20 years later, Betty Go-Belmonte shines on
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Her legacy shines on as brightly as The STAR she left behind, her radiance undiminished by time.

Twenty years after she passed away, Betty Go-Belmonte’s legacy lives not just in The Philippine STAR. It throbs in the hearts of those who loved her, knew her, and were touched by her selfless greatness.

Once hailed as the “epitome of faith and friendship” by the late former President Corazon Aquino, Betty is cherished by her husband, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., for her “steadfast love and reliance on God.”

Betty founded The Philippine STAR with Max Soliven and Art Borjal as the country was teetering on its new-found freedoms on July 28, 1986, the 23rd newspaper on the block.

Armed with faith, she saw it through till it became the country’s leading newspaper, supervising its operations even as she valiantly fought cancer.

“Mom’s courage in the face of all the things that she experienced throughout her life is one thing I can never forget,” says her firstborn child Isaac, now the head of The STAR’s editorial board.

Betty founded The STAR on a guidance she received from a Bible verse, and she would face life’s many trials with discernment she got from the holy book.

“Her absolute, unflinching faith and devotion to our Lord” is her second son Kevin’s most vivid memory of his mother, who passed away at age 60.

“She showed this in all aspects of her life, from her family to her entrepreneurial spirit, to her battle with the disease. She triumphed throughout, because she knew she had our Lord with her always,” proudly says Kevin, vice chairman of Nuvoland.

Her youngest son, STAR president and CEO Miguel, continues to put his mother on a pedestal for her simplicity and selflessness. As she led The STAR to greater heights, she also made sure its success was also the good fortune of its employees and the less fortunate who sought its help. Betty established Operation Damayan, which Miguel continues to support staunchly.

“It seems like my mother’s whole life was dedicated to doing other things for other people, she was constantly helping those in need. Never did she put herself ahead of others,” Miguel shares. “And even if she could easily afford it, she never spent on material luxuries for herself, no expensive jewelry, bags, shoes, car or house. And yet she was one of the most powerful and influential women in the country before her death.”

Betty’s youngest child and only daughter Joy, now Quezon City vice mayor, admires her late mother for having been a “very strong, courageous and principled woman who was also extremely compassionate, loving and humble.”

Betty supported Joy’s decision to go to Mindanao as a Jesuit Volunteer of the Philippines when she was still in college and loved Joy’s students as her own, offering once to adopt all of them.

“I credit her 100 percent for molding me into the public servant that I am today. Twenty years after her death, I feel her tremendous influence in my life. When faced with challenges, I often ask myself, ‘What would Mom do in my shoes?’ and immediately I feel guided in my actions and decisions,” Joys adds.

‘Exceptional human being’

Betty wasn’t only devoted to her friend Cory, she loved and cared for the Aquino children.

Ballsy Aquino-Cruz says, “I remember Auntie Betty as always being very positive and a woman of great faith. Mom said that many times.”

“I will always remember Auntie Betty as one of the kindest, sweetest, humblest and most sincere persons I have ever met,” recalls Pinky Aquino-Abellada. “I remember during Mom’s presidency, she would call me to share reliable info she received to help Mom, like when she shared info that rebels were planning something imminent to destabilize the government. And to comfort me, she would even read a Bible passage to assure me that all would go well. Of course, I passed on the information to Mom as soon as I could because she was really a trusted source. When she fell ill, I remember she didn’t want visitors but Mom so wanted to see her and she agreed to see Mom. I remember Mom was so downhearted after the visit because that was only when she realized how serious the illness was.”

Pinky remembers the day she received the news that Betty had passed on. “I was a parent volunteer accompanying my son’s class on a field trip that day and I must have made a sad and shocked sound as I read the text because my companions suddenly looked at me. We lost such an exceptional human being and a very dear friend of the family.”

Betty’s spiritual strength is something etched indelibly in Viel Aquino-Dee’s memory. “I remember Auntie Betty as having been a deeply religious person.”

But Viel also remembers fondly how Betty gamely portrayed Cory in the National Press Club’s Gridiron in 1986. “Auntie Betty was probably my favorite portrayer of the role of Cory, something she gamely did on a number of occasions.”

Kris Aquino, who was Joy Belmonte’s classmate at Poveda, cannot forget the support she got from Betty when she was just starting out in show business.

“She was just so infinitely kind and so supportive and when I was going to start my showbiz career, she introduced me and made me ‘bilin’ to Tito Ricky Lo (The STAR’s entertainment editor),” Kris reminisces.

And like Viel, “we all loved Auntie Betty for being so game to be Mom in the Press Club spoof so that Mom would be treated kindly,” Kris shares.

Betty Go-Belmonte was a beloved wife, mother and grandmother, daughter and sister, but her unshakeable faith, generosity and patriotism took her from the bosom of her home to just about every cause that would uplift her countrymen – from poverty, ignorance, a shackled press and violence. She lived her Christian faith in every thing she did, and lived by it even when tested by physical suffering and death.

She will be remembered for being the guiding light of The Philippine STAR. She continues to be a star to those whose lives she has touched, her gentle, guiding light an eternal flame to them all.

New Year’s baby

Betty Go Belmonte was born on Dec. 31, 1933, a day her father, the late Filipino-Chinese newspaper publisher Go Puan Seng (Jimmy Go) described as a “gay New Year’s Eve.”

“Sunny and sweet, she had brought us much happiness,” Jimmy Go wrote in his book, One in Faith, a chronicle of how faith kept the family going during the difficult war years in the Philippines.

Go’s description of his eldest child was prescient, for all throughout her life, Betty would exude an unmistakable radiance that lit up the lives of those who surrounded her.

She was eight years old when war broke out in the Philippines, and her father, who was wanted by the Japanese army for his fearless editorials in his newspaper Fookien Times, feared for his young family’s life. On the day Betty turned eight, he had to go into hiding, but not after tasting his firstborn’s birthday noodles.

“Overwhelmed by emotion I left the table for my room, ” Go recalled, “followed by my wife Fely. Betty and her little sisters and brother looked after us with wonder.”

The next year, Go would take his family with him to the mountains, after being guided by a passage in the Bible that they should flee Manila. Fely Go was a devout Christian, and it was she who brought Jimmy into the warm embrace of her faith.

Though Betty and her family experienced “abject poverty” in the mountains of Ipo, northeast of Manila, during the war years, it was a self-imposed exile that saved their lives. Jimmy Go recalled that shortly after his family (Fely, Betty, Cecily, Dorcie, Elsie and Andrew) left their safehouses (they had at least two) in Manila, the Japanese raided them, reinforcing the family’s faith that the Lord, through the Bible, will always guide them towards the better choice. This life of faith and unconditional trust in the guidance of the Lord were inherited by Betty, whose 60 years were a testament to her faith.

“At the end, I realized Betty was the saintly person she was because the Bible was the bedrock on which she lived her life,” wrote the late STAR columnist Teodoro Benigno, of Betty, in 1994.

Betty majored in English at the University of the Philippines in the ’50s, and her love for the State University would endure until the day she died.

Dr. Emil Javier, a contemporary of Betty’s at the UP, recalls, “Everyone knew she was the eldest child of the formidable Go Puan Seng, but she smiled often and made friends with everyone, that she quickly banished any thought that she belonged only to the high and mighty.”

Betty was on a vacation in Baguio City when she would meet her future husband, Sonny, the son of a judge who was the friend of her father. They would marry in Taipei, Taiwan, a few years later. The marriage was blessed with four children – Isaac, Kevin, Miguel and Joy.

Betty struck a healthy balance between home and career, and it would not be uncommon for visitors to see her bringing her toddlers to the office once in a while. Aside from being editor of the Fookien Times Yearbook, Betty would also later on edit Movieworld, the STAR! Monthly magazine and The Philippine STAR.

“My late sister Betty and I spent our fondest times together during the martial law years when all newspapers were shut down, except for a couple of government related dailies,” her youngest sister Grace Glory Go recalls.

“However, after martial law was declared by the Marcos administration, we were granted the permission to continue publishing The Fookien Times Yearbook, which today is The Philippines Yearbook. At that time, Betty was the editor-in-chief and I was her proofreader. But we had lots of fun together,” Gracie recalls.

Betty is perhaps the only woman with the distinction of having founded the two leading papers in modern Philippine history – The Philippine STAR and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which she left to establish The Philippine STAR in July 1986.

The newspaperwoman

As a newspaperwoman, Betty was principled and fair. She would exhort her reporters to always get the other side, believing that airing the other side of the story the next day was not fair.

As she was as a student, Betty as a boss was friendly to all. She was perhaps the only newspaper chairman whose office was accessible to both editors and janitors.

Because she believed in causes great and small, Betty would sometimes get an empty pay envelope at the end of the month – she had signed it all off to people seeking her help. Betty established a charity program in The STAR that continues till this day. She also initiated housing projects for the staff and gave everyone a raise to help them pay for the monthly amortization.

In her farewell to her mother in 1994, Betty’s only daughter Joy said, “Mom, you really loved everybody. Your heart went out to everyone with no exception. I still remember the time when I told you stories about all my students who were neglected or problematic. You told me to just bring them home with me to Manila and we would take care of them and bring them to school here. I thought you were kidding. Later, however, it did not surprise me to learn that you were serious after all.”

She was also a loving wife to Sonny. She took a leave from The STAR and campaigned by his side when he ran successfully for congressman of Quezon City in 1992.

Betty was at the height of her work as newspaper publisher and socio-civic leader when cancer struck. She refused conventional means of treatment, and never lost faith in God even on her deathbed.

At her wake, people from all walks of life – from presidents to newspaper boys, from politicians to priests, gathered in grief. Each had a story to tell about how Betty Go Belmonte had touched their lives, and how she had made them feel so special.

Her father was right from the start: the girl born on a gay New Year’s Eve in 1933 had brought much joy to others.

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