Letters to the editor
The International Herald Tribune has a small section in its editorial page where old news, which saw print around half a century or a century ago, are reprinted for their entertainment value or contemporary relevance. Going through old newspapers teaches us that the recent past is not so foreign a country as some people would like to believe—because human nature, across time and cultures, has remained basically unchanged in the past 2,000 years.
When my students write about the newspaper on the day they were born, they often marvel that many of the situations we complain about today were already there two decades ago, and that some political personalities from the past like Juan Ponce Enrile are still around, seemingly immortal.
The idea—to make old news speak to the present—is not new. In the Philippines, the late Raul Ingles used to write a daily newspaper column, “50 Years with the Times.” For this, he drew from the archives of The Manila Times stories that appeared 50 years before, yet remaining timely or, at least, amusing. I noticed that The Manila Times now prints on its front page old stories or information to literally give the reader a so-called “Blast from the Past”—or in more contemporary social media terms, “Throwback Thursday.”
Someone can do that for the Inquirer. After all, this broad sheet has been around for the past three decades.
While filing clippings of my column as far back as 1990, I looked at the back of the columns page, and reading the letters to the editor made me smile. Py Hawson from Caloocan, for example, called the Inquirer out for an advertisement on Czechoslovakia “that [was] an embarrassing display of ignorance of recent world events.” He patiently explained that what was once Czechoslovakia had been divided into the Czech and Slovak Republics. The curt reply at the end of his letter read: “The editors are not responsible for errors in advertisements—Ed.”
Oliver Cathina from Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, sent a suggestion that would keep the price of the Inquirer at P5. “He suggested that the provincial editions, with the exception of Cebu, be sent without the Lifestyle section.
He explained that if the Lifestyle section was printed in enough number to supply Metro Manila and Cebu, the savings on paper and printing costs will keep the price of the Inquirer down somewhere around P5. He added: “We readers who are poor are not interested in the lavish or extravagant display of wealth (?) or firing-squad photos… we who are poor can afford to pay only P5 while the rich readers can afford the additional P10.”
There were many suggestions on how to deal with traffic which was then already starting to rear its ugly head. And failing to address the problem, we have now turned Edsa into an occasional parking lot.
There was a consistent letter writer named Paul Mortel whose byline I saw long ago when I was writing for the Marcos-era Daily Express. I continued to see his byline in the Inquirer Letters page. He had a lot of suggestions on how to improve traffic, like removing or reducing the islands on main thoroughfares.
His suggestions were not as drastic as that of Ven Jo Tesoro of Davao who wrote: “Traffic in Metro Manila is a monstrosity, yet it can be licked. A pilot experiment done in Davao City may make a difference if applied in Metro Manila. The formula is simple and less incomprehensible. Declare all Metro Manila main thoroughfares one way.”
His plan would drastically reduce private vehicles on the road and keep Edsa traffic flowing. Those who only needed to go a short distance were advised to park their cars and take public transport, instead of having to go all the way to the northern end of Edsa in Balintawak to return to their respective points of origin. “Commercial districts will have to be content with one-direction commuters. This means that, with all the pressure from the business sector, if the political will is strong (assuming it is there), traffic is merely a petty problem (and not a national one) after all.”
These old letters to the editor were very engaging, not because history is repeating itself, but because we are repeating history. The task of history and historians is to liberate ourselves from the past.
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