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Like no other

/ 10:58 PM September 27, 2013

These days, Inquirer founding chair Eggie Apostol likes to spend her time quietly, at home with Carlos and Cora and her grandchildren, or visiting with her sisters and relatives every now and then. Of course she can’t resist a little ballroom dancing on occasion. But tomorrow won’t be like any other day because it is her birthday and she is like no other.

Eggie started her career in journalism writing in and editing home and lifestyle sections—assignments traditionally reserved for female journalists. Never mind that at that time, journalism was a male-dominated profession. She was happy to take on the work.

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Ferdinand Marcos’ rise to power through martial law, imposed in September 1972, irreversibly changed that dynamic. The rambunctious, contentious, sensationalizing press that Filipinos knew and loved was gone, replaced by broadsheets, radio programs and TV shows all delivering carefully crafted messages extolling Marcos’ “New Society.”

The young Eggie found herself out of a job. As luck would have it, her husband Peping just happened to be the builder most sought after by homeowners in exclusive subdivisions—and now the very powerful Juan Ponce Enrile wanted to have his new house built in one of these very expensive enclaves.

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Meanwhile, Eggie’s publisher-friends wanted to put up a lifestyle magazine because that seemed to be the only kind of publication that stood a chance of being approved by Kit Tatad’s Ministry of Information and Enrile’s Ministry of Defense. The obvious solution was to offer the editor’s job to Eggie, if she could be prevailed upon to intercede on their behalf.

After some editorial shakeups and concept changes, the light-hearted, full-color lifestyle magazine called Mr & Ms was born, with Eggie at the helm. And she even got Cristina Ponce Enrile and Manong Johnny himself to invest in it.

But martial law is a wraith that devours the warmth that freedom brings. And so it was with Mr & Ms. Eggie and her writers knew that the day would come when they would have to take a stand, albeit with impeccable taste and style.

In a PCIJ podcast interview by the late Pinoy Times editor-in-chief Chit Estella, Eggie recounts that, infuriated by the Marcos media’s embargo on Ninoy Aquino’s funeral march, she made a fateful decision.

“How can they not do it? A huge event like this and it was disregarded completely by the Marcos press. I met the staff and said, ‘Tomorrow let’s have a funeral issue.’ [Then] I went to Letty [Jimenez Magsanoc] who was then jobless because she had been fired by Marcos for having said something favorable about Ninoy in Panorama, the Sunday magazine of the Bulletin. I told her, ‘Letty, you have to come and help me come out with a weekly special edition of Mr & Ms.’”

Eggie recalls that in 1985, “we came out with a weekly Philippine Inquirer to monitor the trial of Fabian Ver and the 26 coaccused [in the murder of Ninoy Aquino. I thought that] we also have to do a historical document of this.  Si Letty rin ang nag-edit noon.”

When the trial was over, Eggie wanted to close down the weekly Inquirer but then Marcos announced a “snap” election. “Kawawa naman ang opposition. … Marcos had the Bulletin and the Journal and the Express, and the opposition only had Malaya. Maybe we should have a daily newspaper also.”

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But Eggie’s publisher-friends didn’t think it was a good idea.

Eggie forged ahead, anyway. Driven by the idea of cooperative ownership, she, the Mr & Ms staff, and other journalists launched the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Dec. 5, 1985. “It was up to us. We just had to do it by ourselves,” she recalls.

Eggie knew that the enterprise could fail but for her, there was no turning back. “I did not know what was going to happen to us, really. Since I had been able to feel the beauty of having the Mr & Ms special edition being very successful, I thought, why can’t we risk some more?” she says.

Looking back, Eggie laments that the luster of Edsa 1986 has been tarnished and that many young people today think that the Marcos dictatorship was a good thing. That is why her Eggie Apostol Foundation advocates the “Education Revolution,” a community-driven initiative to uplift basic education standards for the languages, the arts, science, math, and most especially, history and civics.

“We have to make our education system more meaningful so that it will make our citizens more conscious of their responsibilities. We learned some very good lessons but at the same time we did not apply them. Corruption is still there. Politicians themselves have to become different, and we should choose better people to govern us,” Eggie says.

To this day Eggie stands firm: “The media should always have the freedom they have now. Whether they use it or not is really up to them. The Philippine Daily Inquirer may not be a perfect newspaper, but it is the best because it has made use of that freedom in a very responsible way.”

Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation and the education lead for talent development at the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines.

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