The Manila Bulletin observes its 121st anniversary today. Its first issue came out on February 2, 1900, one of a number of newspapers set up at the start of the American occupation in 1899 that followed 350 years of the Spanish colonial era.
The newspapers organized at the start of the American era were in the great tradition of American press freedom, but Filipino publications date much earlier in the country’s history. La Solidaridad, which carried articles by young Filipino students in Europe — Graciano Lopez Jaena, Marcelo H. del Pilar, and Jose Rizal — called for equal rights for Filipinos and Spaniards. These three went on to call for Philippine independence after the Philippine Revolution of 1898.
From the beginning, the Bulletin became known for presenting facts fairly, impartially, and authoritatively. It continued publishing even after the start of World War II but on the night of January 2, 1942, a Japanese consular official, with a group of soldiers who had just entered Manila, ordered the Bulletin to stop publishing. The editor, Roy C. Bennet, was arrested and jailed at Fort Santiago. After the war, Philippine newspapers were quickly back in operation, among them the Bulletin under Bennet who had returned from the US, later succeeded by Ford Wilkins.
In 1957, Carson Taylor, who had found the newspaper in 1900, announced its sale to Menzi & Co. and Brig. Gen. Hans M. Menzi, Filipino industrialist, became the new publisher. Shortly after taking over, he laid down his credo:
“The Manila Bulletin will continue to be the ‘Exponent of Philippine progress’. By our presentation of news, we shall strive, as the Bulletin has always done, for fairness, accuracy, and good writing, without bias in political matters. We shall remain independent of party or creed. Our code is one of decency and principle. Our editorial policy will be our guide as in the past, advocating what we think is best for the Philippines. We will continue to be critical of ideas and actuations which we believe to be contrary to the best interest of this country and its people. So far as we can make it, our criticism will be always constructive.”
At the beginning of martial law in 1972, only two new newspapers were allowed to publish. All the previous newspapers applied for permission to publish and after about two months, the President allowed one of the old papers to continue – the Bulletin, but under a new name Bulletin Today, with Ben F. Rodriguez as editor-in-chief.
The Bulletin had to conform with all the restrictions of martial law, but after a while, it was allowed to publish minor opposition stories. Over the years, these stories boosted the paper’s circulation – from about 10,000 before martial law to over 300,000, so hungry were the people for real news. When, after 1986, the Marcos administration came to an end, the Bulletin had become truly the nation’s leading newspaper.
In 1982, General Menzi passed on ownership; of the publication to philanthropist-businessman Dr. Emilio T. Yap, under whose chairmanship the publication grew with many new publications, notably Panorama, Tempo, and Balita. Earlier, it moved to its new building on Muralla St. in Intramuros.
In 1986, the People Power Revolution ended the Marcos era with all its repressions and many new newspapers emerged. The Bulletin Today of the martial law years was renamed simply The Manila Bulletin.
When Dr. Emilio T. Yap passed away in 2014, new Chairman Basilio C. Yap and Executive Vice President — now President — Dr. Emilio C. Yap III took over. They have now led the Bulletin into the new age of digital communication. Aside from its traditional print edition, the Bulletin today has an on-line edition that quickly reports the news as it happens around the clock.
It has been 121 years since the Bulletin was born in 1900. It has been enriched by a over a century of involvement in Philippine national affairs, in a world war and its encounter with Japanese occupiers, in the restoration of press freedom and its role in the events that led to national independence in 1946, through the dark years of martial law, and the renaissance of freedom that lifted our country in 1986.
Through it all, through all these 121 years, the Bulletin has thrived, witnessing, recording, and adding its voice to the development and growth of our nation. It looks forward to the coming years, proud of its history and determined to carry on with its tradition of press freedom and as Exponent of Philippine Progress.