A journalist’s death, a reunion and remembering

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

The hottest topic in the media world is about an event that took place several thousand miles away. Jeff Bezos of Amazon acquired the iconic newspaper Washington Post from the Graham family for $250 million in a fire sale , just a few days after the unloading of the Boston Globe by its desperate owners .

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The accounts on the sale said that Don Graham, grandson of Eugene Meyer and son of Katherine Graham, choked while reading his family’s statement on the sale, something totally unexpected of a former Washington DC cop and Vietnam veteran, who was the Post publisher before he turned over the reins to a niece , Katharine Weymouth.

But who would not choke under such sad circumstance. The Internet has killed the Washington Post, the newspaper that toppled a president and made legends out of Bradlee and Woodstein. It was not an isolated demise. Across the traditional media, the question is this: what will be acquired next by an Internet billionaire for a song. Bezos, the buyer/savior is an Internet pioneer whose Amazon is worth $140 billion, an amount, said a financial blogger which is more than enough to buy all the newspapers in the democratic world.

Or, what will be acquired next by an oil billionaire with an agenda to push? The Koch family, the hard-right billionaire family , is reportedly eyeing the acquisition of the Tribune newspapers.

We can also throw in this trivia about Bezos: he is building a clock that would last 10,000 years and he has spent $42 million for that still unsuccessful effort. So he really drew from his petty cash (his own, not Amazon’s) to acquire one of the most respected brands in US journalism.

In this context, it is really tough to write about the recent death of cancer-stricken Jimmy Perez, a former colleague in the Malaya newspaper, in the days Joe Burgos was running it, and it was the source of Marcos’s daily agitation. And when a daily street sale of 400,000 copies was a slow day for Malaya.

The netizens, blissfully unaware that, indeed, newspapering had gone through such glory days, would have been amazed by a newspaper with a street sale of 400,000 daily, and where additional print runs were driving the pressmen crazy on a regular basis.

In those days—you just have to savor the memories—it was not a click- and –read routine, and forget all about what you read minutes later. It was about exerting effort and shelling out money to buy a newspaper to learn the latest news on the unraveling of the Marcos regime.

Jimmy Perez was part of that newspaper, one of the youngest in the reportorial staff, hence covering the police beat, in consonance with the unwritten hierarchy of journalism. The “old man” on that staff, covering politics by the virtue of his age, was this typist, then in his 30s.

The death of Joy de los Reyes (cancer) and Jimmy’s own near-death stage were the urgent reasons why movie critic Mario Hernando and journalism professor Desiree Carlos organized a reunion of Malaya staffers on June 15, with the gracious wife of Joe, Ma’am Edith, and their kids in attendance .

It can’t be that we only bump at each other during death watches and funeral wakes, remarked the ever-thoughtful Mario.

In that reunion, I clasped Jimmy’s pale, cold and skin-and-bone hands, and offered words of encouragement. Then told him I am a frail, old man myself, stricken with diabetes and who had undergone two coronary angioplasties. We all have, I told him quietly, physical infirmities and crosses to bear, and at times, the physical anguish is just too overpowering. The Grim Reaper might take me first, I told him, and you might have long years ahead.

Did he get any consolation from knowing that he was not alone in his physical suffering? That others were just as afflicted and ailing? And that the feeling of immortality and invincibility was limited to a certain youthful age—and ours was the time when we were Joe Burgos’s reporters at the old Malaya? And that time was gone.

Jimmy’s death watch was not the only melancholy that we fought off in that reunion. Ma’am Edith is still searching for son Jonas and has not given up despite the frustration and the official snub. Joe Burgos played a heroic, outsized role in the democratic restoration and all the heroism is not even enough to get Ma’am Edith search for Jonas an official lift.

The “mosquito press“ (which meant Joe by his lonesome) saw through the cracks at the core of the Marcos regime and his newspaper bannered stories about “the beginning of the end of the Marcos regime.” Day in and day out that was the stuff of our reporting—a crumbling regime with its days numbered. While the mainstream press sucked up the narrative of Marcos’s invincibility, and those pretending to be independent newspapers tried to show “fairness and objectivity,” none of that stuff was reported by Malaya.

We reported the events as Joe saw them: a naked emperor gasping for his last breath.

When the emperor fled, Joe lost the fire in his belly. He had the perfect sense that what would follow would not be an orderly transition to a full and vibrant democracy, but a rough and torturous transition. How prescient.

Joe probably did a transition into electoral politics because he could not bear reporting on the flaws and the warts of the new mandarins. He just did not have the heart to report on the fallibilities of the new government that his Malaya help birthed.

Many of the Malaya staffers wandered off either into other areas of work, or other newspapers. Ben. Evardone is now an outstanding congressman. The late Tony “Bob Redford’ Modena became an ambassador. Jimmy Perez shouldered on till the mid-90s, then moved to other publications. A faceless, nameless soldier on the newspapering front, now in a vast newsroom in the sky.

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