Media warrior, icon of press freedom, a shaper of history. Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc was all that, but when I met her at the Manila Bulletin, the formidable persona still lay in the future.
I was a fresh journalism graduate then, doubly wet behind the ears, because added to my callowness was an extremely sheltered upbringing that didn’t prepare me for the raw world of journalism.
I doubt if the desk editor at that time considered me a suitable candidate, but his boss had forced me down his throat.
He immediately threw me into the deep end—the police beat. The closed shop union was hostile, because I had been hired with a starting salary higher than other reporters.
I hunkered down, survived, and was eventually accepted by the editorial staff, but it took time for me to really feel comfortable.
So it was a relief to meet Letty, who was writing for the Sunday magazine, Panorama, and later became its editor. She was someone with a background similar to mine, so I thought I could make it, too.
And to my dazzled eyes, she was glamorous! She had it all—beauty, brains, and a wardrobe of smart clothes, because she had recently returned from the US where her husband Carlitos had taken his postgraduate training.
But what I liked best about Letty was that she was kind.
To someone uncertain of her abilities, on the defensive after her first encounter ever with overt hostility, Letty’s simple friendliness was comfort indeed.
In the three years I worked at the Bulletin, I never heard her make gratuitously offensive, catty or sneering comments. She was too self-confident for that.
When martial law was declared in 1972, a military censor sat at the desk to review all editorial material. I found this atmosphere stultifying. When a job offer to be a PR officer came along, I accepted it with relief.
Letty remained with Panorama, and over the years I marveled at how she tested and pushed the boundaries of editorial freedom even under martial law. The very junior reporter who had admired Letty for her writing and her personal style had not even remotely guessed at her enduring courage and depth of conviction.
When Letty read my first contribution to the Seniors’ Section and told Chit Roces-Santos to encourage me to continue to write, I was gratified beyond words.
While I am no longer that insecure newbie journalist, I didn’t think she would remember me after all those years. And certainly, affirmation by a person of such integrity as Letty is a pearl of great price, indeed.
Like so many Filipinos, I have immense admiration and respect for Letty, but I remember her also with gratitude.
There have been great editors who have made their mark in history—Benjamin Bradlee comes to mind—but not all have been great human beings.
The Inquirer staff has written of the way in which she took a personal interest in her people, and nurtured them to be the best that they possibly could be.
I can believe it, because this is the Letty I knew, the Letty I remember.