Even before the Philippines would have its first woman President, another woman was helping pave the way for it to happen through the weekly magazine she founded and edited. At a time when it was safer for the media to bow to the murder of a dictator’s political nemesis as the sternest warning against all dissent, Eugenia Duran Apostol chose to unmuzzle the voiceless pain of a people.

It was Eugenia Apostol’s magazine Mr. & Ms., not any of the daily broadsheets cowed by Ferdinand Marcos’s authoritarian regime, that gave the hours-long funeral procession of Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, the national significance it deserved. Thousands of Filipinos from all walks of life led by the widow who would be president, attended what was the biggest demonstration against Marcos. The bearer of shared grief, Mr. & Ms., signaled that the time was ripe to openly and jointly cry out in protest.

Special Issue of Mr & Ms Magazine

The public thirst for information was so great that all copies of the magazine’s special issue on the funeral sold out. It promptly spun off into a separate weekly that later would reach a circulation of half a million copies, unsurpassed by any publication even many years later.

It was no one-shot commercial success that happened to appear at the right time. Its journalistic sense and commitment sustained not only a loyal and growing readership but also the public courage to protest against and eventually topple the Marcos dictatorship.

Apostol kept pushing the limits of journalism at the time. When the trial of Aquino’s alleged assassins began and its integrity was suspect, she set up The Inquirer. The weekly scrupulously detailed the sometimes comic twists and turns in the hearings. After nine months of publication, a readership whittled by the pervading sense of a whitewash, and losses of almost a million pesos, Apostol was then about to give up. But realizing that the opposition had a limited voice versus Marcos, who declared that snap elections be held in three months’ time, she felt the need to augment the efforts of the so-called mosquito press and promptly turned The Inquirer into the daily that is known today as the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Eugenia Apostol

Although clearly pro-opposition, the daily Inquirer provided the balance and vigor to an enfeebled media. At first printing 30,000 copies, circulation rose by 10 times just before the snap elections, beating that of the largest daily at the time. The paper whose format Marcos had likened to “an unmade bed” would herald the first astoundingly peaceful People Power revolution and three months later headline his regime’s rude awakening: “It’s all over; Marcos flees”.

Petite as she was, the threats of arrest, even death, hardly intimidated Apostol. Her feisty character and belief in press freedom showed itself early in her journalist’s career, writing for the Catholic newspaper The Commonweal. She had dared oppose the then Archbishop’s ban on ballet lessons in schools run by Catholic nuns, and was fired for writing against it. Later, she would take the newspaper lifestyle sections and women’s magazines she edited outside, as it were, the confines of the home, and gave them a more civic spirit by introducing consumer issues and topics of national concern. Counting the sheets in a roll of toilet paper or weighing pan de sal was part of actualizing the advocacy of a consumer group she co-founded even while being a journalist.

The first male nude centerfold in a local women’s magazine appeared when she edited Woman’s Home Companion. It was the very first women’s magazine that she formed with colleagues who lost their jobs at the Manila Chronicle, after martial law shut down the major dailies in 1972. But as funding constraints forced a change in the magazine’s ownership and its consequent editorial thrust, she quit, the staff close at her heels. As if to look after her own kids, she set up Mr. & Ms. and took in the staff that remained loyal to her. The magazine’s title itself showed her constant urge to widen the scope of the typical magazine of the day. Later, she would make space for political criticism, an innovation that gave the orphaned voice of dissent a home. A maternal mien and a constant optimism, buoyed by a strong sense of purpose, earned her her the affection and respect of colleagues, young and old, who would help her through the lows in her career. She has been called Philippine journalism’s grand dame.

Amid the constant funding constraints and hesitant support from advertisers and even colleagues fearful of a greater backlash in the Marcos days, she practically gave all she had to set up and sustain her publishing career’s offspring. The profit she had made in selling her shares in WHC she used to set up Mr. & Ms., with much of the funding from a supportive husband. She even threw in a diamond ring, a wedding anniversary gift.

Apostol’s record-breaking publications marked high points in the country’s newspaper history. Not bad for a publisher who once called herself “such a business ignoramus” that, at the height of the PDI’s popularity, some board members pounced on her having neglected to keep a share in her name and removed her as chairman. The vote of colleagues who happened to be minority shareholders restored her.

Image courtesy of PDI

Although she left the PDI in 1994, Apostol made a comeback in the publishing scene four years later when mistresses and cronies freely flaunted their connections with President Joseph Estrada. She saw the urgent need to educate the lower-income readers whose electoral majority had catapulted the former movie actor into the highest office. Daring to use the colloquial Taglish and a tabloid format to widen its appeal, the Pinoy Times first published in 1998. Apostol took in staff of the Manila Times who walked out of the broadsheet after it was forced to apologize over a story critical of Estrada. It was a “serious tabloid,” said former University of the Philippines mass communications dean Luis Teodoro.

After an aborted impeachment trial in 2001, Estrada was ousted in the Philippines’ second People Power revolution. Apostol’s responsiveness to events when the media was called to a louder bark made her publications true agents of change. Later the same year, she received the first Knight International Press Fellowship Lifetime Achievement Award in Washington D.C. She was also honored as the first recipient of the Gawad Plaridel, an awards program of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications in honor of Marcelo H. del Pilar, a Filipino writer who was a primary figure in the propaganda movement against Spain. As the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism,Literature and Creative Communication Arts, she is recognized for “her courageous example in placing the truth-telling press at the center of the struggle for democratic rights and better government in the Philippines.”

Although Apostol looks back with a sense of destiny to that time during World War II when she survived a shrapnel wound in the stomach, she makes the significance of her achievements seem incidental. In various interviews, she has repeatedly said she was just “doing what should have been done.”

2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Eugenia Apostol

Her present advocacy is not quite a retirement from her efforts in the Pinoy Times to reach out and educate the masses. She established The Foundation for Worldwide People Power in 2002, to goad an “Education Revolution,” encouraging private sector participation in school rehabilitation and improving the skills and social awareness of teachers themselves. She continues to publish Mr. & Ms., which has taken  a pan-spiritual bent. Apostol believes these to be the keys to a national renewal deeper than the changes in government leadership that climaxed the heady days of People Power.