‘Dissent’ at AP Manila bureau
In 1961, at the tender age of 20, fresh from college and unsure of myself, I joined the Associated Press (AP). Its office was in Santa Cruz, Manila, right beside its main subscriber, the Manila Times. I had been recommended by the columnist Carmen “Chitang” Guerrero Nakpil, my aunt, who had many contacts in the profession.
Thus I entered a hectic new world of printers, teletypes, yellow tapes spewed out by machines, world news in an instant, and a staffer (“catcher”) frantically taking down a story over the telephone from another newsman (“pitcher”) covering a news event outside.
The chief of bureau was Henry Hartzenbusch, and his assistant was Carl Zimmerman. Hartzenbusch was a German-American, and Zimmerman an American Jew. The employees snickered that maybe that was why they didn’t like each other (allegedly).
My job was to keep pace with the printer from New York churning out the news from around the world, ripping out each story, deciding which should go first, and feeding the tapes to the teletypist. The two bosses didn’t want me to be tied down to the desk; they were hot for me to go out and cover a story. But I sort of resisted the idea, and after a while they left me to my own devices.
The competition included Mike Marabut of Reuters, Ruben Alabastro of Agence France-Presse (AFP), and Vic Maliwanag — aggressive, a good reporter — of United Press International (UPI).
After Hartzenbusch came George McArthur, a charming bachelor and ladies’ man who cut a dashing figure at the Manila Overseas Press Club. McArthur saw some possibilities in me and gave me more assignments and beats to cover. He edited my copy, which he found “florid.”
Once I “pitched” him a story about students in front of the Manila Hotel riotously demonstrating against the Vietnam War, and against the presence of US President Lyndon B. Johnson here in town. “They’re chanting ‘Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today,’” I reported. McArthur chortled, “The leftist chant around the world.”
I was making progress as a reporter but McArthur decided to cover the Vietnam War and left. After him came Tony Escoda, and then John Nance.
By that time mass protests were building up against President Ferdinand Marcos. The New People’s Army was on the rise, and the Kabataang Makabayan was leading the demos. My head was filled with cries of injustice and capitalist exploitation, and in white heat I drafted a “Manifesto of Dissent” and called upon my officemates to rise, like the wretched of the earth, against the AP Establishment. This I mailed to AP headquarters in New York, where it created shock waves.
“[President] Nixon is visiting the Philippines in a few weeks and you are confronted by an insurrection,” the AP president thundered. “Is he a communist?”
“No,” Nance replied. “He just uses communist terminology.”
My mother was appalled by what I had done: “Que es este que has hecho? Tonterias!” (What have you done? Foolishness!) My aunt Chitang Nakpil, my mentor, disapproved of the emotional tone of the manifesto. “It should have been a cold demand,” she observed.
Poor Nance. He was a good man. He felt betrayed, felt that I had sabotaged his own plans to improve the lot of the employees. One by one he called them, and only one — Mariano Rogacion — stood by me. The rest said that I had acted on my own and that they would not join a threatened walkout.
There was no recourse for me but to quit the AP, after eight years.
Later, Tony Nieva, president of the National Press Club, praised me for what I had done. Word had gotten around and he informed me that things were now better at the AP. Salaries had been raised, and living conditions improved. And yet I still felt guilty. Perhaps there had been no need for the manifesto, after all; and if there were, it should have been written in a more mature style.
It was 1969; the First Quarter Storm was imminent. After leaving the AP, I joined the weekly magazine Graphic, edited by Luis (Morik) Mauricio, upon the recommendation of Tonypet Araneta, a cousin-in-law. And there I found my true calling as a magazine writer.
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Amadís Ma. Guerrero, 76, is a short-story writer and cultural-travel journalist who contributes regularly to the Lifestyle/Arts-Theater sections of the Inquirer.
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