POSTSCRIPT / August 21, 2012 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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On this day, Ninoy comes to life again

YELLOW RIBBONS: Where were you when opposition leader Ninoy Aquino was murdered 29 years ago today while in the custody of uniformed agents of the Marcos military apparatus upon his arrival at the Manila international airport?

This has been a question that friends ask one another as we recall that Sunday when the sky darkened and fell on the oppressed Filipino people.

It was Aug. 21, 1983. I was in our old house in Pasay cleaning the car when the radio said Ninoy had just been shot upon his arrival from Taipei, back from a three-year exile in the United States.

The welcoming yellow ribbons tied around lamp posts, fences and tree branches suddenly seemed to grow limp and ashen. I wanted to talk to Ninoy’s sister Lupita, but did not know where she was.

* * *

‘EXPRESS’ EXTRA: The worst possible scenario of Ninoy’s having been dead on the spot flashed in my mind, knowing the master shot at the back of the head that government assassins had been employing with a 100-percent success rate.

Slipping on my shoes, I rushed to our Daily Express office at 371 Bonifacio Drive, Port Area, Manila. As assistant managing editor, my main chore was putting together the front page.

My mind was riveted to dashing out a four-page EXTRA edition on Ninoy having been shot upon his return to his native land.

Before leaving, I got a call from our business editor Ernie Tolentino, who went to work before noon, that he heard the news on his car radio on his way to the office.

I asked him to gather the day’s latest page pasteups (this was before the advent of electronic page composition) and start processing the wire reports. He knew what to do.

* * *

CENDANA CALL: Ernie edited the reports, gave instructions to typesetting and the pasteup team led with Jun Flores, the fastest pasteup/stripping artist in the trade.

By 2 p.m., we had completed the signature of four pages when I got a call from then Information Minister Greg Cendaña, a dear friend and media colleague at the Palace.

Greg inquired if it was true we were putting together an Extra.

“Yes, we are,” I replied. “Haven’t you heard? Ninoy has been shot at the airport at baka patay na siya!

He said “Yes,” but told me not to go ahead. He said running an Extra might just alarm the people.

I argued that even without our Extra, of which I planned to have just 20,000 copies printed, people here and abroad would have surely heard of the big news anyway.

* * *

ON OUR TOES: Our target was to have it out in the street by 4 p.m. News dealers were already at Circulation waiting to grab their bundles of the prized Daily Express Extra.

We were arguing over the point of going ahead with the Extra when Greg said, “O sige, kung ayaw mo!” and banged the phone. Poor Greg must have been under severe stress.

We would normally not make money on an Extra edition. The professional point is actually to show readers and the general public, as well as the staff, that we are perpetually on our toes and can react fast to any developing news.

* * *

TURNING POINT: What I did not know was that after Greg failed to convince me to stop the Extra, he called up our bosses, prompting one of them to rush to the office and scuttle the entire operation.

To say that the abortion was a big letdown to the motivated staff is an understatement. I felt right then that that single event was a turning point for a number of professional journalists laboring in the Marcos-controlled media.

It was ironic, but the People’s Tonite tabloid, then under the stewardship of presidential brother-in-law Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez put out an Extra on Ninoy seemingly without much problem or interference from Malacañang.

* * *

FAREWELL TO FILMS: The next day, our airport correspondent Maning Silva reported to the desk and turned over his photographs – and his rolls of film.

Although there were efforts to bar photographers from any vantage for taking shots of the tarmac where Ninoy lay bleeding, Maning and a few other newsmen who knew their way around and enjoyed extraordinary access were able to get good shots.

Eto,” Maning said, turning over his materials, “Kayo nang bahala rito.” He then walked away, but I could sense how he felt. Years later, we talked about it, and I was able to confirm my reading.

Later in the day, Jolly Riofrir, a photographer identified with Malacañang (I am not sure now in what capacity), came over and gathered the films. And I can only guess what happened to them.

* * *

PERSONAL NOTES: Brooding over the aborted Extra, I recalled one of Ninoy’s notes smuggled earlier to me about his decision to finally come home.

He remarked lightly, among other things, that he would now be able to pay his “utang” to my twin sons — Peter and Paul — who are his godsons. We were all looking forward to his homecoming.

That Ninoy was my kumpadre was one of my closely guarded secrets at the time, considering my holding a responsible position in a paper owned by Marcos crony Roberto S. Benedicto.

It was Pocholo Romuelez, Express chief editor, who brought me in and inflicted me on Philippine journalism. I would say that 60 percent of what I know in the trade, I learned from Pocholo, acknowledged in the business as the editor’s editor.

Courier of those little folded notes to and from Ninoy was our common friend Bren Z. Guiao, father of Pampanga Vice Gov. Yeng Guiao. More details of Bren’s risky liaison job are found in my Postscripts of Oct. 6, 2011, Nov. 9, 2010, and Aug. 2, 2009. Go to manilamail.com. On the homepage, click Search, enter “Bren” and those issues will be among the files listed.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 21, 2012)

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