POSTSCRIPT / March 7, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Pocholo Romualdez: My mentor, editor

PERSONAL NOTES: While flying to New York on Philippine Airlines last Wednesday I had no inkling that Enrique “Pocholo” Romualdez, my long-time mentor-editor, was on his deathbed at the Medical Center Manila. He was 92 when he “wrote 30” the next day.

Mr. Romualdez was the one who launched me into professional journalism in 1964. He enabled my leap from being editor-in-chief of the Dawn, the campus paper of the University of the East, to diplomatic reporter of The Manila Times, then the English-language daily with the largest circulation in Asia.

To him I owe much of what I know of journalism, probably one of the reasons why he sometimes remarks having “inflicted” me (and the late Gani Yambot) on Philippine journalism. Was he saying that with proprietary pride or ill-concealed embarrassment?

I cringe recalling some of my sordid gaffes committed despite his tutelage. One time he had to apologize to the venerable Carlos P. Romulo for an indelicate head that I used on the cover of the Philippines Daily Express where one of my duties as assistant managing editor was to close the front page.

But because he knew me inside-out, we had a generally genial relationship, with me getting away with occasional foibles and him having more free time for what he loved to do outside the office, especially tracking the races.

Oh yes, the races. He and a number of us partners-in-crime co-owned a horse, a real racing horse, for which we chipped in our regular share for its “casera.” Some Sundays, the poor horse was included to run with a likely pack, and we would all be handed the next day our share of the sure winnings.

Things were going on fine in the office until, on Aug. 21, 1983, somebody flipped and ordered top opposition figure Ninoy Aquino shot dead as he set foot on his native soil upon returning from his three-year exile in the US.

 Arrogance of power ruined relationships

THE MARCOS regime’s supreme display of arrogance of power affected my editorial disposition and my writing. Poor Mr. Romualdez, nephew of First Lady Imelda, suddenly had to spend more time combing through my copy than looking after the horses.

I found him doing to me what he had taught me to do unto others – to be a sharp copyreader challenging every word and trying to demolish every sentence of the writer.

But while he performed incredible surgery on my copy, never did he “suppress” it — as what our colleague Francisco “Kit” Tatad complained was done to his supposed valedictory column last Tuesday in another Manila broadsheet.

(By the way, Kit covered the Department of Foreign Affairs [“Padre Faura”] with this rookie reporter of the old Manila Times, together with veterans Amando Doronila, Louie Beltran, Nestor Mata, Oscar Villadolid and Bert Alfaro.)

Mr. Romualdez understood why I was suddenly writing the way I did, as I also understood why he had to temper my language. Shortly thereafter, mercifully, we parted ways – I quit the Daily Express — when my UP Vanguard brods in the service advised me to leave the country on the first chance I get.

(Three years later, I myself had to grapple with the same tests that came with managing a newspaper in stormy political weather — like what we have now — when I became editor-in-chief of another broadsheet upon my return in 1987 from my own self-exile in the US.)

Another embarrassment I caused Mr. Romualdez was during the Marcos state visit to the US in the autumn of 1984. Unknown to the Malacañang press officers and the presidential security keeping an eye on the media, I broke away and flew to Boston to interview Ninoy Aquino.

From Boston, I filed a story which senior editor Val Abelgas used on our front page with Ninoy’s picture. My report belied an alleged opposition plot to instigate violence in Manila. Val was unaware of a guideline that no story should grab the limelight from Marcos in the US.

While my report was crossing the Pacific, Mr. Romualdez was flying to Washington DC to join the party. Imagine his surprise upon arrival when he was confronted with my story on Ninoy. He called me to his hotel room where he told me, “We did not have to go to Boston for that story.”

I had never purposely disobeyed any clear instruction from him. I had always dealt with him with respect and professionalism, with me looking up to him as my boss and teacher. I sensed in him a protective caring for someone he considered his protégé.

With an AB English from the University of the Philippines, Mr. Romualdez went on to earn a masters in journalism in 1951 from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, on a Fulbright/Smith-Mundt scholarship.

He became a sportswriter, then desk editor until 1968 of the old Manila Times. On the side, he was adviser of UE’s Dawn, where I first met him. When death overtook him last week, he was executive editor of Malaya Business Insight.

His first media job was with the Philippines Commonwealth, then the leading Catholic-oriented paper, followed by short stints with Manila Post and Philippines Herald. When martial rule was declared in 1972, publisher Johnny Perez asked him to organize and edit the Daily Express owned by Marcos crony Roberto S. Benedicto.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 7, 2019)

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