Aquino on 'Tita Letty': Her look turned blood into ice
MANILA, Philippines – Whenever he spoke with his “Tita Letty,” President Benigno Aquino III said his blood pressure “probably rose at least 5 points.” At the same time, he felt “like a college student again” under the gaze of a strict professor.
Aquino saw Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, the late editor-in-chief of the Phiippine Daily Inquirer, as a “strict taskmaster” watching the government.
“Tita Letty (Aunt Letty),” as Aquino calls her fondly, “could give you the kind of look that would turn the blood in your veins to ice,” the President said in his eulogy Tuesday, December 29, the last night of Magsanoc's wake.
But that look, “at once direct, intimidating, and soul-searching,” would end either with a smile or very infectious laughter, allowing Aquino to relax.
Magsanoc, 74, led the Philippines' most popular broadsheet for 24 years. She died on Christmas Eve.
Magsanoc co-founded the Inquirer in December 1985, as part of the "mosquito press" that criticized dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Two months later, the peaceful People Power Revolution toppled Marcos and catapulted the incumbent President's mother, Corazon, to power.
Before helping build the Inquirer, Magsanoc served as editor of the Philippine Panorama from 1976 to 1981. She was forced to resign as Panorama editor after writing an article that criticized Marcos.
Then, from 1983 to 1986, she edited a weekly magazine called Mr and Ms Special Edition. The magazine helped in ousting Marcos by reporting on the assassination of the current President's father, Benigno Jr or "Ninoy," under the Marcos regime.
While Marcos curtailed the media back then, Magsanoc's magazine was so bold that the cover of its first issue was Ninoy's bloodied face. (READ: The courage of Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc)
Later in life, Aquino considered Magsanoc his caring mentor. She was also his mother's close friend.
Aquino said their relationship involved a balancing act: While Magsanoc was his mentor, she was also the government's watchdog.
“Tita Letty’s truest and deepest nature was of a nurturer with a heart of gold – a nurturer who was still tough precisely because she expected you to meet the challenge of her very high expectations,” he said.
Tension, of course, could not be avoided during the last years of her life when Aquino became president. The clear divide between media and government official meant that Aquino had to be on his guard when speaking with Magsanoc, he admitted. Though she was a probing journalist all the way, she never fostered conflict between them.
“Tita Letty was always so human that it fostered respect, trust, and thus closeness,” shared Aquino.
'Yoda who takes the hero by hand'
Many others shared their fond memories of Magsanoc in their eulogies after a Mass presided over by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
Veteran broadcast journalist Cheche Lazaro described Magsanoc, the Inquirer's longest-serving editor-in-chief, as an “icon for what she stood for, for what she fought for, for what she represented in the life of a journalist.”
Candy Quimpo Gourlay, one of the Inquirer’s first staff writers, gave a glimpse of what it was like to have been mentored by Magsanoc or “LJM,” as she was called.
She described her former boss as someone who loved being around young people and who valued heart and passion above all.
“In stories there is always a Yoda who takes the hero by the hand and leads him or her into adventure. For us, that special character was LJM,” Quimpo said.
In the same way that the EDSA revolution is the backstory of the Inquirer, Quimpo said generations of journalists can say, “LJM is our backstory, Letty is in our DNA.”
Magsanoc's cousin, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, spoke of the late journalist’s great love for her family.
Though they were cousins, Jimenez also saw a mentor and mother figure in her.
“It was impossible to speak to her without seeing our own parents in her eyes. She looked back at you with the same attentive and loving gaze and she showed that she was truly, truly interested in what you had to say,” he said.
He brought back Magsanoc’s legendary voice, describing it as a “venerable hoarseness that was somehow very calming and soothing, so distinct, so very Letty.”
He joked: “Some of us figured that God gave Letty a hoarse voice so she would develop a sharp mind. You see, when she was upset, she got her point across without having to shout her head off. And her messages were loud and clear.”
She was just as loved in her other family, the Inquirer family, said Sandy Prieto-Romualdez, Inquirer's president and chief executive officer.
“She had a personal relationship with almost everyone in the Inquirer be it the drivers or executives and was never busy for anyone,” she said about Magsanoc.
A former copy monitor and Magsanoc’s personal assistant for 23 years, Rolly Abad Jr, was profuse in his thanks for his boss for giving him the job that allowed 4 of his 5 kids to graduate from college.
Aside from speeches, the night was enlivened by songs sung by Annie Brazil, one of Magsanoc’s favorite singers and also her friend.
The gathering, held in a garden chilled by December winds, was warmed by memories of a woman who is loved as she is admired. – Rappler.com