A hero newspaperman is a dead newspaperman

By Ermin Garcia Jr.


ON May 20, Wednesday, our PUNCH family will observe the 54th death anniversary of my father, Ermin Garcia (EG), our founder-editor-publisher (1955-1966)!

It was on May 20, 1966 when a politician, then Councilor Martin Soriano of Lingayen went to the PUNCH office in Dagupan City to stop my father from publishing a news expose that named him behind the payroll-padding racket in the municipal government. He shot my father in front of a visitor after an altercation when he said he refused to be threatened by him.

That he was murdered in his own editorial office by a town councilor in Lingayen was deemed a brazen attack on press freedom.

That violent attack on press freedom made the Quezon City Council step forward to honor him by renaming a street as Ermin Erfe Garcia St., the street that cuts across EDSA in Cubao District. (Some belatedly wondered and asked me –If he was deemed a hero and a press martyr by the country’s capital city, why hasn’t Dagupan City or Pangasinan honored him with a street as well? My response – “He was not a hero by Dagupan and Pangasinan politicians’ standards.”).

In a speech EG delivered as president of the Pangasinan Press and Radio Club a year before he was murdered, he clearly understood what was expected of journalists and the consequence to it. He said: “A hero newspaperman is a dead newspaperman.” (So when Rappler’s Maria Ressa and ABS-CBN bewail their court cases and shutdown respectively, as “an attack on press freedom”, I can only wonder if a different definition of press freedom has been established while the world slept).

As things go, the millennial and their younger generation in the province today can’t possibly know that there once lived an EG in Dagupan City, hailed as a press martyr, the first journalist murdered by a politician in defense of press freedom.

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THE DAY EG DIED. It was a stormy afternoon on May 20, 1966 when I received a call at home (I was 18 years old on a college vacation) from a PUNCH staffer Pete Quimson with one short message – “Your father was shot. He was brought to the hospital,” then he hung up.  I rushed to my mother inside their room to tell her about the message, and we both rushed out to the hospital in our car.

 On reaching the Pangasinan Provincial Hospital (now the Region 1 Medical Center), I saw my father lying on the floor, his chest bloodied, outside the emergency room. There was no stretcher and the hospital staff had to look for one. As I held him, he muttered: “Ask Don Rafael (Gonzalez, then the owner of Pantranco whom he considered his second father) for help.” Then he lost consciousness.

 He passed away inside the operating room. He was 45 years old.    

 Meanwhile, President Marcos immediately issued a shoot-to-kill order against the councilor who was considered armed and dangerous. But being the protegé of a Pangasinense cabinet member, Jake Clave, Soriano’s surrender was arranged. 

 (Clave also arranged for Soriano’s pardon after five years and reportedly for his employment at the Bureau of Customs. This enraged then Press Secretary Jose Aspiras and the press sector in the country). 

 Since I was still entering third year in college in Ateneo at the time, my uncle Gerardo took over the reins of The PUNCH. I only took over soon as I got my diploma in A.B. Behavioral Science (not mass communication or journalism) in 1968.

 Unknown to many, I willfully disobeyed my father’s wish.  He had advised my mother: “If anything should happen to me, I don’t want any of the children to continue it.”

 I pray that he already knows that I’ve had no regrets keeping his PUNCH running for the past 52 years with all its cash and staffing problems and harassment thrown our way with libel cases; that we, in the PUNCH, have had no problem operating in keeping with his mantra, Socrates’ notable quote: “ No man is to be reverenced than the Truth.”  

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CRIMINAL INTENT. There’s something seriously sinister about the proposed ordinance in Dagupan City, seeking to implement a three-day number coding for plates ending in odd and even numbers being pushed by Councilor Cisco Flores, a close ally of Mayor Brian Lim. This, in addition to the ordinances already imposing number-coding ban for tricycles and jeepneys in the city.

Instead of simply asking for stricter enforcement of traffic rules around the city to improve flow of traffic, why Mayor Lim wants to pass the burden to private vehicle owners (residents and visitors) from whom the city wants to extort P1,000-P5,000 in penalties from violators of the ultra-restrictive regulation, is beyond me.

What’s criminal about it, is provision that penalties that will be collected will not be submitted to the city’s general fund but to a ‘trust fund’ to “help improve the flow of traffic.”

I truly wonder how else can the one-way streets in the city’s commercial district be improved unless it is meant to pay monthly food and gas representation expenses of the mayor, ‘special’ consultants, city councilors and POSO chief when they discuss and think hard about improving the flow or the traffic on one-way streets, once a month! Being a trust fund, they will not be accountable nor be required to explain and justify the withdrawals from the ‘trust fund’. What a bunch of crooks!

Leave it to Mayor Lim and his cabal at the city hall and at the city council to be ingenious in creating ways to fatten their pockets using “Shared responsibility” as cover, and at the expense of their constituents whom they regard as hopelessly gullible, especially when residents are not looking.

To their credit, they got the right formula to be charged with graft before the Ombudsman.

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