ELLEN TORDESILLAS: JOE BURGOS, JR

MANILA, NOVEMBER 17,  2003   (MALAYA) I REGRET that I have not properly said goodbye to Joe Burgos Jr.

The last time I saw Joe was January this year when Malaya "origs" had a reunion at his residence on Tandang Sora st., in Quezon City. That was a few weeks after his heart bypass. He was so happy to see us again. He said he felt bad that he couldn't join us as we devoured the bilao of pansit the way he used to during the early days of Malaya. He was on a strict non-fat diet at that time.

When he was hospitalized again last June due to a stroke and prostate cancer, I was in the United States. I was not able to attend the launching of the "Mosquito Years" project that he has been encouraging us to do.

The "Mosquito Years" (derived from "mosquito", which was how Marcos and his media advisers described Malaya and other alternative publications) is a book project that would put on record the struggle for press freedom during the Marcos dictatorship.

We, Malaya originals, feel that history is being rewritten by some people at the expense of the role of Joe Burgos and Malaya in the struggle to bring out the truth during those years of repression.

He was already recuperating in Bulacan when I came back from the US. Rita Festin, a Malaya original, who is now the media officer of the Asian Development Bank, had always planned to visit Joe in Bulacan on a weekend but family obligations got in the way of our plans.

Last Thursday, I learned about Joe's deteriorating condition. I was unable to join Chuchay Fernandez, Ester Dipasupil, Rita Festin and Che Francisco at the Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital to be with Joe and his family in his final moments.

I owe Joe my start in journalism. I was a freelance magazine writer when I landed in Malaya in October 1983 after a brief interview with Joe and his wife, Edith.

In that interview, I was made to understand the perils of working with Malaya. Aside from the meager pay, they said, there was the danger of being picked up and dumped in prison anytime without your knowing the offense you have committed. There was the Presidential Detention Order which authorized military and police authorities to arrest and imprison any person Marcos believed to be a threat to his government. A number of Malaya reporters were in that PDO list. Some months earlier, Joe, some members of the Malaya staff and columnists including Dean Armando Malay and former Senator Soc Rodrigo were arrested and imprisoned when We Forum, a sister publication of Malaya, published the article by Bonifacio Gillego on the fake medals of Marcos. The We Forum office and printing press were padlocked.

Malaya, then a weekly Tagalog tabloid, transformed itself into an English broadsheet and continued We Forum's crusade for truth and press freedom.

As a standard precautionary measure, we were advised to always bring with us basic necessities in case of arrest and detention: underwear, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, medicines. We were also given a list of friendly lawyers whom we could call.

Malaya was clearly biased for the anti-Marcos forces. We told ourselves that we were providing the balance to the establishment press which were echoing the Malacaņang line.

But Malaya tried as much as possible, given our admitted resources and restricted access to government agencies, to be a regular newspaper and cover non-political issues.

When Mayon Volcano erupted in the mid-80's, Joe decided to send me to Bicol because he said, "you can write stories that will touch people's hearts." I stayed in their vacation house in Tabaco, Albay, Edith's hometown. There, I saw Joe's love for farming, which he later made into a full-time vocation.

Some Malaya reporters motored to his farm in San Miguel, Bulacan for Joe's 60th birthday a few years ago. That, I also missed.

Joe, I promise I will make it up in the "Mosquito Years" book project.

Email address: ellen@i-manila.com.ph


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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