VELEZ, Jose Marie U.

From Bantayog ng mga Bayani (

Jose Mari Velez, or Mari as he was called, was known to several generations of the television-viewing public because he hosted a news program for many years. He was less well-known for his passion for principles and for his deep political insights.

Due to financial setbacks suffered by his family when he was a teenager, Mari started to work at a young age. As a teenager, he found a job as radio disc jockey in a program called “Midnight Sounds,” which aired from midnight to 5 a.m.

In college, Mari found time to join protest demonstrations, once even serving as spokesperson for the students in a confrontation with Marcos.

Mari was working in the office of then senator Salvador Laurel in 1966 when he was recruited to be the sole news anchor for Channel 5’s The Big News. Mari’s handling of the program eventually earned for it an award as the outstanding News Program, given by the Television Committee of the Citizens’ Council for Mass Media. Winning for five consecutive years elevated the program to the roll of honor in the awards night of Feb.11, 1972. Once a week, Mari also hosted a talk show, “On the Rocks”, on Channel 13. One can imagine the pressure and the burden the young Mari carried during the first phase of his life. He had obligations to his growing family, expectations from the public for a sincere and frank news program, and catching up with the myriad of reading materials in law school.

In 1970, Mari earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of the Philippines. In a few weeks time, his second son, Jose Mari Jr. was born. Also in the same year, Mari entered politics for the first time. He was elected delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, representing the first district of Rizal. As a delegate, he was an uncompromising defender of constitutional democracy – he opposed the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by Marcos; he was against political dynasties as heads of government.

His job at the Convention did not last long. On Sept.23.1972, Marcos declared martial law, and Mari was one of those arrested and detained in maximum security, together with Ninoy, Soc Rodrigo, Diokno, Soliven, Roces, Locsin, Rama, and Mitra. At thirty years old, he was the youngest in the stockade among these well-known personalities. Thus started the second phase of his career. When the time for the delegates to vote “Yes” or “No” to the “Ersatz Marcos Constitution” (as Mari called it), Mari, with Nap Rama, was allowed to go to the Constitution Hall to vote. A “Yes” would mean release from detention and a membership in the Interim National Assembly. No matter how tormented Mari was in making a decision, he confessed later that “every fibre in my body was telling me to reject the new Constitution”. His conscience and his principles prevailed, and he voted “No”.

In one of his memoirs in his days at the stockade, we find another example of his undaunting commitment to freedom and justice:

By the way, during mass yesterday, a new phrase was inserted for our prayers. It read: “For our new society, that it may continually bring us peace, unity, prosperity, let us pray to the Lord.” This portion happened to be assigned to me by Tito Soc to read. As the sheet was handed to me during the mass, I did not have time to read it beforehand. When I came to that paragraph (there were three others before it), my first impulse was to skip it altogether as I found it repulsive both as to the wording and idea and the manner in which it was placed on our mass sheet. On second thought, I felt that the mass was no occasion to make an issue over it. So, I managed to edit it, while reading (Big News training!!) to read as follows: “For our new society, that it may give us peace, unity, prosperity, JUSTICE and FREEDOM, let us pray to the Lord.” I omitted “continually” as it gives a gratuitous and fraudulent claim. The inclusion of Justice and Freedom is self-evident.

After two and a half months in the political stockade, Mari and the others were released, with the exception of Diokno and Ninoy. He was placed under house arrest for two more years. The effect of being anti-Marcos, but most especially in having been a political prisoner was fear on the part of prospective employers. No one wanted to employ Mari because of fear of repercussion by Marcos. They were being watched; telephones were bugged. During this second phase of Mari’s career, he reviewed for the Bar and triumphantly passed it. He also took up his Master’s Degree in Economics at the CRC. A brother of Doy Laurel, the late Mariano Laurel (the businessman of the Laurel clan), admired Mari’s principles and gave him a job in one of his businesses. Mari became  CEO of Electro-Alloys Corporation, a joint Filipino-Japanese firm.

Other activities included being a founding member and chairman of SELDA (an organization of ex-detainees), delivering speeches against the Marcos Constitution, explaining the ills and corruption of the Marcos government, calling for a boycott to the 1984 elections as part of the Civil Disobedience Movement, and joining the opposition party, LABAN, in the snap elections.

All throughout these years of Marcos rule, Mari never broke his vow that he would never return to broadcasting until the dictator is ousted from power. After Electro-Alloys, he joined Dr. Jesus Estanislao in Associated Bank, with the position of vice-president. In Feb., 1986, Marcos and his family fled the country. Mari was among the first ones to announce his flight. Mari, the “best newscaster this country ever had”, returned to newscasting, this time on Channel 7 with Tine Monzon Palma. Simultaneously, Cory appointed him director of DBP. He practiced law in his office (Velez and Associates) in Makati. This was where the American lawyer, Robert Swift, found him and together they filed the first class suit in behalf of the human rights victims against Marcos. His heart was for these victims as he himself was a victim. It has been twenty years now and the cases are still being litigated by Atty. Swift. This third phase of Mari’s career would be very short. During this time he was invited to deliver speeches to different organizations – to the U.P. audience especially. He received many awards, among them from the Rotary Club of Quezon City. He was offered a slot in the coming May 1987 senatorial elections under Cory’s Lakas ng Bayan. Mari couldn’t be happier than with the arrival of his first granddaughter, Alexi, whom he and his wife adopted legally, and so became their fourth child.

Mari died of lung cancer on June 3, 1991 in Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, cutting short a colorful life and brilliant career. If he were alive today, he would have been the first one to denounce the numerous abductions and killings of journalists. Above all, he would have been happy  to see his successful children and to dote on his four grandchildren.

On April 6, 1989, Jose Mari Velez became the first awardee for service by a journalist, given by the Ninoy Aquino Fellowships for Professional Development. In presenting this award, the then U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Nicholas Platt read the following:

It is again most appropriate that this honor should go to a man who was imprisoned with Ninoy when freedom of the press was under the harshest attack in the Philippines. On Sept.21, 1972, when martial law was declared, Ninoy was arrested and placed in maximum security. With him were leading political figures, journalists, and the man who was described as “the country’s number one T.V. newscaster”. Today, he continues to be a staunch advocate for freedom of the press each evening as he delivers the 10:00 p.m. news. I am, therefore, most pleased to announce our recipient, (Jose Mari Velez), for the Ninoy Aquino fellowship for journalism.

In 1960 when he was 18 and a political science student at the University of the Philippines (UP), he became a member of the UP Dramatic Club and had appeared in several plays, among them, “Waiting for Godot”.

May 27, 1942
June 03, 1991
Place of Death: 
New York, USA