A History of Journalism in the Philippines – American Colonial Period

by Alixander Haban Escote

Although Gen Emilio Aguinaldo and his revolutionary government proclaimed Philippine Independence in Kawit, Cavite on June 12, 1898 and established the First Philippine Republic in Malolos, Bulacan on January 23, 1899, President William McKinley and Admiral George Dewey planned to take over the Philippines and forced the surrender of Spanish forces inside Intramuros. With the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898 and the Treaty with Spain on November 7, 1900, the United States of America acquired the sovereignty over the Philippines.

As the Spanish-American War was being fought, La Democracia, the first Filipino newspaper that recognized American sovereignty in the country, urged the Filipino people to accept the new government and to help heal the wounds of war. Edited by Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, it was the official publication of the pro-American Partido Federalista, the first political party organized on December 23, 1900 by 125 Filipino illustrados.

Besides La Independencia and El Heraldo dela Revolucion, other Filipino newspapers were also published as the Americans established their military government in the country. Among these was La Patria, the newspaper that openly championed freedom and independence and directly challenged La Democracia. Published by Pablo Ocampo and edited by Rafael Palma and Aurelio Tolentino, it was closed by Gen Arthur McArthur, the father of Gen Douglas McArthur9.

The closure of La Patria and the assertion of American military rule did not dampen the newspaper industry. Unfazed, Pablo Ocampo published La Libertad and continued to fight for freedom and independence. As a result, the American military authorities banned the newspaper, and its publisher was exiled to Guam for two years.

Meanwhile, Rafael Palma, a lawyer, educator, and social scientist, founded El Nuevo Dia, Cebu’s first daily newspaper, on April 6, 1900. In collaboration with the then Speaker Sergio Osmeña Sr.10 and Commissioner Jaime Carlos de Veyra, Palma criticized American military rule. In the end, the newspaper was severely censored and as a sign of protest, it came out with large blacked-out pages that ostracized the Americans who championed freedom of the press and expression in their country, but censored them in the Philippines.

El Grito del Pueblo and its sister publication in Tagalog, Kapatid ng Bayan, edited by Pascual Poblete, and El Filipino Libre, published by Manuel Xeres Burgos, also cried for freedom and independence and criticized American military rule.

On the other hand, English language newspapers were published to cater the needs of the American reading public: Bounding Billow, published aboard US Olympia;11 Official Gazette, published by the American military government; American Soldier, published for a month with some 20 issues; and Soldier’s Letter, published by the 18th Minnesota Volunteers in the US Army. These newspapers had common point of view: “These islands were rich untapped sources of American wealth and capital. The natives, half-devil and half-child, insist on playing government: a group of warlike tribes who will devour each other the moment American troops leave.”

On October 11, 1898, Thomas Gowan, an Englishman rather than an American, edited and published the Manila Times, the first continually published English language daily newspaper in the country. In 1899, George Seliner joined the Manila Times as business manager and later bought the newspaper from Gowan. Seliner sold it in 1902, reacquired it in 1905, and sold it again in 1907.

The then Senate President Manuel Quezon12 bought the Manila Times in 1917. During his ownership, the newspaper was generally staffed by Filipinos, a pattern followed by Governor General Francis Burton Harrison13 in Filipinizing the government. In 1921, Quezon, who found out that politics and journalism are like oil and water that could never be mixed well, sold the newspaper to George Fairchild, a Hawaiian senator engaged in the sugar industry. Politically speaking, the newspaper became the mouthpiece of American politicians and businessmen and was intensely pro-American and anti-Filipino. In 1926, Fairchild sold the newspaper to Jacob Rosenthal, a businessmen engaged in the shoe industry.

Alejandro Roces Sr., the father of modern journalism in the Philippines, bought the Manila Times in 1927. At that time, he was also the owner of the TVT chain of newspapers: Taliba, La Vanguardia, and Manila Tribune. Roces founded the latter on April 1, 1925 when he failed to purchase the Philippine Herald.

Because of its substantial editorial pages and wide international coverage, the Manila Tribune, edited by Carlos Romulo,14 the Philippine Herald former editor, and staffed by Mauro Mendez, Benito Sakdalan, Amando Dayritt, Roberto Anselmo, and Fernando Maramag became the most informative and most entertaining newspaper in the 1920s. The Tribune Magazine, its weekly supplement, had a circulation of 40,000 during weekdays and 80,000 during weekends.

On March 15, 1930, Roces stopped the publication of the Manila Times, but continued the publication of the Manila Tribune, which became a morning newspaper, and the Philippine Herald, which became an afternoon newspaper. After World War II, Alejandro Roces Jr. revived the newspaper business that his father founded, but discarded the TVT chain of newspapers. Roces formed The Manila Times Publishing Company, Inc., and published the Sunday Times on May 27, 1945, which became the Manila Times on September 5, 1945.

Established by Carson Taylor, an Illinois public school teacher who came to the country as part of the Colorado First Volunteer National Guard Regiment, the Manila Daily Bulletin made its debut on February 1, 1900 as a shipping gazette devoted to ship arrivals and departures. Its early editors were H G Farris, 1900; George Rice, late 1900; Chas Bond, 1904; William Crozier, 1905; M L Steward, 1913; C R Zeininger, 1918; and Roy Bennet, late 1918.

In 1912, the Manila Daily Bulletin widened its coverage and circulation and marked its entrance into the newspaper industry. By then, the newspaper shifted to a six-column newspaper consisting of eight pages.

In 1918, the Manila Daily Bulletin switched to a standard eight-column newspaper and published foreign news, first obtained as cable flashes from San Francisco and later as wired stories from the Associated Press and the United Press International. It also rose in circulation and became the largest English language daily newspaper in 1925. Robert Kidd, Ford Wilkins, Frank Bennett, and Ralph Hawkins, were among its early bigwigs.

Abram V Hartendorp, a Thomasite who stayed in Samar and in Zambales, founded The Philippine Magazine, formerly The Philippine Teacher, and later The Philippine Education, in 1904. He contributed largely to the development of Filipino writers in the English language such as Manuel Arguilla, Amador Daguio, Jose Garcia Villa, N V M Gonzalez, Edilberto Tiempo, Bienvenido Santos, and Francisco Avellana.

Judge W H Kincaid founded the Philippine Free Press, the first regularly issued English language weekly magazine, in 1907. It was edited by Pat Gallagher and started as English-Spanish weekly. On August 19, 1908, Robert McCulloch Dick, a Scot who came to the country in 1899, bought the one-year-old magazine and paid one peso, approximately fifty cents, for its goodwill, circulation, and equipment. With the aid of F Theo Rogers as general manager, Dick, who was the editor and publisher until his death on September 14, 1960, turned the magazine into the largest circulated publication in the archipelago and the most influential English language weekly magazine in the history of Philippine journalism. Dick lived most of his life in the Philippines, dying here at the age of 80 years.

Before the war, leading Filipino journalist joined the Philippine Free Press editorial staff – Jose Joven, Jose Reyes, Juan Callas, Ramon Navas, Federico Calero, Roberto Anselmo, and Leon Maria Guerrero. A consistent crusader, the magazine contributed much to the social, cultural, political, educational, and economic growth of the country.

El Renacimiento, a Spanish daily newspaper founded by Rafael Palma on September 1, 1900, became very popular because of its vigorous campaign against graft and corruption in the government. On October 30, 1908, the newspaper came out with an editorial written by Fidel Reyes, its city editor, titled Aves de Rapina, Birds of Prey, which denounced an American official for taking advantage his office in exploiting the resources of the country for his personal gains.

Although the editorial did not mention names, Dean C Worcester, the then Secretary of the Interior and former professor at the University of Michigan, felt alluded to in the editorial and filed a libel case against Teodoro Kalaw and Martin Ocampo, editor and publisher, respectively. The entire Spanish and Filipino press supported the newspaper and many Filipinos offered legal, moral, and financial support.

The lower court sentenced Ocampo to 6 months imprisonment and PhP2 000 fine and Kalaw to 12 months imprisonment and PhP3 000 fine and a verdict for moral and punitive damages for PhP25 000. The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines, which affirmed the decision of the lower court. The embattled journalists appealed again to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, which sustained the decision of the Philippine tribunals. However, Ocampo and Kalaw did not spend a day in jail because Governor General Francis Burton Harrison pardoned them in 1914.

Today, El Renacimiento is remembered as a proof of American antagonism against Filipino nationalism. And, after it had been closed, several newspapers and periodicals were published and fought for freedom and independence.

On August 8, 1920, the Philippine Herald, the first Filipino-owned English language daily newspaper edited by Conrado Benitez, became the mouthpiece of outraged Filipinos led by the then Senate President Manuel Quezon against conservative Americans led by Governor General Leonard Wood. Later, at the helm of its bankruptcy, Senator Vicente Madrigal, Ramon Fernandez, the Earnshaw brothers, and other Filipino millionaires continued its publication and circulation. Among those who worked for the Philippine Herald were Vicente Bunuan, Gregorio Nieva, Antonio Estrada, Modesto Farolan, and Vicente del Fiero.

Founded in 1922 by Ramon Roces, Liwayway became the most widely read weekly magazine in Tagalog and gave rise to publications of the same type in other Philippine dialects. It first appeared as Photo News on June 15, 1922, and had sections in Tagalog, English, and Spanish. However, the idea did not appeal to the reading public and was dropped after 10 issues over a five-month period. When the publication was revived on November 18, 1929, it became a Tagalog weekly magazine that published romance and fantasy stories that included Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang by Severino Reyes, the leading Tagalog fictionist during those days. Among those who served as editors in chief were Jose Esperanza Cruz, 1932-1942; Pedrito Reyes, 1942-1945; Catalino Flores, 1945-1954; Jose Domingo Karasig, 1954-1960; Gervasio Santiago, 1960-1979; Bienvenido Ramos, 1979-1982; and Rodolfo Salandanan, from 1982 to the present.

Ramon Roces also founded the Weekly Graphic, the most widely read weekly magazine in English, on July 15, 1927. It was edited by Vicente Albano Pacis, the Manila Times former editor, and later, by Agustin Fabian. In the 1930s, the Philippine Herald and the Manila Tribune shared the top position in the newspaper industry.

Established by Ramon Roces, Bisaya became the most successful periodical in Cebuano. Its first issue on August 15, 1930 had an initial circulation of 5 000 that rose to 60 000 in the 1960s. Among those who served as editors were Vicente Padriga, 1930-1931; Natalio Bacalso, 1931-1933; Flaviano Boquecosa, 1933-1941; Maximo Bas, 1946-1949; Francisco Candia, 1949-1966; Marcelo Navarra, 1969-1973; Nazario Bas, 1973-1986; and Tiburcio Baguio, its current editor.

In 1933, Senator Vicente Madrigal with the help of Carlos Romulo, who left the Manila Tribune, organized the DMHM chain of newspapers: El Debate, a Spanish morning daily; Mabuhay, a Tagalog morning daily; Philippine Herald, an English afternoon daily; and Monday Mail, an English weekly. In his capacity as the editor in chief of the DMHM chain of newspapers, Romulo won a Pulitzer Prize.

First published regularly in 1934, Ang Bisaya sa Hiligaynon was renamed the Hiligaynon in 1936. With an initial circulation of 5 000 copies, it reached a larger circulation than its sister publication, Bisaya and Bannawag, at its peak. It was published by Ramon Roces and was first edited by Abe Gonzales.

Ramon Roces published Bannawag, the brainchild of Magdaleno Abaya, the Philippine Graphic former staff member, in 1935. It has fostered the growth and maturity of Ilocano literature and has produced creative writers like Leon Pichay, Benjamin Pascual, Godofredo Reyes, and Hermogenes Belen. Considered as the “Bible of the North” that catered the grassroots and intellectual readers, the magazine serves as the major venue for most writings in Ilocano and covers a wide range of writings from fiction, poetry, and comic stories to essays, feature articles, and reportage on local and foreign developments.

After spending at least PhP100 000, Joaquin Elizalde, who rescued the Philippine Herald from Senator Vicente Madrigal, leased the DMHM chain of newspapers to Jorge Araneta, a businessman who wanted a newspaper to bat for a larger market for the Philippine sugar industry in the United States, in 1938. After his death, the chain of newspapers was reverted to the Madrigals.

Before World War II, there were 153 provincial newspapers in the country. Of these, seven were dailies: Cebu City Advertiser, Cebu; Cebu Herald, Cebu; Davao Nichi-Nichi, Davao; El Tiempo, Iloilo; La Nacion, Cebu; La Revolucion, Cebu; and Times, Iloilo.

The oldest newspaper before World War II were Mindanao Herald, which was published in Zamboanga on November 3, 1903, and Ang Manugbantala, which was published in Iloilo on July 7, 1905.

Next: A History of Journalism in the Philippines – Japanese Imperial Occupation