After Gani

This is not the column I was planning to write today. I did not plan to write anything at all, was going to play hooky from responsible almost-adulthood and spend the day in bed passed out under the covers. I have learned, in the most painful way possible, that it is better to get hammered for irresponsibility than be awake at 3 in the morning on a Sunday agonizing over a grammatical error left on the second sentence of the ninth paragraph of a published column pumped out by panic, smoke and high levels of caffeine.

The choice not to publish involves a number of repercussions. The first is that my father will not have a column to cut out on Sunday morning for pasting on his scrapbook. The second is that a number of well-meaning individuals, including my father, will find themselves compelled to inform me that I have missed my column, on the off chance I did not notice. The third, the one that has again and again forced me out of bed and to my desk, is the certain fact that a voice will again take up temporary residence inside my head. That voice belonged to Gani Yambot, my publisher, who had formed the habit of calling me to his office on the first quarter of every year.

Do you want coffee, he would ask. Take a seat, he would say. I have counted your columns, and you appear to have missed a number of dates. He would then proceed to read those dates, my yearly total, and my monthly average. And then he would close the folder, explain to me my responsibility to the paper and my readers, and extract the promise that no sir, of course sir, it would not happen again.

I write this because Isagani Yambot died Friday night, died on his feet still publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It is an odd thing, because it never occurred to me that Sir Gani would die.

I have heard him called one of the last idealists of Philippine journalism. This is the man who was caught weeping while lighting a candle after 57 people were confirmed dead in the slaughter in Maguindanao. Two years after the massacre, there were already journalists beginning to demand a review of the list of the dead. Many were not real journalists, they said. Many were hacks and guns for hire. They do not deserve to be counted in the list of those killed in the line of duty.

I remember how he shook his head. “Every man’s death diminishes all of us,” he said. “Whether he or she is a legitimate journalist or not, we should grieve over the death of even just one person.”

Courage is celebrated among journalists, and even the most reckless are still spoken of with something resembling awe. The journalist who ran from the ’87 coup attempt is still dinner conversation today, discussed with the same derision reserved for abusive husbands and plundering presidents. I do not know how Isagani Yambot behaved on the field. He was already old when I met him. I do know his was a different sort of courage.

I used to produce a media affairs show on ANC called “Media in Focus.” Cheche Lazaro of “Probe” hosted, and invited reporters, company heads, publishers and politicians to talk about failures in reportage and ethics. It is rare for a news head to accept an invitation, knowing, for example, that his reporter handled a story wrong, or that his editor failed to verify his lead story. Most would send apologies, or a statement, or would simply refuse to answer phone calls. Every time his paper was attacked, Isagani Yambot would appear, jacket over one arm. He would sit quietly under the storm of criticism, some of it personal, some of it over the line. And if it were clear his paper was in error, and it occasionally was, the head of the largest of Philippine newspapers would say so without hesitation, would say it, on national television, with an apology and a commitment to correct.

When provincial journalists began complaining in a national conference that they felt bypassed by the national media, he took the same stand. “I must admit there is some truth to the accusation that provincial journalists are treated as second-class citizens. This is not the right attitude.” He went on to say the Inquirer was taking the lead to prevent this.

Asked how much he made himself, he smiled. “I receive a salary that allows me to live comfortably, but I could do with a raise.”

Journalism, he said, was a calling. “It’s like a priesthood. When you enter journalism you take a vow of poverty. Because you know, especially in the print media the salary is not so high. You also have to take a vow of obedience, follow the laws and canons of journalism.

“Luckily, we don’t have to take a vow of chastity, because if we had to take a vow of chastity, 99 percent of the male journalists would not make it.”
Asked about the female media population, he laughed, and corrected himself, on the record. Females, too.

He was always kind, always understanding, except for the odd moment when he appeared at a Department of Foreign Affairs event, shook my hand, and calmly informed me that I had gained weight. It was also the first and only time he had ever told me I wrote well. I do not know if he said it to compensate, but I like to think he never made the connection.

I write this now because a good man is dead, and his death diminishes me, and diminishes the public he lived to serve. I write this for the same reason the staff of a newsroom on Pasong Tamo switched on the lights of his office the first night he was gone. I write this, too, because I know that even if he’s gone, not even God himself can stop Gani Yambot from calculating how many columns I’ve missed this year.

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Posted on Mar 3, 2012 under Opinions, People and labeled ,,

3 Responses to “After Gani”

  1. Dante Bonifacio

    He’s absolutely right – you should write more often.

  2. Hi Ms. Evangelista! Sorry to be posting this here on your comments page. We tried your rappler email but it kept bouncing back to us.

    This is Rei Alba, Web Content Editor for The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) http://www.ncca.gov.ph

    The NCCA would like to invite you, along with other bloggers, for a lunch this March 27 ( Tuesday) with our Chair Prof. Felipe de Leon, Jr., and Executive Director Emelita Almosara at the NCCA.

    May I ask for your email address so that I can send the e-invite and map? Thank you very much!

    Pls. email us back at info@ncca.gov.ph or ralba@ncca.gov.ph. Thank you very much!

  3. shutup

    shut up

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