"I realized being a journalist in this country was indeed dangerous."
I have been a journalist for almost 70 years. I have covered presidents from the time of Elpidio Quirino. I have walked the corridors of power. There have been memorable moments in my career in the pursuit of press freedom. Sometimes, these even endangered my life.
The most unforgettable was the time I was covering the Central Bank of the Philippines as business editor of the Philippines Herald.
During my daily rounds of the old Ayuntamiento Building where the CB was located, a CB official—I cannot remember who—told me I should look into the illegal activities of some members of the Monetary Board.
Of course I started to investigate the backgrounds and activities of the Monetary Board members. I wondered why my fellow journalists covering the CB were not doing the same. I soon learned that some of them were getting monthly payoffs from the office of a ranking CB official.
I learned that the three members of the seven-member MB were importing dollar allocations at that time for their own businesses. This was clearly a conflict of interest. They were also with the Manila Stock Exchange—clearly a no-no for MB members.
I wrote that exposé and it became the banner headline of the Herald. I even named the three MB members.
My story set off an inquiry by the Senate. Since my exposé was detailed, the three MB members were called to testify. I was also invited to testify but I refused, saying my story was enough.
This happened during the second year of the Magsaysay administration. President Ramon Magsaysay told the three individuals to show cause why they should not be fired for committing illegal acts.
I recall I was leaving for home one evening. I was going down the stairs, past the security guard. Suddenly, there were two men to my side and they shoved their guns to both sides of my body. They told me to get in their car, which had appeared in front of me, gangster-style, just like in the movies.
I found out that the only thing I could say was “What is this?”
They told me in the vernacular: “You will soon find out.”
They made me alight in front of the Hotel Filipinas along Padre Faura. We took the elevator—I forgot to which floor—and entered a room. It must have been a minor suite. There was a burly man puffing a cigar. He told me: “You are a brave young man. I would hate to see something bad happening to you.”
I asked him: “Sir, what have I done?”
Was this the Cavite mobster who killed somebody at the Semanillo Building on Dasmarinas Street? I recognized him because his photo was in the papers.
After gathering my wits I asked: “Sir, what do you want?” he said one of those I had exposed was his friend. I asked him what he wanted me to do. He said he would like to present the side of his friend. I said “Sure.”
The man told me to relax and wait for somebody to bring his friend's statement. I would be given dinner.
He left but a guard was left with me. I knew the guard had a gun.
I looked at my watch and saw it was 10 in the evening. I knew my wife was getting worried because I was usually home by eight.
There was a bed in the room, but who could rest in such a situation? It was six in the morning when I heard a knock on the door. I was given a big envelope and told: “This is it.”
I read the statement and it was the burly man’s friend explaining his side. I was told to print it, verbatim, the following day. And then I was told I could go home.
From Hotel Filipinas I took a cab and returned to the office parking area where my car was. My wife was agitated so she phoned my brother Willie who said he would pick us up so we could see the President in Malacañang.
The President asked me point blank: “Since I am firing those men, could you recommend a replacement? I thought for a while and said there were only three honest men I could recommend: Jaime Velasquez, Amando Dalisay and Gumerindo Garcia. The President said: “Done.”
My wife and I were relieved. Soon enough, members of the Armed Forces came to my home to provide my family security. One for me, one for my wife, and two for each of my children who were then enrolled at the Ateneo Grade School.
The problem soon dawned on me and my wife: We would have to pay for the meals of our security detail. The security followed us everywhere. This lasted six or seven months.
This incident taught me that being a journalist in the Philippines could really mean life or death.