OPINION: The Sunday Tribune -- Our colonial society & gov't in pictures

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Dec 28 2018 07:28 PM

Our title today encapsulates the treasure trove of mostly Manila memorabilia photographs preserved in the rotogravured Sunday Tribune magazines. When Manila’s population was about 650,000, the weekend magazine boasted of breaking 80,000 copies in circulation. And as promised last week, we continue by sharing more insights, hopefully a sufficiently teasing enticement for future visits to the Ayala Museum.

I am confident that the ladies who run the Filipinas Heritage Library (Suzanne Yupangco, Faye Cura and Ma. Cecilia Ayson, etc.) will come up with a worthy event to celebrate the donated acquisition of this “Murrell Collection” of the Tribune’s weekend magazines that cover the earlier half of the Philippine Commonwealth--1937, 1938, 1939, 1940 & 1941.

It is such a joy leafing through, gingerly flipping pages, browsing and picking out morsels to share in cyberspace before shipping these off to Makati. My eyes feasting, my heart celebrating a past very dimly remembered by a fast dwindling few, now-to-be-made available, especially to our younger ones. Truly, to all who may hanker for a relevant vicarious experience. Yes, we did have glory days. Alas, glory days that can never ever return.

The Sunday Tribune was a variety family weekend news magazine covering local and world events, with civil society and government goings-on, with culture and human interest stories thrown in. A periodical displaying for the greater portion of its newsprint space, photographs. One would think that the Roces media was to outdo “Life” magazine of yore. Indeed, “a picture is worth a thousand words!” In our current instance, however, our Sunday Tribune collection speaks of millions upon millions of words.

The magazine measures 15 X 11 inches and is printed in sepia tone. In our collection, they start with 32 pages per issue and progressed to 48 pages by the early 1940s.

The “This Week” section, a regular feature, is photos and captions, both local and international. World news at the time was already being dominated by the burgeoning wars in Europe and the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, all as a prelude to World War II, thus providing excellent backgrounders.

Hollywood and the movie world was inescapable. The American cinema culture, after all, had--for a couple of decades--enured the people, as part and parcel of subliminal colonization.

Pictorials of fashion, cuisine and housekeeping, nuptials, baptismals, anniversaries or simply party-giving were ‘de rigueur.’ Alluring photos of young socialites such as Conching Sunico, Chona Recto, Mita Pardo de Tavera, Susan Magalona, Pacita de los Reyes and Guia Balmori, along with young ladies belonging to colonial and business expatriate families, graced the Society and Fashion sections.

A cartoon and humor page, too. International oddities and unusual occurrences had a page. Even music, notes and lyrics. Contributed poetry. Indeed, much human interest feeding readers’ appetite for edifying information.

A regular column devoted to satire, essays that appeal to the culture of the common man was titled “From my Nipa Hut.” Its author was “Mang Kiko,” a certain Francisco Icasiano, journalist and essayist.

Hardly were there business news, save for advertisements. Of the no-longer-existing products but nonetheless quaintly notable, let me mention just a couple of curious eye-catchers.

Men’s wristwatches brandnamed “Mabuhay” sold at a Carriedo store called “El Barato.” As an aside, “barato” is Spanish for ‘Cheap.” And is evidently the root of the expression when dickering or haggling over price. “Barat” or “binabarat,” meaning cheap or cheapening!

“Ang Tibay” shoes. (The durable!) The designs are very stylish and I dare say can rival the Florsheims and the Nunn-bushes carried by Heacock’s or Hamilton Brown. There, too, was “Olympian” rubber shoes. (My very first pair of “sapatos na goma!”)

Literature was not neglected. The Tribune gave it prominence. Local fiction occupied at least two pages each week, usually on pages 4 and 5. The featured short story authors were Nick Joaquin, Estrella Alfon, Teodoro Locsin, Bienvenido Santos, Amador T. Daguio and Conrado V. Pedroche, among many others. Accompanying illustrations were drawn by a young muralist from Angono, Rizal. Carlos “Botong” Francisco. He was to become a “National Artist for Painting” in 1973.

When photojournalism was at its infancy in Philippine media, the Tribune was making ample use of a very young Honesto T. Vitug. He has been called “Father of Philippine Photojournalism.” Later in life, Mr. Vitug put together a Coffee Table book, “I Shot the Presidents.” It featured all Presidents he had captured on film, from Emilio Aguinaldo to Cory Aquino, including memorable events surrounding each Presidency.

Throughout the Sunday Tribune issues I have perused, there is one ubiquitous prominence, in fact unavoidable not to be noticed! More than to any other single individual of the times, much square inches of printed space have been devoted. And this was to Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon (MLQ).

Photos courtesy of The Sunday Tribune
Photos courtesy of The Sunday Tribune
Photos courtesy of The Sunday Tribune
Photos courtesy of The Sunday Tribune
Photos courtesy of The Sunday Tribune

Not in fawning hero worship. The attractive and dominant presence of one single personality in the covers, cover story pages and pictorials of the Sunday Tribune, repeatedly over intervals of a few weeks, was a recordation and acknowledgment of a political reality.

Manuel L. Quezon had jump-started, and was presiding over, the political process of the Philippine Islands’ decolonization. Thus, our Commonwealth years, well deservedly, can be referred as the “Quezonian Era.” It appears that the Sunday Tribune nailed it!

Unqualified as I know I am, I cede to the academically credentialed historians the task of commenting upon and critiquing MLQ’s politics and political significance. Nonetheless, I am unable to resist calling attention to the dismal disparity in public official attire, between the Quezonian Era and the current dispensation. The impeccably elegant against the irredeemably sloven! Do you not find the contrast disturbingly jarring? I do, just as the great majority of us likewise do. It cannot be just a representation of the country’s changed social mores and norms. After all, polite society must still attire politely! Furthermore, the Presidency in the people’s consciousness is also etched by the propriety of his official garb.

Official attire is an expression of respect for the office one has been, by the people’s vote, elevated to. An absurd and grotesquely outlandish taste for official attire is a disgrace and a desecration of that office, in the very least, in fashion terms, if not in the esteem of the people.
As the pages of the Sunday Tribune portrayed, almost week after week, President Quezon’s sartorial elegance is legendary. A smart dresser no other Philippine President has matched. This is evidenced by many of his photographs attesting to the fact that he was a trendsetter in men’s fashion. He was our very own “Beau Brummell.”

Should we not then be in jubilation, that today’s Malacanang has failed to establish a men’s fashion trend?

The jarring contrast , however, cannot simply be dismissed by the incumbent Presidential chorus incanting that old Latin ditty: “De gustibus non est disputandum!” (In matters of taste, there can be no dispute!)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.