloch Dick probably will wield the red pencil on my copy if I say much more about him, let me get down to my assignment of describing the Free Press in the days before World War II.
When I joined the Free Press staff late in 1928, the ordinary edition contained 56 pages a week, of which 16 were in Spanish. All editorials were translated into Spanish, to achieve a maximum impact for editorial opinion. Although Don Alberto Campos and Roman Joven and the others who worked on the Spanish section were extremely able men, the times were against them. The advertisers got better results when their ads were in the English section, and the Spanish section was abandoned after it had shrunk to a meager six pages. The bilingual F. Theo Rogers, business manager and lifelong associate of Mr. Dick, felt badly when the glory that was Castile faded from the pages of the Free Press, but he too accepted the inevitable.
I think I should make at least a passing reference to the hard-headed business sense of the Dick-Rogers team. They have always known that financial stability was the only basis on which a newspaper can operate in a competitive economy. I recall reading to Mr. Dick the lead editorial in Volume I, Number 1, of one of the papers that were constantly springing up in those days. The editorial platform announced the highest possible motives, all of which Mr. Dick agreed with. “But,” said the Free Press owner, “I would give it more chance of surviving if it said it was determined to keep out of the red.” The Free Press kept out of the red. It didn’t amass a great fortune or erect a magnificent plant, but it wasn’t in hock to a bank and it always met its payrolls. The pay scale, by the way, was the highest in Manila.
For roughly the first 25 or 30 years of its existence the Free Press ran an ad on its front cover each week. The cover stock was blue, and the result was a distinctive appearance that could easily be spotted on newsstands. But the British example of printing ads on the front cover became gradually outmoded and by the early ’30s we switched over to photographs or other illustrations. I recall the indignant letters we received from old subscribers when the change was made. Some of them had failed to recognize the Free Press in its new dress, and at least one annoyed reader told us to quit copying the Saturday Evening Post. Oddly enough the change to what we considered a more attractive cover did not boost circulation, but those were depression days and new subscribers were hard to come by.
For years prior to my arrival the Free Press had occasionally been running an insert bearing the picture of a national hero, a distinguished citizen, or a Filipino beauty. It usually was printed on one side of a sheet of glossy paper, and slipped into the paper as a sort of bonus. These inserts were highly popular and they appeared throughout the Philippines as decorations in homes of all sorts. The beauty contest, glorifying Filipino womanhood in every province, was a great feature of the paper.
We expanded the insert to four pages on book stock, but made it the same size as the rest of the paper and stapled it in the center of the magazine. On special occasions we would use color, and gradually color reproductions spread throughout the paper until, shortly before Pearl Harbor, it was available for as many as 16 pages a week. The covers also blossomed like a rose, as the engravers became more proficient.
Mr. Dick never resisted change. He didn’t want to experiment needlessly, but when it came to setting type by machine instead of by hand, he quickly brought in the linotypes and Ludlows. Domingo Magsarili Sr., composing room foreman, and Agustin Foz Sr., who ran the press room, knew they could always get money for labor-saving and time-saving machinery. On the other hand, Mr. Dick vetoed the idea of a rotary printing press, which would have been faster and more economical than the Miehle flatbeds, because he knew the quality of printing would decline with the rotaries in those days before air-conditioning and other modern aids to printing.
As the years went on, Floro Santos Sr., a schoolteacher turned businessman, took on more and more of the business details of running the Free Press. I’m not sure what his title was—we didn’t put much stock in titles—but he was a combination treasurer, circulation manager, office manager, and general factotum who saw that the Free Press got out on time and was circulated into the most remote barrios. To those of us who knew it was stating the obvious to say that the Free Press would never have been the same without Floro Santos. Nor could the advertising department have developed without the patient, careful effort of Lino Gimeno.
But enough of the mechanical and business details. The heart of a newspaper is the newsroom, and its strength lies in the sincerity and honesty with which it reports the news. From 1929 through 1934 there was only one really important news story in the Philippines, and that was independence. Back in those days there were a lot of Americans and some Filipinos who felt that independence would never work. I doubt if we at the Free Press ever felt that way. It seemed to us that the only ultimate solution to Philippine-American relationships was a complete severance of political ties, although we also felt that the dictates of common sense would maintain intimate international relationships after American sovereignty had ended.
Once I discussed the problem with Ramon Navas, first of the great Filipino newspapermen I had a chance to work with. Independence, of course, was an emotional issue, and I recall Navas reading a statement by President Hoover about independence and saying, with tears in his eyes, “I’ll never live to see it.” I assured him he would, but I was wrong. He was drowned during a bad typhoon that raged across the city.
Next to the independence question, I should say the main running news stories were honesty in government (then as now) and law and order. Mr. Rogers used to say, “Unless the people learn to maintain law and order, independence will be worthless.” I agreed that there was a lot to what he said.
One of the biggest stories I recall was the Sakdal uprising of May 2, 1935. It was aimed at negating the plebiscite to be taken May 14, to ratify the Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. The Sakdalistas struck at municipal officials in 14 towns. The morning after the uprising, we assigned our top three reporters, Leon Ty, Filemon Tutay and D.L. Francisco, to go to Cavite, Pampanga and Laguna provinces. They brought back pictures and word stories that covered the uprising like one of these new sacque dresses. Malacañang Palace, then the residence of the governor-general, used our reports to guide its own fact-finding commissions.
For many years Tutay doubled as a cameraman, and set up the first darkroom we had. Then, as now, he was a fine sports writer. Ty was hired as an advertising solicitor, but at heart he was a crusading reporter. He would come in after a hard day of calling on the advertisers to sit down and write the first tentative thrusts at government abuses which were to become his hallmark. Jose Pereira and Esmeraldo Izon drew cartoons and illustrations that gave the paper a quality of its own.
We were the only Manila newspaper, back in those days, to keep a correspondent in Washington. James G. Wingo kept track of the independence bills, the congressional hearings, the resident commissioner’s office and the visiting Filipinos. His Independence Merry-Go-Round was a source of cold fact and choice gossip.
The constitutional convention was another big story, and I went to as many of the meetings as I could. But most of the reports were written by Juan Collas, whose legal mind stood him in good stead, and by Leon Ma. Guerrero, the first Filipino writer, I believe, to completely master the American idiom. Both Collas and Guerrero helped set the Free Press on its path as a patron of creative writing, by the attention they paid to our short stories and poems. Teodoro M. Locsin, who came late in my Free Press career, was another master of the English language. Two American staff members who made important contributions were Ralph Busick, now holding a high post with the US Information Agency in Washington, and Robert Yelton Robb, now a university professor in Detroit.
There are more, many more, who should be mentioned in even such a brief summary as this. But I know they will forgive me for omitting them. None of us worked for fame or glory, but I think we all had a sense of doing a good job at an exciting time in the life of a people emerging from colonial to independent status.
Mrs. Douglas MacArthur once expressed her feelings—and mine—when she said of those prewar days, “We didn’t have to wait until they were over before we knew we enjoyed them.” Filipinos and Americans alike, I believe, had a sense of destiny, a feeling of important work to be done.
When I returned to the Philippines during World War II, not long after MacArthur had landed in Leyte, an American GI handed me a copy of one of the issues of the Free Press that had been printed just before Pearl Harbor. He had found it in a home in Tacloban, and I read it with great interest.
The story I will always remember was one by Locsin. It was a piece on the tense world situation, and the current status of the Philippines. And it ended with the rejoinder, to American and Filipino readers alike: “Count your blessings, and prepare to defend them.”
I was proud to learn a little later, that many of the Free Press staff were leading the precarious life of guerrillas, as they defended those blessings. Shortly after the liberation of Manila I stood with Mr. Dick and looked at the gutted Free Press building and the twisted presses and wondered how the paper would ever be rebuilt. I should not have had any doubts. The spark that had driven the Free Press to its prewar status was still ready to push it to new postwar heights. In the 17 years since I left its editorial staff, the Free Press has become better and more powerful. But it has never lost sight of the basic aim of an honest newspaper. I, for one, am confident it never will.
The past is prelude. The second fifty years in the life of the Free Press should see it reaching new heights of journalistic achievement.