25 June 2008

DJ Montano's Inspiration... Erap!

DJ Montano's inspiration, Erap

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The Manila Times was probably Estrada’s biggest victim in his crusade against the independent press. Its closure months after a presidential libel suit was described by former editor-in-chief Malou Mangahas as "death by corporate strangulation".

The Times was among the newspapers that ran stories critical of the Estrada administration.

On March 9, 1999, Estrada filed a P101-million libel suit versus the paper after it published a story on an alleged contract rigging in a P17 billion government contract awarded to IMPSA, an Argentine firm.

The expose, written by reporter Joel Gaborni and headlined "Palace in 17-B contract rigging’ with the subhead "President was unwitting ‘ninong’" reported about alleged last minute changes to the contract of the National Power Corporation project, which violated the government’s bidding rules.

Estrada’s libel suit prompted an apology from Times president Robina Gokongwei-Pe. The apology, which appeared in the first column written by Gokongwei-Pe for the Times, was published on the front page of the paper on April 8. Estrada announced the withdrawal of his libel suit against the Times on that day.

With the new editorial team, the Times remained as critical of the Estrada administration. Such reporting suddenly ended, however, when in July 23 the Gokongwei-owned Times published its last issue.

The involvement of Estrada’s associate in the sale and closure of the Times later became clear when Romero sold his shares to groups led by MARCEL CRESPO, Jimenez’ son and by banker Eric Tagle and Pablo de Borja. Tagle was associated with El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde, Estrada’s spiritual adviser.

The new management promised editorial independence, which the editorial staff actually enjoyed for some time. But as the cliche goes, some good things never last. On December 30, 1999, at least eleven editors were forced by the management to resign.

Journalist Diana Mendoza, who joined the new Times mid-December of 1999, wrote in the PJR March 2000 issue: "John [Nery] and Carlos [Conde] said what happened was as clear as day: the management fired the editors because the management wanted to put in place a team friendly to the management and to Malacaang." Nery and Conde were city editor and metro editor, respectively. They were among those forced to resign.

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