Tribute to Isagani ‘Gani’ Yambot | Lifestyle.INQ

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Tribute to Isagani ‘Gani’ Yambot

INQUIRER editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc: Gani was “a lover of all creations bright and beautiful, of books, the theater, and, not the least, the two-legged creations.” ARNOLD ALMACEN

Gani the culture vulture

By Lito Zulueta

Gani came from the old school of muckraking and male chauvinist journalism, so it’s not too well known that he had a “soft side.” We, in Lifestyle, and I, in particular, since I edit the Arts and Culture subsection, had been witnesses to this side of his character.

After reading the front page of the Monday edition, critiquing it for grammar and stylistic lapses, he would devour the Monday Arts and Culture pages, and make a schedule of the culture events he would be attending during the week. Sir Gani was a culture vulture.

For tickets, passes and invitations, he would seek us out in Lifestyle, and we were happy to oblige him. Of course, the organizers, many of them cultural attaches from the foreign missions, were only too honored to invite “the Publisher” of the Inquirer.

Sir Gani’s favorite cultural haunting places were the film festivals of foreign missions: he loved, in particular, attending Pelicula of the Instituto Cervantes de Manila, the Ega Sai of the Japan Foundation Manila, and the Cine Europa of the European Union.

But he was also a lover of other cultural fare, such as art exhibits, dance (he enjoyed watching the flamenco dancers, guitarists and singers flown in by the Spanish missions), and classical music. Of course, Gani, being what he was, treated such occasions as holistic appreciation of beauty: He would not only fix his attention at what was going on onstage, but also admire the beautiful ladies among the audiences and guests. He was a connoisseur of beauty through and through.

The day Isagani Yambot wept

By Gibbs Cadiz

I have heard him called one of the last idealists of Philippine journalism. This is the man who was caught weeping while lighting a candle after 57 people were confirmed dead in the slaughter in Maguindanao. Two years after the massacre, there were already journalists beginning to demand a review of the list of the dead. Many were not real journalists, they said. Many were hacks and guns for hire. They do not deserve to be counted on the list of those killed in the line of duty.

I remember how he shook his head. “Every man’s death diminishes all of us,” he said. “Whether he or she is a legitimate journalist or not, we should grieve over the death of even just one person.”—“After Gani,” by Patricia Evangelista

I saw that scene myself. It was dusk of Friday, Dec. 4, 2009, when the paper held its own indignation rally and moment of remembrance [for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre] on the front steps of the office. How grave the present circumstances are—not only for Filipino journalists but for the general civil order—was underscored by the early sight of our veteran newsman-publisher, Isagani Yambot,  breaking into tears in deep anger and sadness during his brief remarks. The gentlemanly Mr. Yambot never once cried during the Marcoses’ Martial Law; he did now.

And that’s how I’d like to remember Sir Gani—not only passionate, but also compassionate. Principled, but also the soul of forbearance and humor. To the people he had the privilege of mentoring, including me, he was as direct in his criticism as he was generous with praise. The highlight of my first years in the Inquirer was seeing pages of my movie reviews, then my theater pieces, pasted on the bulletin board after the weekly editorial meeting, with notes in Sir Gani’s handwriting—“Good read” his usual comment. And I knew he didn’t dispense that judgment lightly, because he also saw nearly every play or movie I went to; he could do a better job of writing about it had he wanted to.

Sometimes, of course, the notes went the opposite way—red marks on bad captions and grammar lapses, with gender-benders and convoluted phrasing his most common pet peeves. One emerged from such fine-toothed scrutiny a better, more careful writer. But Sir Gani never made one feel harassed or imposed upon.

He will be much missed. In the meantime, we grieve.

The boss who did the cha-cha

By Alya B. Honasan

There are bosses you wouldn’t dream of joking around with, maybe because they’re too darn serious, or they take themselves too seriously. Then, there was Gani Yambot, the inimitable Mr. Y.

When I began working with the Sunday Inquirer Magazine (SIM), Mr. Y would come visit us on the fourth floor to say hello during our late Thursday night presswork, chat with then editor Karla Delgado, and later, with me and the rest of the staff—with the ill-concealed agenda of looking for a late-night snack, in case SIM had gotten luckier than Lifestyle or the news desk.

Then editorial assistant Monette Sison and I would break out into a cha-cha version of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” which Monette renamed “Gani’s Theme,” every time he showed up—and invariably, and quite good-naturedly, Mr. Y. would shuffle into a cha-cha. Seriously. Find me a boss, will you, who will do that for you.

In all my days as an employee of the Inquirer, I never heard a harsh word, and was never met with a scowl from Mr. Y. In return, he heard quite a few groans from me, every time he delivered one of his painfully corny puns.

In my latest incarnation as an occasional desk editor for Lifestyle, I have the misfortune of sitting beside the food table, and having to resist the frankly life-threatening fare (read: sugar, cholesterol) we receive from well-meaning PRs.

Even after his angioplasty, Mr. Y would pass by, asking if “the ceremonial ribbon has been cut” (read: has someone sliced the cake, opened the bilao of pansit, or distributed the chicken?), and—warnings from many of us notwithstanding (“Sir, sige kayo, that will block your arteries again!”)—tiptoe away with the goodies.

Even more recently, in reference to the impeachment trial, he would open with, “Your Honor, permission is requested to examine the evidence…”

Years ago, when I first discovered yoga, we had a teacher coming to the Inquirer to teach employees aspiring to get down into a decent downward dog. Mr. Y gamely joined the class, in white tennis shorts, later admitting that his favorite pose was Savasana (Corpse Pose), the rest that comes after all the stretching and bending.

A couple of weeks before his last operation, he approached me, asking what poses he could do to help open his heart. I told him to lie with a blanket under his spine to open the chest, or to kneel down and lean back to reach for his heels in Ustrasana (Camel), a backbend that also lifts the heart. It was funny kneeling on the floor with Mr. Y, but nobody was too surprised.

A few days later, he reported, “Mahirap siya, ha!” “Headstand, sir, you want?” I challenged. He laughed and said, “Maybe someday.”

That someday will never come in this world, after Mr. Y finally cha-cha-ed out of our lives and left it a little less corny and a lot less fun, but I’m sure he’s doing exquisite headstands on a yoga mat in the sky. Here’s wishing everyone could be blessed with a boss who makes you feel like your work is not just work, after all—and who always makes you smile.

LETTING GO. During cremation, butterflies are set free at the Arlington grounds. RAFFY LERMA

I will always smile at your memory, Mr. Y.

The day Mr. Y dropped the ‘F-bomb’

By Cheche V. Moral

People laugh in disbelief whenever they hear this story told. Can’t blame them; if I didn’t witness it myself, I probably would not believe it, either.

It was about that one time many years ago when the cool and unflappable Mr. Yambot flew off the handle and uttered an expletive at a male coworker. (The F-bomb, recalled one colleague at Mr. Y’s wake on Monday.)

It was way past midnight and there was just a handful of us left in the newsroom. As was his habit, Mr. Y was behind his desk, hard at work in the wee hours, when one female colleague knocked on his door and, in between sobs, reported that a male coworker refused to edit the last article that needed to be laid out that night.

There he was, the big boss, up to his neck in paperwork (as he liked to gesture) that he had to work late into the night, and a coworker in the next room was refusing to do his job! And he had to hear this from a crying woman!

Mr. Y didn’t yell, as would be expected in that situation, but the newsroom was nearly empty at that point that everyone within 15 feet of the Lifestyle Section heard what he said to the offending party—who, naturally, did as he was ordered stat.

It took a woman’s tears to make Gani lose his cool, his senior coworkers now say in amusement. Everybody likes to joke about how much he liked the ladies! He would walk up to you and say, “Ikaw pala yan. Bagay!” to compliment your hair or whatever it was you were wearing. “Sino yun?” he would ask with a mischievous glint in his eyes when a guest in the newsroom caught his attention.

Even then, no one ever accused the man of being inappropriate or leery. In Facebook tributes to him, the young female staff talked about Mr. Y only with fondness, like a doting lolo. He liked to tell corny jokes and he also liked to send kittens-in-a-basket-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow kind of feel-good mass e-mails. Despite his stature, he never acted like he was too good to mingle with the younger employees, or too special to work the buffet line.

Mr. Y was kind and approachable and never said no to a request, as we often did for endorsement letters to the embassies for overseas assignments. If he was busy, he told you to text him a reminder. But he never said no.

I remember him asking a favor only once; he asked if I could please bring him home a copy of the New York Times because, he said, he hadn’t held an actual copy in his hands in a long time.

Late last year, I ran into him in the lobby shortly after his first heart procedure. I asked how he was, and he said he was okay. But he looked weak, much older even, the usual sparkle in his eyes gone.

He looked a lot better, his usual good-natured self a few days before his Feb. 21 surgery. He was in Lifestyle bantering with Alya about yoga and headstands. Maybe he was also getting food from the Lifestyle spread, I’m not sure. I wish I had paid more attention. I wish I had walked up to him and wished him well. I guess I just thought he would pull through once more and I would run into him later in the lobby, and he would tell me he was okay, looking weak and older but nonetheless okay. That Friday was the last time I saw him.

Farewell, Sir. Marami pong salamat.

At day’s end, a ‘regular guy’

By Alex Y. Vergara

There was a time, I’ve been told, when editors would regularly berate a reporter for everything and at the slightest provocation—from his grammar and syntax to his arrangement of facts.

Some would even post a reporter’s hard copy full of red markings on the bulletin board, perhaps to shame the reporter, under the guise of educating the rest of us on how it should be done.

I even heard stories of some editors demanding that the reporter sit beside them during the editing process as they went through each sentence in his hard copy line by line. I’m glad I wasn’t in the poor reporter’s shoes, as it must have been a humiliating experience being shown your errors while you squirmed in your seat.

It happened most of the time to front-page reporters before the advent of the Internet and instant communication, when almost everyone was expected to troop back to the newsroom in the late afternoon to file his or her stories. But the rest of the sections, from Lifestyle down, weren’t exempted.

I’d say I was one of those journalists in our newsroom today who experienced the transition from daily dressing-downs to more subtle approaches from editors to reporters to get and write the news right.

One of the kindest and coolest editors I’ve had the privilege to work for was Isagani Yambot. Although I wasn’t directly under him, I learned quite a lot from him, both as a person and as a professional.

He was of the old school, but with a difference. The importance of accuracy, style and grammar aside, he proved to me that you could be serious and dedicated to your craft and still be a nice guy at day’s end.

Unlike not a few people of authority, his “regular guy” demeanor made me feel that he was one of us. That he was approachable.

Well, in fact, he was. His office, quoting from a classic line from a Vilma Santos starrer, was “parang karinderyang bukas sa lahat ng gustong kumain.”

It was open to anyone who sought his help and guidance, be it a written assurance to some foreign embassy that we weren’t a flight risk, or an endorsement letter to a journalism fellowship.

I benefited from his endorsement when I applied and won a slot in the World Press Institute, a US-based journalism fellowship program, in 2001. It was competitive. Without that extra push, who knows what would have happened to my application. Thank you, sir.

No matter how occupied his mind was, he would always either nod and smile or raise his hand to acknowledge me (and I guess others) whenever our paths crossed.

In short, no person was too small nor inconsequential to him. Such generous social gestures may mean nothing in the greater scheme of things, but it is during such spontaneous moments that we learn a great deal about a person and how he regards others.

Mr. Yambot also had a hearty appetite (matched only by his love for the performing arts) that would put men half his age to shame. And he wasn’t picky with the food or fastidious with the arrangements. One of his favorite go-to places was Lifestyle. Sir, Lifestyle and the rest of PDI will miss you and your endearing ways.

CITA GOYAGOY: “Thank you, boss. I’ll miss you.” RAFFY LERMA

Apart from your wry humor, unassuming presence and naughty double entendres, I will always remember most of all your kindness and dedication to your profession. May you rest in peace in the newsroom in the sky.

Thanks for believing, Mr. Y

By Anne A. Jambora

Years ago after just over a year as reporter for PDI, I had a most ambitious plan: apply for one of the most coveted international journalism fellowships—and actually get accepted.

Applying for a fellowship was not really my idea. A colleague, an alumnus of the fellowship, had suggested I give it shot. And so there I was, excited and heady with dreams, drawing up a list of people who could give me a good recommendation.

I didn’t need to look beyond the newsroom, I thought. How naïve. Minutes after asking some bosses, I faced the harsh reality: Nobody wanted to endorse a rookie.

It was one rejection after the next, so that by the time I was standing outside Isagani “Mr. Y” Yambot’s office, I was almost certain of  rejection. That was okay, I thought. I was getting better at nursing my bruised ego. This should be quick.

I remember knocking on his door, that tentative knock that fears the person behind the door might actually hear it.

My heart raced when Mr. Y motioned me to come in. Okay, I thought, be quick and get it done and over with.

“Sir, I was just wondering,” I trailed off.

“O, what can I do for you?” he said, smiling.

“I know I don’t have much experience. I don’t know anything. I don’t even know if I’m going to end up knowing anything at all. It’s just that people have been saying I’m not ready, that it required someone more mature,” I said.

“I want to apply for a fellowship, and I was wondering if you can write me a recommendation? If you don’t want to, that’s okay.”

Mr. Y looked at me, laughed softly, and shook his head.

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. If there’s an opportunity for you to grow, go for it. Don’t let anyone make you think you’re not capable of doing something beyond what is expected of you.”

He took the papers from my hand, sifted through the pages, and asked, “When do you need it?”

“Next week’s the deadline, sir, so anytime before next week?”

He stood up and gave me a pat on the shoulder: “Good luck!”

In the coming weeks Mr. Y kept asking me about my application. He was with me, sort of, every step of the way. He knew when I made it to the initial Top 30, then to the next Top 15, until I was interviewed and finally selected as one of 10 journalists around the world for the fellowship.

Thank you, Mr. Y., for believing.

The kiss

By Vangie Baga-Reyes

If there’s one thing I will never ever forget about Mr. Y, it’s that he would always kiss me (on the cheeks) on my birthday. Every time, if I remember it right. But I was never offended. I knew it was a harmless kiss from a person I respect so much. He was a true gentleman, and I believed that.

Many beautiful, brilliant things have already been said about him, and I know they are all so true. Mr. Y will be sorely missed, especially in Lifestyle.

Thank you, sir, for being part of our life. God bless your soul.

Simple pleasures

By Luis San Juan

When 2bU and Super were still closing on the same day, Thursday was always a fun time for us. I remember Sir Gani dropping by our section, and we’d offer him whatever food we had, from pizza, pansit, to cupcakes and french fries. Pam would always have a witty exchange with him, and we would end up laughing the entire time.

I didn’t get to talk to Sir Gani that much, but I will definitely miss his happy presence. Sharing simple pleasures with people you work with heightens the virtue of simplicity and humility, something I would definitely take to heart.

The funny man

By Carmencita S. Sioson

I was relatively a newbie in the office when I first ran into Mr. Isagani “Gani” Yambot. I was faxing some papers when he appeared as if out of nowhere and asked me, “What’s new?”

In the midst of wracking my brain to come up with an answer, trying to decipher what he meant, and figuring out who he was, I just stood there, frozen on the spot, and looked clueless. He gave a kind smile and explained that he was asking about the new stories for Lifestyle, and went on his way.

The first thing I did, when I got back to my seat, was to narrate what had happened and inquire about him. Entertained by my mishap, Lifestyle Super’s subsection editor Pam Pastor replied with a laugh, “Siya lang naman yung publisher natin.” He popped into our workstation a few minutes later and we were finally introduced. The humble and funny man that he was, he made a few jokes then went on his way.

Since then, whenever I bumped into him, he’d ask me the same question—to which I finally had some answers—and he’d crack a few jokes before sauntering to the other direction.  It never got old, as it was the same funny man who gave me the same kind and understanding smile that made me feel welcome in this second home. I will surely miss that.