|Subject: Manuel F. Almario
Date of Interview: December 7, 2000
Interviewers: Noreen Young and Nicholas Siy
YOUNG. Good afternoon Sir. I’m Noreen Young and I’m from La Salle. Sir, for the record could you state your name and present employment.
ALMARIO. Well, I am Manuel F. Almario. At present, the editor of the Philippine Graphic, a weekly magazine on politics, business, culture, society and everything else.
Q. So sir, could you please describe how you started as a journalist?
A. Well, I started as a journalist after graduating from high school, where I was the editor- in chief of the school paper. And the reason why I immediately started working is because my brother and I were studying college together. My brother was taking up medicine. My parents said they couldn’t afford to send two children simultaneouslyto college so I was forced to take a job as a reporter in the Philippines Herald which was then restarting publication.
Q. Did you have any influence why you became a newspaper journalist?
A. Well, perhaps my father, also a lawyer, knowing that I was interested in journalism recommended me. And it so happened that the owner of the newspaper was Senator Madrigal. His family was a client of my father which I was particularly close so we used this influence to get me in there. But I believe that it was really the right job for me because I really wanted to be a writer or a journalist. In high school, I told my teachers that I want to be a journalist and I like it that way. So, I was actually a working student. But in the Herald, I was very lucky to have the editor at that time, the managing editor, Jose Lansang, one of the best writers in English and Filipino, a respected journalist, editorial writer, essayist. He was a progressive in thinking. Before the war and during the war, he was really respected as a writer and journalist. Working under him, I learned a lot. The publisher of the Philippines Herald then was Modesto Farolan, who later became ambassador of the Philippines to Indonesia. And before that, the publisher of the Philippines Herald was Carlos P. Romulo. Before the war, as writer for the Herald, he won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for his series of articles about the Philippine-American war. Herald was a nationalist newspaper then because it was set up by President Quezon during the Commonwealth years to answer his critics, most of whom wrote against Philippine Independence.
Q. Sir, can you describe the physical facilities of the building. Where was it located?
A. The facilities were all right. Actually, when we started in the Herald, they had built this new building. During the war, the Herald was bombed by the Japanese so it was in ruins. But before they republished the newspaper, they built a new building now beside the Letran. That would be in Muralla in Intramuros. They built it especially for newspaper. It was a four story building and it had new presses at that time. And of course, the presses at that time compared to the present are rather not up-to-date. We were using the linotype machines.
Q. How about the ventilation? Was it air-conditioned?
A. No, it was not air-conditioned. There was no air conditioner. It was really then built for newspapers. The open space for the editorial, everybody can be seen except the editor who has his air-conditioned room.
Q. What about the working condition? How many hours did you work?
A. Working conditions, I think that the working salaries of the newsmen then could compared to the middle level professionals and compared to the present, although in absolute terms, the salaries might be small but compared to purchasing power, they had better purchasing power.
Q. How much per day?
A. The level was between or above that of the teacher or a lawyer who was starting. They started at P150. It was above the minimum wage. P150 a month, just above the minimum wage but we had an allowance of P60 for transportation. That’s about P210. Anyway, it sent me to school.
Q. You said you worked with…were you able to work with Carlos P. Romulo?
A. No, at that time he was already our United Nations ambassador. I only said that he was the first editor. When I came in, the editor then was Modesto Farolan. He was also a very respected intellectual.
Q. How was it working with him?
A. I did not really work with him closely but I worked with Joe Lansang, the managing editor. The editor in chief and publisher does not really have any contact with the writers. The managing editor has direct contact with the reporters and desk editors.
Q. So, when you entered the Philippines Herald, were you a cub reporter?
A. First, I was assigned to the desk, just running errands. I came in there and they started giving me a salary without working. Later on, they noticed me and said “Hey, why don’t you cover a beat.” So I covered the labor department and later on because they found out that I could write better than some of the reporters, they made me assistant desk editor and assistant provincial editor also. What I did was to receive phone calls from reporters. We wrote the stories and gave it to the desk. At that time as assistant provincial editor, I used to receive…our provincial correspondents sent their stories through telegrams and telephone. They go to the post office, send the telegrams or by the telephone and I rewrite them and give them to the desk. That is after I became a reporter of the labor beat. I also wrote a column in the provincial page of the newspaper.
Q. How long did you stay in their labor …?
A. About a year or two. In fact, one of the best stories I wrote was when I interviewed Saulo. He was then a member of the communist party but I did not know that. Alfredo B. Saulo was another prewar journalist and a labor leader. When I interviewed him, I did not know he was a member of the Politburo…Hukbalahap Political Bureau. After I interviewed him, he disappeared. And then it turned out that he joined Luis Taruc and the Lavas. You remember them, you know the Lavas – Jesus Lava, the head of the Communist Party of the Philippines which was the political arm of the Hukbalahap then, and his brother, Jose Lava. This was during the 1950s. The Hukbalahaps were fighting a guerilla war against the government of Quirino, then President Quirino. They almost took over the government. Later on, they were also in Manila. As a young reporter in Herald, I was very excited at that time when I thought that they were about to get into Manila. Anyway, after I interviewed him, Saulo disappeared but I had a very good story. Later on, he was captured. Now, I think he became a professor in the Ateneo but he died recently.
Q. What important lesson did you learn when you were in the labor beat?
A. Many important lessons. Actually I did not stay long there. Actually, in the labor beat, you get to cover the Department of Labor. And of course there are old politicians in the labor department and there was also corruption there.
Q. Sir, do you have any memorable editors?
A. At that time as a labor reporter?
Q. No. In you’re entire career as a journalist, do you have any memorable editors?
A. Actually in the Philippine News Service, I stayed 20 years there. Then I was studying in the college of law. But as an editor, I used to cover important events. And also as a writer for the Graphic, I made it a point to cover important events especially during the pre-martial law days, during the first quarter storm, the demonstrations. I used to cover those demonstrations and one time I was caught in a demonstration in Mendiola. After the siege of Malacanang, I and a group of reporters were caught in the crossfire between the military and the students. The most memorable time was when I was arrested when martial law was clamped down by Marcos and charged with subversion. I stayed more than 3 months in the Camp Crame detention camp with lots of other journalists, and politicians, assemblymen, governors, congressman, and mayors. When the uprising took place in Mindanao in 1972, many Muslim officials were detained along with us in Camp Crame. I had the occasion to talk with them, to mix socially with them. And then I found out about the mutual distrust and lack of understanding between the Muslims and the Christians. When we were in prison, we learned a lot of things there also. And of course, you know people get to do some heroic things and cowardly things but mostly heroism.
Q. Who were some of the people who were with you?
A. Amando Doronila, Luis Beltran, Bobby Ordonez, then a reporter for Philippines Herald. He was then head of the Herald Union. And because he was head of the Herald Union, he was arrested as a subversive. Maximo Soliven and a lot of many other journalists and politicians like Teofisto Guingona.
Q. What was life like inside the detention camp?
A. Well, they were some times when we were tense. Many of us thought that our life might be in danger like for instance the first time I came in. I was arrested in the middle of the night. It was actually a knock in the night because I hid for about 1 week. I used to come here (National Press Club) everyday but then one time when I was in the NPC bar, somebody told me that the military was looking for me here. So, I did not come here anymore but I went to other places like the Front Page Restaurant in front of the U.S. embassy. So, they were not able to arrest me for a week while some of my friends went there (to PC headquarters) directly, almost immediately. And then one night, they came knocking on my door in my house in Project 6. And so I have to go with them, 3 military police. Anyway when I woke up in the morning, I saw some of the familiar faces there. One of them was an old man. He was a leader of a government employees’ union. And he said if we were going to be shot, he wanted the first one to be shot. When I asked him why, he said because being an old man, he had few years more to live and if he was shot by the martial law forces, the authorities might be satiated and they won’t kill us anymore. There I saw some heroism.
Q. Who was that old man? Do you remember his name?
A. Ummm…he was well known. He’s dead already. I couldn’t remember him eh. Yeah, I forgot his name. Actually, he was a famous man but being dead for a long time, people tend to forget him. And then the most memorable of course was when we were taken to the Supreme Court for the hearing of our petition on habeas corpus. After a while, the president of the National Press Club, then Eddie Monteclaro, filed a petition of habeas corpus asking the government to release us. The petition for habeas corpus is a petition saying that the authorities of the court should produce the body of a person detained and explain why they are detaining him. The lawyer then of the National Press Club was Joker Arroyo. Joker was the lawyer also of the Philippine Press Institute. That is why he became our lawyer. Nene Pimentel was also a lawyer for one of the detainees, Ernesto Rondon, a former assemblyman, no, a former delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1972 and a radio commentator. We were all brought to the Supreme Court. And when we arrived there, we were given by the justices, I think it was the October of 1972, breakfast in the anteroom. The chief justice was Concepcion and one of the justices then invited us. But before we reached the anteroom, I heard somebody tell Joker that we were all withdrawing from our petition of habeas corpus. But then I told Joker that even if I was the only one left in that petition I am not going to withdraw my name from that petition because I’m not going to retract any of what I have written for or against the administration of Marcos. And I said that this is our time as journalist to stand up for what we have written and for what we are always saying that we stand for the constitution and the rights of the citizens. Well, I was able to convince one or two including Mr. Ernesto Rondon who did not withdraw, Bobby Ordonez and another one from the Chinese Commercial News. You know, the Chinese Commercial News, a Chinese newspaper, was the first paper that was closed even before martial law because it was suspected of being sympathetic to the red Chinese. Marcos closed down the newspaper and deported the publisher and the editor but the paper continued publishing and when martial law was declared, some of the writers of this Chinese newspaper were arrested. I was happy to see that one of them that was arrested did not withdraw as a result of which, the hearing on habeas corpus was continued by the Supreme Court. The chief justice was quite surprised why some of the newspapermen, most of them very vociferous in defending the rights and the freedom of the press during peaceful time, easy times, withdrew from the petition. But you know, you could not…They believe at that time there was no need to pursue the petition in court because according to them, it was already heard before and aside from that, they feared was that the government would continue to hold them in detention. But being a lawyer, I know that there is nothing wrong with a citizen invoking the law or the constitution for his right so the hearing was continued and I was pleased with myself that I’m able to stand up for the articles that I have written.
Q. Sir, do you remember what article you have wrote about Marcos which led to your being caught?
A. Yeah, they were many articles during and even before the Martial Law days. I was very critical then and being a young man…One time, my editor, Luis Mauricio was called to the palace. Marcos was very angry because he saw the article I have written about the Corrigedor massacre, the massacre of Muslims in Corregidor and he was very mad and he said that this was very libelous and he asked Mauricio who is the guy who wrote this and he said, “It was Almario, your kababayan from Ilocos.” And then after that I went to Malacanang, I was told by one of the press officers of Marcos that I was in the anti-Marcos list. Even before that, as editor of the PNS, I allowed the anti-Marcos elements especially the activists students to use our facilities, our wires to give out press releases to the newspapers because you know the Philippine News Service, PNS, was then the only Filipino news service at that time. It’s been closed and replaced by the Philippine News agency in this government.
Q. When was PNS closed down?
A. Because Marcos wanted to control all the media and it was a privately-owned news service. It was actually owned by the publishers of all the major newspapers so that the president and members of the board were rotated. The President of PNS then when Martial Law was Chino Roces of the Manila Times but we have as our members and the board of directors, the Lopezes of the Manila Chronicle, the publisher of the Philippines Herald, the Evening News, Daily Mirror and all the major newspaper. They actually owned the PNS. It was a pool which gathered news reports from the provinces. We had our office down here (National Press Club) in the second floor. The provincial correspondents sent their reports to the service and then we edited the, and sent them to the newspapers and radio. We were the only news service that covered the Philippines nationwide. Just like now, the Associated Press and the AFP that is for international news services. After Martial Law, no private news agency has ever been reestablished. I supposed that now the newspaper do not want to spend money on the provincial coverage. Most of them are losing eh. They can’t afford and at that time many of them, most of them are making money and they can afford to put up a pool, a news service that would serve their needs, especially provincial coverage and special events.
Q. Sir, what happened to the Philippines Herald?
A. It was closed also during the Martial Law. It was never reopened.
Q. So after Philippines News Service was closed down, what followed Philippine News Service?
A. Well, it so happened that my cousin became commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and because I needed a job, he took me in as information assistant. Then at the same time, I have some activist groups that were coming out with a underground newspaper.
Q. What was that newspaper?
A. I think it was Balita ng Bayan but in Tagalog. It circulated for a while and because some of my friends disappeared…. One friend in Herald was killed in an encounter in Isabela and another one disappeared after being detained by the authorities so we finally stop the publication.
Q. So after Philippine News Service, you worked at Manila Times?
A. Yes, after Marcos was deposed by the 1986 Edsa Revolution. In 1987, I think, I joined the Manila Times as a columnist.
Q. What was life after being detained in Camp Crame?
A. When we were being detained, as I told you, sometimes you were tense and sometimes you were a little bit happy because inside you had a lot of friends to talk with but you know it was also frustrating because some of those who were detained with you were afraid to discuss political matters and politics is always in my mind. It’s good I had a friend with me, Alejandro Lichauco, Ding Lichauco, our steel beds were beside each other. He was an economist, and ConCon delegate and also Carlos Padilla, former student activist and now congressman from Nueva Vizcaya. We had nice conversations and also some friends like Mr. Angel Baking and Sanny Rodriguez. They spent 20 years in prison as members of the Huk polit bureau and they were released shortly before Martial Law and when Martial Law was declared, they were again imprisoned. We were there together and we had a nice time talking with each other and actually, you don’t get bored with that kind of company.
Q. Were you ever tortured?
A. No. As I told you, there are two kinds of prisoner, the torturable and the non-torturable. The non-torturable are those that come from the upper classes of society like businessmen, politicians and journalists. They were afraid of journalists because journalists talk too much and they can write about their experiences so they didn’t torture us. Although, there was a time when Louie Beltran was taken out of the detention camp and later on was brought in and they said he was given some punches because it was found out that in his house they got some firearms but I was not able to verify this report. Yet one day, there were student activists who were brought in who had signs of torture. There was one student activist who told me that he nearly committed suicide in his detention cell because he was tortured and he was brought in with bandages all over his face. We had to feed him through the opening of the bandages in his mouth. Those were the torturable, the poor, the defenseless, those suspected of communists leadings and the armed struggle.
Q. So after the hearing you were released, right?
Q. What did you do after that?
A. I did some, what I always do, PR jobs for some personalities and also Mr Teodoro Valencia, a very well-known columnist at that time gave me a job ghostwriting for him. As a ghostwriter, I was forced to write pieces praising Marcos and Martial Law government. One time, Mr. Valencia told me, “O Almario, you seem like you were sleeping when you were writing this piece because it was a piece especially for Marcos. If there’s one thing that you should be when you’re a professional, you should write convincingly even if you do not believe in what you’re doing. ” Well, at the same time, I was helping my friends in the other side.
Q. Sir, since you’re an editor yourself..
Q. What’s your attitude toward deadlies?
Q. Yeah, grammars…
A. Deadlines are the most important thing in a newspaper. You know no matter how good a writer you are, if you don’t meet the deadline, you will be bullshitted by your editor and that’s also happening to me. Usually, I have some good writers but they don’t meet the deadline, I always get mad because you can’t delay the press. The moment you don’t meet the deadline, you are bothering a lot of people. You are bothering your editor, you’re bothering the typesetter, you’re bothering everybody who are waiting and a lot of people in the media get fired when they do not meet their deadline. You know deadline is like the 10 Commandments. You don’t beat it…ah you don’t ignore it unless of course you really have a big news to break……. (Side A ran out of tape)
A. By the way, what I said about Doroy, Doroy Valencia. I found out later that this friend of mine was helping a lot of poor people and even anti-Martial Law workers, anti-Martial Law activists. As a matter of fact, I just want to be put it in the record because as I told you I was a ghostwriter for Valencia but at the same time Ka Doroy and Sanny Rodriguez were helping the anti-Marcos activist in Pampanga They were very close associates and I know for a fact that at one time Valencia told me…complained to me that Ka Sanny was asking sometimes money for help of those downtrodden in Luzon. The two collaborated in the…because my friend Sonny was a producer of shows at the PICC. He died a very poor man. All the money he ever made, he gave over to the farmers, peasants and the anti-Marcos activist and he got a lot of money, he got money from Doroy and Doroy knew that. Although, he (Doroy) was a very, in fact seemed to be a partisan for Marcos, he was also fighting the rich oligarchs of Marcos.
Q. Sir, could you share some significant, important events you covered when you were a journalist?
A. Actually, there are many significant events I covered. While being editor of the PNS, I also covered events. I was contacted by a politician from Central Luzon to interview Commander Sumulong of the Huks. Well, Commander Sumulong at that time was the most notorious Huk commander. He took over after Taruc and Lavas surrendered. He was the mentor of Dante, Commander Dante. At the same time, the rich landowners of Pampanga complained that he was a bandit and an extortionist and actually, his real motivation, according to them, was to make money but not to promote movement that is supposed to defend the masses. He was a very controversial figure. Anyway, I was the only reporter I think who interviewed him in Central Luzon. I was able to bring his message through the media to the people and he said what his objectives were in fighting the government. Commander Sumulong was one of those arrested during the Martial Law and I saw him in Camp Crame when Martial Law was declared.
Q. What about during the Edsa Revolution?
A. The Edsa Revolution, I was then with the BIR. But you know even at that time, I was very active with these group of newspaper people and politicians. Just before Secretary of Defense Enrile defected, that very day I was having coffee with him at the Atrium in Makati and he did not tell that he was going to defect. But in the afternoon, I learned that he defected so during the four days of the Edsa Revolution, I was always in Edsa with the group.
Q. Now with the jueteng scandal?
A. Jueteng scan?
Q. Jueteng scandal?
A. What’s my opinion?
A. Well, as editor, I try to be very impartial. I try to give both sides because I believe that the work of a journalist is not just to give an opinion but also to give the facts, to give the readers the relevant facts on which the readers can form their opinion. You see, there are two kinds of journalistic practices. One is opinion and the other one is reportage. But in the case of opinion, I would insist that the opinions should be informed, informed opinion. It’s not just enough that you have an opinion that is why to be a columnist you must be discriminating because everybody has an opinion. The janitor has an opinion, the housewife has an opinion, the taxi driver has an opinion, even the sophomore college students have an opinion but the question is: Is the opinion informed? Is it based on facts? Is it intelligent? Is it reasonable? You see, so when you write for a newspaper as a columnist, an opinion, you must first harness your facts. In giving your opinion, base it on relevant matters and also cite the opinion of others. It’s not just opinion but in the case of reportage, you must give both sides. So in the Graphic, we don’t have editorials. I prefer that as an editor not to give so much opinion but to give the facts. Then, we have of course, opinion columnist but then as I said, I make a distinction between an informed opinion and an uninformed opinion.
Q. Sir, in conclusion, could you please describe the state of the press in our country? Has it flourished or has it been stuck in its position?
A. You know, when I started in journalist as an editor of the Philippines News Service even as a provincial editor of the Philippines Herald, we had many of the regular reporters who started as provincial correspondents, diba? Provincial correspondents. Doroy Valencia, Joe Guevarra, they were correspondents from Batangas and many of them started as high school. Few of them ever finished college, you see. Because in my case, when I joined the Philippine News Service, for instance, I was out of a job because two editions of the Herald had to close so they had to lay-off people and being the youngest they took me out. And then I had no job; I went to the manager of the Philippines News Service. The manager them was Baldomero Olivera. He was a writer and a reporter of the Associated Press. He was a graduate of a journalism school in the United States, an old journalist and during the time of President Qurino, he was the press secretary. He’s very well versed in journalism and I went to him and said, “Sir, I’m applying for a job as editor, as deskman.” And he said, “Ok!” And he referred me to the news editor and said, “You try this guy.” So what he did was to give me a contribution, report contribution from one of the correspondents who didn’t know how to write. He has all the facts but everything was jumbled so I had to write it the way it was supposed to be written. So when Olivera saw it, he said, “You’re hired!” But that’s the way they do it in newspapers. And then of course as an editor, I also get these kinds of reporters. But if they get the facts right and when the readers are informed, that’s the most important thing that we give a comprehensive, balanced reporting of public events to you readers. Now, what we have are mostly graduates from colleges, journalism schools. Well, in the Graphic, I prefer college graduates because they are better prepared. College education makes you a better writer and more qualified as a journalist. But my personal opinion is that, you know, I just came from a conference from Singapore. The conference of the Confederation of Asean Journalist and there was this journalist from Europe and also from Sri Lanka, Myanmar who said that in their countries, journalists do not come from journalism schools but come from other college courses, AB Political Science, Economics, etc. They don’t have schools of journalism and I think that a really good journalist must not really come from a journalism school but must have a wide background and must be a wide reader and have a keen interest in politics, beside economics, etc. He should be well rounded so that he is able to judge what is relevant to the public and explain the rather complicated things that are happening in the society. Writing is not taught. You learn more on the job than when you are in a classroom and you are told how to make a lead, etc., etc. When you go and write in journalism, you forget everything about that and that’s when you really learn how to write. Learning how to write is just a craft, what is important is what you learned. You can get it by reading.
Q. So, has the press improved?
A. Improved? Well, you know, old journalists say that the old journalists are better. Young journalists think that the young journalists are better. If you listen to old fogies here, which includes me, they say that journalists were better then. Well, there were a lot of giants of journalism then. Like Soliongco, Jose Reyes and even Ernesto Granada who was with me in the detention camp. Yes, Renato Constantino was a columnist. But at the same time, there are a lot of good journalists and columnists now. Well, I suppose that they balance each other although I would say that there were some really good old journalists that I really still admire. It’s very hard to make a judgment on how journalism has improved. Journalism is said to be a reflection of the society but let me tell you about my ideas on journalism. Journalism, to me, is not just a livelihood although it is that to many people. It’s a kind of work like clerking, being a stenographer in a courtroom, being a lawyer or a doctor. It’s a means of livelihood but it’s more than that. A journalist must promote change in society. You cannot just report things but you should report for the purpose of making changes for the better. And in my mind, the best groups of journalists were still those who worked for La Solidaridad. Jose Rizal, Lopez-Jaena, Del Pilar. Well, the newspaper was called propaganda but it was not propaganda. It was political, yes, but then the issue then was politics, independence, and nationalism and the abuses of the Spanish government. What we have now among the professors and those calling for objective journalism is that if you are a person who is political in your writings and you have some ideologies, you are not a journalist because you are not objective but of course, is there such a thing as objectivity? Were not Rizal, Lopez-Jaena, Del Pilar objective in denouncing Spanish abuses in wanting us to be free of Spanish rule and yet they call them propagandists. I think that ultimately, journalism to be really worthwhile and relevant has to work for change. Change in society, change in individual thinking, progressive thinking and clear thinking and work for freedom and justice system. But I don’t want to use these words because everybody uses them. They have different meanings to a lot of people.
Q. Sir, lastly, do you have any message for us aspiring journalist?
A. Well, as I said journalism is a lousy means of livelihood, a lousy way of making money to have a comfortable life. If you really want to be a good journalist, you have to have a mission in life. But I don’t think that you should also in these times want to live a life of poverty. You have to balance things out but journalism will not have its attractiveness if it’s only a means of livelihood. It’s attractions, excitement are gone if you don’t have some mission, some purpose to change life for the better.
YOUNG. In behalf of my partner Nicholas Siy, we thank you for your time for granting us this time to interview you.
A. Thank you very much
Atty. Manuel Almario was born on November 19, 1930 in Masbate, and studied at the Lyceum of the Philippines. He has worked for various newspapers since 1949 and, at the time of this interview, was editor of the Philippine Graphic.