It was Christmas Eve, just a couple of hours before midnight. I was on the floor surrounded by freshly bought presents, wrapping paper and ribbons, finally ready to feel the holiday spirit. I played my first Christmas song—Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé were singing the second stanza of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” when I glanced at my phone. There was an endless flurry of notifications from INQUIRER’s WhatsApp groups. The first message I read was: “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
My heart started pounding. I scrolled through the messages quickly and felt like I had been punched in the gut. “Noooooo :(” was the only reply I could type.
And before I knew it, I was curled up into a ball, a crying mess.
I was just a kid when I started closing the pages of 2bU!, INQUIRER’s youth section.
In a year or so, I had gone from being an overzealous student correspondent to a regular presence in the newsroom, the wide-eyed newbie with little experience but a lot of ideas.
I didn’t know it then but Letty Jimenez- Magsanoc, an icon of journalism and the INQUIRER’s editor in chief, had taken notice. She gave me a pat on the back in the form of a memo.
I wish I had kept a copy but all I have are excerpts from my diary. She described my section as “consistently good, useful but exciting, tuned-in to the target audience, grabbing, exhilarating, cool… a celebration of youth.” She had written, “I can smell all the sweat that goes into her work but none of it shows… the passion is there.”
That she had taken time out of her busy schedule to write about my work left me in a daze. By then, my love for journalism had already been ignited and LJM fanned the flames.
I was still in college when LJM asked me to become part of the original staff of INQUIRER Libre; those are some of the best times I’ve spent at the INQUIRER. It made two years of no days-off—I was in school five days a week and at the office three days a week—totally worth it.
One day, at a meeting, LJM turned to me: “When are you graduating?”
“March,” I said. She smiled. “Good, I can’t wait. You’re applying, right?”
“Yes,” I said.
I had dreams of spending months exploring India after leaving my university but I abandoned them because I couldn’t wait to keep working for her and with her.
Soon after I was hired full-time, she asked me to be the editor of Super. We would sit in her office and throw ideas around and make plans for our new pop culture section.
She was always dedicated to giving young people a voice, perhaps inspired by her grandchildren she always talked so fondly about.
LJM also liked talking to me about my grandma. After my piece about how Lola Charit read “Fifty Shades of Grey” was published, she texted me: “I loved your story on your exclusive 2-member book club with your lola! Take it from this lola. Wish I have a book club with my apo. But they are so into the net and networking!”
One Christmas, she gave me a set of bookmarks and on a card she had written:
“To dear Pam,
For the various books you’re reading at the same time. (Oh, but you must!)
With love, Letty JM”
That card has been in my wallet for years. It still is now.
There are times when she would tell me that she clipped articles I wrote or kept issues we came out with. One of her favorites was our Super guide to late-night dining. “You should do that again,” she said to me recently. We definitely will.
A couple of years ago, I heard that LJM was planning to ask me to move to the news desk. After over a decade spent in the lifestyle and pop culture beat, the thought made me panic. I couldn’t sleep that night. In the wee hours, I composed a very long (possibly very dramatic) text telling her how honored I was that she wanted me there but that saying yes would mean saying goodbye to many of the things I love most about my job: looking for stories; securing scoops; working with young writers; and the part that I have always treasured the most, writing.
I told her I felt like I would be short-changing the company if my heart wasn’t in the work I was going to do.
She didn’t reply for hours. I was so afraid she was mad. But when she finally texted back, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. That text message has disappeared along with that old phone, but she said that she understood because it was my passion that made me good at what I do.
I didn’t see LJM for a few weeks after that. We kept missing each other in the office. But when I finally ran into her, she joked, “Have you been hiding from me?”
In some ways I feel like, in her eyes, I never grew up. I am always her token young person in the office, though there are now kids working here who are 15 years younger than me. Whenever politicians or political candidates would drop by for roundtables, she would call me to introduce me as the youth editor.
I was sitting beside her as we interviewed former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. I remember marveling at the way she would throw difficult questions at him, how she managed to be charming and unrelenting at the same time. Watching her in action was pure magic.
In 2013, I texted her that I got goosebumps while reading her story on INQUIRER’s pork barrel scam exposé in INQUIRER’s anniversary supplement and then I thanked her for cultivating a place of passion and strong convictions and told her how proud I was to be working for a company dedicated to serving the country. She replied, “Pam, if you can see me now, am in tears! Yours is the best anniversary greeting I got. Best of all, I believe I have your commitment to stay with the INQUIRER. PDI will always be in good hands.”
It worried me a little that it sounded like she was starting to say goodbye. And it wasn’t the first time. A couple of months before that, when I greeted her on her birthday, she texted, “Dear Pam of 50 and more shades of talent. I feel very good when I see you in the office because I see in you the continuity of the INQUIRER as refuge of the afflicted, the oppressed, the voiceless and the yearnings and inspiration of Edsa 1! Carry on!”
But I waved off those thoughts. Of course LJM wasn’t saying goodbye. She’s invincible. She’s going to live forever, I told myself.
But she didn’t. And my heart is broken. INQUIRER has never been just an office to me and the people there are not just my coworkers. I said this when Sir Gani passed away and I will say it again: Losing one of us always feels like losing family.
Having LJM in the newsroom was always a great source of comfort. Just hearing her voice made me feel like I was home. She was a true fearless leader who led by example. I will never forget being in a roomful of editors and hearing her say, “I don’t like that kind of attitude, this is my scoop, that is your scoop. We are one paper.”
She united us. She was authoritative but approachable, serious but fun. Sometimes, while she’s editing, I’d go up to her to bring her food—sometimes chicken wings, sometimes churros.
On days we would finish work at the same time and we’d make our way down the sweeping staircase together, before disappearing through the back door, she’d never fail to ask, “Do you have a ride home?”
My section is notorious for being loud while closing pages. Chatter and titters can always be heard from our part of the newsroom. One evening, I ran into LJM on my way to the ladies’ room. “Why am I not hearing cackling today?” she asked.
“Too busy with work,” I replied.
She said, with a twinkle in her eye, “You can laugh while you work.”
I will never forget that. Finding joy in the work we do is one of the biggest things I learned from her.
One day I texted her that we missed having her in the newsroom and she replied, “Thanks for thinking of me even if you have more and better insane things to do!”
We are all thinking of you now, Ma’am. We are all thinking of you.
The author is the editor of Inquirer’s Super Section.