Chino Roces and the Bridge at Mendiola

Since the late Marcos period at least, Mendiola Street has been known as a hotbed of protest activity as people marching there aimed to have their grievances and protests heard a bit closer by whoever is at Malacañang at the end of the said street. The epicenter of sorts of these activities is the bridge along Mendiola that crosses the Estero de San Miguel, named today in memory of one of those who took part in those protests along that storied street.

His name is Joaquin Roces, better known to family and friends as “Chino.” And he was no mere protester. He belonged to one of Manila’s most illustrious families, the Roces family who owned a bustling media conglomerate that flourished until 1972, when Martial Law was declared.

Chino Roces (courtesy of Malacanang Museum

Born on June 29, 1913 in San Miguel, Manila, Chino was one of the eight children of Alejandro “Moy” Roces Sr. and Antonia “Nena” Pardo. The patriarch Don Alejandro Sr. made a name as a journalist in the American colonial era, having established the first newspaper chain in the country, the Tribune-Vanguardia-Taliba group, acquired the long-running newspaper the Manila Times, and founded the Graphic Magazine, among others. With these achievements, Alejandro Roces Sr. is considered today as the father of modern Philippine journalism.

portrait of Alejandro Roces Sr. by Fernando Amorsolo (from Wikimedia Commons)

Having the same journalistic blood as his father, it would be Chino who would continue the legacy of his father and rebuild the Roces media conglomerate after World War II. Under his helm, Manila Times would become the flagship newspaper of the Roces print media and would rise to prominence as one of the country’s leading newspapers. Apart from print media, he would also helm the conglomerate’s entry into broadcasting with the opening of the Associated Broadcasting Company in 1960, the station we now today as TV5.

the pre-Martial Law Manila Times

With Ferdinand Marcos’ election to the presidency in 1965, Chino Roces soon became one of his harshest critics. The Manila Times and other Roces-owned media became venues of the exercise of press freedom against the issues of corruption and plans of possibly staying in power longer in the midst of the looming threat of possible martial law to make such thing happen. Then came Martial Law in 1972, prompting the closure of Manila Times and many other media outlets and the arrest of many media practitioners, including Chino Roces himself.

Chino was released soon after as sort of a tactical concession. (Marcos thought Chino was less of a threat than Ninoy Aquino who incidentally was a reporter of Manila Times once) Upon release, Chino wasted no time in taking the protest against the Marcos government to the streets, and this was at a time when many were afraid to speak out against Marcos with Martial Law in full swing.

Chino Roces at the streets, with Ramon Mitra in the background (courtesy of the Inquirer)

Then the assassination of Ninoy Aquino happened on August 21, 1983. It was the moment that broke the dam so to speak. And Chino was there to lead the growing number of dissenters against Marcos, even it meant being bombarded by water cannons by anti-protest police. It was also through his efforts that Ninoy’s widow Cory agreed to run for president in the 1986 snap elections, as he was able to gather a million signatures urging her to run, a mean feat at a time before social media and change.org were around.

Chino Roces on the streets (courtesy of Spirit of EDSA)

Chino Roces lived long enough to see the Marcos government toppled in the 1986 People Power Revolution. And for his efforts as a journalist and street parliamentarian, he was awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor in 1988 with the rank of Chief Commander, the highest honor ever given to a civilian.

Chino Roces died on September 30, 1988. But his memory lives on as a defender of press freedom and Philippine liberty. In his honor, the bridge at Mendiola which had served as a venue for his protests against the Marcos government was renamed as Chino Roces Bridge, a tribute to a man who had the courage to fight for the country’s freedom at a time few dared to do so.

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