Remembering Letty
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - December 28, 2015 - 9:00am

We who heard the news, expressed the same reaction: “What, Letty passed away?” The news came like a thunderbolt. And she left on Christmas Eve. No one could believe it.

After the initial shock, I felt the haunting words of Michael Jackson’s song “Gone Too Soon” . . . “Like a comet/Blazing ‘cross the evening sky/Gone too soon /Like a rainbow/Fading in the twinkling of an eye/Gone too soon/Shiny and sparkly/And splendidly bright/Here one day/Gone one night…”

Hours before sunset, the sea of people who had come to the mass for Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc at the Heritage Memorial Park last Sunday, included the former editorial staff of Philippine Panorama magazine, which Letty edited and whose article in a 1981 issue so infuriated the martial law powers-that-be it banned the issue, and seized copies of the magazine still in circulation. Previously there were articles that Letty had caused to print that put her in “hot water.” But the suppression of her 1981 article was the last straw: she voluntarily gave up the post. The Philippine Daily Inquirer issue of Dec. 28, 2015 (which reprinted the said column) showed a picture of Letty and the bereaved Panorama staffers: Chelo Banal-Formoso, Nestor Fernandez, Jojo Gatbonton, Lita Consignado (now deceased), Fred Reyes (now deceased), myself, Randy Urlanda, Albert Lee, and Margot Baterina.

The staffers remember Panorama under Letty’s leadership. She wanted stories that bit at the truth hard, that were also about human frailties, about beauty queens and little people, and she made the staff  do press work up to near midnight at the Liwayway publishing company, making Mang Taqs, the production assistant, fret as printing schedules for the magazine and other publications were held up. Letty made sure that all the articles, from factual accuracy to grammar perfect, and typed by the linotypists (there were no computers at the time) right; Letty was for accuracy and perfection. For the quality and interestingness of the stories and the brazenness of the articles, Panorama was probably the most read generally-circulated magazine during the martial law years.

And Letty wrote so well, her prose was like poetry. The late internationally known writer Ed Tiempo applauded her “sensitive prose.” Another said, “Letty is a wordsmith.”

Tributes to Letty have been numerous, and will be unending, from colleagues and admirers, on her being a fearless fighter for truth, justice and press freedom. At last Sunday’s mass, Msgr. Manny Gabriel, an old friend of Letty’s, gave the highest accolade, as he described her as a “prophet that somehow we have to be working for a just and humane society.” He added, “I’d like to believe that Letty’s charism as a person and as a believer lies in that capacity to discern like a prophet.”

When Letty left the magazine, she recommended me to be her successor. It was a tough job she left me. People wondered what I would do. Was I right for the job? I had to do an acrobatic act: put out articles that people hungry for truthful reporting wanted, but did not have Malacanang’s press bureau huffing and puffing down the stairs to explain to the boss why such articles came out. The balancing act still produced six libel suits filed against me and contributors I assigned to cover certain events. Some issues were already being run in the presses when “inspectors” from the magazine owners checked the stories and replaced those they believed were objectionable, with inane ones. I found out about the changes made when I read the printed magazine the next morning. In the end, I turned in my resignation papers and flew to Bangkok; three days later EDSA I broke out. I called a friend in Manila who chided me thus: “What are you doing there when history is being made here?”

I was able to return home on the first international flight allowed to land in Manila on the last day of EDSA. That night, I stood on the street island fronting Malacanang, and saw the helicopter lifting the dictator and his family away and off to Hawaii. From where I stood, I felt relieved I did not have to write about the event, as I would have, if I was still writing for Panorama, and wondering how I’d write about it.

Memories of the bygone days came rushing back as I sat among the people saying their last farewell to a dear friend, a lover of truth, justice and freedom, an icon.

Goodbye, Letty. And thanks for the good things you’ve taught us who are left behind.

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