IT’S about time someone wrote a biography of Joaquin “Chino” P. Roces, the late publisher of the Manila Times.
After all, beyond the small circle of older Filipino journalists who worked with him, very few people remember, let alone recognize who he was, why he went to jail, and what he has done for this country.
More than two decades after his death, it remains a continuing tragedy that the very people whom Don Chino opposed—mainly the late Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, their cronies, and allies—are back in power, no thanks to the unexplainably undying illusion that things were better off when the Marcos dictatorship was in full swing.
And if he were alive right now, Don Chino will be the first one to tell you that. He was at the forefront of movements that took active, principled stands against the plethora of atrocities that happened immediately before, during, and after Marcos declared Martial Law.
Too bad a lot of people have forgotten those days.
Which is why the collective memory of the Philippines’ body politic deserves a soft reset.*
And what better way to do that than by reading his biography, Chino and his time by Vergel O. Santos**?
Besides being a fitting—yet unfortunately brief—tribute to a humble, big-hearted man, it is also a reminder that this country’s business with the Marcoses, their hidden and/or stolen wealth, and their crimes are unfinished.
When Don Chino died in 1988, he was spared the future, Santos wrote in the book.
To invent a future worthy of his death—and most importantly, his life—we can start by reading this biography.
1) Chino Roces was instrumental in convincing the late Corazon Aquino to run for president.
If it weren’t for Chino Roces, Cory may have chosen to continue her life being a rich housewife.
But since he promised to collect—and later deliver—a million signatures supporting her presidential bid against Marcos in the 1986 snap elections, Ninoy Aquino’s widow relented. That decision helped make Filipinos proud after the original EDSA People Power Revolution ousted the Marcoses—all because of a middle-aged man and his commitment to democracy as cited in various anecdotes in the book.
“[Ferdinand] Marcos obviously had not intended to take any chances with Chino [Roces]: he arrested him, detained him, had him watched constantly once released, and when his regime came under siege, tried to bargain with him. Emerging from a one-to-one meeting with Marcos in Malacañang, Chino was incredulous to have yet to be asked what he wanted. “Tinanong pa kung ano gusto ko,” he told Joe Velez, who had accompanied him. “Ano pa, di freedom.””
2) Chino Roces may have blurred the lines between journalism and advocacy, but only for the benefit of the greater good.
In 1970, Chino helped send Vincent Crisologo to jail. Vincent, the son of then-Ilocos Sur governor and Marcos ally Floro, was accused and later found guilty of torching two villages in Vigan, the provincial capital. When news about the incident broke out, it was immediately implied at the outset that coverage “went beyond reporting,” Santos writes.
“Slowly the refugees [of the two villages] came out of hiding, told us their stories, and gave us our footages,” Santos writes, quoting Danny Gozo, a former reporter of the Manila Times television station, ABC-5. “Once done, we called Manila and Chino called Marcos who sent his [defense minister Juan Ponce] Enrile, who offered to fly the leaders of the refugees to Manila, and was refused—they instead traveled all together by land, with the [student activists.]”
Santos continues: “The protest motorcade ended on the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University campuses, where rallies were staged. The march on Marcos was deferred on his promise, given to the refugees’ representatives in his palace, that justice would be done. Sure and soon enough, the governor’s son Vincent would go to prison for the burning of Ora Este and Ora Centro.”
3) Chino Roces helped finance the underground leftist youth group, Kabataang Makabayan.
This much was admitted by former party-list representative, former senatorial bet, and former Manila Times assistant business editor Satur Ocampo, one of the KM’s founders, in the book. [See: KM, Satur Ocampo]
Even during martial law, when he was already underground, Ocampo continued to see Chino.
“We met at his home—we thought it safer and less suspicious,” he says. “We’d talk in his garden for about two hours, but he mostly listened and asked questions.”
Much later, when Ocampo was arrested in 1976, Chino “raised the idea of escape” during a National Press Club meeting in 1985. And guess what? Ocampo was able to flee from his military escorts except that the book has skimpy details about the episode and Chino’s involvement in it.
4) Chino Roces was a good boss.
In the mid-sixties a powerful typhoon demolished or otherwise damaged houses of a number of Manila Times union members. They later asked for loans but were refused, said Gus Villanueva, a union leader. Out of frustration, Villanueva quit. That same evening, he got a call from Chino who set an appointment for breakfast the next day.
During breakfast at Plaza Cafe, not only did Villanueva take back his resignation, Chino had “offered to undertake all the repair and reconstruction of the unionists’ houses—for free,” Santos writes.
“In fact, we employees needed to watch ourselves against the temptation of abuse, because if any of us needed a loan or an advance on our salaries or even charity, we didn’t have to ask Chino twice,” Santos continues, citing Villanueva.
5) Chino Roces launched the Tour of Luzon, the bicycle racing contest.
“The idea was motivated by sympathy,” union leader Gus Villanueva said. Launched in 1955, the Tour of Luzon was for newspaper delivery boys who would wait at the Manila Times plant before daylight so that they “could catch subscribers before breakfast,” Santos says.
“A Times rider, Antonio Arzala, won both races easily and gave his bike as a gift to Chino, who rode it sometimes to the office but soon stoped, only too happy to be heckled out of the road by crowds chanting, “Arzala! Arzala!” and be proved instantaneously and resoundingly successful with his idea,” Santos writes.
*For a hard reset, Filipinos should read Sandra Burton’s Waltzing with a Dictator, Stanley Karnow’s In Our Image, and The Conjugal Dictatorship by Primitivo Mijares. That’s according to Alan Robles, who, besides being a lecturer at the Institute for Journalism in Berlin, feeds me from time to time. Pity I haven’t read any of this yet since no one has offered to lend me a copy (yes, including Herr Robles).
**From the Name Dropping Dept. Kudos also go to Virgilio Galvez, who is the book’s research and editorial assistant. If I’m not mistaken, he’s my batchmate at the one-week Language of Business Seminar at the Asian Institute of Management in 2006. He became the batch president after I—maestro, music please—launched his candidacy. [See: Number crunching for numbskulls]