Jose Burgos, Jr., 1941-2003

Journalist and farmer Jose Burgos Jr., named one of the world's "50 Press Freedom Heroes of the Century" by the International Press Institute (IPI) in 2000, was the leading symbol of the "alternative press" or "mosquito press" that exposed the truth about the Marcos dictatorship with his publication WE Forum.

He was jailed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos along with his leading columnists and staff members after a raid on his newspaper office in December 1982, but went back to active publishing just a month after being released from prison.

With WE Forum's printing plant padlocked and sedition charges still pending in court, Burgos tested the limits of press freedom by publishing the Ang Pahayagang Malaya as a national broadsheet weekly in early 1983, eventually becoming a daily newspaper shortly after the assassination of Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. on Aug. 21 of the same year.

WE Forum itself resumed publication in 1985 after the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, declared the raid illegal and overturned the government case against the Burgoses.

Burgos started his long journalistic career as a police reporter with the Philippines Herald-dzHP in 1961. As a fearless, investigative police reporter with the Times-Mirror-Taliba chain of newspapers of Don Joaquin "Chino" Roces, Burgos was 29 when he was chosen one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) in 1970, for his reportage of election-related violence in Ilocos Sur, his home province.

After martial law, with the Roces publications padlocked and the old man Roces thrown in jail, Burgos decided, after stints with the National Housing Authority (NHA) and the Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC), to try his hand at publishing an independent newspaper, coming out with the WE (For the Young Filipino) in May 1977, later renaming it WE Forum.

In recognition of his advocacy of press freedom under martial-law conditions, the InterPress Service named him the "International Journalist of the Year" in 1986, shortly after the people power revolt. It was an award he received in rites at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

As part of the millennium celebrations in 2000 and the IPI's 50th anniversary, Burgos was named one of the 50 "World Press Freedom Heroes of the Century," receiving the award in special rites in Boston.

On May 10, 2000, the Philippine Senate unanimously adopted Senate Resolution No. 52 "honoring Jose G. Burgos Jr. for his heroic deeds and steadfast struggle as a journalist."

*Adapted from "Burgos, press freedom icon, 62," Philippine Star, 17 November 2003.