Information — timely, accurate information — is the common coin of democratic life. Without it, the debates that animate the talk of citizens and guide them as voters are pointless. For democracy to work, truth must be in the public domain. Yet often it is not. Even democratically elected governments frequently hide or distort information that incriminates or embarrasses them. Because of this, citizens depend on the press to discern what is true and make it public. In the Philippines, this high calling is personified by EUGENIA DURAN APOSTOL.
EUGENIA APOSTOL spent her early years in Sorsogon, Philippines, where she was born in 1925, and later moved to Manila where her father served in the National Assembly. She studied Philosophy and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas and began her career in journalism writing for Catholic magazines. Then, for twenty years, she edited the women's pages of The Manila Times and The Manila Chronicle, bringing a fresh approach to the "lipstick beat" by appealing to intelligent, civic-minded women readers. When Ferdinand Marcos closed the country's independent newspapers at the onset of martial law in 1972, APOSTOL found a niche with Women's Home Companion and later launched a new magazine with the hip name of Mr. & Ms. In 1981, she joined a few brave others in the "mosquito press" and began publishing articles openly critical of the dictatorship.
The assassination of Marcos's rival Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino in August 1983 led APOSTOL to abandon restraint. "From then on there was no stopping," she says. Defying the regime, Mr. & Ms. published sixteen pages of photographs and text depicting the tumultuous public response to the killing. Afterwards, special editions of Mr. and Ms. reported weekly on Marcos abuses and the rising opposition. Emboldened by the revelations, readers snapped up copies by the hundreds of thousands. As the political crisis deepened in late 1985, Apostol rose to meet the need for an independent newspaper. Under her leadership, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported fearlessly on Corazon Aquino's popular drive for the presidency and its jubilant people-power climax, the EDSA Revolution.
APOSTOL built the Inquirer's reputation on integrity and independence, maintaining a critical distance from Mrs. Aquino's new administration. She set high professional standards for the industry and required her own reporters to honor the Philippine Journalist's Code of Ethics. APOSTOL stepped down as the Inquirer's publisher in 1994 but reentered the fray in 1999 with The Pinoy Times. This Taglish-language tabloid took up the cudgels against President Joseph Estrada's assaults on press freedom and responded to public hunger for the truth about his unexplained wealth and wayward leadership. It sold in the millions and buoyed the movement for Estrada's ouster. But advertisers feared reprisal from the administration and stayed away. When the paper lost money, APOSTOL covered its expenses personally.
The EDSA Revolution brought many good things but not an end to corruption and misgovernment. APOSTOL concludes from this that "we have to educate our people better." This is something she is doing through the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, which she founded with friends in 1996. Its programs promote excellence among teachers and call on the spirit of people power to upgrade instruction and facilities in Philippine public schools.
APOSTOL is legendary among her friends for her passion, wit, and irreverence. And grace: Eggie loves to dance. Reflecting on the momentous role she played in reclaiming her country's press freedom and restoring democracy, she says. "I was just doing what should have been done. Journalists have to tell the truth."
In electing EUGENIA DURAN APOSTOL to receive the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the board of trustees recognizes her courageous example in placing the truth-telling press at the center of the struggle for democratic rights and better government in the Philippines.
In 1957, I was thirty-two years old and working as the women's section editor of the leading daily newspaper of the Philippines. On March 17th of that year, the Philippines was shocked by the news that our President, Ramon Magsaysay, had died in a plane crash near Cebu City.
The mystery behind that crash has never been solved, although everyone suspected that President Magsaysay was killed because someone thought he was too good and too effective in making the Filipino realize that the common man had a shining value. All we knew was that someone had put a bomb in a crate of Cebu mangoes that was loaded into that plane. Soon after the plane flew over Mount Manunggal in Cebu, it exploded, killing everyone in it except for one newspaperman.
Whoever planted that bomb did not foresee the reaction of the Rockefeller family of philanthropists to the loss of a beloved and effective President of the Philippines. The Rockefellers were convinced that the legacy of Ramon Magsaysay should not be forgotten and that his exemplary life should be celebrated forever. They proposed, through a generous grant, the perpetuation of his precious ideals. And so, since 1958, the Ramon Magsaysay Award has made Ramon Magsaysay live again not only in his own country but all over Asia.
To date, Magsaysay's ideals live in 240 men and women and in sixteen institutions that echo his qualities in government service; public service; community leadership; journalism, literature, and creative communication arts; peace and international understanding; and emergent leadership. That I should be chosen as one of these men and women was far from my wildest dreams. I shall never agree with anyone saying that I am worthy of this Award. But there is one aspect of it that I welcome with open arms: the money that goes with it. Not because I need the money for myself — I am lucky that my late husband left me enough for my own needs — but because the Award money — 2.53 million pesos by the latest conversion rate — will go a long way in helping the Education Revolution which the Foundation for Worldwide People Power launched three years ago.
This Foundation, which commemorates the People Power we call EDSA I and EDSA II, is our hope in moving Filipinos away from poverty. We go to the schools and help our Department of Education become better qualified and more effective at character formation — so that our children will grow from little "Monchings" [diminutive for "Ramon"] into wonderful and heroic citizens like Ramon Magsaysay.