A ‘kapit-tuko’ lurking at MST

THE newspaper Manila Standard Today was recently sold by its owner, businessman Ricky Razon, to the Journal Group of Companies, which installed veteran journalist Rolly Estabillo as the paper’s editor-in-chief.

But Estabillo is reportedly being given a hard time allegedly by the MST “chairman of the editorial board,” Vic Agustin who, some insiders claim, still wants  to wield power despite efforts by the new management to ease him out.

Some people close to Estabillo and other members of the paper’s staff say Agustin, who was forced to resign from another newspaper following an incident in which he poured a glassful of water into the face of a newspaper columnist at a Makati hotel a few years ago, appears to be hell-bent in keeping his post in the paper. He thinks his post is “higher” than the position of Estabillo, who is more experienced and has spent much years in the industry.

One source says that after Estabillo has evaluated and selected stories for publication in the paper for the next day, Agustin would intervene and “reformat” the paper’s pages. This situation has been going on since Estabillo became the paper’s EIC, says the source.

Another source says Agustin insists that he still has a standing contract that is yet to expire in December this year, a reason why he is clinging to his post like a gheko. We only do not know if his  contract with Razon still holds water  under the paper’s new management.

When he joined  the MST in early 2008, many editors and reporters were surprised when Agustin assumed the title  “chairman of the editorial board” when in fact the paper has no board members to speak of.

He later eased out Jojo Robles as the paper’s EIC and slowly transformed the MST into a business paper, hoping that it could compete with business papers like Malaya, Business Mirror, BusinessWorld, among others. But he failed miserably.

At that time, Agustin started to write a regular column for the paper, using  photos of his favorite subjects, like showbiz columnists Ricky Lo, Boy Abunda and others. He also trimmed down into one-fourth page (which used to be two pages) the space allotted for the paper’s Metro page.

Sometime in early 2009, MST management union leader Tony Macapagal invited the so-called “Metro Boys” (reporters covering the various beats in Metro Manila) to a  dinner-meeting in Malate courtesy of a Manila City Hall official.

At that meeting, Tony Mac convinced the “Metro Boys” to write a petition letter addressed to Agustin, asking him to  provide more space to the diminishing Metro Page and allow the paper’s correspondents to earn more for their published stories.

During said meeting, Tony Mac chided  Agustin, saying, “Ngayon lang ako nakakita ng business column na me mga litrato pa. Di natin alam kung magkano katapat nuong mga litrato na lumalabas sa mga column ni Agustin.”

Several weeks later, many of those who attended the meeting called by Tony Mac were given retrenchment papers. Sad to say, the reporters later learned that Tony Mac, who is supposed to protect the interest of the reporters, was a supporter of Agustin, MST CEO Mr. Zalazar and MST HR chief Chito Constantino when they unilaterally decided to issue the retrenchment papers.

At least 10 veteran reporters, photographers and other  employees without any  bad record at the MST were given the marching orders simply because Agustin wanted them to go.

Sadly, in my case, I was retrenched two weeks after I received the 20 years “Loyalty Award” during the MST anniversary party in 2009. Agustin, Salazar and Constantino personally handed me the award during the party. I don’t know what kind of animals these guys are who would reward someone with retrenchment for being loyal to the company for 20 years.

Earlier, when reports appeared that businessman Manny V. Pangilinan was about to buy-out the Philippine Star, Agustin was quoted by some MST deskmen saying that he won’t stay long at the MST and would soon “transfer to another paper.”

Maybe that paper, which could be the Star, doesn’t want to take him for reasons only Agustin himself knows.

Many MST people say that if Agustin is a gentleman, a real gentleman, he should just pack up and leave quietly. He has nothing to prove anymore at the MST.

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