Rizal streets in the middle of Iloilo City. Now known as Sarrosa- Padernal building, the disused three-level edifice hides a storied past—it was the epicenter of the operations of El Tiempo, the newspaper publishing venture of Lopez Group founder Eugenio “Eñing” Lopez Sr. (EL Sr.)
Known as the leading periodical in Western Visayas during its heyday, El Tiempo was not entirely a new venture for the Lopezes. Under EL Sr., the Spanish-language daily newspaper was on its second life, having been originated by EL Sr.’s father Benito in 1901.
However, Benito’s death at the hands of an assassin in early 1908 put an end not only to this venture, but also to the 30-yearold Lopez scion’s political career. (Ilonggo historian and council member Demy Sonza, in a 2011 privilege speech, said of Iloilo’s third governor: “Don Benito was the most brilliant among the Lopezes of his time. Had he not died he could have gone up the political leadership. …Benito Lopez lived a short life but truly, it was a life of honor, glory, and riches.”)
EL Sr. was six years old, while his only brother Fernando (“Nanding”) was four.
In 1929, EL Sr. returned to Iloilo with his young bride, Pacita “Nitang” Moreno, after spending several years in Manila. Under his belt was an honors degree from Ateneo de Manila, where he had been an interno or boarder since the age of 11; a law degree from the University of the Philippines; and two years of graduate studies at Harvard Law School. As a tribute to Benito, he decided to revive the old El Tiempo newspaper.
The young man built on Benito’s success in publishing, establishing a trilingual newspaper chain that included the English-language Iloilo Times— for which he occasionally wrote a column called “Tidbits”—and the Hiligaynon counterpart called Ang Panahon.
Spearheaded by EL Sr. himself, El Tiempo launched a crusade against illegal gambling “and the corruption it created in the local government.” In September 1929, the paper targeted then Governor Mariano Arroyo and the city’s police chief, who were reportedly involved in jueteng operations in Iloilo.
Arroyo hit back by suing El Tiempo for libel. By October 1930, the governor had been relieved of his position after a local judge was able to establish that he and the police chief were indeed “complicit in the local gambling racket.” EL Sr., the newbie publisher who took on the most powerful man in Iloilo, was barely 30.
In the 2007 book “The Power and the Glory” authored by Raul Rodrigo, Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. (ELJ) recalled of his father’s prewar newspaper: “That’s where he got his training or his inclination and enjoyment for running a newspaper and battling with the guys who were corrupt… When it came to fighting, and doing battle, especially with presidents and giants and all, he enjoyed that kind of battle.”
EL Sr.’s fearlessness extended to his personal fortune, an outlook that made him a “very dangerous enemy and also a very good friend.” “When he fought presidents, he decided he was going to risk his fortune. He didn’t care,” ELJ says in “The Power and the Glory.”
As youngsters, ELJ and his younger brother Oscar M. Lopez (OML)—who grew up to become newspaper publishers themselves—had their initial taste of the family tradition of journalism by becoming newsboys, selling their father’s newspaper on the streets of Iloilo.
Soon after World War II, with his business empire in Iloilo virtually gone, EL Sr. decided to relocate his family to Nitang’s hometown. For Manila, then as now, was where the action was.
Raring to immerse himself once more in newspaper publishing, he bought shares in a fledgling newspaper called the Chronicle for P255,000.
For 25 years until the declaration of martial law in 1972, his new newspaper became EL Sr.’s “vehicle for fighting one crusade after another, tackling his enemies and advocating his values,”Rodrigo wrote in “The Power and the Glory.” The crusading publisher had “established a tradition of tangling with executive power repeatedly and winning…. His career as a publisher confirmed the old newspaper adage: ‘Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.’”
Lopez Group chairman emeritus OML called the Chronicle a “recorder and actor in some of the most significant moments of Philippine history” in a 2008 speech. Aside from the infamous “What are we in power for?” exposé that brought down Senate President Jose Avelino in 1949, the Lopezes continued a tradition of tangling with the powers that be by challenging Pres. Marcos on “issues of corruption, hidden wealth and absolute rule.”
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Not for profit
Newspaper publishing was one of Eñing’s least profitable enterprises. His newspapers reached mostly the affluent readers, achieving small volumes and small margins, if any. But as his son Geny said: “My father loved the business of running a newspaper.” Eñing loved it so much that whenever he was reminded that he sometimes spent more money on his newspapers than a prudent businessman should, he liked to say: “Man does not live by bread alone. He also has to live on certain ideas and principles.” (Excerpted from “Undaunted)