Profiles of Courage

Maximo V. Soliven

If I would have my name endure, I’ll write it in the hearts of men,” goes the epitaph on Maximo “Max” Soliven’s monument at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. These were words from 19th century writer Horatio Alger that Max held close to his heart and fulfilled through his life as a journalist and writer. He fought the darkest elements of society during the darkest days of the country with neither fist nor sword, but with the stroke of his pen.

 Max was born in Ilocos Sur to Benito Soliven and Pelagia Villaflor.[1] His father Benito was a Congressman who had served three terms in Congress (from 1928 to 1941) prior to World War II. He then served in Bataan, and endured both the Death March and the subsequent incarceration in Capas, though he succumb to a disease just a year later.[2] On his deathbed, he implored his son Max not to enter politics, but rather to dedicate his life to God and country. His father was aware of the latter’s writing prowess and wanted him to pursue that end instead. Soliven, who held his father in high regards and indeed wanted to enter politics as he did, simply acquiesced. He never looked back.[3]

As the breadwinner for his mother and ten siblings, Soliven started working odd jobs to help his family while pursuing his academics. He worked as a cigarette vendor, a shoeshine boy, and even as an errand or messenger boy for the Jesuits.[4] This proved to be no hindrance for him as he still excelled in learning and writing. He became an associate editor of the Catholic newspaper The Sentinel in 1951. He eventually took up journalism at the Ateneo in 1951, and, on his mother’s advice, accepted a scholarship to pursue an MA in communications art at Fordham University in New York in 1954.[5] Upon returning to the Philippines, he continued at his post for The Sentinel, later taking up positions at The Manila Chronicle, The Evening News and, most importantly The Manila Times, publishing his column “By the Way” six days a week.[6] He also started working on a television program, hosting the talk show Impact, which was directed by Lupita Concio (born Lupita Aquino), the sister of Benigno Aquino.[7]

In “By the Way,” Soliven pulled no punches when discussing national issues. He often gave scathing criticisms on the excesses of the government, beginning with the Macapagal administration and continuing on with the Marcos administration. He often reported inside scoops about affairs at the Palace, and offered unsolicited advice to the president. Though some may consider his column crass and bold, his publications were consumed by laymen and professionals alike nonetheless.[8] This came at a price, however, as he incurred the wrath of the strongman Marcos, who was already laying down the groundwork of perpetuating martial rule.

On September 18, 1972, three days before the enforcement of Martial Law, Soliven had just returned home after taping on Impact when he received a call from Concio, asking him to return to the station. Concio told Soliven that Ninoy Aquino had an important announcement to make on the program so he needed to go back for an urgent live telecast.[9] That rainy night, Soliven weathered the storm to return to the Impact studio, where Aquino exposed for the first time “Oplan Sagittarius,” Marcos’s plan of martial law for the country. Aquino did not bare the details but declared that he would reveal all in his Senate speech two days later. Before Impact went off the air, Soliven again gave unsolicited words to Marcos, this time portentously, saying “Mr. Marcos, if we will be oppressed by martial law as a people and some of us die, our blood will be on your hands.”[10] Unbeknownst to the two, they would find themselves together again sooner than anticipated.

 

“If I would have my name endure, I'll write it in the hearts of men”

A few days later, the premonition came true; Marcos placed the entire country under Martial Law. Supposedly as part of his efforts to quell subversion, newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities were all shut down, as they were being used for propaganda against the government by those conspiring to seize political power in the country.[11] Around 2 AM on September 23, Soliven was woken up to Metrocom soldiers outside his house and promptly arrested. He was among the many journalists, columnists, and writers critical of Marcos who were immediately captured by state forces, along with opposition leaders and political rivals. Soliven was taken to Fort Bonifacio and found his cellmate to be none other than Aquino.[12]

Soliven’s imprisonment did not last as long as the others did. He was released exactly three months later, but with a caveat: he was to be under military surveillance in his home for three years, and he was not permitted to write or leave the country for seven years.[13] Soliven, however, would not be assuaged. If he could not write about Marcos, he would write something else, founding the magazines Sunburst and Manila, with which he busied himself until the 1980’s. During these years, Soliven relied on his wife, Preciosa Silverio, to help with raising the family.[14] In his column in Manila, Soliven gradually picked up from where he had left off prior to his arrest, eventually writing again to chastise the Marcos administration.

When Aquino was assassinated in 1983, Soliven’s fury in his columns escalated. With many television, radio and newspaper stations still shuttered, Soliven knew that he had to help enlighten the Filipinos in some way. Together with colleagues Eugenia Apostol and Betty Go-Belmonte, Soliven helped found the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1985, one of the first private newspapers established during the regime, moreso one critical of it. It was aimed to provide the public with information relating to the trial of the soldiers implicated in Aquino’s assassination.[15] It continued to inform the public of current affairs afterwards, as part of the effort to slowly dispel the ruse of peace and prosperity under the bloody and turbulent Martial Law period. Ultimately, the disillusioned Filipinos came together in February of 1986 to oust their iron-fisted dictator.

Following this People Power Revolution, Soliven continued working for the Inquirer before splitting with Go-Belmonte, Art Borjal, Luis Beltran and Tony Roces to establish The Philippine Star in July later that year, the name echoing Aquino’s words that the Filipinos need a star to guide them home “through the long, dark night.”[16] Soliven served as its publisher, carrying over his famous “By the Way” column until his death and, with it, tangibly helped shape the political landscape of the country, his rhetorics and catchphrases being fondly remembered until today.[17]

Soliven, though initially aspiring to emulate his father as a politician, became one of the most prolific journalists of the Philippines. He has been greatly recognized not only in the country, but worldwide. He was awarded the prestigious Ozanam Award for his service to Country and Church by the Ateneo de Manila University and was named “Journalist of the Year” four times by the National Press Club and Rotary Club of Manila. He was also made officer of the Legion d’Honneur by France and received the Incomienda de la Orden Isabel la Catolica from Spain. After his death, he was awarded the Order of Lakandula by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.[18]

Soliven is described as an icon of freedom and a fearless journalist. Indeed, Soliven refused to stop writing, even with the constant and looming fear of persecution. He helped defend the freedom of the press during the most crucial period of the dictatorship. “If I would have my name endured, I’ll write it in the hearts of men,” goes the epitaph on his monument. His name has certainly endured, and he indeed wrote his name in the hearts of men.

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References:

Aguila, Kap Maceda. “In Remembrance of Max Soliven (September 4, 1929 – November 24, 2006).” November 1, 2016. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://peopleasia.ph/in-remembrance-of-max-soliven-september-4-1929-november-24-2006/.

 Dayrit-Soliven, Michelle. “La Bella Maestra.” Pressreader. April 23, 2017. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/the-philippine-star/20170423/281547995774829.

 Epitaph of Max Soliven, 2007. Inscription carving. Libingan ng mga Bayani, Taguig. Viewed through an image June 18, 2021. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://simplydota.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/15822.jpg.

Marcos, Ferdinand E. “Letter of Instruction No. 1, s. 1972.” Official Gazette of the Philippines. September 22, 1972. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/22/letter-of-instruction-no-1-s-1972/.

Mijares, Primitivo. The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. 1976 Ed. Martial Law Chronicle Project. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://martiallawchroniclesproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-Conjugal-Dictatorship-of-Ferdinand-and-Imelda-Marcos.pdf.

Lopez, Tony. “Max Soliven, 77.” The Manila Times. November 29, 2006. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.manilatimes.net/2006/11/29/business/max-soliven-77/633521.

The Manila Times. “The day the presses stopped.” September 21, 2005. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.manilatimes.net/2005/09/21/news/top-stories/the-day-the-presses-stopped/816205.

Soliven-de Guzman, Sara. “25 things people should know about Max Soliven.” The Philippine Star. July 24, 2011. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2011/07/24/708880/25-things-people-should-know-about-max-soliven.

Soliven, Max and Matt Wolf. “A Star is Born.” The Philippine Star. July 28, 2011. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.philstar.com/other-sections/supplements/2011/07/28/710329/star-born.

Yu, Doreen G. “Soliven dies in Japan.” The Philippine Star. November 25, 2006. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2006/11/25/371053/soliven-dies-japan.

[1] Epitaph of Max Soliven, 2007, inscription carving, Libingan ng mga Bayani, Taguig, viewed through an image June 3, 2021, accessed June 3, 2021, https://simplydota.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/15822.jpg. The same information can also be found at his monument along Roxas Boulevard.

[2] Ibid. Sara Soliven-de Guzman, “25 things people should know about Max Soliven,” The Philippine Star, July 24, 2011, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2011/07/24/708880/25-things-people-should-know-about-max-soliven.

[3] Epitaph of Max Soliven. Kap Maceda Aguila, “In Remembrance of Max Soliven (September 4, 1929 – November 24, 2006),” November 1, 2016, accessed June 3, 2021, https://peopleasia.ph/in-remembrance-of-max-soliven-september-4-1929-november-24-2006/. Soliven wrote some ninety poems as a teenager which were later published in Ave Triumphator.

[4] Soliven-de Guzman, “25 things people should know about Max Soliven.”

[5] Aguila, “In Remembrance of Max Soliven.” He also took up international studies at John Hopkins and international relations at Harvard during his stays in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s, when he was already working as a foreign correspondent, covering world events throughout the period. His mother, Pelagia, would indomitably carry the burden of providing for the family in his stead, raising her children and sending them through college.

[6] Tony Lopez, “Max Soliven, 77,” The Manila Times, November 29, 2006, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.manilatimes.net/2006/11/29/business/max-soliven-77/633521. Soliven became known for his trademark catchphrases, such as a “sanamagan” or “salamabit,” which were Filipinized corruption of the phrases “son of a gun” and “son of a bitch.”

[7] She is now known as Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara.

[8] Doreen G. Yu, “Soliven dies in Japan,” The Philippine Star, November 25, 2006, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2006/11/25/371053/soliven-dies-japan.

[9] The Manila Times, “The day the presses stopped,” September 21, 2005, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.manilatimes.net/2005/09/21/news/top-stories/the-day-the-presses-stopped/816205. This was an excerpt from the book A Paper of Record: A History of the Manila Times, 1898-2002.

[10] Ibid; Primitivo Mijares, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, 1976 Ed., Martial Law Chronicle Project, 122, accessed June 3, 2021, https://martiallawchroniclesproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-Conjugal-Dictatorship-of-Ferdinand-and-Imelda-Marcos.pdf.

[11] Ferdinand E. Marcos, “Letter of Instruction No. 1, s. 1972,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, September 22, 1972, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/22/letter-of-instruction-no-1-s-1972/.

[12] The Manila Times, “The day the presses stopped.”

[13] Ibid.

[14] Yu, “Soliven dies in Japan;” Michelle Dayrit-Soliven, “La Bella Maestra,” Pressreader, April 23, 2017, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/the-philippine-star/20170423/281547995774829.

[15] Yu, “Soliven dies in Japan.” It was perceived to be the successor of Apostol’s Mr. and Mrs. Special Edition,a magazine which she used to document the news following the assassination of Aquino, perceiving the lack of coverage as many were still being censored by the government.

[16] Max Soliven and Matt Wolf, “A Star is Born,” The Philippine Star, July 28, 2011, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.philstar.com/other-sections/supplements/2011/07/28/710329/star-born. This was one of the early editorials of Soliven explaining their rationale behind the founding of The Philippine Star.

[17] Epitaph of Max Soliven. He is said to have written about eight Filipino presidents in a professional capacity. He would have written about President Ramon Magsaysay until President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

[18] Epitaph of Max Soliven. Yu, “Soliven dies in Japan.”

Maximo Soliven, at the 13th National Public Relations Congress as publisher for the Philippine Star on September 28, 2006. Photo taken by Steve Lubetkin. Retrieved from Lubetkin Media Companies LLC at httpslubetkin.netlobp26-remembering-max-soliven-filipino-journalist-and-newspaper-publisher-1292006-crossposted-to-compuschmooze.
Maximo Soliven, at the 13th National Public Relations Congress as publisher for the Philippine Star on September 28, 2006. Photo taken by Steve Lubetkin. Retrieved from Lubetkin Media Companies LLC at httpslubetkin.netlobp26-remembering-max-soliven-filipino-journalist-and-newspaper-publisher-1292006-crossposted-to-compuschmooze.

Soliven, Maximo V.

Birthday: September 4, 1929

Death: November 24, 2006

Parents: Benito Soliven and Pelagia Villaflor

Spouse: Preciosa Silverio-Soliven

Children: 3 (Marinella, Rachelle, and Sara)

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