Words have the power to cut through even the most impenetrable force. When aired through media, even the most benign-looking words could influence people and change a whole nation.
Former Philippine Information Agency (PIA) Director-General William “Billy” Macgregor Esposo used the power of words and the influence of media to steer the country to oppose dictatorship, oppression, and communism; and to put a mother figure, a nurturer of an abused country at the helm of government.
Esposo was instrumental, although not generally known, in the turnaround of a country which was in a dark period of Martial Law during the Marcos regime.
He was the man behind powerful posters exposing the country’s dire situation, and he was also the brains behind that single yet very potent word “Laban (fight)” which gave hope and firm resolve to the Filipinos to unite against dictatorship.
Laban denoted with the finger gesture “L” became the battlecry of those who resisted Marcos during the historic EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986.
Esposo was the figure that prophesied and worked for the instatement of President Corazon Aquino as the country’s champion of democracy, thwarting Ferdinand Marcos after the election and the revolution.
The passing away of columnist, broadcaster, advertising expert, academician, civil servant, and staunch promoter of democracy Esposo on April 7 brought sadness among those who loved and respected him--- family members, friends, colleagues, media people, government figures, and President Benigno S. Aquino III himself—a close family friend, a political advisor, and a confidante.
Esposo died of kidney ailment at the Makati Medical Center at age 64.
During the necrological service on April 10 held at the Sanctuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park the night before his burial, testimonials by close friends and colleagues showed how special and great a man he was.
Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros recalled how Esposo, despite his recurring illness, was a man of strength and conviction; a man who hungered for life and acted towards his goals. “He was a man who never let his afflictions get in the way of his celebrations, that he was too busy with life to worry about death,” de Quiros said.
Wilson Tieng, Esposo's colleague at RPN-9 who would later be the network’s chairman and president, attested that Esposo would always give words of encouragement to live a healthy life and to exercise despite the illness both were suffering. Tieng described him as a confidante, a health advisor, and an example whom he looked up to.
Former Presidential Management Staff chief Elfren Cruz described the courage and unwavering resolve of Esposo in promoting the ideals of democracy, and how he devised media to promote ex-President Cory Aquino as the mother of the country’s democracy.
Cruz said that he had, “Clear memories of Billy in his younger days when life was full of passion, when courage and conviction were his daily staple, and he had this firm belief that he could truly help shape the future of our country for the greater good of the Filipino people.” He added that till the end of his life, Esposo was an idealist.
Maria Montelibano, former head of the Radio Television Malacañang during the Cory Aquino presidency, said that Esposo, during the country’s difficult times of armed conflicts in the post-Marcos era, “Fueled her own resolve to put responsibility over fear, put performance over panic, and place her fate in the hands of the President (Mrs. Aquino) she served. She attested that Esposo was a person who “could never be bought and compromised.”
During the funeral mass on the day of Esposo’s burial (April 11), more tributes were given to him mostly by his family members who described him as a selfless, generous, and loving person.
President Aquino said during the funeral mass, “He always had a great presence, a presence that was a combination of fearlessness, intelligence, professional skill, and a loud, jovial personality which brought him success in almost every field he was involved in: from advertising and marketing, to media and communications, to politics, and to writing.”
He added, “Billy was one of those talented writers who was always aware of just how much power the written word and media hold.
This is why he used his columns to render a different kind of public service throughout many years -- in his columns, one finds a reasonable, well-thought out views of the most controversial and relevant issues in the country. His role was that of a concerned citizen, wanting to bring clarity to others, shed light on what was important, and help where he could. He was honest about what he saw, both good and bad.”
The President also recalled how Esposo who he called “Prophet” urged him to start the change the country needs.
PNoy, during the funeral ceremonies, also conferred on Esposo the Order of Lakandula Award with the rank “Grand Officer- Maringal na Pinuno” for his invaluable contribution to the restoration of the country’s democracy during the Marcos regime; for providing information and education to the Filipino people during the times of misinformation and propaganda; for the reorientation of the Ministry of Information; and for stopping the spread of communism through participatory democracy; among others.
Billy Esposo truly was a man of passion and ideals and for this, he was awarded last February 2011 by President Aquino himself the Presidential Legion of Honor Award, Commander Rank, for his contributions during People Power when he helped in the restoration of democracy.
Esposo’s legacy will always remain in the hearts and minds of the Filipinos. He was an example of a responsible and patriotic media person, a model civil servant. His memories and his fight for democracy will live in the spirit of the country and of the Filipino people.