My friend and colleague Yvonne Chua sent me a text from Hanoi asking me to pass on to Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrad de Quiros and other Filipino journalists the message that Rizal Yuyitung had passed away in Toronto, Canada on April 19.
Rizal Yuyitung is one of two brothers, the older one being Quintin, who published and managed the Chinese Commercial News (CCN), the leading Chinese daily in the Philippines prior to the declaration of Martial Law. The brothers experienced the iron fist of state repression in the 1960s and became symbols of press freedom under attack.
The book The Case of the Yuyitung Brothers: Philippine Press Freedom Under Siege (2000), compiled and edited by Rizal Yuyitung had a foreword written by former Senate President Jovito Salonga. Here is an excerpt:
….in 1962, at the start of the (Diosdado) Macapagal Administration, the two brothers and the CCN staff were arrested and detained by the military due to the “publication from 1949 to 1962 of news items and articles which are (1) favorable to the Communist cause in general, (2) derogatory to the government of the Republic of the Philippines and (3) intended to influence the local Chinese community to be sympathetic with the Communist regime in Red China.” I can only think of a few narrow-minded officers in the military establishment during Macapagal’s time who would conceive of such high-faluting nonsense.
The brothers were later released but the case, and the threat of deportation, remained hanging over their heads. It was to be revived years later by President Ferdinand Marcos, during the time that was marked by student unrest and daily rallies, with the bloodiest taking place in the last days of January into February 1970, the period that would later be called the First Quarter Storm.
“The local newspapers reported these events, and the Chinese Commercial News did so, with admirable objectivity and fairness,” wrote Salonga. But the Marcos government, like the Macapagal administration before it, literally saw red.
In the same book, the Yuyitung brothers’ lawyer at that time (now Senator) Joker Arroyo, narrated what happened to them in 1970:
So one fine day in March 1970, immigration agents swooped down on Quintin and Rizal and arrested them with the plan to summarily deport them as undesirable aliens.
Their offense? Publishing in their paper, the CCN, news about conditions in the communist mainland. But CCN did not invent any news. What they published were news reports from the international wire services namely, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence-France Press, and United Press International….
… Since the charges could not stick, the Yuyitung brothers, under false pretenses, were lured in the dead of night out of their house by immgration agents, forcibly brought to Basa Air Base and turned over to the Philippine military authorities. They were forcibly put on board a Philippine Air Force plane, which whisked them off to Taipeh and were turned over to the Taiwan Garrison Command. It was kidnapping plain and simple perpetrated by conspiracy of two governments. So sudden and lightning was the kidnapping that they did not even have toothbrush or any toiletries with them.
…. Question: Quintin and Rizal, who were both born and lived all their lives in the Philippines, had never been to Taiwan. True they remained Chinese citizens, but how could the Taiwan Garrison Command try them for what they allegedly committed, not in Taiwan but in the Philippines?
…. After the kangaroo trial, the military court sentenced Quintin to two years and Rizal to three years of reformatory education.
Years later, in 1972, when Marcos declared Martial Law, the military again swooped down on CCN in the wave of arrests of journalists and Marcos opponents. They arrested Veronica Yuyitung, painter and wife of Rizal Yuyitung.
Forty-five years since the Yuyitung brothers were first arrested, the country is back under the rule of a Macapagal, and the press is still under attack. Forty-five years later, Filipinos would do well to remember the words of Quintin Yuyitung, spoken in 1973 after he was released:
Public officials should not be sensitive to criticism and exposure of the press as such is the only means with which the people can help the government correct errors and suppress abuses. The press is only the extension of the people’s thinking. The suppression of the press is tantamount to the right of the people to think and of the opportunity to help the government discover the truth. The other function of the press is to inform. If the people are not properly informed, how could they think properly? What freedom do we have left if we are not even allowed to think?
After their incarceration in Taiwan, the brothers moved to North America, Quintin to the United States and Rizal to Canada. Quintin Yuyitung died years ago and although Rizal’s demise the other day, as one friend said, signals the passing of an era, a new generation of like-minded journalists has taken their place.