Information--timely, accurate information--is the common coin of democratic life. Without it, the debates that animate the talk of citizens and guide them as voters are pointless. For democracy to work, truth must be in the public domain. Yet often it is not. Even democratically elected governments frequently hide or distort information that incriminates or embarrasses them. Because of this, citizens depend on the press to discern what is true and make it public. In the Philippines, this high calling is personified by Eugenia Duran Apostol.
Eugenia Apostol spent her early years in Sorsogon, Philippines, where she was born in 1925, and later moved to Manila where her father served in the National Assembly. She studied Philosophy and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas and began her career in journalism writing for Catholic magazines. Then, for twenty years, she edited the women's pages of the Manila Times and the Manila Chronicle, bringing a fresh approach to the "lipstick beat" by appealing to intelligent, civic-minded women readers. When Ferdinand Marcos closed the country's independent newspapers at the onset of martial law in 1972, Apostol found a niche with Women's Home Companion and later launched a new magazine with the hip name of Mr. & Ms. In 1981, she joined a few brave others in the "mosquito press" and began publishing articles openly critical of the dictatorship.
The assassination of Marcos's rival Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino in August 1983 led Apostol to abandon restraint. "From then on there was no stopping," she says. Defying the regime, Mr. & Ms. published sixteen pages of photographs and text depicting the tumultuous public response to the killing. Afterwards, special editions of Mr. and Ms. reported weekly on Marcos abuses and the rising opposition. Emboldened by the revelations, readers snapped up copies by the hundreds of thousands. As the political crisis deepened in late 1985, Apostol rose to meet the need for an independent newspaper. Under her leadership, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported fearlessly on Corazon Aquino's popular drive for the presidency and its jubilant people-power climax, the EDSA Revolution.
Apostol built the Inquirer's reputation on integrity and independence, maintaining a critical distance from Mrs. Aquino's new administration. She set high professional standards for the industry and required her own reporters to honor the Philippine Journalist's Code of Ethics. Apostol stepped down as the Inquirer's publisher in 1994 but reentered the fray in 1999 with the Pinoy Times. This Taglish-language tabloid took up the cudgels against President Joseph Estrada's assaults on press freedom and responded to public hunger for the truth about his unexplained wealth and wayward leadership. It sold in the millions and buoyed the movement for Estrada's ouster. But advertisers feared reprisal from the administration and stayed away. When the paper lost money, Apostol covered its expenses personally.
The EDSA Revolution brought many good things but not an end to corruption and misgovernment. Apostol concludes from this that "we have to educate our people better." This is something she is doing through the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, which she founded with friends in 1996. Its programs promote excellence among teachers and call on the spirit of people power to upgrade instruction and facilities in Philippine public schools.
Apostol is legendary among her friends for her passion, wit, and irreverence. And grace: Eggie loves to dance. Reflecting on the momentous role she played in reclaiming her country's press freedom and restoring democracy, she says. "I was just doing what should have been done. Journalists have to tell the truth."
In electing Eugenia Duran Apostol to receive the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the board of trustees recognizes her courageous example in placing the truth-telling press at the center of the struggle for democratic rights and better government in the Philippines.