THE Manila Bulletin observes today its 119th anniversary as a Philippine newspaper that has witnessed, recorded, and contributed to the development and growth of our country, all in the great tradition of press freedom.
Except for the three years of the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines in 1942-45 and two months at the start of martial law in 1972, the Manila Bulletin has come out every day since its very first issue on February 2, 1900.
We are proud of that longevity. During all those years, the Bulletin saw and reported on the Philippines as it came together as a nation, initially under new colonial officials who introduced new systems and new values that replaced those that had helped shape us in the previous three and a half centuries.
Among those values was a freedom that was not known in most parts of the world – freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of speech. In that first year and a half, 24 newspapers were started, but most did not last long; only one survived until 1929. But one was established in 1900 and it lasted for the next 119 years – the Bulletin.
The same banner of freedom of the press waves over our country to this day. It is a freedom protected by our Constitution: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” It is a freedom we inherited from the US whose Constitution provides in almost the same words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
The Philippines developed in this atmosphere of press freedom. The Bulletin and all the other newspapers that came to be published in the succeeding decades thus played a significant role in the growth of the nation, keeping close watch on government, on economic developments, on social affairs. The press recorded these events even as it kept a watchful and critical eye on those in government in hopes that it would help avert excesses and abuses.
The Philippine press was closed down by Japanese Occupation forces from 1942 to 1945. It was again closed down by martial law in 1972, leading to an administration that stayed in power for the next 14 years, until the People Power Revolution of 1986. This may explain why the press today is sensitive to proclamations or even just threats of martial law or of emergency government.
Today, the Philippine press is free and the Manila Bulletin carries on in its traditional coverage of the news all over the country and around the world. Our people are well informed about all that is happening today in the United States, China, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Africa. And they are highly informed about events in our own country, such as the recent bombing in Jolo, the suffering of those hit by typhoons from north to south of our islands, the campaigns against drugs and other threats to national stability and security, and the continuing peace efforts with various criminal or separatist groups.
Today, we in the Bulletin celebrate our continuing coverage of all these events in the last 119 years and we will continue to carry on for many more years, a newspaper of record, a newspaper in a free society, with its distinct role in the national life, as it exercises the great freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press that lies at the core of our democracy.