Because of the pro-Estrada sentiments in our family at that time, and because I am merely 9 then, I didn’t give much attention to it. I didn’t even set aside that give-away for posterity’s sake! I was only able to realize the importance of that moment many years later, when I was already a journalism student in UP Diliman. I learn the true story behind the paper being “ran over.” Estrada filed a Php 99 million libel case against the paper, and facing the prospect of a prolonged legal tussle against the country’s most powerful man, the paper folded up, and then changed owners.
One of the key figures in that event was the late Lourdes “Chit” Estella-Simbulan, Manila Times’ then-managing editor. As I took my first journalism class in mid-2007 (History of the Press, under Ms Evelyn Katigbak), I learned about that classic episode in Philippine media’s history. Over a year later, I’d be enrolled in one of her classes.
As a final requirement for that subject titled “The Newsroom,” students must produce a newspaper by the end of the semester. The class had its line-up of news executives, and I was the paper’s associate editor, or second-in-command. For reasons that already escapes me now, we named the paper “The Signum,” a name Prof. Simbulan later described as “innovative, creative, (and) interesting, though a bit strange.” All did not go smoothly. Deadlines weren’t met, while some seemed uncommitted; printing the newspaper became a problem, too. There were moments of introspection and self-blaming, compelling the paper’s top three editors (including me) to write separate open letters via our online group. Weeks after that, Prof. Simbulan gave a detailed two-page critique of our work. Though she made some pointed comments like “some headlines were stretched disproportionately,” “not a very careful use of bastard layouting,” and “proofreading can be improved throughout the newspaper,” she was appreciative of the paper’s strong points, writing:
“The Signum was a good first attempt at a newspaper. Its choice of stories was good, the opinions were earnest. Although it had its fair share of technical lapses, the substance made up for these. The newspaper had heart. “
That was a vindication for the efforts our entire class exerted for that output. I would’ve wanted to take other classes under her, but she went on study leave on my senior year. I remember gleefully answering a two-page “test” about Philippine history as part of her graduate studies research late 2009. Nevertheless, we still got to exchange pleasantries whenever I see her around the campus, or during her lunch meals with my thesis adviser Prof. Yvonne Chua.
I once kidded her (outside the UP College of Mass Communication building) that the only way she’d be my professor again is if I’d stay in UP beyond April 2010, my graduation date. She said she hopes that I’ve already graduated by then, and humorously quipped, “and with a job!” She emceed that year’s college graduation rites, and right after the ceremonies, I went up the platform of the UP Film Center to … have a photo with her. She gladly obliged, and now that she’s gone, that picture became all the more priceless to me.
I asked if she has a Facebook account. She said yes, but I was never able to search it. Months later, we saw each other again in the college. I came to ask for a recommendation from Prof. Chua about my application for MA History last August 2010. After greeting her, she ribbed me: “Mr. Madrona, I thought you already graduated!” Of all my journalism professors, she’s the only one to call me that way. It is saddening to note though that that encounter was the last time I saw her alive.
On my way out of Arlington’s Felicidad chapel, I approached Mr. Roland Simbulan to say how proud I am to have been once under his wife’s mentorship. The appreciative wido
w told me while shaking my hand: “Chit lives on through students like you.” The important lessons in journalism integrity and professionalism that she emphasized to us will be her biggest legacy, but Mam Chit is irreplaceable.