#nowreading | How one tabloid pushed the envelope in reporting Ninoy Aquino’s assassination 30 years ago

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Cover of the Power and the Glory from the Lopez Museum.

From Chapter 8: Hope and History of the Power and the Glory: The Story of the Manila Chronicle 1945-1998 by Raul Rodrigo:

“The opening up of Philippine media really took off after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on August 21, 1983. The regime, panicked by the event, clamped down hard on all the mainstream media. At MBS-4 [a government station], Rod Reyes and Johnny Gatbonton tried to convince [Marcos information minister Gregorio] Cendaña to allow the broadcast crews to report the story without fear. At GMA-7, Tina Monzon-Palma also pressed higher-ups to allow impartial coverage. But Malacañang put its foot down: the media were to stick to the official line that Ninoy had been killed by Rolando Galman, a hit man sent by his alleged former allies in the Communist Party. The massive outpouring of public grief and rage that followed was to be ignored by broadcast and print media.

At the Daily Express, supposedly a staunchly loyal publication, some professional journalists tried to evade the regime’s dictum on coverage. Express subeditor Rolly Fernandez recalled: “When Ninoy was assassinated, we [at the Express] were stopped from coming out with an extra edition. It was already laid out, ready for camera. The headline was ‘Aquino shot’ in all caps. We had a photo of Aquino. Then Greg Cendaña called and talked to Dick Pascual, who was closing the paper that day. When Dick put down the phone, he started kicking things.”

The only element in the mainstream media that escaped Malacañang’s vigilance was the Journal Group. People’s Journal put out an extra edition about the assassination; Vergel Santos wrote the story. He recalled: “Some of the reporters were saying: ‘If you cannot put this story out, you might as well stop publishing the paper.’ Greg Cendaña called the paper. Gus Villanueva told me how it went. Cendaña said: ‘I hear you’re putting out an extra.’ Gus said: ‘But everybody is putting out an extra.’ ‘No, I called all the papers. No papers are putting out an extra. Only yours.’ Doing some quick thinking, Gus said, ‘But Greg, the paper has already run. In fact we have run about 90,000 or 100,000 copies.’ ‘Then stop it and stop circulation.’ Gus said: ‘No. The paper went out already.’ We had to doctor the press log to show that we had run the presses before the call came.””

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