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‘Under the Bridge’

/ 04:07 AM November 01, 2021

A few weeks ago, I received by special delivery a book written by someone I had heard of in the past but had never met. During the martial law years, his name would come up from time to time as the byline of some of the finest reporting on economic and business issues affecting the nation. Later on, he would serve as executive director of the Philippine International Trading Corporation. Perhaps, it was here that our paths may have crossed since my work at Customs involved assisting in the development of counter-trade and offsets, along with trade balancing mechanisms in dealing with developing countries, including those belonging to the Socialist bloc.

“Under the Bridge” is the story of Miguel Zoleta Patolot, a distinguished journalist who was one of the pioneers in the establishment of BusinessDay, the first business daily in Southeast Asia founded by Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism Raul Locsin. Mike was fresh from college when he became a member of BusinessDay Class of 1967 and his 15 years with the paper would be an endless process of “rewrites,” leading on to a culture of excellence and perfection in his work of reporting on notable economic developments of the day. Not knowing Mike Patolot personally, perhaps I can offer the reader some of the more interesting vignettes that mark his memoirs and provide us a rich glimpse of the martial law years through the eyes of a business journalist. Many of the more important economic issues of the period are discussed, including how some of the current business empires came into being during a period of great instability that required uncommon vision combined with unwavering patience and perseverance in the face of enormous difficulties.

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As Mike puts it, “Notwithstanding martial law, business captains like John Gokongwei, Lucio Tan, Henry Sy, Enrique Zobel, among others, continued to grow their respective businesses, finding gold nuggets under the martial law regime. Politically, no one fought against the tide but rode the tide and in the process, gained dominance in key Philippine industry sectors such as petro-chemicals, beer, spirits and beverage, banking, real estate, transport, among others, when the martial law curtain was pulled down.” In the case of Lucio Tan and Henry Sy, both set up new ventures that others believed could have been planned much earlier before martial law. For Lucio Tan, it was a difficult struggle through the Board of Investments to break the beer monopoly of San Miguel and going into liquor and cigarettes. Henry Sy saw opportunities in mall-based marketing, providing a base for entering into consumer-led banking services. Only Henry Sy could have put up SM North in those years.

On John Gokongwei, Mike says “Big John will not admit it but martial law was his finest hour. He picked up many strategic real estate pieces and joint ventures that allowed him to enter agri-business, telecommunications, food and beverage, cyberspace industries, tourism-related businesses, among others, fully funded. He acquired the Ateneo Padre Faura compound, with great satisfaction.”

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As one of the leaders of the Philippine Association of Publishers, Raul Locsin believed in standardizing the salaries of news reporters, not only because it was the right thing to do but also because this would be one way of discouraging corruption in news reporting. Over beer and wine, Locsin asked for the views of Gen. Hans Menzi, the Bulletin publisher. His reply: “Why do you have to increase their salaries? Don’t you see these reporters could be richer than both of us? Can you afford five-star food everyday, stay in the best places, even have the best cars?” Menzi added, “One can see the best cars parked in Bulletin and these belong to our reporters.” Their salaries would seem to be just tips, compared to what they got in the marketplace, summed up Menzi’s conversation with Raul. Mike writes that compared to Menzi, Raul’s advocacy was to ensure that Filipino journalists retained their dignity and respect, that journalists be allowed to perform their function in society unhampered.

A close colleague of Mike, Romeo Pajarillo, sets the hallmarks of the Patolot brand of journalism: credibility, fairness, easy reading, and thoroughness. One must get hold of “Under the Bridge” if you wish to prepare for another era of change that the coming elections may bring about in the years ahead. I guarantee it will be worth your while.

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TAGS: BusinessDay pioneer, Miguel Zoleta Patolot, Ramon J. Farolan, Reveille, Under the Bridge
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