Manolo B. Jara — better known as Nolly Hara —was already an established name in Philippine journalism when we met in Manila in the early 1980s. He was in charge of the Press Foundation of Asia after resigning from the Evening News daily newspaper shortly before the late President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law that may have been the beginning of the end of his power although it took some time before he had to give it up and leave for exile in Hawaii together with his powerful and beautiful wife Imelda.
I met Nolly at a function and he invited me to visit Depthnews the next day. Depthnews was an agency with a difference since it dealt mainly with stories in the news after either writing or rewriting them for newspapers to publish the same day or a week later after editing them, making them more presentable and understandable. As I liked those I read in the files in his office on the main road not far from the American Embassy I made a tentative subscription on behalf of Arab News and started publishing those that dealt with countries in Asia of special interest to our readers. For Western stories we had plenty of articles from the very good agencies like Reuters, the French agency AFP, the Associated Press and the German agency DPA.
I liked those that came from South and Southeast Asia as far out as Hong Kong. And so we maintained our relationship until the end — that is until Depthnews closed and Nolly shifted elsewhere. In due course I became a member of the board of directors representing the Middle East. He retired from Depthnews in 1992 to join the Philippine Journal, the flagship of the Journal Group of Publications, one of the country’s biggest media companies, as managing editor. From there he leapt to the Times Journal as editor in chief.
After reaching 60, the compulsory age of retirement in the late 1990s, he retired from active journalism, the daily and endless grind of it. But not content with his achievements and his kidney trouble he told me that he wanted to do some writing and reporting from Manila. He called me later on and I made a few phone calls on his behalf in the Gulf because I was sure he would be an asset and would enrich the papers in the region with news and comments on Philippines affairs.
He was welcomed and is still actively covering the news in his distinctive style having been reporter, writer and editor with knowledge of the country as well as the Filipinos abroad although his colleagues might have retired by now.
Nolly was the eldest of three sons of Leocadio and Filomena Briones who were schoolteachers in the farming town of Lupao, founded by his maternal grandfather, the late Don Juan. Of his brothers one is a dean of the college of Law of San Beda and the other is a retired information technology expert with wide knowledge in telecommunications in the Middle East. He took up his studies in the public Lupao elementary school and his college at Ateneo de Manila University which is run by Jesuit priests like Xavier’s colleges in many parts of the world.
While still active in journalism he was awarded scholarships to the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu as well as the Berlin Institute of Mass Communication in West Germany and was invited to cover international conferences organized by the United Nations which took him practically to all parts of the world, especially during his stint with Depthnews.
His travels and his editorship of Depthnews gave him a commendable sweep of world affairs, which I shared with him during our meetings either at home or at Depthnews or meetings at the Manila hotel where I usually stayed. The hotel was owned by Imelda Marcos and at one time formed the headquarters of the American commander in chief McArthur who won the war to oust the Japanese from the region which would have taken some time longer had he not decided to use the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which forced the Japanese to surrender unconditionally.
The hotel is a bit old now, at least when I was last there to meet with Nolly and a number of editors and reporters when I was planning under the old company leadership to launch a Filipino daily newspaper in the Kingdom. We covered a fair amount of ground in preparing for the paper and were about to launch it when orders came to postpone the project for sometime. But the time given to it went on from two to three years and we gave up the idea altogether although it remains one of my fondest dreams, like Arab News, Malayalam News and Urdu News have been ever since their launching.
Following is a specimen of Nolly’s stories published in the Gulf.
The Philippines is one of the few countries in Asia and the Pacific that are most prepared against natural disasters like cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and floods, according to a recent World Bank (WB) report.
“The report gave the Philippines a 3.25 per cent average risk identification indicator, enabling the country to join other countries led by Malaysia with 4.25 per cent and followed by Japan, four per cent; Indonesia, 3.7 per cent; and Thailand, 3.5 per cent.
“In the past 20 years, the report said the region sustained 61 per cent of the global losses from disasters as it warned economic losses were growing at a quickening pace.
“It pointed out that because of the increasing pace, the costs from such losses were 15 times higher in the 1990s than in the 1950s with the year 2011 as the costliest on record.
“In the case of the Philippines, the report noted that from in a 20-year span until 2011, the death toll from natural calamities and disasters totaled 34,383 with another 129.5 million directly affected with sustained maximum losses of up to $8.1 million.
“The report hinted that the Philippines, like the other countries, has succeeded in minimizing the number of casualties due to the preventive measures it has adopted against natural disasters.
“But the report also raised alarm over the problem of rapid urbanization that has been taking place in much of the developing world.
“The urbanization of disasters, with frequent flooding, rising complexity and greater cross-regional impacts, calls for urgent action,” it emphasized.
“It predicted that this trend would continue, driven by rapid economic growth and urbanization, with a greater concentration of people and assets in the cities.
“Urban experts have described the rapidly growing cities as “miseropolises” due to lack of basic services such as health, education and housing to cope with the increasing number of their populations.
“Among the cities at risk in the Philippines to this problem, the report said, are Metro Manila with a total population of about 12 million; as well as Cebu in the Visayas in Central Philippines and Davao in strife-torn Mindanao.
“Unplanned or poorly planned urbanization,” the report warned, “puts communities at risk, particularly through informal settlements and inadequate land management.”
n Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.