There was an unspoken belief in the Inquirer newsroom that editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc was immortal or invincible—that she would outlive everyone.
The public will remember LJM, as we fondly called her, as a staunch advocate of press freedom. She was vocal about her opposition to the Marcos regime and its abuses.
But as someone born years after the 1986 Edsa Revolution, I will always remember her as this larger-than-life figure in the office. She was more than the editorial head of the premier broadsheet in the Philippines; she was the Inquirer. She is the Inquirer. And she was my boss.
As one of the editorial production assistants (EPAs) assigned to Page One, I worked closely with her. She put to bed the second edition of the paper, reading and making corrections on all Page One articles, tweaking headlines and captions, sometimes even overhauling layouts.
She was amazing and brilliant, one of the sharpest people I know. I remember her dictating to me long quotes from TV or radio interviews that she wanted to be included in the articles.
Never mind if the interview happened earlier that day or earlier that week, LJM could recall quotes word for word.
I remember the nights I would walk to her desk—run, if the deadline was looming—to consult her about her handwritten corrections. You see, LJM had a distinct, bold scrawl that only the most experienced of EPAs would understand outright. It was like a secret code, and only when she had finally trusted you that you’d be given the key to understanding her script.
Editing isn’t the same as writing. Some journalists are great writers but not good editors. LJM was brilliant in both ways. She had this way of rearranging paragraphs of long articles, and at first glance you’d think that the article would be a mess of words, quotes and haphazard transitions. But the flow, coherence, and “tightness” of the story were perfect.
She was also known for putting a premium on the human element of stories, putting a face to the most abstract of issues.
LJM wasn’t the perfect boss, but she came close. She was stubborn and, sometimes, very set in her ways. I remember one of our heated arguments; I was trying to explain to her why a tweet was paraphrased in an article, and she just wasn’t getting it. She raised her voice, and I raised my voice.
I can’t remember how it ended, but I remember returning to my desk and seeing the looks of awe and bewilderment on the faces of my coworkers.
That night, before she went home, LJM approached me and said: “Thanks, Cake, for standing your ground.” And I was humbled. Name me someone, anyone who’s a boss and who, after arguing with a member of her staff, would still be gracious and nice, and wouldn’t end the day on a bad note.
She was generous, too, maybe even to a fault. Two Christmases ago, LJM told me she forgot to give me a Christmas present. She was so apologetic about it. A week after, she gave me her gift, which included a card that said:
So sorry I missed you. Of all people! Because you’ve evolved so fast right before my eyes, I couldn’t believe your transformation seemed to have happened just like that. Stay focused on and meticulous with your work. You are really blooming. You have style, girl.
Merry Christmas and another transformative year for you and the rest of our dream team!
As ever, Letty”
In 2014, LJM assigned me to write about the Inquirer elevator—installed in the Makati City office that same year—for the Inquirer 29th anniversary special. I consulted her about it, because, honestly, what was I supposed to write about an elevator? She told me: “Write a whimsical story about it.” LJM was fun like that.
A few months ago, she told me a secret. Like most bibliophiles, she had a certain preference for books in her collection. She read my article about the 2015 Manila International Book Fair and told me how much she enjoyed it.
And because I love to read, she said, she wanted me to have some of her books. She gave me a couple of novels by James Salter and Hilary Mantel.
Then, she sheepishly told me, “I don’t like paperbacks, so I’m getting the hardcover versions of these books for my collection.”
Last December, I was supposed to celebrate my five years in the Inquirer with her. The company gives recognition to employees who have worked in the Inquirer for five, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years. LJM was celebrating her 30 years of service. Unfortunately, she couldn’t attend the ceremony. And now, she’s gone. She wrote 30 on her 30th.
But for LJM, writing 30 doesn’t mean the end. She will live on. Her legacy, a free and independent press, will live on. The people she had mentored and inspired will continue her great work. As long as we keep doing our work with honor and integrity, LJM will live on.
The author is an editorial production assistant at the Philippine Daily Inquirer.