After two years of living in extended hibernation triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, my wife and I decided to leave our cocoon in Hercules, California and flew to Manila for reunions with relatives, friends and colleagues and, to get recharged and refreshed.
During this much needed vacation, I had the opportunity to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) at its historic and iconic building (first earthquake-proof building in Manila) beside the Pasig river and Jones bridge and a stone’s throw from the centuries-old Walls of Intramuros.
Our Philippine News Today editor in chief Alfred G. Gabot, an honoree during the celebration being a former president and lifetime member, invited me to the NPC event knowing how a ‘bakasyonista’ would usually regard spending long hours at a formal event as boring and time-consuming. The ‘bakasyonita’ would rather use his limited time engaging with relatives, former classmates and teachers, and friends.
But not for this columnist. I certainly wanted to revisit the NPC, my old haunt, after decades of absence. During our time, Fridays were spectacular as NPC was always jampacked with journalists drawn by booze, exchanging stories and the Celebrity Night extravaganza.
Another Philippine News Today columnist, Atty. Emmanuel Tipon of Honolulu, Hawaii, who happened to be in Manila after a family reunion in Baguio City, was also with us and got in at the press club upon invitation of Fred, our editor in chief.
Apart from being an NPC president, Fred is a respected journalist having been a senior editor of the Manila Bulletin and the Daily Express for years, a book author and professor and had once served as Chairman of the Board of the Philippine Postal Corporation (PhlPost), Commissioner of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Regent of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, one of the country’s top universities, among others.
During Prof. Gabot’s tenure as president of NPC, the press club had unprecedented achievements never replicated in the history of the NPC up to today. One such achievement was putting the NPC Philippines on the level of the National Press Club of the United States in Washington D.C., the most powerful and influential press club in the world, through a sister-club agreement on February 16, 1999 in the presence of Ambassador Raul Rabe and officers of the two clubs.
AS NPC President, Gabot also launched the NPC Philippines chapters in San Francisco led by George Nervez, Los Angeles led by Val Abelgas and Chicago headed by Bart Tubalinal. I learned that in the late 1980s he was also one of the founding members of the media club in San Francisco along with former NPC Philippines members like Lilia Andolong, wife of NPC president Nereo Andolong; and Willie Jurado, which later became known as the Philippine American Press Club.
I can write tons and tons of stories about our editor in chief Alfred Gabot considering his exploits and achievements in journalism, government and education. But let me focus on his inspirational speech about the history of the NPC that he delivered prior to his receiving an Award of Recognition from the NPC officers led by first woman president Lydia Bueno and first woman vice president Kristina Maralit, as a former NPC president and lifetime NPC member.
Just like those in the full-packed Plaridel Hall where the event was held, I was startled in my seat to learn during the Gabot address that the NPC was literally founded by Ilocanos.
In fact, its first president in 1952, Luciano Millan, was an Ilocano from Asingan, Pangasinan. Millan, who initiated the acquisition of a lot where the headquarters of the NPC was to be built, became a congressman of Pangasinan after his two NPC terms.
Millan was succeeded as congressman by lawyer and Pangasinan News publisher and editor Narciso Ramos, one of the original Ilocano members of NPC and father of the late President Fidel V. Ramos.
The other Ilocano incorporators of the NPC were Jose Aspiras who became NPC president and a Cabinet member of President Marcos Sr. and later, an ambassador; Manuel Vijungco also of Pangasinan, Benjamin Osias of La Union, and Consuelo Abaya, among others. Two “Baguio boys” – Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr., also an incorporator, and Speaker Fernando Feliciano Belmonte Jr., perhaps the only surviving co-founder of NPC today, were also NPC originals.
According to Gabot, the NPC will not be what it is today without the support of two Ilocano Presidents – President Elpidio Rivera Quirino of Caoayan and Vigan, Ilocos Sur and President Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay of Iba and Castillejos, Zambales.
Despite heavy criticisms from the press due to alleged corruption and his so-called “golden arinola,” President Quirino gave the best gift ever to the NPC – signing Republic Act No. 905 on December 29, 1953 which conveyed for one peso NPC’s prime property at the heart of Manila, more than half hectare lot, 5,184.7 square meters in all, which today makes the NPC a veritable billionaire!
Quirino had just lost to Magsaysay, his defense secretary, in the presidential election when he signed the law! Congress reporters Antonio Alano of Manila Bulletin, Jose Guevarra of the Manila Times, and Jose Noble of the Manila Chronicle used their connections when they worked out in Congress the enactment of the law authorizing the sale of the lot for one peso to the NPC. Alano was one of the incorporators of the NPC like Speaker Mitra.
President Magsaysay, on the other hand, upon the prodding of the NPC then led by its president, Teodoro “Ka Doroy” Valencia of the Manila Times chain, gave the “go signal” for the then Republic Financing Corporation (RFC), forerunner of the present-day Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), to grant a loan of P354,000 to the NPC for the construction of the four-storey NPC building.
Harvard University-educated and multi-awarded architect Angel Nakpil designed the building and engineer Alberto T. Abaya built it starting in 1954. It was completed with facilities like an elevator with P150,000 raised by Valencia thru a fund drive.
On December 30, 1955, President Magsaysay came over to the NPC to inaugurate it. Many Philippine presidents hence visited the NPC building, including President Fidel Ramos, who launched a coffee table book authored by journalist Melandrew T. Velasco, another Philippine News Today columnist, about FVR’s lawyer-journalist-diplomat father Narciso Nachong Rueca Ramos, and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was a habitue of the club during her college days and who was the guest speaker of the NPC when its first ever founding anniversary celebration was held under the leadership of then NPC President Alfred Gabot.
According to Prof. Gabot, the abandoned Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. building and lot beside the NPC building is owned by the NPC. The press club allowed the PLDT to construct its building on its lot on a long-term lease agreement with the NPC, with the condition that at the end of the lease, the building becomes a property of NPC. Prof. Gabot rallied the current NPC leadership to check on that building, rather than being “a big eyesore” next to the imposing and beautiful NPC edifice.
Prof. Gabot also suggested that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also an Ilocano, could be another knight in shining armor to the NPC like Presidents Quirino and Magsaysay in the past for NPC to be able to pursue the vision for greatness by its founding fathers. This time President Marcos could help in the recovery of the PLDT building and the lot on which it stands, being part of the original lot conveyed to the NPC through Republic Act No. 905 signed by President Quirino.
As an active journalist for many years, I would like to thank you, former NPC President Alfred Gabot and now our editor in chief, for your insights on our prestigious club’s history, and for scoring unsurpassed achievements in the NPC and once more re-igniting the vision for greatness of the NPC founders.