I WAS watching the early-morning news on television when I got the sad news from our Capampangan in Media Inc. (Cami) chat group that Alfred “Fred” Roxas died. He was in the United States living with his family for the past few years. There goes the last of the first generation of reporters covering Camp Olivas and Central Luzon beat. Fred was quite older than I am, but we were buddies and had escapades in our youth. It was like Karl Malden and Michael Douglas' partnership in that popular TV series Streets of San Francisco. There were several orbits we made together.
I remember once we visited Major Tomas P.Diaz who was then the officer-in-charge of Olongapo City police department. We were expecting a good time in those clubs along the beaches but only to be told that our host was summoned by his bosses in Camp Crame. “BAGSAK TABIKE,” muttered Fred. (Komo nilayasan na tayo ni Fred, only me and Lino Sanchez were the two last men standing among senior reporters.)
Looking back, particularly in the 50s and 60s, there were only a few newsmen in the province. Fred and Ben Gamos were Bulacan residents but were based in Camp Olivas. The digital age would come so much late. Us newsmen in those years filed our stories through long-distance calls to the newspaper desks in Manila. No fax machines, no iPads and no cell phones yet. We have to have so much patience in making the calls. Place it in the morning; lucky indeed if you will get connected after lunch. The other option is to travel to Manila from your base of coverage.
In those years, the most popular newspapermen in Pampanga were Silvestre Songco, Lino Sanchez Sr., Lito Suarez, Joe Roman, Tomas San Pedro, Macario Fabian, Hector Soto, Marcelino Pangilinan, Ben Gamos, Butch Maglaqui and my brother Greg (all hopefully in heaven now).
Newsmen based in Camp Olivas were the more popular and influential considering their proximity to and their state of rubbing elbows with the military top brass. It was also in those years when the Philippine Constabulary had four zones and Camp Olivas was the headquarter of the 1st PC Zone. There were only a few constabulary generals in the whole organization. Notable among those assigned in Camp Olivas were Generals Lucas Cauton, Rafael Ileto, Felizardo Tanabe, EmilioZerrudo, Tomas Diaz and Romeo Gatan, among others.
I was publisher-editor of the news weekly, Pampanga Examiner, and at the same time, correspondent of Daily Star and stringer for Copley News Service. It was that period when I was starting to learn the ropes, so to speak. The tabloid publishers were Armando P. Baluyut, San Pedro’s Luzon Courier (where Bren Z Guiao who became Pampanga governor started his writing career), Lino Sanchez Sr.’ Pampanga Tribune, and Ram Mercado’s Star Reporter. Those were interesting years. Only a handful of us. No hao siaos.
The local publishers like Apong Mandong and Tatang Tom had the unusual knack of knowing where to get financial support/advertising. Their invited columnists were the one espousing causes and undertaking individual crusades. In my case, I was not content being a correspondent of a national newspaper and one of the Voice columnists. In between newspapering, I engaged myself in other ventures and became a radio commentator of the two radio stations in Angeles City, the Puyat-owned DZAB, and the DZYA, owned by the late Boss Danding Cojuangco.
Aside from Fred, Ram Mercado was my regular partner in covering the beat or whatever you may call it, and he has this to say of me in one of his writings. “Max didn’t read the news in whatever accent neither did he recite Pampango poetry. He was a hard-hitting, thunder and lightning commentator.” At that particular period in Pampanga, the national law enforcement agencies tagged Central Luzon, particularly Angeles City, as a hotspot. This was the period when the Huk movement was at its strongest. And it was in Angeles City where I based my editorial operations. As a young newsman full of idealism I got into trouble either from the dissident groups, the military and from local politicians. Thank God I am still alive and can still write articles.