June 17, 2024

No matter how national papers, radio, TV, and online news go deep into the workplaces and living rooms of people today, newspapers that were founded and printed locally are still the most trusted storytellers of local politics, economics, trade and tourism; especially when they were published here, particularly at a time when the war-torn communities were rising from the ruins.

The Midland Courier is the classic example in this case. Bearing the slogan “Fair, Fearless, Friendly, Free” on its maiden issue on April 28, 1947; it reported about the repairs and rehabilitation efforts over war damages in Baguio, Benguet and other Cordillera towns.

Just two years late after the last bomb that ended the war was dropped in 1945, the “Midland” as it is popularly called is considered one of the oldest community newspapers in the country, partly or fully responsible in influencing trade industries, public works, economics and politics; making Baguio, Benguet, and the Cordillera the tourism and education centers north of Luzon.

From that time the Hamada brothers Sinai, Oseo, their siblings and machine operators printed the first 100 copies of the Midland Courier 77 years ago, there is no more denying that the newspaper opened prospects that gave benefits to the people and continuously remodeled or refined culture, tradition, and politics in these parts.

But even with highly trained personalities at the helm of the newspaper the likes of Sinai C. Hamada as its editor, Associate Editor Eduardo Masferre, News Editor Benjamin Rillera, Opinion and Lifestyle Editor Cecile C. Afable, and Business Manager Oseo C. Hamada; the Midland Courier had its ups and downs.

However, what was important was that the editors made sure the newspaper delivered a careful analysis of news to its readers in the mountain provinces and the Ilocandia while it lived up to its motto of being fair, fearless, friendly, and free.

The Midland Courier has become a part of the way-of-life of readers in the Cordillera as can always be noticed of people on a Sunday passing around a lone copy of the newspaper just to read firsthand the latest news about their hometown.

Since it is one of the longest running community newspapers in the country, it is of no doubt that the paper had printed hundreds of all kinds of news, including corruption and crimes committed by politicians and private individuals, thereby guiding citizens about whom to choose as public servants.

This was confirmed when I crossed paths with my cousin Poleon Fianza recently. I asked him what he thought about the Midland Courier influencing in some way the politics here and he said, the newspaper is sought after as the fastest available means of knowing updates about politicians, including the anomalies they committed and their accomplishments.

CHILDREN OF GREAT BENGUET LEADERSChildren of three great Benguet leaders — former governor and lawmaker Nestor Fongwan, Sr., former governor Raul MOintas, and former lawmaker Samuel Dangwa — who have gone to the great beyond posed for a snapshot at the 50th anniversary celebration of BENECO on Oct. 27, 2023. Politics in Benguet is ever gentle and peaceful with political leaders and their children showing tremendous respect to each other. In phto are (from left) Priscilla Fongwan and daughter, Board Member Rose Fongwan-Kepes, Chairmaine Molintas-Likigan, and former Benguet Vice Gov. Nelson Dangwa. — Contributed photo

What immediately came to my mind when I was asked to write about this topic was the political battle between two personalities who were mavericks in their respective fields then. This was before they launched a friendly war against each other in the race for the governorship of the Province of Benguet.

I am referring to Engr. Horacio C. Ramos of Tublay, first Regional Executive Director (RED) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources interim regional office of the Cordillera Administrative Region that was newly-created in 1987.

His rival in the gubernatorial race in 1992 was Benguet Board Member Jaime Paul Panganiban of Mankayan, a college student activist, a former tourism promoter and a former news correspondent who became an outspoken legislator in the provincial board.

Comparing the financial resources of the two gubernatorial bets, BM Panganiban claimed the percentage ratio was at 80 to 20 in favor of RED Ramos who was the administration bet thus, having DENR Secretary Fulgencio Factoran as his campaign manager.

To demonstrate, in one campaign sortie in Kabayan where Ramos was scheduled to speak, the crowd instead was happy to welcome and allow Panganiban on the stage that was apparently prepared for the administration party line-up.

With squealing pigs to be killed for dinner, gongs and solibao (bongo drums) being heated for the political party of Sec. Factoran and Ramos who were yet to arrive, Panganiban grabbed the opportunity to articulate his political platform to the crowd.

At the same time, he apologized for gatecrashing his rival’s campaign schedule and begged for the crowd’s compassion and understanding, telling them that he does not have extra money to buy “baboy ken samigel” (pigs and San Miguel gin), and all he can offer is public service.

Panganiban won the friendly gubernatorial race in 1992, even proudly declaring that he spent only 15 to 20 percent of the expenses of Ramos. What made him win was not the lack of campaign resources, but the free weekly ads he got every time his name and legislative actions hit the news pages of the Midland Courier when he was a board member.

La Trinidad Councilor John Botiwey who reads the weekly Midland corroborated this, claiming that frequent exposure of personalities and their accomplishments on the news pages makes readers easily recall names of politicians.

The councilor talks about the Midland shaping Benguet politics due to media mileage. He said, the more news items covering the accomplishments of politicians appear in newspapers, this will shape the preference of voters in selecting and supporting candidates. This is the direct effect of the media on politics, Botiwey said.  

Another avid reader of the Midland Courier, La Trinidad Councilor Bart Baldas shared to us his thoughts about politics in Benguet in relation to reading local newspapers. He confirmed that “media in whatever form helps shape our political views as a people.”

RISE AND FALL OF LEADERSThe Midland Courier also chronicled the rise and fall of almost all ranking leaders in the Cordillera such as Atty. Mauricio Domogan, one of the most prominent political figures north of Manila and who had been into politics for more than 30 years. — Harley F. Palangchao

He goes on to say: “The Province of Benguet is no exception. The people in politics and business in La Trinidad to the farthest sitios of our remote municipalities rely on what they read and what they hear either from social, broadcast and print media. Although social media is “king”, being the most popular media among our people, print and broadcast media cannot be ignored.”

Looking back, I remember one morning while having breakfast with the late Benguet Governor Ben Palispis at the old Dainty Restaurant. He called my attention about a news item containing a list of waterworks projects, foot bridges, waiting sheds and their beneficiary barangays.

As former governor, he noticed that the Office for Northern Cultural Communities (ONCC) – predecessor of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples – has overtaken the province in terms of providing water to the barangays.

With that, Gov. Palispis already had the strong premonition that Atty. Ronald M. Cosalan, erstwhile executive director of ONCC, had plans to throw his hat in the political arena of Benguet.

His suspicion was right. The political landscape has taken another form as Cosalan won over Rep. Samuel M. Dangwa in the congressional contest in 1995.

I can easily put the “blame” on the Midland Courier for the change of representation in the House of Representatives, considering the number of news articles that mentioned Atty. Cosalan and the projects of his office that truly benefited its clientele. I personally knew this since I was part of the editorial staff of Midland once upon a time.    

This proves that community newspapers, the Midland in particular, has the fundamental character of providing information to a specific readership, whether this is in the form of news, editorial, opinion, or advertisement. Therefore, readers buy Midland because they expect to read the information they need.

Another advantageous character of a local weekly newspaper is its ability to analyze and choose which topics to come up with for publication on the weekend by studying and anticipating the sentiment of the reading public.   

Councilor Baldas further suggested that to have a very tangible effect in Benguet’s political landscape, the Midland must continue to publish issues and news pertaining to the province, but it should not limit its publication to “print media” as it should amplify the same issues in its social media page. This, he said, is just his thought.

Businessman Thomas A. Abodiles Jr., who said his Sunday is not complete without holding a copy of the Midland, gave a thumbs-up sign to what councilor Baldas thought about news on social media.

The Midland, he said, can further change the status of politics in the Cordillera for the better by adopting innovations on social media that can best suit its local audience. The Midland Courier which has been in our midst “since God knows when”, Councilor Baldas said, indeed helped influence and shape the political landscape of the provinces in the Cordillera, most especially Benguet, as it had been in existence for decades and stood tall amongst all the so-called local papers, aside from being circulated widely.