The Manila Bulletin first came out as a modest four-page paper on February 2, 1900, focusing on shipping and other commercial information in the country. For us in the Manila Bulletin, today is a time to look back to this beginning that coincides with the historic transition of the Philippines to the modern world after three and a half centuries of Spanish colonial rule.
It is also a time to remember how the Bulletin grew together with the other institutions of the nation during those crucial years of growing Filipino nationhood — through the period of American rule in the following four decades, followed by Japanese invasion in 1941 and occupation for the next three years, recognition of Philippine independence by the Americans in 1946, and a succession of Philippine administrations in the next seven decades.
Through all these years the Manila Bulletin witnessed and recorded and, through its editorial and column pages, contributed to the shaping of the nation into what it is today – a democratic republican country with a free press like no other in our part of the world.
Today, the press remains a bulwark of freedom and progress in our country. We also see that freedom increasingly asserting itself in other parts of the world. We see it being threatened in some areas where some governments repress it, fearing they might not survive in a society of well-informed and assertive people.
There is a new danger in this area of mass information and freedom, one that moved Pope Francis to speak out in his general audience at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on January 24. He spoke on the evil of “fake news,” the spreading of false stories “to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.” False stories, he said, spread so quickly, advancing biased and baseless ideas. He condemned the “manipulative use of social networks” and other forms of communication. The role of journalists to stem fake news, he declared, is “not just a job; it is a mission.”
The term “fake news” may have gained worldwide attention because of its use by United States President Donald Trump to describe any negative report about him and has been picked up by other world leaders to use against the opposition in their countries. It is basically concocted reporting that should not slip by the critical eyes of responsible editors and reporters.
In the 118 years of the Manila Bulletin, it has gained a name as a newspaper that checks and double-checks all reports to ensure against libel but also against unjust and unfair treatment of those in the news, whether in or outside of the government. There have been newspapers which became known for their sensationalism, which attracts many readers, but the Manila Bulletin has become known as a rather conservative but solid source of information, not given to screaming headlines, concerned only with the truth and the significance of its reports.
On this 118th anniversary of the Manila Bulletin today, we renew this pledge to carry on the mission of a free press in our country, to inform the people that they may better carry out their duties as citizens of a democracy. We and the other members of the free press in the Philippines are protected by the Constitution no less: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
We value this freedom and we vow to defend and assert it as we look ahead to the coming years which, we are confident, will be as significant and momentous – probably even more so – as the last 118.