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Rhony Laigo JoelBanderLaw The long gestation of pinoy watchdog


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Rhony Laigo JoelBanderLaw The long gestation of pinoy watchdog

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Rhony Laigo JoelBanderLaw The long gestation of pinoy watchdog

  1. 1. The Long Gestation of PinoyWatchDog.comIn less than one month, will be celebrating its first anniversary. Tocommemorate the birth of this ground-breaking publication, founder and seniorcolumnist Joel Bander looks back on how the idea of an uncensored publication wasborn, and, finally became a reality on October 7, 2011.By Joel Bander, Founder and Senior ColumnistBefore I first visited the Philippines in 1995 I did not know that the newspapers ‘back home’were vibrant, funny, cutting, partisan, and well …. interesting. I had just started my journey,unknowingly, into Filipino culture and thought the newspapers in the Philippines would besimilar to the Fil-Am papers I had been reading in Los Angeles, dry, boring, nothing more thanwindow dressing for advertisements.So, in that first morning in the Philippines at the Holiday Inn by Manila’s Rizal Park I discoveredthat this foreign land had quite an assortment of daily newspapers that were actually interesting.Up until that time, in a certain way, the desire to at least read a Filipino newspaper in LosAngeles that really had news was latent, unknown. I thought to myself, ‘why aren’t the papers inLos Angeles interesting like the papers in Manila?’So when I returned I made casual inquiry over the following months and learned that thenewspaper owners did not want to offend any potential advertisers by printing controversial
  2. 2. writings, were concerned about business interests unrelated to their newspapers, particularly inthe Philippines, and it was more expensive to hire actual original writers.Over the subsequent years I came to represent, as a lawyer, many of these Filipino Americanpapers, including Asian Journal, California Examiner, Dyaryo Filipino, Pinoy Today and AngPeryodiko. During those same 15 years I represented thousands of Filipinos, working with theWorld War II veterans and activists in creating and sustaining ‘Equity Village,’ along with the‘Equity Caravan’ to Washington, D.C., and scores of trips to the Philippines over the years forimmigration seminars, business meetings, and overseeing extensive litigation supportoperations. Hence, I became more involved and absorbed into Filipino culture. However, theconcept that a real newspaper with real news still lingered in my mind.In 2003, I started representing Asian Journal, without question the largest Fil-Am newspaper inthe country. In 2006, pro-immigration protesters took to the streets. The Spanish languagemedia was in the forefront, encouraging tens of thousands to protest. I provided unsolicited,non-legal advice to the Asian Journal publishers that their newspaper held a special role in theFil-Am community and should be taking the same leadership role as Spanish language mediafor that ethnic group. However, even supporting immigrants was considered too controversial forAsian Journal.
  3. 3. In 2007Asian Journal embarked on an ambitious project to obtain verified circulation for all of itsnewspapers throughout the country. However, at the same time Balita Media (the publishers ofWeekend Balita), were publishing advertisements that they were circulating 80,000 copies everyissue. Additionally, Balita claimed they had been certified by a circulation audit company in NewJersey. However, investigation revealed that Balita had significantly less than one-third thatamount of copies, and that the circulation audit company had never even heard of Balita Media,much less having certified them. To me this seemed to be a worthy story for publication.However, the cautious publishers of Asian Journal had determined to stay within their businessmodel and not print anything controversial, even to expose the blatant lies of their dishonestcompetitor. Indeed, at that point, Asian Journal did not even file a lawsuit against Balita Media.Starting in 2008, I started providing more non-legal, unsolicited advice to the Asian Journalpublishers that the Fil-Am community had matured and was ready for a ‘real’ newspaper. Littledid I know then that at the same time one of their writers, Rene Villaroman, was suggesting thatAsian Journal turned into a community publication that espouses an advocacy for the Fil-Amcommunity.In 2009, Asian Journal did have me file an unfair trade practices lawsuit against Balita Media.Baltia Media had published articles and advertisements that an actual circulation audit provedthey were the largest Fil-Am paper in Southern California, but the audit actually proved theopposite, that Asian Journal was the largest. (This time the audit really occurred, and in fact,Balita Media failed the audit.) Balita Media, having never been called to task for prior publishedmisrepresentations obviously felt they could print anything with impunity. But Asian Journal’spatience would only go so far, and a lawsuit ensued.However, as I was admittedly pulverizing Balita Media in the litigation, see related story at, that newspaper in late2009 decided to turn its own media machine against me personally, orchestrating a fake pressconference to make it appear that I had stolen money from my clients. (I first learned about theterm ‘tsismis’ and ‘demolition job’ from that experience.) However, Asian Journal, which I hadrepresented for so long, maintained their policy of non-controversy and refused to print my sideof this story, and only permitted me to print ‘success’ stories.Hence, the need for a real newspaper, not only for me, but for anyone similarly situated,became more apparent. However, I went on with my legal practice, and enjoyed handling amodest inventory of litigation cases essentially on my own instead of managing a firm of over 70people.Between the winter of 2010 and the summer of 2011 I had kept different legal pads with notes ofdifferent non-legal business projects I was considering. After an exhausting two week jury trial inJune 2011, I gathered up these notes and each pad had ‘Filipino newspaper’ on them. I decidedto poke around.
  4. 4. So on June 26, 2011, I went into Facebook tofind the best collaborators for this project. At that time I was first getting involved with Facebook,and was looking through other people’s friends for the contacts when I saw Rene Villaroman,who used to write stories about my law practice back in 2009. I did not know Rene very wellfrom that experience; it was pretty much all business. I sent a ‘Friend’ request and heimmediately answered.This is our exchange that was the first big step to seeing become a reality.Joel Bander: what you do these days?Rene Villaroman: Hi, Atty Bander. Not much, I could use some writing assignments as I amretired.Joel Bander: hmm, very interesting.Rene Villaroman: If you are need of some PR writing, please keep me in mind because I needmore income to pay my bills.Joel Bander: well, i might have a little project in mind. . willing to take on controversy?