The Philippine STAR is iconic of the legacy of that proud Filipino moment when we reclaimed our freedoms and took back control of how we want to think, live and be governed. If there is one thing that remains true to the brand, spirit and even the color of EDSA People Power, it is The Philippine STAR.
The Philippine STAR was born four months after the People Power event but its founders were in the thick of the struggle against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. My co-founders of The Philippine STAR were all veterans of the struggle – the much loved Chairman Betty Go-Belmonte, Publisher Max Soliven, and Columnist Art Borjal. Betty, Max and Art have all gone to the big publication in the sky while I continue to elude the invitation to join them.
I was privileged to be tasked to organize and lead the Cory Aquino Media Bureau where STAR editor-in-chief Isaac Belmonte and Associate Editor Joanne Ramirez served as well.
Betty’s husband Sonny played a key role in carrying the political fight on the ground in Quezon City where Sonny was to serve as congressman and mayor eventually. Truth Needs A Champion
When word was out in October 1985 that a presidential snap election will be held, Elfren Cruz and I discussed the need to organize and implement a media strategy that would communicate our issues and messages effectively in the face of Marcos’s formidable hold on print and broadcast media. (Elfren later became Presidential Management Staff Secretary and Metro Manila Governor. He now writes a column in BusinessWorld and teaches strategic management at De La Salle College.)
Eugenia "Eggie" Apostol’s Mr. and Ms. weekender magazine became the most popular publication that emerged after Ninoy Aquino’s assassination on August 21, 1983 because of its courageous stance against the dictatorship and the quality of its writing. The problem then was that Mr. and Ms could not produce the needed volume of at least 250,000 copies per day. The only ally who had a printing press that could produce the needed output was Betty Go- Belmonte and this is the printing press that used to publish the Daily STAR and the Pilipino STAR.
Betty was the daughter of Go Puan Seng, a Chinese immigrant who became one of the country’s leading journalists. He established the foundation for Philippine libel laws after he was acquitted of libel charges in the 1930s. Go Puan Seng was charged with libel after his exposes on corruption. The legacy of Go Puan Seng lives on in the succeeding generations.
The first of the STAR publications were the Daily STAR in English and Pilipino STAR in Filipino, founded by Betty’s brother, Andrew Go, who later moved on to become Executive Vice President of the Toronto Star. The Daily STAR and Pilipino STAR combined a circulation that topped that of The Manila Times, which was then the leading national daily.
The Daily STAR and Pilipino STAR were among the casualties of Marcos’s clampdown on press freedom when he imposed martial law on September 21, 1972. Circulating over 500,000 copies daily, the Daily STAR and Pilipino STAR drew the ire of the Marcoses when the publications carried the story of the romantic episode of the Ferdinand Marcos-Dovie Beams affair.
Dovie Beams was an American actress who filmed a B movie here and found herself in bed with Marcos. The Daily STAR and the Pilipino STAR generated the widest readership of the story even though the two STAR publications were not the first to expose it.
Elfren and I agreed that if Eggie and Betty would combine forces, the problem would be solved. However, Eggie and Betty had no previous working relationship and did not really know each other. As providence would have it, Elfren and I formed the perfect bridge to broker that relationship. Elfren’s wife, Neni, worked then for Eggie while Betty was like a sister to me.
Elfren and I opened the communication channel for the partnership and that gave birth to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Betty, Max and Art were all part of the Inquirer team as was Louie Beltran who later also joined The Philippine STAR a few months after its founding on June 28, 1986. Today, both the STAR and Inquirer, legacies of EDSA, sit comfortably as the two leading English language dailies in the country.
More than just providing the media outlet for the truth and Opposition issues, Betty and Max played important behind-the-scene roles in the making of People Power. Both Betty and Max have written about these in their respective columns in The STAR. Betty and Max served as a conduit for EDSA icon Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) to be in touch with the Opposition. Hours before FVR joined the breakaway group in Camp Aguinaldo on February 22, 1986 – he met with Betty and Max in Betty’s house to discuss his move.
Betty was one of the closest friends of Cory Aquino and Betty’s dedication to Cory’s cause was unconditional. It was through Betty when I first met Cory in her Times Street home in November 1983. During the Snap Campaign, Betty would pass on to Cory and me her Bible readings which presaged the events that led to EDSA. I would then post these readings on the bulletin board of the Cory Media Bureau where it served to boost staff morale and expel the fear from our hearts. Faith defeats a media monopoly
Lacking the resources to hire a full time Media Bureau staff, we had to rely on volunteers. Betty assigned no less than her son Isaac and writer Joanne Ramirez to the Cory Aquino Media Bureau. Joanne was a vital cog of the Media Bureau’s editorial staff, the main news source of local and international media for Opposition issues and statements.
Isaac headed the printing operations (creative and production) for unconventional printed propaganda. Because we had only the Inquirer and Malaya during the Snap Election campaign and their combined reach did not sufficiently cover the rural areas, we had to supplement the print effort with leaflets and comics. These leaflets and comics were also printed in the STAR press.
Max’s column in the Inquirer provided invaluable historical insights and perspectives to the raging issues of the campaign. It also helped a lot that Max was very close to Ninoy Aquino who was the inspiration and moving spirit of EDSA People Power. In his inimitable writing style, Max kept the flame of patriotism burning through his column – stoking the passion for freedom that made heroes of millions in EDSA.
The EDSA People Power phenomenon has also been called a political upheaval that was mainly fought on media. Not only were the four days of EDSA fought in the media front – but the very essence of the Snap Election campaign was the struggle to offset the media monopoly of the Marcos Dictatorship and inform the nation of the truth that has been suppressed for the 14 years martial law was enforced.
For 14 years, the Marcos media monopoly fed the nation lies and half truths about the economy, the health of Marcos (his sudden demise could trigger a bloody power struggle), the untold extent of corruption and plunder, the human rights violations, the growing Red insurgency and Mindanao Muslim separatist movement and the enormous foreign debt. Media that Marcos controlled were disseminating fiction.
The Marcos media machine painted a national landscape that was green and rosy and portrayed Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos as the king and queen of paradise. The projection was so thick in its falsehood and exaggeration that one would expect one day to see Marcos walk on water on national television.
We dedicated ourselves to open the gates and let out the truth so that Filipinos who had long been hungry for their freedoms can again begin to view their world as it really is. The first big task was how to sensitize those who have been desensitized by falsehood and censorship for the past 14 years. The second and perhaps even bigger task was to provide our own media infrastructure. The media monopoly made the first task seem almost impossible. It did not stand to reason that the two tasks could be accomplished.
But then that is precisely the power of faith. When reason tells us that we can no longer succeed, it is faith in what we are fighting for that makes the impossible doable. In fact, it was the faith of the Filipino people to accomplish the unthinkable that provided the energy for the EDSA miracle.
That faith remains constant and true in your Philippine STAR.