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Improbable hero

By Juan Mercado
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:59:00 03/10/2010

Filed Under: Dictatorship, history, Media

?CHINO AND HIS TIME? IS A FORTHCOMING book that profiles a newspaper publisher who fought his most bruising battles when the Marcos dictatorship shut down his presses.

?Chino? is Joaquin P. Roces (1913-1988). Through professionalism and editorial independence, he built the Manila Times into the leading daily in the early 1970s, recalls Vergel Santos of BusinessWorld.

Chino was not yet 60 when his paper was shut down by the dictator. ?At the height of the fight, he would be an old man, committing all his remaining vigor to a cause greater than any other he had fought for.?

Santos focuses on the publisher who rose above threats he never sought. Thus, the glimpses one caught of Chino, in earlier books, are amplified.

Chino was the ?the kid in dirty shorts who doubled as air raid warden,? Armando J. Malay recalls in the biography, ?A Guardian of Memory.? Named Times publisher at 23, Chino became Malay?s boss.

Manila Chronicle?s Eugenio Lopez Jr. deferred to Roces? leadership, Raul Rodrigo writes in ?The Power and the Glory.? Both were imprisoned by Marcos. Both had their newspapers seized. After People Power restored liberties, both returned to journalism.

?Shortly after Edsa 1, was walking in Greenhills when Geny came by,? Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila recalls. ?He got down from his car and said: ?Chino and I are talking about reviving the Manila Chronicle. Would you like to run the paper???

?Yes, by all means,? Doronila replied. ?Because with Geny and Chino together, you cannot go wrong.?

?I was in charge of page one,? recalls Rodolfo T. Reyes who went on to ABS-CBN. ?Not even once in the 370 issues I handled did Chino ever suggest that I suppress or play down a story.?

?He never gave orders,? Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr. adds. ?You just had to sense his point? Yet, no one had any doubt that he was behind everything happening at the paper.?

That ranged from Benigno Aquino Jr. negotiating the surrender of Huk supremo Luis Taruc and now publisher Danny Gozo reporting on Ilocos politics and arson to helping the only woman copy editor on the Daily Mirror?s desk, 20-year-old Jullie Yap Daza. Most fondly called him ?Tatang.?

Chino didn?t speak much. When President Marcos casually mentioned plans to clamp on martial law, just as casually, Chino said he?d resist.

?All he wanted was to publish a good newspaper,? Santos recalls. In so doing, he provoked the dictatorship by ensuring that the paper performed ?its social role as watchdog on government.?

?Chino began his fight with perhaps no more than a vaguely compelling sense that something had to be done.? The wish galvanized into resolve as the ex-publisher stared at the bloodied remains of his former reporter, Benigno Aquino Jr.

Soon, he was a fixture at protests. He walked across five cities as marshal for the murdered Evelio Javier?s funeral. ?You saw the old man, left alone holding his ground, emerge from the tear gas.?

Family friends tried to protect him from reprisals. Chino was a ?simple-minded man who could be ignored,? they told the dictatorship.

Chino?s response was true to form. ?Simple-minded? True. I?m incapable of complicating things for myself.?

One who agreed was Ferdinand Marcos. Read his diaries. Following the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing, Marcos pinpointed Roces as key to the ?media distortion.? They ?hew to the communist line: Everything that Marcos does is wrong.?

It was Chino and Ateneo student Gerardo Esguerra who masterminded the peaceful 1978 ?Noise Barrage,? recalls activist leader Charlie Avila.

Chino understood what George Orwell, author of ?1984,? wrote: ?Every joke is a small nail in the coffin of dictators.? Like Jaime Cardinal Sin, he was a repository of the latest wisecracks against the regime.

While others dawdled, he launched the one-million signature campaign to convince a reluctant Corazon Aquino to contest the snap elections. ?Chino,? Cory phoned. ?Tama na ?yang kalokohan ninyo (Stop all that foolishness of yours).? Instead, he came back with over a million signatures. The rest, as the threadbare clich goes, is history.

?He was perfect for the signature campaign,? recalls Karen Tanada. ?He had moral power and no agenda. People just gravitated toward him, specially the unorganized.?

At 75, Chino lay dying from cancer. After risking life and limb in street battles, he was a hero dying an unheroic death. ?You can die and lose everything in one instant, say be run over crossing the street,? he?d quip. ?You have better chances in a street than alone.?

He refused to go to Stanford Cancer Center. He went home?to newspapers. ?The smell of paper and ink, at the three-hectare Capitol Publishing compound gave Chino and brother Ramon the perfect feel of home.?

?If victors of the 1986 drama show the slightest sign that we, too, adopt one standard for the wrongdoer who is poor, and another for the criminal who is rich, Filipinos will never forgive us,? Chino responded on being accorded the Legion of Honor.

?It hurt when he said it,? President Corazon Aquino said. ?Yet, if any man had the right to say it that was Chino.?

His response led to reviews by government.

Chino asked for Cardinal Sin to administer the last rites. Cory put into his hands the rosary that Sister Lucia of Fatima had sent at the beginning of her presidency.

?Will everything be all right?? Chino asked those around his deathbed. ?Yes, Tatang. Everything will be all right.?

He was ?spared the future,? Santos says.

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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