Producing a newspaper standing straight
By Vergel O. Santos
BusinessWorld/ May 26, 2003
Raul L. Locsin, publisher and editor of BusinessWorld and probably the last of his classic mold, is gone. He was 71.
He died on Saturday at St. Luke’s Hospital, where he had been taken two days before for drowning lungs, one in a complication of illnesses that had set in about three years ago. He had been under dialysis for some time for his failed kidneys.
He is survived by his wife, Letty, also his own executive editor, and children Barbara, Nonoy, Bingbing, Rina, Roman, and Kriss. He lies in state in the Arlington Memorial Homes on Araneta Ave., Quezon City, and will be cremated at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday in Funeraria Paz, also on Araneta Ave. His ashes will be returned to Arlington and will stay there until Wednesday and on Thursday will be taken to his alma mater, Ateneo de Manila, for necrological services.
Until Sunday noon, he had lain at BusinessWorld, which he had made his home in his terminal years. He would have preferred to have breathed his last there, and had said so himself. Newspapers was his life, and BusinessWorld and its forerunner, Business Day, were its crowning glory.
Raul Locsin was best known for two things, and they shone consistently in his newspapers: his fiercely independent editorship and his professional prightness. The first quality he had himself finally satisfied by putting up his own newspapers, and the second he owed, he said, to his parents.
“Before you even dream of touching the stars,” he remembered his mother repeatedly telling him, “first, you must stand straight.”
Locsin was not lacking in awards that made for a prestigious validation that he had learned the lesson well, but he was not one to covet awards. All he had always wanted, he always said, was to be able to produce a newspaper standing straight, something not easy to do in his time, unlike, comparatively, in his father’s.
Don Aurelio edited and published his own daily, in Spanish, for a captive market in Western Visayas. In time, though, his ageing subscribers began dying away, and so did the language. If only for love and tradition, he might have gone on publishing, but martial law discouraged him. Anyway, when he finally closed his newspaper, it had had a good run of more than 30 years.
The son himself had scarcely started his own newspaper when he was overtaken by martial law. He was in debt and, having chosen to operate right in the nation’s capital, he lay himself exposed to the agents of the repressive regime.
Five years earlier, he had taken out a bank loan for PhP5,000 to meet the minimum capital requirement and sold shares to raise money for his newspaper, under arrangements that guaranteed his independence as its editor and publisher.
Independence was, indeed, what life was all about for Locsin. He had worked as a reporter in the business news section of The Manila Chronicle, the national daily owned by Don Eugenio Lopez, the plutocrat, and felt bridled, naturally. He left to launch and edit The Economic Monitor, but did not last there either.
In any case, he was not giving up on newspapers. It had seemed predetermined by blood that newspapers should be his life. His mother wrote for his father’s paper. His brother Alfio was business news editor of The Manila Times, the only truly independent daily at the time. And his mother’s brother Arsenio H. Lacson, called “Arsenic” for the potency of his pen, is a legend of the profession.
Raul himself determined to make it on his own, with his own newspaper — that was Business Day.
“I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into,” he would later say. “I found myself taking out a new loan to pay the old one. I just hoped that at some point, I would be rescued from the vicious cycle.”
But what chance did a newspaper, not to mention an independent newspaper, have under martial law? As happened, Locsin’s paper managed in the end not only to turn itself around — he was able to pay the first loan on the 11th year and free himself from all obligations on the 20th — but also to beat the dictatorship. He put it all down to “fortune and brinkmanship.”
He said Ferdinand Marcos tolerated Business Day possibly because, being a specialized and an essentially nonpolitical paper, “it had only a small circulation and was beyond the reach and appreciation of the people he worried about — the masses.”
But more than that, “he found it useful sometimes,” Raul said, recalling how once Marcos pointed a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the American newspaper, to Business Day to illustrate the latitude he allowed the press. Indeed, no overground Philippine newspaper other than Business Day had dared test the regime in its early years, and, as it sensed Marcos’s power ebbing, it continued to do so with increasing measure and boldness.
In March 1984, six months after one single, treacherous bullet felled Benigno Aquino Jr., Marcos’s chief political rival, and signaled his own downfall, Locsin delivered a paper at a forum of editors at the East West Center, the press freedom headquarters in Hawaii, USA. It was a momentous spilling of our nation’s gut.
He said, summing up:
“With the declaration of martial law and the drafting of a new Constitution
— the leadership made known to the land that it had preempted a revolution to correct inequities and injustices spawned by concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a feudal few, defuse anarchy in the streets, and provide food, clothing and shelter, and economic well-being to every man, woman, and child in a new society.
“And thus even the great halls of our Congress were silenced, and what was known as the freest press in Asia was conscripted to preach the greater responsibility of national survival for a nation whose poverty and ignorance could ill afford the luxury of delaying progress by protracted debate and dissent “It seemed that the nation was caught in the euphoria and exhilaration of development, forgetting that the great civilizations of this world have seen their suns set on horizons studded with Parthenons, Taj Mahals, sphinxes and pyramids.
“New developing nations, obsessed with the search for identity and self-sufficiency, either contest or ignore the relentless logic of history as if one could escape its conclusion. Thus, criticism becomes disservice and dissent, subversion; repression by the state becomes a right and the freedom of the citizen, a privilege. National goals — so the illusion goes
— should not be deterred by human rights and sensibilities bred into mankind by the civilization process.
“But this is the paradox of growth and development. For the ascendancy of human rights and sensibilities is what really transforms the shame and dishonor of the past into the dignity and honor of the present.”
In 1986 the regime was defeated and democracy reinstalled. In Business Day’s own case, the irony was that, after emerging politically triumphant and at the same time financially healthy, it closed, plagued by labor trouble, the following year.
At about midyear, however, it returned, restructured as a cooperative and renamed BusinessWorld. Locsin had been contracted as publisher, editor and, effectively, manager, but, to all intents and purposes, it was his newspaper.
He carried over to the new paper the essential character of the old, especially the integrity, the independence and the brinkmanship. Not very long ago, for instance, a big advertiser took reprisals for a series of stories about it by boycotting the paper. Finally realizing it needed the paper more than the paper needed it, it offered to resume booking again, only to be told that it would have to wait three months, the exact length of time it had stayed away. That was typically Raul Locsin.
BusinessWorld has done much better than its forerunner ever did. It has consistently turned a profit. It now owns two buildings — one for the BusinessWorld editorial and executive offices and the other for its online edition, BusinessWorld Online — and the land where they stand. It also has it own printing press, World Press in Antipolo. Moreover, its moderately expanding operations have no match in the industry in technological sophistication.
After 20 years of Business Day, Raul said, he should no longer have any excuses.
But he still believed that the basic trick is to produce a newspaper standing straight.
The background part of this article is largely an updated adaptation of a sketch the writer did about Raul L. Locsin on the occasion of his selection for the Ramon Magasaysay Award in 2000.