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The Poet, The Fighter, The Locsin of Memory
(Cover Story in the commemorative issue of the Philippines Free Press, February 5, 2000)
By Manuel L. Quezon III
In his library
Alone with dead men’s thoughts
Listen to him singing.
—“Solo,” Teodoro M. Locsin
IN the end, all he could communicate with were his eyes. There seemed little pain expressed in them but there was anger: indignation over being taken from his home, confined to a hospital bed, violated by a breathing tube, punctured by IV drips.
Anger at life: he had lived it well; he had no apologies to make; it was time to go —so why was he being detained? His heart would not let him go. It kept pumping life, refusing to surrender, refusing to let go.
Those eyes: piercing, probing, stoic. How they shone with a sardonic humor when he would be approached. You see me an old man and show me respect, they seemed to acknowledge. And yet, as you greeted him his eyes would seem to say —what? His eyes would communicate a message, a poem, his own:
Let me think of you
When you were young and without guile
Not a wise old man
Waiting to die.
But how can one ever think of him as having ever had guile —or been foolish? He was a man who had no time or patience to waste on fools. He had nothing but contempt for guile, for deceit, the weapons of the weak. Only the frontal attack, the formal duel for him. In his last years, the contempt, the rage still smoldered. What have you done to my country? his eyes seemed to say.
An image: Teodoro M. Locsin Sr., sitting on a chair, scanning the newspapers, a glass of iced red wine on the table before him. A young writer, in awe, watches his every move. He looks up, gives the paper in his hand a little shake, and says, “God damn it!” His eyes flash.
God damn it, indeed. Reams and reams of paper, on them hundreds of thousands of words-half a century and more of words, angry words, eloquent words. Years of pounding them out on a typewriter to explain the wrong and convey the outrage, to educate the ignorant, to exhort the decent not to surrender to what was convenient and wrong. But for what?
Fools stayed fools. The crooked got clever and completely unscrupulous. “It was different in my time,” he tells his daughter-in-law. “Even the crooks were decent, knew limits. Now they are just plain shits. They observe no rules, no rules should be observed them.”
The good and the well-meaning caved in to tyranny and shrugged off injustice, feigning contempt when what they felt was abject fear. He saw this. Tried to shrug it off as life. Hadn’t he written that the just deserts of slaves is slavery? Let them be slaves. He would not, And yet —“God damn it!” They did not have to be. And the anger boiled over again.
The Jesuits, under whom he had been educated, and who produced a man in the mold of Rizal -a man who valued his conscience above the easy consolations of a facile faith and the rewards of a material society- would have called it righteous anger. The faith of his teachers taught that God reserved his most awesome wrath and retribution for those sins that cried out for vengeance: the oppression of widows and orphans, the weak, defenseless and meek.
But Teodoro M. Locsin Sr. would not leave to heaven the justice we can mete out here and now if we but had the fortitude. And what was faith most of the time but pious words? He had better: fighting words. Indignant words. Wounding, merciless words that humbled the proud, drove back the oppressor, exposed crime to retribution and pointed out with embarrassing clarity what was lacking and what needed to be done.
At what point in his life did Teodoro M. Locsin, privileged lover of books, a man with a gift for writing, who had been to the manor born, decide that submission would never be his condition, that slavery would never be his lot? His own words give us a clue.
His journal entry for December 23, 1941:
“The war reveals the parasite, the nonessential man self-confessed. He who does not produce is regarded, with suddenly clear eyes, as an enemy. In peacetime he often occupies an honored position, being then only a thief who lives lawfully on what his neighbor makes.
“The war leaves us with only human values to go by. It is not very comfortable. It either shoes a man or shows him up. Out of this new revelation may come a new society, a true society.
“There are economic problems because there are rich men and poor men. There are wars because there are economic problems. Let us, simply, eliminate the rich men?”
He answers his own questions in his entry for December 29, 1941:
“The rich and the influential are the pitiful ones. They have so much to lose! They shake for their lives, they shake for their office, they shake for their bank accounts. They read all the literature on the established methods of avoiding death and damage by bomb, bullet and gas. They sit in a circle all day and worry over every rumor and report of disaster. They scan every threat to their security with the passion of scholars poring over a newly recovered line from the Greek Anthology.
“The war freshly illumines a paradox:
“One may be casual about one’s life but rarely over one’s property.
“In high good humor the people are compiling a list of dishonor. With infinite malice they treasure each new story of how their lords and masters have disgraced themselves.”
Though he came from the class of “lords and masters,” he also belonged to the elite of intellectuals. He would not disgrace himself. His thought is not unique. Throughout Europe, in farm houses and attics, basements and empty warehouses where the resistance met, men placed their hopes of a corrupt society’s self-destruction on the elite’s betrayal of their countries. There would be no need for a revolution from the streets to overturn the established order. That would self-destruct in shame. When Europe was finally free of the Nazis-the Philippines of the Japanese-they would also be free from their corrupt and compromised elites. It would not happen.
In the same journal he marveled at the coming of war, giving him time to catch up with his reading, even as he noticed his reading being drawn to the philosophers instead of the crime writers he had favored in the past. Yet this was no longer the time for sitting down to read or even worrying about the fate of his library.
“To everything there is a season.” He read that in a fine edition of Ecclesiastes he would keep through the war. It was the time to fight. He joined the resistance.
Besides what else was there to do? The Free Press had been shut down. Writing for the pro-Japanese Philippine media was out of the question.
Writing shortly after the war, he would explain with the exceptional clarity that would always be his hallmark, what the choice he had made-to fight-had been all about. It was not a romantic choice; it was a choice rationally made.
“Collaboration or resistance -all of us were captives of war. War was a prison; some cells were bigger than the others but the walls were there. We were all hemmed in -those in the cities and towns, and those in the jungles. In the ‘free’ areas, communication was possible with the outside world, and breaks from the prison for a few by submarine; that was all. The resistance may be compared to rioting in prison…
“No, that is not quite accurate. The resistance undermined the power and authority of the warden; even if it did not succeed in taking him prisoner, it made the opening of the prison and the release of the prisoners easier, the liberators did not lose so many men. When the resistance in Negros flashed the move of the Japanese fleet before a battle, that was more helpful, surely, to the cause of freedom than collaboration.”
He had nothing but contempt for the collaborators. Even before he joined the Free Press, he had returned to being a journalist, founding Free Philippines with, among other writers, Philip Buencamino. (He would turn his back on his communist comrades in arms in the anti-Japanese resistance when they ambushed the Quezon family and killed Buencamino, and join Magsaysay for the final solution to the Huk challenge.) He said of himself, during the time, that “I thundered and shrilled —that is, I wrote editorials.” Journalism during the heady —and for many, vengeful— days of liberation involved “jumping on a man,” as Locsin described it. Sobriety and balance were for other practitioners of the craft.
Then the Free Press resumed publication, and star writer of the publication was he. A division of labor became evident: Filemon Tutay and Leon O. Ty were to prowl about and keep their ears to the ground; theirs were the scoops and big exposés. To Locsin was given the task of the probing interview, the devastating revelation of his subject’s hubris and idiocy. And the serious, reflective pieces, the essays on society, sovereignty and liberty: those were reserved for Locsin.
Were these early days the days of “foolishness” and “lack of guile” that he alludes to in his poem? Heady days, indeed: and perhaps, to him, in looking back, days of naiveté. If they were, they were not to last long.
Days of Liberation flowed into the early days of Independence, then a new war, against the Huks, and though he always gave them their due for their bravery against the Japanese, he saw little romance in what they were doing to a country crying to recover from an earlier war. Then they crossed the line and murdered his friend.
The Fifties were years of exposing the cruelty of the military and the communists both, though his words were particularly harsh against the communists. Not just because of what they had done to his friend, but because he knew, from their implacability, what they held in store for his country if they triumphed. Once again, the freedom of the prison yard, the security of the barbed-wire fence.
And hadn’t he resolved never to be a slave?
Then came the Sixties. His time to be at the helm had come. The passing of “Mr. Dick,” founder of the Free Press, who had made Locsin his heir, saw the transformation of Locsin from staff member to publisher and editor in chief. He was in command now. He built the Free Press up, made it bigger, richer and far better equipped, giving it the most modern printing facilities in the country. The Free Press had become a battleship with only one mission: putting out a single issue a week to perfection. He would not allow the Free Press facilities to be used for any ancillary business, even printing comic books like his friend Don Ramon Roces had started to do, just in case newspapering became too dangerous. His machines were so fast they turned out the second-biggest print run in the industry in a few hours. The rest of the week was devoted to cleaning the machines, oiling them, buffing them to a sparkling finish, like a dreadnought.
It would be 20 years of steady, relentless campaigning: for land reform, against logging, against the criminal and exponential growth of the population, against a supine foreign policy that would involve us, “the showcase of democracy in Asia,” in an unjust colonial war in Vietnam, against creeping militarism, the coming of martial law.
This is how he would conduct his campaigns. He would call in his editors and writers, he would farm out the different aspects of the campaign, and then he would relentlessly pursue it. Giving them their cue in his editorials. His fingers would pound away at the keys of his typewriter; the Free Press would pound away at the enemy.
Against landlords and for real, not naive, solutions: “A sentimental approach will not do; hearts bleeding for the poor are not enough. Too many congressmen and landlords or tools of landlords -from whom they get campaign funds, retainers, etc.- for emotion to prevail in the Senate and the House. And the Mexican experience has shown that it is not enough to give land to the landless if they do not know what to do with it, if they are not provided with the necessary credit facilities for increasing production. A poor landowner is still a poor man.”
And against “tutas” — whether of the Americans or Malacañang, whether by omission or commission:
“Dogs are dogs. Their canine behavior should surprise no one; for them to act with the dignity of human beings would be unnatural. But there are parliamentarists who are so from conviction. Their arguments in favor of the parliamentary system are, however, arguments articulated in a vacuum. Without the adoption of a Ban-Marcos or Ban-the-Marcoses provision in the new charter, they would be acting-objectively, judging from the results of their action, not their intention-no differently from the professional tuta of Malacañang… Parliamentarists would be the same dog, with a different collar. Whatever the intentions, they would be paving the road to hell.
“By their fruits should you judge them.”
And the Free Press would pound away against loggers and reactionary princes of the Church.
For 20 years he led the fight; he would deny his countrymen the privilege of pleading ignorance to their eventual enslavement.
There would be a bitter interlude before the climax of the fight: a rebellion within the walls. Society —the same society whose defects he had so clearly seen, so eloquently pointed out, so vehemently condemned— and its evils were projected on his person by his own people in the Free Press —supported by his enemies in the Palace. He was called an oligarch; oppressor of the working man who gave 14th-to 16th-month bonuses because he believed that a company he kept completely free from debt should distribute its excess wealth —a throwback to his days in the anti-Japanese communist resistance. His comrades in arms tried to seize control of the Free Press, he showed them the door: leave. They left. All his old friends, his drinking companions, the men whose talents he had encouraged, whose reputations he had built up with more care than his own.
He would continue to fight, harder than ever with a handful of his former complement. The Free Press was now in the trenches against the coming dictatorship and soon it was over the top. Challenging the Palace to do its worst. And it did.
Darkness fell and then the morning came when he was taken away by the military. The heir of the editor in chief arrested by the Japanese was under arrest by order of the president he had helped get elected because it was preferable to have a murderer from the Ilocos who had feigned resistance to the Japanese to an enthusiastic collaborator from Cebu.
When Ferdinand Marcos, in gratitude for his support, offered him the portfolio of the Department of National Defense, Locsin declined, joking, “It isn’t right for the secretary of defense to limp in review past the troops because he has gout. He would really look like a lame duck.” The position, in a few years, would go instead to Locsin’s jailer. Locsin had no regrets for, had he accepted, he would have been arrested anyway or he would have to arrest his best friends— Soc Rodrigo, Ninoy Aquino, Chino Roces, the others.
The sons of the soldiers by whose he had fought to liberate the Republic from the Japanese and then to save it from the communists, now padlocked the Free Press. Philippine Marines took on the role last taken up by Japanese imperial troops. Locsin was kept in detention in Fort Bonifacio, and given a choice.
He had written the response to the choice he was given a decade before: journalism without freedom was not journalism. Marcos, thinking he had in his hand all the aces, gave him the devil’s option: keep what you have, only publish.
Publish, under such circumstances? Never. He would not even deign to bid on Marcos’s hand. Very well then, if Locsin would not play his game, Marcos would take everything. And he did: a forced sale-confiscation. If Locsin would not publish the Free Press, the Marcos would take it away. The physical plant, the assets —they would go to a crony, for a song. The most modern printing plant in the country.
Locsin’s own son would recall what that crony told Marcos: it is better to kill him than take his life’s work away. But that was what Marcos was all about: he knew how to hit a man where it hurt.
Years of seclusion followed. The betrayal of his own people in the Free Press was nothing to the cavalier way his countrymen took the loss of their liberties. Locsin had done his part, his countrymen now had to do theirs. Few cared about the silencing of the Free Press -very well, he would be silent since anyway he could not be heard.
Years spent writing stories and poems—things dear to his heart, which had been set aside because there were more mundane but pressing things to attend to. Now, as in the first weeks of the war, he had time to be with his books, a respite from journalism in a hurry. Years in which to attend to his craft. Years of rest, though still of rage. The slave deserves slavery. But what man can abide slavery?
He took up his journalistic pen when his countrymen showed they were ready to break their chains. The Free Press returned; the byline of Teodoro M. Locsin was back. From him, however, flowed no words of congratulation, essays to encourage the smugness felt by those to whom democracy had been given back on a silver platter, for not a drop of blood had been shed except that of his friend, Ninoy Aquino.
Locsin was back, on his own terms, and with a mission still left to fulfill. He began where he had left off: it would be the same causes, the same warnings, the same criticism, the same lack of pity for the foolish and the same intolerance of crooks and tyrants, petty or big, fascist or left-leaning.
As for the Free Press, did he get it back? He had it for the asking from Mrs. Aquino. But that would have been the height of bad taste. In a sense he was in power, which he had never been: his son was in Malacañang. He chose to file a lawsuit to recover what had been taken from him only after Mrs. Aquino had stepped down. The result, thus far, has been predictably grim.
He was in the field again, fighting. Would his causes be defeated again? Would his words be again in vain? From 1985 to 1994, he would write and publish. But for what?
In 1986 he wrote, “Defeat it usually termed ignominious unless one fights to the end, against overwhelming odds, then it is called honorable. Thus, Spartan mothers told their sons setting forth to war to return with their shields or on them.
“But there is another kind of defeat, and it’s a rare one. Rare in history and most rare in political history, for politics seems to bring out only the worst, the meanest in men. It’s more than just honorable, it’s glorious, and that is defeat from self-denial: to lose when one might have won, out of a sense of high purpose.”
Was there such a thing as victory for a man who fought with words?
If in politics, which he keenly observed throughout his life, victory was only the pretext for a new round of corruption, did Locsin ever seek a victory? Or simply to state the case for right?
He wrote for hopeless causes -hopeless in that even the victory of his causes meant their distortion, their rhetorical triumph and substantive defeat. He would get an award for his singular championship of land reform from the man who buried it in a flood of rhetoric and empty promises —Ferdinand Marcos.
His words were the raging of the just, of the righteous. And yet if justice was finally achieved it had still to be maintained. The struggle would never end.
Teodoro M. Locsin as Sisyphus —condemned, not by the gods but his own heart —a heart that would not give up.
The enigma of a life. What is left but to find solace in a poem, his own, “Past Midnight”:
The music is ended
The hall is deserted
all the dancers are gone
Drink to the empty chairs.
He had called his column “The Uneasy Chair.” To the end, he was restless: he could not come to terms with the causes of his anger. And so, anger never left him. You could see it in his eyes.
He left behind his books, and the words he wrote. He left behind his anger, too —for others to feel. And having felt, perhaps to do as he did —fight.
80 years of the Free Press
After 80 years, the commitment to people and country lives on
Free Press, August 13, 1988
By Gigi Galang
FOR a publication that’s a byword in Philippine magazine publishing, the Philippines FREE PRESS ironically began life as a newspaper during the first decade of the American occupation of the Philippines. Its maiden issue came out on January 20, 1907 and contained both English and Spanish sections. Owned by Judge W. A. Kincaid and edited first by Percy Warner Tinan and then by Pat Gallagher, the first FREE PRESS was set up as an organ of the Moral Progress League, a group engaged in a crusade against vice in Manila.
The early venture proved to be a dismal failure. Unable to generate enough revenue, the paper, after only a year in circulation, stopped publication in 1908. Before the year was over, however, the FREE PRESS would experience a quick revival at the hands of a Scotsman and this time to stay and become an institution in the Philippine scene.
R. McCulloch Dick had worked on newspapers in the United States and Hong Kong before coming to the Philippines in 1900. Shortly after arriving in Manila, he found employment with the Manila Times, first as reporter and later as editor. It was during his eight year with the Times that Dick thought of reviving Kincaid’s Philippines FREE PRESS.
In 1908, Dick asked Martin Egan, then correspondent of Associated Press in Manila and managing editor of the Manila Times, to allow him to take the two-week vacation leave due him. He explained that he was going to sound out some businessmen on his idea of a new publication. Granted his leave, Dick set out on his project.
Of the 12 businessmen he approached to help bankroll the project, two came out in favor; three or four were lukewarm; the rest predicted doom. Despite lack of financial support, Dick went ahead and put his lifetime savings of P8,000 as capital for the venture.
Meanwhile, Kincaid had departed for the United States, but he had left behind a power of attorney with Charles A. McDonough. It did not take long for ownership of the defunct paper to change hands. With Kincaid’s approval, Dick paid the token amount of one peso for the newspaper’s list of subscriptions, name and goodwill.
A magazine for harmony
On August 29, 1908, a new Philippines FREE PRESS reappeared with Dick as reporter, editor and publisher rolled into one. Now in magazine format, the FREE PRESS was printed on 16 pages of cheap paper and newsprint. As before, it contained English and Spanish sections. The new edition was priced at five centavos per copy.
In the maiden issue of the new magazine, Dick spelled out the policy that his publication would adopt:
The FREE PRESS will be conducted as an independent journal. It’s chief aim will be to promote, in its humble way and in so far as it may, a friendly feeling between Filipinos and Americans think they are, and the Americans are much better than some Filipinos think they are. In any case it holds that more is to be gained by harmony and mutual forbearance than by suspicion, irritation and discord.
The new FREE PRESS offices were located at No. 44 Escolta, on the second floor of the same building which housed Manuel Pellicer, Manila Shirt Factory and Dry Goods Store, and another fledgling publication—the Daily Bulletin, which had offices and printing plant in the building. By arrangement with Daily Bulletin owner Carson Taylor, the FREE PRESS was printed by the Bulletin press.
Joining Dick on the staff were Don Alberto Campos who stood as first assistant and later editor of the Spanish section, Percy Warner Tinan who took charge of the advertising, and F. Theo Rogers who helped solicit ads and refused to be paid for his services. Rogers was later to become the magazine’s general manager.
Years of hardship
The early years were a struggle for the magazine. After just seven months of publication, Dick original investment had been exhausted and he was compelled to borrow P2,000 at 8 per cent interest per annum to continue publishing.
It was during this touch-and-go period for the FREE PRESS that dick displayed a strict sense of frugality. One of the off-cited accounts of his parsimony related to the time when the Spanish section editor left his light on overnight. When Dick discovered the deed the next morning, he called the electric company to find out how much it cost for a bulb to burn all night, then ordered the business department to deduct the amount from the Spanish editor’s salary.
After another six to seven months following the P2,000 loan, Dick had borrowed another P1,000 to keep the FREE PRESS going. The fresh capital infusion proved sufficient to sustain the project. Shortly after, the FREE PRESS began to turn a profit.
When the Bulletin transferred offices to the Cosmopolitan Building the FREE PRESS went along because of the printing services. The magazine continued to be printed on the Bulletin press until 1921 when the FREE PRESS finally erected its own building on Rizal Avenue and installed its own printing plant.
By 1925, with the publication doing good business and established as a regular reading fare, the FREE PRESS began publishing short stories, a new feature then in journalism. Not long after, it launched its annual short story contest.
In 1929, the P1,000 prize in the short story contest was won by Jose Garcia Villa for his story “Mir-i-nisa.” In 1936, the first prize was bagged by Manuel Arguilla for his “Epilogue to Reconciliation.”
The Free Press Staff
Aside from the handful of people who joined Dick in the early years of the FREE PRESS, the pre-war staff members of the magazine included composing room foreman Domingo Magsarili, writers Leon Guerrero, Frederic Marquardt, Leon Ty, Filemon Tutay, Juan Collas, Alfonso Torres, D.L. Francisco, Ramon Navas, Roberto Anselmo, Federico Calero, Jose Joven, Jose G, Reyes and Teodoro Locsin, Sr. Artist Esmeraldo Izon drew the satirical cartoons that appeared on the magazine’s first page.
By the time World War II broke out, the FREE PRESS had become the most popular weekly publication in English and Spanish. Before the conquering Japanese closed the magazine in 1941, FREE PRESS circulation had gone past 80,000 copies per week.
Besides the paper’s becoming a journalistic casualty during the Japanese occupation, both Dick and Rogers were incarcerated at Fort Bonifacio. There, the Japanese attempted but failed to destroy the formidable Dick who kept his sanity by lecturing on Shakespeare before his fellow prisoners.
After the liberation and on the eve of the restoration of Philippine independence in 1946, Dick resumed publication of the FREE PRESS. In its post-war issue which came out on February 23, 1946, Dick explained the reasons for resuming publication of the FREE PRESS in an editorial entitled, “A Word to our Readers”:
After four years of “Blackout,” the FREE PRESS resumes publication. It is not the old Free Press as our readers know it. But we trust they will make allowances. We had really intended to postpone publication to a “more convenient season,” when conditions would be normal, but demand became so insistent with so many people asking “When is the FREE PRESS coming out?” that we finally capitulated—whether wisely or not, time will show.
Besides Dick and Rogers, of the pre-war staff members of the FREE PRESS only the triumvirate of Locsin, Ty and Tutay, plus artist Izon and composing room foreman Magsarili remained. But the magazine was joined by new talents, among them writers Nick Joaquin and Napoleon Rama, Artist Gene Cabrera, and Robert Hendry who was associate editor from 1947 to 1955, and who was later succeeded by Dick Kennewick.
Locsin, aside from writing two or three feature articles each issue, wrote almost all the editorials and was for some time the short story editor. (Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. would join the editorial staff in the sixties when he was barely 20. Later, Supreme Court justices would candidly tell Locsin Senior that they preferred his son’s pieces to his.)
The nation’s premier magazine
The years following the liberation of the Philippines from Japan were exciting, eventful and glorious for the FREE PRESS. Shortly after its revival, it won more and more readers and advertisers. By the time it reached circulation of 100,000, the vigor that marked the FREE PRESS’ style of journalism had made it the most successful magazine venture in the country.
The FREE PRESS came to be known as the publication that explored every significant event and issue without regard for the influence of people involved. During the American administration of the country, the magazine vigorously campaigned for an early independence of the Philippines from the United States. It also did not waver in its expose of venalities even in the highest office of the government.
For the FREE PRESS, exposing graft and abuse of public office was nothing less than a crusade. The commitment brought unrivalled influence on public opinion. It was said that no public official could afford to overlook the publication.
Nor was recognition limited to just inside the country.
In its August 26, 1955 issue, the New York Times paid tribute to the influence of FREE PRESS on Philippine life:
“Philippine elders have laboriously learned to read English so they could spell out for themselves the printed words of the FREE PRESS.
There’s many an argument in the barrios, a long-time American resident of the Islands said recently, that is settled for good at exactly the moment when someone remarks, “Well, the FREE PRESS said…”
“One reason for is that readers write more than half of the FREE PRESS. Subscribers report on a gay village fiesta; on an energetic mayor who gives medical injections and legal advices, teaches the catechism class and ghost writes all the letters of the community; on the successful mechanization of a small farm; the problems of a little barrio where all the water has to be carried by a cart a distance of three miles; a wedding of tribespeople in Zamboanga; a community ruined by hot feelings over politics; the only Filipino woman in Congress.”
One more significant fact that might be pointed out—the FREE PRESS was a newsmagazine long before Hadden and Luce developed Time. To this may be added that the many exclusives, explosive and otherwise, written by Locsin, Ty and Tutay came from tips furnished by people who had complaints against the government, other people or articles printed in the magazine.
A touch of libel
Proof of the courage that made the FREE PRESS a standout in the industry were the many libel cases brought against Dick (for an editorial written by then staffer Teodoro Locsin) by former governor Eliseo Quirino. The court acquitted the accused with commendation for service to the cause of good government. Governor Quirino gave a lechonada for Dick and Locsin. There was also the libel case filed at the behest of then Senate President Manuel L. Quezon. Dick himself was once ordered deported by Governor General Francis Burton Harrison. The case even reached the Supreme Court of the United States. It was later dropped when Harrison left the Philippines and placed administration of the country in the hands of Vice-Governor General Charles Emmet Yeater.
In August 1958, during the celebration of the FREE PRESS’ 50th anniversary, Dick and Rogers were awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor by the Philippine government for their service to the cause of Philippine freedom. The same year, Dick received the Ramon Magsaysay award for literature and journalism.
On June 16, 1965, the FREE PRESS came out with a weekly Pilipino edition. Called the Philippine FREE PRESS Sa Wikang Pilipino, it had the same format and content as the original FREE PRESS. It reached a circulation of 40,000 quickly, largely the provincial school system which used it as reading material. Then it experimented with radical articles and “sexy” stories by avant garde writers. Circulation took a nose-dive. In December 1970, the Pilipino edition was closed; it was a flop.
The pioneer passes away
In September 1960, R. McCulloch Dick passed away. His death marked the end of his more than 50 years of influence on Philippine Journalism. At the time of his demise, Dick owned 99 percent of FREE PRESS stocks, which he bequeathed to Rogers and his own employees under certain conditions. The corporation eventually bought the stocks of Rogers who had returned to the United States and lost interest in the magazine. Rogers died in the United States in late 1963.
In the hands of Teodoro Locsin Sr. as publisher and editor, the FREE PRESS remained the fightingest publication in the country.
Twenty months before Marcos imposed martial law, the FREE PRESS painted the scenario of life under military rule:
With the courts and Congress reduced to impotence and the independent press shut up—with publishers who dare to disagree with Marcos placed under house arrest or in concentration camps where they would be joined sooner or later by outraged justices of the Supreme Court, senators and representatives who would not lick the boots of Marcos, as well as others who would not submit to tyranny—the nation would be polarized. The Philippines would be divided into Marcos collaborators and those who love liberty and are branded misguided elements (as during the Japanese Occupation) and declared enemies of the Marcos state.
Life under a regime of martial law or a Marcos military dictatorship would be little different from the life during the Japanese Occupation. How many would submit to it? And how would Marcos ever dare restore civil law? Would he dare to leave Malacañang? Would he not be compelled to declare himself President for life, that is, a dictator forever? And how long would forever be?
On September 21, 1972, martial law was declared. The following day, Marcos issued Letter of Instruction No. 1 ordering the Press and Defense Secretaries to “take over and control or cause the taking over and control of the mass media for the duration of the national emergency, or until otherwise ordered by the President or his duly designated representative.”
Newspapers and magazines, including the FREE PRESS, were closed down, Leading media men, including Manila Times’ Chino Roces and the FREE PRESS’ Teodoro Locsin and Napoleon Rama, were arrested and imprisoned—without charges.
With the government clampdown, the FREE PRESS ended its many years as the country’s premier weekly magazine. It was not until 1986, 14 years after it was closed down, that the FREE PRESS reappeared in the country.
The magazine came out shortly before the February 7, 1986 snap elections to join the candidate Corazon Aquino’s campaign for the presidency.
After the EDSA revolution and the accession of a new regime, the FREE PRESS was relaunched as a fortnightly publication. But if the frequency was altered, the commitment to good government and the public interest never wavered.
That commitment—from the very birth of the magazine in 1908 to the present—in a sense explains the return in August 1988 of the FREE PRESS as a weekly journal of news and opinion.
Eighty years now lie behind the FREE PRESS. Unless catastrophe once more descends on the Philippines, it is certain to complete its first century of publication and offer more years of service to the life of the Filipino nation.
August 13, 1988
By Teodoro M. Locsin
OF the dead we should speak only good, we are told, which makes it difficult—for how are people to tell whether we are doing only what is proper or telling the truth?
In the case of Mr. Dick, it is doubly difficult, for he distrusted praise, or, to be precise, he was wary of its insidious effect. He liked it, I suppose, as much as any man, but with this difference: he felt it was weakening; it made you pleased with yourself. When things are going well, he would say, that is the time to be worried. A most canny Scot!
And there is this further point: To praise a man with whom one was so closely associated is, somehow, to praise oneself, and as he would say, self-praise is no praise. Yet, I must say it, now or never, the earth having received its “honored guest.” He was the one great man I knew.
A difficult man to work with, for he demanded, it sometimes seemed, too much from you. You forgave him only because it was obvious that he demanded even more from himself. To see him in terrible pain with every movement an agony, still doing his work, day after day, year after year—it was impossible to find excuses for any failure to do the best you could.
“Do not grow old,” he would say, and, sometimes, when the pain was unbearable, he would cry: “Let me die.” But the next morning he would be at his desk as usual—though he had to be half-carried there—working for the FREE PRESS. He never spared himself. He would not be a burden; he must earn his keep! What was important to him was not how he felt, but the magazine, which had for him a kind of transcendent existence apart from the people who composed it.
He had the quality of disinterestedness that marks the man one could call great. His temper was explosive, but his anger was never spiteful; it was impersonal; he did not know hate. We nurse our wrath to keep it warm, as the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, would put it, but the anger of Mr. Dick, provoked by some mistake, did not last long. “I have a vile temper,” he would apologize. His anger could pierce like a sword, sharp and cold, but it left a clean wound; nothing festered. He was never mad at the man but the act.
He made of the public interest a kind of mystique, which he would have his magazine solely serve. The general good was his own particular creed, and he equated it with truth and justice. It seemed to him the mark of a noble man that he should concern himself not merely with his interest but with the interests of others. It is the peculiar purpose of the press, he thought, to seek out such a man and give him praise—and go after his vicious opposite.
A lot of people talk about serving the public interest these days, of course, but what made Mr. Dick different was the fact that he meant it. Tired expressions and mere common-places, which one would avoid because so many had made use of them to deceive, regained authority on his lips. Shopworn phrases seemed newly made; old saws turned into “modern instances” through the force of example and belief. He was what he said.
“What’s his racket?” one thinks when somebody speaks of the “general welfare” and the “common good.” But words were, to Mr. Dick, meant to express thought, not hide it. He pretended to nothing he was not. He would not even think of doing it. Having known him, it was an almost painful experience listening to some public figure invoke the public interest while promoting his own; you are embarrassed by the transparent attempt to impress, by the obvious lies.
“Damn it,” he said impatiently once to an acquaintance who was trying to convince him that he was not guilty when he quite plainly was, “Damn it, can’t you tell the truth?”
He was a measure for other men. In most of them one found something contemptible, something not quite straight. Though the years bent his body until he walked, or shuffled, with his face to the ground, nothing else in Mr. Dick bowed.
Let us honor if we can
The vertical man
Though we value none
But the horizontal one.
Because he meant what he said, Mr. Dick had a reality most people do not have. The outline of the man was sharp and clear, that of others shifty and vague. He had the definition of rectitude. The dishonest continually change shape. Thus, thieves, who convert what does not belong to them into their own, assuming the substance of others, take, in Dante’s vision of hell, reptilian forms, becoming lizards and snakes. But the honest do not change; they are always themselves.
Rectitude, it should be noted, is not the same as being righteous, which is repulsive. To be straight is not to be smug. Mr. Dick was the most humble of men as he was the most upright. And if he seemed the embodiment of the decorous and correct, he was also, when his work was done and dinner was waiting and the company good, the mellowest of human beings. A drink or two would set him reminiscing. (The iron grew soft in the warmth of a Martini.) The sentimentalist had the upper hand.
Let the record be set straight. Mr. Dick enjoyed a good drink. He never pretended he did not. For some 50 years he did not touch a drop—having promised his mother he would not, but with middle age he felt he could handle a cocktail as well as the next man. He drank in moderation, but the legend would have him totally abstemious. Advertising liquor, however, was something else, and the FREE PRESS gave up a small fortune each year of its life turning down liquor ads. It served to buttress its independence. Advertisers who would dictate to the paper were rendered impotent, for how could they really hurt the FREE PRESS? If it could turn down legitimate liquor advertisement, why should it “play ball” with them just to get their business? Mr. Dick made principle somehow work. This is not easy.
“Let your spear know no brother,” he would quote from an upstanding man in public affairs early in the century. If you must fight, fight for a cause—impartially. Not that he loved a fight, for its own sake. He would neither run away from nor be rushed into a fight. “Everybody loves a dogfight,” he would say, while he debated whether a battle was necessary. Fighting for the sake of fighting is silly!
A man fought for a cause; to fight for any other reason was to be not a fighter but a bruiser.
He loved a clean blow. Say it if you must, in the public interest. If in doubt, cut it out. Never insinuate.
When a writer allowed his political feelings to get the better of him and damned a president by calling a previous one “not a swine,” Mr. Dick was furious.
“Would you have said he was not a swine if you did not mean to suggest that the other was?”
He was, indeed, a man to reckon with. If, for your own purposes, you tried to get around him, you would find it was useless. Sooner or later, you would be confronted with the truth and have to face, after him—yourself.
He thought of you as a man, not as a subordinate, and if you acted as you should, there could be no issue between the two of you. Sometimes, when he seemed too demanding, you would ask yourself what his game was? What was behind that formidable front? In the end, you would realize he had no game at all. It is impossible to see through most men, to see through the virtuous show, to see the man himself. In the case of Mr. Dick, one could not see through him because he was all there right in front of you. He believed in being true to certain things, and that, perhaps, was what made him seem incredible. How could he possibly mean it? But he did.
He believed in fairness, and carried his belief to what may seem to others fantastic lengths. When he was already ailing, he had to make a long trip by car to face trial on a libel charge. There were three of us on the back seat: Mr. Dick, our lawyer, then Rep. Emmanuel Pelaez, and myself. I was in the middle, Mr. Pelaez at my left, Mr. Dick at my right. We started early in the morning. The congressman had the sun on his face but did not mind. Mr. Dick, however, did, and half-way between Manila and Baguio told the driver to stop the car.
“You have had the sun on you half the way,” he said to Mr. Pelaez, showing his watch. “Now it is my turn. It is not right that you should be inconvenienced all the way. I can’t allow it.”
“But Mr. Dick,” the congressman protested, “I don’t mind the sun at all.”
“I can’t have you as you are all the way from Manila. I would not feel right.”
“Mr. Dick, you are an older man, and not well…”
“Please, humor this old man then.”
And slowly, painfully, the change in places was effected half-way between Manila and Baguio.
When he was not hard at work, or exploding over some mistake, his manners could be courtly and elaborate. Praise did not come casually from him. A note of appreciation would be as carefully composed as an essay, with words stricken out for others more precisely to the point; you knew exactly for what you were being praised. (You also knew exactly what you were getting hell for.) There was nothing lax about the man.
One never presumed on anything with him.
“That’s not the way I do business!” he once said, and the man he said it to never forget it.
“Order is heaven’s first law,” he would say. And order would reign on the desk of the man the note was sent to.
He had no use for servility; it could not be trusted. He would tell his staff with relish the story of the Englishman who went to America to look for work and, having found a place in a factory, immediately asked: “Who’s the management here? Whoever it is, I’m against it!”
He had a difficult life. He would speak of the bitter poverty of his childhood and of his father’s untimely death, leaving his mother as the family’s sole support. (She was known, among an honest people, as “the honest widow Dick.”) He would recall the early days of FREE PRESS, how he had a table in the office for a bed. His only indulgence was a single bottle of soft-drink at the end of the week. (How he looked forward to it!) It was hard going, indeed.
And there were his clashes with the American authorities. An American captain, or something, challenge him once to a duel. (He liked Taft. “It was at a banquet when Taft, with clenched hand and a trembling voice, said: ‘The Philippines for the Filipinos!’ F. Theo. Rogers and I were for Philippine independence and when we entered a restaurant we would hear them say, ‘There go those sons of bitches Rogers and Dick!’”) He did not know, he would say, how the FREE PRESS would have survived without the unsolicited help of Mr. Rogers…
He was always talking of his association with Mr. Rogers—and Don Alejandro Roces, Sr., of the Manila Times. Last week, at the necrological services of Mr. Dick, Joaquin Roces said of his father’s friend:
“Time is too short for us to record here the early career of his plain-speaking magazine, which in the span of a few short years gained the position of monitor for the government and the nation. But the time is never too short to omit mention of R. McCulloch Dick, the uncompromising Scot who maintained the simple creed: ‘The people can never be wrong.’
“In the spirit of tolerance that he brought to his task, there was always room for the little man who sought justice—but there was not an inch of space for the powerful in the land, the tycoons of government, the men who sat in the seats of the mighty-whether they were Filipinos or Americans—if they were not on the people’s side.
“R. McCulloch Dick was not the most tolerant of men where his most cherished ideals were concerned. There was a sign on the door of the FREE PRESS editorial rooms: ‘No crooks or grafters need apply.’ It may have been invisible, but it was there.
“R. McCulloch Dick left for us a heritage. It is not a formula for making money fast; it is not a prescription for getting close to the powers in the government. Those who accept it will be accepting a burden to carry—the burden of the journalist’s duty to the people.
“And this is a burden, indeed…
“My late father used to tell this story: It appears that Mr. Dick, toward the end of the Harrison administration, noted that the Governor General had been absenting himself from his office altogether too much. He opened an editorial campaign that shook the rafters in Malacañan. The governor, using his vast powers, ordered the deportation of the fighting editor-publisher. When the latter’s personal friends—among them my father and others whose opinion Mr. Harrison respected—intervened, the deportation order was rescinded, and Mr. Dick remained to steer of course of the FREE PRESS for the next 42 years. And never, before or since those eventful days in 1918, has the FREE PRESS ever taken a backward step from the ideas of R. McCulloch Dick—’The people can do no wrong!’
“This, then was R. McCulloch Dick: the man who had so much to give, and who gave it all to the people. He gave not because he was forced to give, but because he loved the people so much that he could not conceived being in opposition to anything that could possibly benefit them.”
Mr. Dick got in trouble, too, of course, with the Filipino authorities. Only fear of public opinion stopped the Liberal administration from deporting him. (Many of those whom his paper had hit the hardest would say, even as they hit back, “I have nothing against Mr. Dick himself.” And last week, at the necrological services, the press secretary of President Garcia was there to pay Mr. Dick tribute: “When future generations of our people ask who Mr. R. McCulloch Dick was, let it be said that he was a friend—a true friend of the Filipino people!”) But enough of his battles with the authorities.
“His many unreported deeds of kindness and generosity earned for him the love of his poor and unlettered neighbors who looked up to him not only as a man who was ever ready to champion their rights but also as one who was always there to help them meet their most pressing needs,” said Jose R. Arcangel of the National Press Club at the necrological services. “It was a touching scene, indeed, at the mortuary where he lay, to see fisherfolk from Malabon render their simple but eloquent tribute to the man who had been unsparing in his benefactions to them.”
He did what he had to do “without fanfare.” The story is told that when a correspondent of the American magazine Time was going to publish about him, Mr. Dick pleaded with the man to leave him alone. “I will pay you not to write about me.” He hated publicity, raised hell with Don Alejandro Roces, Sr., when a picture of them together during a fishing trip appeared in Don Alejandro’s paper.
He was a fighter, but a shy one. He fought—but only for what he considered the people’s good. When he spoke of their plight, it was with an urgency that came from direct contact. He lived among them, among the poor—as those discovered who saw for the first time, at his burial, the house where Mr. Dick lived. The poor were all around him. How could he disregard their need?
Many of our nationalists speak of the Filipino people and their needs most passionately, yet live in a world completely apart, a world of privilege and wealth. What can these know of the people? Mr. Dick was with the Filipino people in life and death. He is buried in the cemetery of the town of Malabon, Rizal, across thousands of miles from his native Scotland and 87 years later he came to find his final rest there.
He stood by what he said, bearing witness to his words by his deeds. Sincerity and disinterestedness marked his life, and an unqualified devotion to an ideal of the press as a force for the general good. “The truth will set you free,” he would say, believing it. He would permit no compromise. “We are no hucksters,” he would say to his staff. Thinking of him, one thinks of “those who were truly great.” Surely he is of their number—
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun they traveled
A short while toward the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.
He lived long but never faltered in his journey toward the light and the air is vivid with his honor.
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.
“The bible of the Filipinos”
By Frederic S. Marquardt
Taken from his book, Before Bataan and After (1942)
THE Philippines Free Press was a brilliant example of man’s ability to adapt himself to the circumstances in which he finds himself. I’m sure there was no publication quite like it in the world.
The Free Press was published weekly, in a magazine format much like that of the Saturday Evening Post. It was basically a news magazine, and it had been in existence for fifteen years before Time evolved the present news-magazine technique of handling the news.
But the Free Press offered much more than résumé of the week’s news. Its political cartoons were probably the most powerful single force in Philippine journalism. These always appeared on the first page and were accompanied by an explanatory text, in something like the fashion that Arthur Brisbane used for his full-page editorials in the Hearst newspapers.
There was another page of editorials which everyone in the government, from the chief executive down to the village presidents, used to read closely. There was an illustrated short story, written usually by a Filipino, and a column of verse, partly contributed by Filipinos and partly taken from the work of the better-known American and English poets.
There were feature articles covering nearly everything in the Philippines and a lot of things outside of the islands. There were plenty of pictures from home and abroad, and there was a column of Philippine news from Washington written by a resident correspondent. For a while the Free Press also had its own correspondents in Tokyo and Paris. There was column of jokes and a letter-to-the-editor page and a pen-pals column. At one time or another nearly every type of feature that has appeared in any newspaper or magazine cropped out in the Free Press.
I don’t want to give the impression that the Free Press was a catchall. It was edited with care that would amaze many editors in the United States. But its primary purpose was to interest the readers, and anything that was interesting was likely to pop up between its covers.