HOLY Week gave me time to reflect on my past, what I did or did not do.
At my age of 88 years, I live on my memories. And I thank God for having been a product of the war and having lived through it.
The most memorable years of my life were my years in journalism even though I went to college to become a lawyer and eventually passed the bar in 1954.
Being in the industry for the past 66 years, I have seen history in the making. At times, I was part of it. I walked through the corridors of power, knowing, and sometimes becoming friends with, presidents. Indeed I have seen the best and worst of them.
When I was hired by no less than the late Don Vicente Madrigal way back in 1955 to become the business editor of the defunct Philippines Herald, it was partly luck, but I would say it is a blessing. When I reported to the late Felix Gonzalez, who then was called "judge" upon orders of Don Vicente Madrigal, he asked me where I studied. When I told him I was an Atenean and a lawyer, he said, "I hate Ateneans," but added, "that's your desk there since the former business editor is on leave taking the Bar to become a lawyer."
When I was introduced to the staff and editors as the new business editor, Teodoro Valencia, or "Ka Doroy" as he was commonly called, approached my desk and told me that as of the next day, I would be covering the Central Bank and Department of Finance. Ka Doroy at that time had his daily column "Over a Cup of Coffee," which was widely read and respected.
In fact, I was told that if I needed financial help, I should see Ka Doroy. No wonder every payday, there were always two lines of newsmen at his table: Borrowing money from him, and paying him back.
Santa Banana, believe it or not, for six months I was only getting P120 a month since I was new. When I became part of the regular staff, I got P750. I'm still wondering how my wife and I survived with that measly pay.
As a business editor, and covering the Central Bank under then-Governor Miguel Cuaderno, I had the opportunity to meet businessmen, CEOs and chairmen of the board, because I was a dutiful business editor. I had exclusive stories not only for the business pages but for the front page.
At times, I also covered MalacaAang and the Department of Foreign Affairs when my colleagues Nestor Mata and Oscar Villadolid were out. That's why I personally knew the late President Ramon Magsaysay and Carlos P. Romulo.
The Central Bank was an interesting beat because of import control. It was a time when businessmen fell in line at the Office of the late Virgie Yaptinchay, Central Bank Import Department director, for that much-needed quota allocation. Having the privilege of going in and out of Ms. Yaptinchay's office unannounced as the Herald business editor, I recall introducing some businessmen to Virgie ahead of others. Many of them had since become billionaires.
That was the time when I had a scoop of three Monetary Board members taking advantage of their office to secure quota allocations for their businesses, and even played the stock market, something Monetary Board members should never do.
That exclusive I got for the Herald led to an episode of my life I can never forget. One evening, as I was getting down the stairs from my office at the second floor of the Herald and passed through the front beside our security guard, two burly men poked guns on both sides of my stomach, and told me to board a black car. Yes, it was just like what happens in movies about gangsters.
I was taken to the old Hotel Filipinas, to the top floor when I was made to enter a suite.
Seated at the sala of the suite was a fat man smoking a cigar, who said in the vernacular: "You are still a young man, and I would hate it if something happened to you. My friend (mentioning the name of one of the three Monetary Board members I exposed as guilty of graft and corruption) does not know it, but I would just like you write his side."
"Sure, gladly," I said.
"Just wait here," said the man I recognized to be a mobster from South of Manila, who was one time accused of killing somebody on DasmariAas Street.
The man then left, instructing one of his men to stay inside the suite and me to wait for a press statement of his friend whom I had exposed. After eating pancit canton which was ordered for me, I was advised by the guard to get some sleep. That was already one o'clock the next morning. I tried but I could not because I was so worried about my wife, who must have been so worried about me.
At six a.m. there was a knock at the door. Somebody had an envelope for me. When I opened the envelope, it was a press statement from the Monetary Board member I had exposed. When I was released from custody, I immediately went home and explained everything to my wife, who was indeed so worried. I then called up my brother Willie, who told me to wait for him. When Willie arrived, he told me we would go to MalacaAang and see President Magsaysay. My brother said he was expecting us.
When we arrived at the Palace, a guard took us to the quarters of President Magsaysay, who then asked if I knew people who I thought should take over from the three. I was stunned but, I managed to blurt out three names-Jaime Velasquez, UP Dean Vicente Cinco and Agriculture Undersecretary Amando Dalisay. "Done," the President said, and called his secretary to have those three names immediately appointed to the Monetary Board.
After coffee, the President ushered me to his bedroom and opened one of his side drawers where a Smith Wesson .38 caliber with "PRM" was inscribed. "This is for you," he said and added that somebody would have it licensed under my name. The President also said that I would need security protection for myself and my family.
The following day, a Palace security guard came to our house and one was assigned to me, my wife, and one for each of my children. Having somebody always following me day and night was something new to me. It was worse for my wife, who had to be accompanied even to the bathroom by her guard.
And, my gulay, we had to feed them and give them tips. Those were the longest days and nights of my wife. Our security lasted for over a year after President Magsaysay died when his plane from Cebu crashed.
That was part of my life as a journalist I'll never forget. But I was glad it happened because I proved to the Herald editors that I was worthy of their choice as a business editor.
Another expose I made was in connection with import quota allocations. It was when the late Gregorio Licaros picked me up at home so we could inspect businesses and factories that were supposed to have used their quota allocations for imports, but never did. They used them for other purposes.
I knew that was a very dangerous game we were playing, but we did it just the same. That earned Licaros a lot of praise from the press.
Licaros later on became chairman of the Development Bank of the Philippines and governor of the Central Bank, a position he deserved.
That was "RM"-a man of action who listens to the people.
The critics of President Magsaysay accused him of being pro-American. In a way he was, since he needed the help of the Central Intelligence Agency and the US State Department to counter the rise of communism from China with the help of the Hukbalahaps or Huks, whose leaders were being infiltrated by Chairman Mao Tse Tung's type of communism. RM proved himself ready for the task when as defense secretary during the Elpidio Quirino administration, he led the fight against the Huks. That earned him the support of the people, enough to be president in 1955.
It was a sad day for the Philippines when RM died in a plane crash in 1957. He was indeed a man of the masses and a very popular president.
In Part 2 of my series, I'll write about my television and radio days, and the many scandals in connection with the grant of import quotas and reparations by Japan to the Philippines.