‘A man for journalists’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Rex Reyes takes his oath as press secretary at Malacañang before President Diosdado Macapagal, witnessed by First Lady Eva Macapagal, Reyes’ children Georgina and Virgilio Jr.
Rex Reyes takes his oath as press secretary at Malacañang before President Diosdado Macapagal, witnessed by First Lady Eva Macapagal, Reyes’ children Georgina and Virgilio Jr.

My father Virgilio Sr.—Rex to his friends, Heyo to his sibings and Virgil to my mom—would have turned 95 on July 5, just as my mother would have been 91 on July 7. They were married on July 4, 1941—a few months before the outbreak of World War II.

They were always tickled pink that their natal dates and wedding were so close and had hoped that they might have a child born on July 6—a wish not granted (though they had five kids).

Another unfulfilled wish was that they might have a long life together, having both married so young. But he died of a heart attack on July 21, 1977, just when he had turned 55. She survived him by 20 years and passed away at the relatively young age of 71.

The eminent cultural writer Rosalinda L. Orosa, his colleague at the Manila Chronicle, where he became news editor, called him “a man for journalists” in the Philippine Star (July 30, 1992). She wrote:

“At the De La Salle University chapel, a Mass followed by a breakfast at the Gabriel Connan Room was recently celebrated to mark the 15th anniversary of Rex’s death. His widow, Erlinda Alcantara, his children headed by Minister Virgilio A. Reyes, Jr., his school chums Tony de las Alas, Victor Buencamino Jr., David Consunji and Desiderio B. de los Reyes (now known as the father of Gov. Tingting Cojuangco) and former employer Lucy David and compadre Rod Nazareno were among those who came to render honor to the memory of Rex …

Rex Reyes as a newsman

Long hours

“Daughter Cynthia said: ‘It is probably only now that I can appreciate the long hours he had to put in work to make sure each day’s issue was the best he could make it. He never came home much earlier than midnight and he would wake me up to share (with Mom and me) some siopao, pancit or buchi he had picked up on his way home.

“One night, he woke me up and whispered conspiratorially, ‘Look out the window.’ There, parked below, was this plain, black Ford with a rounded roof—our very first family car—perhaps even then, old-fashioned and decrepit, but to me far better than Cinderella’s carriage.’

“Components of Rex’s integrity were his idealism and his unwavering principles and convictions. Son Virgilio reminisced: ‘My Dad put up a good fight when the occasion called for it. There are two events that I think were particularly significant since they affected our lives as a family. The first was when, despite his management status, he decided to support the union members of his paper who had a legitimate case against management; the second was when, as president of our neighborhood association, he fought for the rights of the village homeowners against the subdivision ‘masters.’

Loss of a job

“In both cases, some might say he paid dearly. The first was the loss of a job, although he was later vindicated by being a successful PR (public relations) and advertising man, with the help of the Davids of Great Wall Advertising, and later still, when he was appointed press secretary by President Macapagal. In the second case, he paid with his life since he died—in Sen. Salonga’s office—where he had gone to consult a legal expert and friend. How fitting was his death since he perished, as a writer, slumped over a typewriter!

“Fifty-five years, a short life, but what a life that was!

“Through the few years I worked with Rex in the Chronicle, I found him quiet, soft-spoken and good humored. I never heard him raise his voice, no matter what pressures he was under. (Anyone who has worked at the desk knows how tremendous these pressures can be). Above all, Rex was neither cocky nor conceited and believe you me, modesty is a rare virtue among members of media.”

Reyes at his desk at the Manila Chronicle —PHOTOS BY VIRGILIO REYES

Golden ’50s

Reminiscing this year, another Chronicle colleague, Johnny Gatbonton summarized how it was in the golden ’50s and working with Rex:

“Virgilio ‘Rex’ Reyes joined the Manila Chronicle in the early 1950s, not long after I myself had done so. Mostly, I wrote captions for my colleague Joe Balein’s photographs in the paper’s weekend magazine, ‘This Week.’ Rex moved over from the Philippines Herald to run the Chronicle’s News Desk—which is any newspaper’s nerve center. He replaced the City Desk editor, Luis Mauricio, who quit newspapering to study law and become a labor-union lawyer.

“I was a nerd with a vocabulary and not much else, dropped out of my last year at the UST’s ‘Philets’ course. Rex, then in his middle thirties, took over command of the City Desk.

“The Chronicle was the most irreverent of the opposition newspapers; and it was its City Desk’s job to give body to the commentary of its editorial byliners: the acerbic columns of I.P. Soliongco and Ernesto O. Granada, and the Malacañang gossip of its impish Palace reporter Celso G. Cabrera.

“It was Cabrera, eavesdropping on a ruling-party session, who overheard the Senate President’s “What are we in power for?” question that summed up the quality of our postwar politics.

Fierce competition

“Newspapers of the time competed fiercely, pirating each other’s stars and Rex was the most senior of the new-hires on the reporting staff that management made at the time. Most of these new hires were fresh graduates from the college papers. Among them were Neal Cruz, Ramon Lopez and Gene Marcial from UST’s Varsitarian and Raul Gonzales from UE’s Dawn. Gabby Mañalac came to the Chronicle all the way from Georgetown.

“Rex’s Desk chose the grain from the chaff of the day’s news brought in by the beat reporters. Every evening, he and his crew had simultaneously ‘close’ the paper as early as they could—to get it out on the streets before the competition—and also to keep its pages ‘open’ as late as possible to accommodate breaking news.

“Given these contradictory objectives, life on the Desk was just short of schizophrenic. The work night for deskmen—from about 5 in the afternoon until 10:30 to 11 in the evening was hustle hustle hustle. Most evenings, we on the day shift would hang around at the nearby Press Club, nursing beers, until the paper was closed. The News-Desk called it a day and our night on the town could begin.

“And there was always someone eager to buy a friendly newsman a drink. I suspect it’s because of this work tension and the irregular hours they keep that beat-journalists, like policemen and ward politicians, live such disorderly lives.

‘Gentlest of men’

“Rex on the slot of the City Desk was tense, terse, taciturn. Off it, he was the gentlest of men. Not once did I hear him raise his voice; the only indication he was angry was a flush on his face and tightening around his jaw. The typical deskman kept his reporters on a tight leash. Rex after work was so friendly he sometimes became the object of his reporters’ college-boy pranks.

“Newsroom gossip soon had it that Rex’s wife—a lovely academic from the State university—was fiercely jealous. And soon her supposed sensitivity to competition became the theme of ‘Sexy Rexy’ jokes.

“The girls on the Society beat would sometimes smear lipstick on Rex’s collar, just as he prepared to head home. Our Sport Editor’s father-in-law—a ranking bureaucrat—liked to spray a flagrant kind of perfume on anyone he came across at the Press Club. Bachelors he spared; married guys like poor Rex he drenched.

All-night poker

“Rex’s only vice—which I shared until I decided I lacked the skill for it—was poker. He and his ‘quorum’ were reputed to have started one game just after midnight, played till the afternoon of the next day, worked the normal night-shift, closed the next day’s paper and played again till noon of the third day.

“I also recall Rex’s cronies hiding his shoes—he had taken them off at an all-night poker game in a friend’s house—so that his wife would think he had overstayed at a lover’s home.

“I cannot recall how that episode ended—but my impressions of Rex remain vivid. The period in our country’s history Rex and I shared was an ideological one. Its rights and wrongs are no longer important, and my time at the old Chronicle still is a great chapter in my life. But I recall our editorial team broke up when we, in the rank and file, tried but failed to organize a labor union. And from the senior staff, only Rex Reyes, News Editor, came down on our side.”

Love for the written word

My own impression is that he never lost touch with the written word and passed on his love for it to his five children and 14 grandchildren.

His daughter, journalist and author Georgina, would become University of the Philippines’ Regent and Dean of the Institute (now College) of Mass Communication.

Valentin would work in the technology field that is a main highway of modern communications as an executive of Intel Philippines.

From his eldest son Carlos (who preceded him in death), his granddaughter Ma. Eloisa Reyes-Gan would become a lawyer and administrative vice president of the Yuchengco-Mapua Institute of Technology.

In today’s era of tweeting, “alternate facts,” “fake news” and trolls, I wonder what Rex Reyes would have said about the values that prevailed in our high-tech society.

He would surely have rejoiced in the benefits of facile and instant communication. But he would have deplored the lack of reflection, little historical perspective and the mental laziness generated by today’ s social media, giving rise to the era of “instant journalists.”