The best definition of news with a far-reaching social consequence is one offered by the American Press Institute: “Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed.”
It was by way of news, its absence of it, that dictator Ferdinand Marcos disempowered Filipino society after he declared martial law on September 23, 1972. I speak of first-hand experience. In our home, my father saw to it that newspapers were a daily fare in our upbringing. What we read about the nation’s state of affairs, the political peace or upheaval going on, was a topic commonly discussed on the dinner table.
Right after martial law was declared, the television went static blank. Newspapers disappeared. Some time later, they reappeared. The Manila Bulletin was renamed Bulletin Today. Two new dailies were born: the Philippine Daily Express and the Times Journal.
The late writer and economist Larry Henares tells the story of transformation of the Manila Bulletin and why the new name Bulletin Today wasn’t just mere makeover. His widely read blog Philippine Folio still exists in the web today and contains many important historical tidbits of his writing years.
“Marcos got 53.86% of Bulletin shares,” Henares resounds in one blog post. Remember that in the period immediately following the martial law declaration, the public was just beginning to be initiated to the reality that the Marcoses were becoming prosperous through ill-gotten means. But the absence of unfiltered news had also ingrained upon the public that taboo was tough on criticism against the Marcoses. Tyranny was beginning to take shape.
Here’s the story that Henares narrates, which we shall condense according to its relevant details on the Marcos family:
“MANILA DAILY BULLETIN was founded in 1900 by an American named Carlson Taylor. It published the shipping news and the arrivals and departures of prominent businessmen, and was given away free to the members of the American Chamber of Commerce. In 1957, Carlson Taylor decided to retire and return to the USA, and offered to sell the Bulletin to Hans Menzi, a manufacturer of paper products ad agricultural commodities.”
“In 1966, Bulletin had a daily circulation of 55,000, third to Manila Times (186,000) and Manila Chronicle (74,000). By 1972 before martial law, it had a circulation of 65,965 copies daily, second to Manila Times (144,127) . . .”
“When martial law was imposed on September 21, 1972, Marcos closed all newspapers except the Daily Express of his crony Roberto Benedicto. Despite the fact that Menzi served him as Presidential Aide, Marcos closed down the Bulletin for two months.”
“Marcos allowed it to resume publication only if it changed its name to Bulletin Today, and only if Menzi complied with a Marcos Presidential Decree limiting media ownership or interest of any individual or entity to not more than 20 percent of equity. The Marcos decree widely publicized later disappeared from official files.”
“As of December 31, 1972, the Menzi group owned 53.9% shares, Emilio Yap and US Automotive 26.8%, Zobel Group 14.9%, others 4.4%. Marcos demanded that the majority of the stock be turned over to his nominees: JY Campos, Cesar Zalamea, and Ramon Cojuangco of PLDT. Shortly afterwards the Bulletin stock had the Marcos group 55.3%. The Marcos nominees (Campos, Zalamea and Eduardo Cojuangco who replaced his cousin Ramon) never showed up at meetings and their shares were voted by Menzi who was designated by Marcos to run the Bulletin.”
“In 1983, Atty. Manuel Montecillo (representing Menzi) and Mr. Rolando Gapud (representing Marcos) organized HM Holdings and Management Inc., a holding company to which all shares of Menzi in all his companies and of Marcos’ nominees in Bulletin and Liwayway would be transferred.”
“General Menzi was quoted as having said to his Secretary-Treasurer Mariano Quimson: “He (President Marcos) knows I (Menzi) am sickly, and the children now want a part of the action.” It was reported that since he is unmarried and childless, his heir would be Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr.”
“Menzi, unmarried and childless, confided to associate Mariano Quimson that the Marcos children shall be his heirs.”
“Apparently, the holding company did not jell, because after Menzi died on January 14, 1985, Menzi’s executor appeared before the trustees of the Menzi Trust Fund, with a ‘Motion for the Confirmation of Sales of Shares of Stock,’ stating that the late Menzi sold 154,475 shares before his death to US Automotive Inc., owned and controlled by Emilio Yap.”
“Question: Was there a conspiracy to keep the government from sequestering the Marcos shares, and to put the Bulletin firmly in the control of Doctor Don Emilio Yap?”
In November 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the shares of Danding Cojuangco, Campos and Zalamea were ill-gotten wealth of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and belong to the government. However, the court ruled that the shares belonging to US Automotive and Yap were not ill-gotten.”
Former commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government Ruben Carranza poses a mystery question: “Are there still Marcos shares in the Bulletin that we were not able to retrieve?”
The question is valid because the mystery deepens. Only this month, the Bulletin came out with a banner headline that contradicts reality: “Heirs not liable for P203B estate tax – BIR.” Much to the shame of the Bulletin, it took a small community newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Gold Star Daily to fact check that Bulletin headline and found it to be fake: there was no such statement from any BIR tax expert to that effect.
We continue to navigate territories where unseen tentacles of the Marcos plunder appear to continue to operate. No wonder they want to reclaim power by sitting again in their Malacañang home.