Sunday, November 21, 2010

The little paper that roared

Editor's note: For 25 days, we will be telling stories about the Inquirer to mark the paper's 25th anniversary on Dec. 9, 2010. Some are littel stories but impacting oon how we cover unfolding events; some are mark-the-day stories that became talk-of-the-town types, others are turning point stories that have changed the landscape of history, still others, big or small, seize the heart and never let go. But whatever, the Inquirer will tell you the story.

First of the 25-day series
Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
MANILA, Philippines—And so it came to pass that the new kid on the block issued an announcement that sounded like a portent of things to come: “A new event is crying for our attention: possible snap elections. When and if that happens the Philippine Inquirer may respond with a snap daily. This new broadsheet size is in preparation for that eventuality” (Nov. 11-17, 1985).
The weekly tabloid-size Philippine Inquirer was born on Feb. 4, 1985, in response to a need to watch closely the Sandiganbayan trial of the 26 men accused in the assassination of former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on Aug. 21, 1983. With the trial over except for the verdict, the Inquirer prepared for a “snap eventuality.”

The women in charge: publisher and editor in chief Eugenia D. Apostol and editor Leticia J. Magsanoc.

On Dec. 9, 1985, a Monday, the Philippine Inquirer became the Philippine Daily Inquirer, ISSN 0116-0443, a broadsheet eager to participate in and report daily on the nation’s unfolding history.

That day, fair weather, with light and variable winds, prevailed in Metro Manila. Other parts of the country had fair weather with isolated rain showers.

The first banner headline: “Cory rebuffs Doy demands.” Above it, “I am against communism, says Cory.” Below the fold: “Marcos claims God ordered him to lead Filipinos.”

Above the masthead of the “unmade bed” (referring to how the paper’s layout looked) was the come-on: “A slogan? Help us write one and win a prize.”

Weeks later, “Balanced News, Fearless Views” was chosen from more than 27,000 entries. Proof that people out there were reading the Inquirer and eager to participate in its becoming.

Defining moments
But it was during the days ahead that the rhyming catch phrase would be put to the test. The Feb. 7, 1986, snap election that pitted Ferdinand Marcos against Cory Aquino and its aftermath became defining moments that would create a ground swell of protest and catalyze a powerful people power movement never seen before in the world. The Inquirer was in the midst of it all. But this is getting ahead of the story.
That February of 1986, the Inquirer continued to report on the fraudulent election and the protests in many parts of the country that began to shake the dictatorship in a major way. As the powerful Catholic Church hierarchy breathed down on Marcos and called down on him the wrath of God, it was clear that his days were numbered.

“FM next Duvalier-Cory” the Feb. 20 headline said. Marcos ignored the gathering storm.
In editorial after editorial, in its reports, the Inquirer exposed a regime that was falling apart and yet continued to show brute force.

The Inquirer prominently reported the slaying of former Antique governor and Cory supporter Evelio Javier after the snap election. It was like Ninoy’s assassination all over again, with the bloodied Javier looking like his slain idol at the then Manila International Airport.

The wide spectrum that was the protest movement was not wanting of martyrs, media persons among them.

Major unraveling

The Inquirer reported on governments taking Marcos to task for clinging to power by foul means. His regime was crumbling and his health was failing. Didn’t he see the end was near?

“15 nations snub FM/Won’t attend inaugural” the Feb. 21 headline of a banner story said. As the Inquirer editorial of Feb. 22 stressed, “When diplomats do this openly and in full view, then it is time for Mr. Marcos to consider the meaninglessness of his election victory and the prospects of his country’s being unwelcome in the family of nations while he leads it.”

That night of Feb. 22, the major unraveling began. Military officers and soldiers announced their breakaway from Marcos. A yellow throng of Cory supporters began to surround and protect these men who were once the protector of the enemy.

But Cory’s poll victory would not be jeopardized by this surprising turn of events.
And so the four-day (Feb. 22-25) bloodless People Power Revolution began. The Inquirer headlines were harbingers of more surprising things to come, announcing the beginning of the end.

“Officials quit gov’t” (Feb. 22). “Enrile, Ramos lead ‘revolt’ against FM” (Feb. 23). “I’ll never surrender-Enrile” (Feb. 24). “We won-Enrile; I’m in charge-FM” (Extra edition, Feb. 24). “Cory takes oath?” (Feb. 25), “Her Excellency, Cory!/Takes oath as 7th President” (Extra edition, Feb. 25).

Model for oppressed

The world watched things unfold, tantalized by the Filipinos’ unique way of claiming their freedom.

An Inquirer editorial described the phenomenon: “People all over the world then saw the unbelievable. Filipinos charging at giant tanks with Volkswagens. Nuns and priests meeting armored cars with rosaries and prayers. Little children giving grim soldiers flowers and urging them not to fight for Marcos. People linking arms and blocking tanks, daring them to crush their fellow Filipinos …

“It was a lesson in passive resistance that will be the model for all oppressed people of the world, and it was uniquely Filipino.”

The Inquirer’s part in People Power was not an accidental, incidental one. The people behind the Inquirer in its previous forms and incarnations, working in the shadows and in the light, had done groundwork that inexorably led up to a certain level of preparedness. They had long harkened to the sound of distant drums, and when the time came, they heeded the call to arms.

“It’s all over; Marcos flees!” the Inquirer headline (Feb. 26) screamed.

But not quite over. For the People Power child, this little newspaper that could, the work was not over. The next chapter of its long, colorful and meaningful life had really just begun.