Letty Magsanoc, Kay Graham, and Eggie Apostol stood their ground for truth.
Culture Spotlight

These journalists held the line in dangerous times

Before Maria Ressa, these women fought to uphold the truth in the face of presidential scorn. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we honor five journalists who stood up to the powers-that-were.
ANCX Staff | Mar 08 2019

Since time immemorial, journalists have risked their lives to fight on the right side of the truth. Here in the Philippines, 12 journalists have already perished only two and a half years into President Duterte’s term. The “luckier” ones are bullied and trolled online—surveilled by police and are deluged with death threats. News organizations critical of the current administration have been threatened with shutdowns, and their reporters have been banned from the presidential palace. But all this is par for the course for the Filipino journalist who has spoken the truth about dictators, corrupt officials, and human rights violations as they happen in our nation’s history.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve rounded up a list of women journalists who stood up to presidential power—most of them during a time when the patriarchy hadn’t yet been put into question. It was very much a man’s world (that hasn’t changed), but the position of power remained largely unchallenged (that has).

We salute these women for their ballsiness, their defense of the truth at any cost, and their moral courage. We also salute their bravery in the face of danger—whether this danger came in the form of intimidation, arrest, or a call for resignation from their publications. With these women, old bravery paved the way for new bravery, publications morphed into other publications, for as long as an errant power had to be fought, they found new ways to fight the good fight.  

 

1. Eugenia “Eggie” Apostol (1925-)

Apostol’s history as a publisher has been long and crucial. Her platform was the women’s magazine in the early fifties, which dealt with the female preoccupations of the time— home management, fashion and food. These publications included Woman and Home, and Better Living (the first a supplement, and the second a section of the Manila Chronicle). During Martial Law-era Philippines, Apostol published Woman’s Home Companion, which she eventually left to establish Mr & Ms Magazine. Mr & Ms published articles against Marcos, and Apostol was sent to an army camp to be interrogated.

Apostol with Letty Magsanoc: veterans of the "lipstick beat." Photograph by Mandy Navasero.

Apostol was also famous for publishing a special edition of the magazine after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. Mainstream media had ignored the gruesome tragedy despite mass outrage and national grief. In reaction, she published the comprehensive special edition which chronicled Ninoy’s funeral parade, and the two million Filipinos who came to pay their last respects.

Apostol later on founded the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which began as an “anti-dictatorship campaign.” She was recognized as one of the major media players who influenced the overthrow of Marcos, and, in later years, Joseph Estrada. Her dedication and bravery won her the Ramon Magsaysay Award, an honor known as Asia’s Nobel Prize.

Along with Letty-Jimenez Magsanoc, Apostol was honored as one of Time Magazine’s Asian heroes. Both were cited as being veterans of the “lipstick beat,” women who began as lifestyle writers but who rose to be media heroes when their country needed journalists and not silent, complicit media.

 

2. Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc (1941-2015)

Magsanoc was known as a true pillar of Philippine democracy. Many of her anti-administration articles were published in Mr & Ms Magazine—then helmed by Eggie Apostol. Like Apostol, she played a significant role in overthrowing the Marcos administration with writings that resisted press censorship, and which were sharply critical of the period. Consequently, her writings gained the ire of the Marcos administration.

Magsanoc (with son Marti): sharply critical of a corrupt administration

Before her turn in the opposition tabloid, Magsanoc wrote bravely about Marcos’ continued abuse of power well after Martial Law. She chronicled the desperation of the snap elections, and Marcos’ third inauguration in a tongue-in-cheek article published for Panorama. It so angered the former president that he called for her resignation.

Later on, Magsanoc served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer where she maintained her reputation as a true fighter for democracy.

Magsanoc’s name was added to the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Wall of Remembrance in 2016. She was cited for “speaking truth to power without fear.” Time Magazine called her an Asian hero.

 

3.Tina Monzon-Palma (1951-)

Palma became a news anchor for GMA-7 when she was 26 years old. It was 1976, and GMA was the only commercial station allowed to continue its broadcasts during a time of grave censorship and human rights abuses.

Those of us who grew up watching her on the news remember her for her signature diction and mellifluous voice. She rose to fame at a time when there were scarcely any reports of widespread human rights violations and abuses of power.

Palma: calm and collected.

Beyond listening to her words, people watched her news program to catch her changing expressions. Her political positions as they related to the Marcos administration could be determined by the play of expressions on her face when she read the evening news. A smirk here and a frown there indicated her opposition and dismay. Palma maintains that these were unconscious slips, but popular opinion happily thinks otherwise.

Inside the newsroom, Palma cut an impressive and imposing figure. She ran a tight operation when she was head of news for Channel 7, at a time when the field was male-dominated.

She also displayed her sense of deep personal integrity and accountability when she took the fall for the reporter and desk who briefed her on the supposed  death of Maureen Hultman--which was fake news when it was reported.  She paved the way for a lot of women journalists today.

 

4. Cheche Lazaro (1945-)

Lazaro was the founding President of Probe Productions, Inc—the corporation that produced Probe, the first investigative news platform on television. Lazaro has gained international acclaim for documentaries that covered everything from disasters to corrupt officials. While Probe aired on GMA 7, Lazaro began her career in ABS-CBN, and would return there later in her career.

Lazaro had a complicated relationship with GMA 7.  When Probe probed into the lifestyle of a PAGCOR chairman in 2003, GMA refused to air the episode. There was wide media coverage about the fall-out, and Lazaro left the network and continued her work for ABC (now channel 5), before returning to ABS-CBN.  This was but one instance when Lazaro had to face media censorship and control.

Lazaro: elegance and focus. 

Cheche was the picture of quiet elegance while fighting the dictatorship. She did not speak in a loud voice like Tina but her quiet demeanor put fear in those that she probed.

She was also a good mentor. Always there to put in a good word for the younger journalists when their work was praise worthy. In media, where the pace is so feverish, praise is few and far between.

Lazaro is considered a pillar of Philippine investigative journalism, serving as sometime editor at large for Rappler, and a driving force behind the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. In a commencement address for graduating students from Ateneo de Naga, Lazaro offered rallying words: “I did what I believed in, what I was passionate about, and perhaps what others considered foolish. I was like that stubborn little train in the children’s book The Little Engine That Could who kept telling himself I think I can, when the going got rough.”

 

5.Katharine Meyer Graham (1917-2001)

Graham was the reluctant publisher of the Washington Post, a family-owned paper, when classified information about the real scale of the Vietnam War came to her attention. This information was revealed as the Pentagon Papers. The papers indicated that the government knew that they were fighting a war they couldn’t win, and the campaign continued far longer than it should have.  President Nixon issued a court injunction against both the Post and The New York Times, pressuring them not to publish the Pentagon Papers. In a milestone case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of publication. Graham later oversaw the Washington Post’s coverage of Watergate—the scandal that exposed President Nixon’s abuses of authority, especially as they related to breaches of privacy, spying on the opposition, and stealing classified documents for the president’s reelection campaign. The Washington Post was one of the media outlets that exposed Nixon’s illegal activities, which led eventually to his resignation.

Graham: a socialite who found her voice. Photograph from Der Angemeldete on Wiki Media Commons

Graham was dismissed as a mere socialite before she was a publisher—although the Post was owned by her family, her father’s first choice for successor was his son-in-law—Katharine’s husband, Philip Graham. It was only upon her husband’s death that Graham inherited her leadership role at the Post. Notably, it was through the publication of the Pentagon Papers that she found her voice and calling. Perhaps Watergate made her a force.