LAST May 20, 2016, marked the 50th death anniversary of my father, Ermin Sr., the founding editor-publisher of Sunday PUNCH. Those who had developed the habit of reading the paper in the 60s do remember what happened on that fateful day in 1966.
But I am certain the Millennial generation today could not possibly know or understand his violent death’s impact on the practice of journalism in Pangasinan and in the rest of the country. Perhaps besides being familiar with the Ermin Garcia St. along EDSA in Cubao District, Quezon City, nothing really comes to mind about him. I’m even certain that many continue to wonder, on seeing the name Ermin Garcia painted on a waiting shed, whether the guy was a boy scout, a policeman or a soldier who died a heroic death to deserve a street named after him.
So when I was asked on several occasions who and what my namesake was, they couldn’t comprehend why a journalist in this day and age could be heralded a hero in this country, especially in the present context when killing journalists is almost as common as soldiers being waylaid in Mindanao.
Badge of Honor
Allow me to share my own view of his death after 50 years.
My father was the first journalist in the country who was shot and killed in his editorial office in the early years of the Marcos era. In those days, the killing of a newspaperman was unheard of. Nobody kills a newspaperman, especially a journalist in a small city like Dagupan City at the time. (Actually, a journalist in Cebu was killed a year earlier but the circumstances were not fully known). In Ermin Sr.’s case, a town councilor from Lingayen sought him out in his office one stormy day with one thing in mind — to stop the publication of a news report about his involvement in the payroll-padding racket in his town.
The politician, a protégé of a Malacañang senior official, was armed and so were two of his henchmen. He pumped three bullets in my father’s chest when my father flatly rejected his demand. There were the first hand accounts of my father’s visitor in his office that time and two of his office staff.
All the Manila dailies, magazines and news radio rallied to his cause and lent pressure on President Marcos to have the gunman arrested. And Mr. Marcos did just that. He issued a shoot-to-kill order, and the councilor surrendered after 3 days in hiding.
Ermin Sr.’s death could have had a chilling effect but it didn’t. On the contrary, it marked the beginning of a new era, an era of fearless journalists who want to make a difference. Community journalists and radio commentators embraced the advocacy against corruption and injustice, abuses and malpractices. But as my dad’s example had shown, it didn’t take long before more journalists began taking bullets from the corrupt and abusive men in government. This kept on until our country became one of the countries in the world where the practice of journalism was considered hazardous and extremely dangerous.
The only consolation that those brave and selfless men and women in the journalism practice found and accepted, was the thought that to be killed while defending press freedom and fighting corruption is a badge of honor.
As Ermin Sr. correctly cited in his inaugural speech as president of the Pangasinan Press and Radio Club a year before he was gunned down: “A hero newspaperman is a dead newspaperman.”
Let not the deaths of our brothers and sisters in journalism be all in vain. Let us keep the advocacy alive.
Editor’s Note: Both Ermin Garcia Sr. and his son Ermin Garcia Jr. are alumni of Ateneo de Manila University. Two years later after the assassination of his father, the younger Garcia took over the management of The Sunday Punch in Dagupan City.