PNA's birth in 1973 came a year after PNS' death

By Severino Samonte

February 27, 2021, 5:58 pm

<p><em>(File photo)</em></p>

(File photo)

MANILA – Many of the millennial Filipino journalists may be interested to know that the Philippines used to have its own news agency even before the advent of martial law imposed in September 1972 by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Yes, that privately-owned news outfit was the Philippine News Service (PNS), the predecessor of the present government-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) which marks its 48th anniversary this coming March 1.

PNS was organized in 1950 as a news-gathering cooperative by the publishers of the then major and leading national newspapers--the Manila Times-Mirror-Taliba, Manila Chronicle, Manila Bulletin, Philippines Herald, Evening News, Bagong Buhay, and Fookien Times. Its main function then was to supply daily news and photos from the provinces to these newspapers as well as to those in the provinces.

Radio and television stations also used the PNS stories for a fixed monthly fee or subscription. Foreign news agencies, such as the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse, and a few private entities were also allowed to subscribe.

Through the old mail system (using stamps and envelopes), it also maintained a news exchange agreement with foreign news agencies such as Antara of Indonesia, Bernama of Malaysia, Kyodo of Japan, Yonhap of South Korea, Central News Agency of Taiwan, and Tass News Agency of the former Soviet Union, among several others.

When Marcos declared a nationwide state of martial law under Proclamation No, 1081 on Sept. 21, 1972, PNS was forced to cease its 24-hour daily operations since its major clients– newspapers, radio, and TV stations–were padlocked and guarded by government troops. At the time of its closure, PNS had some 120 news correspondents from all provinces and cities of the country.

About four months after the imposition of martial law and shortly after Marcos allowed a handful of newspapers and broadcast outfits to reopen, a group of former newspaper editors asked then Department of Public Information (DPI) Secretary and later on Senator Francisco S. Tatad to explore the possibility of opening a government news agency by acquiring the World War II-vintage teletype machines and other equipment of the PNS.

The persistence of such a group of editors to once again set up an even more dynamic wire news agency bore fruit when PNS was allowed to reopen but under a new name – Philippines News Agency (PNA) as the government’s official news outfit.

Negotiations for the acquisition of the PNS equipment were done by a group of former newspapermen from Tatad’s office at Malacañang, including the late Bureau of National and Foreign Information (BNFI) Director Lorenzo J. Cruz and the late Press Undersecretary Amante Bigornia.

The amount paid by the government for the old PNS teletype machines, typewriters, mimeographing machines, and a photo darkroom plus few cameras was used to pay the delayed salaries of the PNS staff in Manila from September to December 1972.

Jose L. Pavia, the late former executive editor of the defunct Philippines Herald, was appointed as the first general manager of the infant news agency. He headed its initial 11-member staff, with the late Renato B. Tiangco, also formerly of the Herald and a foreign news agency wireman as managing editor; and Severino C. Samonte, a holdover from the PNS, as national and provincial news editor at the same time.

As the government news agency, PNA was created under a Special Department Order issued by Tatad. It was placed under the BNFI, its first mother bureau that provided its fund.

Launched on March 1, 1973 as the national government’s official news agency, PNA initially used the editorial offices vacated by the PNS on the second floor of the National Press Club (NPC) of the Philippines Bldg. along Magallanes Drive in Intramuros, Manila.

The first set of PNA’s correspondents were picked from the former PNS stringers covering the country’s then just 70 provinces and 60 cities. A number of former staff members of the defunct Manila newspapers later joined the PNA Central Desk as editors, reporters, and photographers.

At the outset, four PNA correspondents were assigned each to cover the then existing four Philippine Constabulary (PC) Zones in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. These were the 1st PC Zone in Camp Olivas, Pampanga; 2nd PC Zone in Camp Vicente Lim, Laguna; 3rd PC Zone in Cebu; and 4th PC Zone in Davao.

When Secretary Tatad turned on the switch to launch the PNA in the afternoon of March 1, 1973 in Malacanang, he said: “The Philippines News Agency will be operated in the best tradition of the world’s professional news agencies.”

During the martial law years, the PNA, together with the so-called “Big Four” news agencies – Reuters, AFP, AP and UPI – covered the entire archipelago, bringing news around the Philippines to the outside world as much as possible. For a while, PNA even entered into a news exchange agreement with some of these foreign news agencies.

A year after its birth, PNA inaugurated its first domestic bureau in Cebu City, opening a new era for the media in the country’s second-largest, most cosmopolitan city. Seven tabloid-sized newspapers there began to carry current national and foreign news through the PNA wires, a radical departure from their former purely local coverage. This placed them in a position to compete for circulation in the Visayas and Mindanao with the major national dailies published in Manila.

The year 1974 also saw the opening of similar PNA bureaus in Iloilo, Baguio, Davao, San Fernando, Pampanga; Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, and Dagupan. These were followed by Lucena City, Legazpi, Cotabato, Tacloban, Zamboanga, Dumaguete, Iligan, Laoag, Tuguegarao, San Fernando, La Union; even Jolo, Sulu; and Los Banos, Laguna.

The peak number of domestic bureaus stood at 23 in 1975, with the opening of additional bureaus in Cabanatuan City, General Santos City, and Tagbilaran City. However, this number of bureaus was reduced drastically as a result of cost-cutting measures in later years.

After the Feb. 22-25, 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, with the opening of a number of new newspapers in Metro Manila, a number of PNA-trained reporters tried their hands at actual newspapering and in the broadcast field. Many of them became editors and columnists in several national newspapers after they had once cut their journalistic teeth at the PNA newsroom.

Until early 1986, the PNA, through the former Office of Media Affairs (OMA) headed by then Information Minister Gregorio S. Cendana (RIP), had overseas bureaus in San Francisco, California; Sacramento, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Toronto (Canada), Sydney (Australia) and Jeddah. These were closed down after the EDSA Revolution.

During the government reorganization in 1987, the BNFI was abolished and replaced with two new bureaus–the present-day News and Information Bureau (NIB) and the Bureau of Communications Services (BCS).

At present, PNA remains a division of the News and Information Bureau headed by Director Gigie R. Arcilla-Agtay. The agency is an attached agency of the Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) under Secretary Martin Andanar.

In its 48 years of existence, PNA has transferred seven times -- five times around the Intramuros area in Manila and twice in Quezon City, the latest in 1996 when it settled on its present headquarters at the second floor of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) Bldg. along Visayas Ave. in Diliman, Quezon City. (PNA)