Remembering RVP

Jing Castañeda - The Philippine Star

Since the passing of Atty. Dong Puno – RVP to those under him – last Feb. 15, I’ve had to struggle with the loss of a man who has played many important roles in my life: mentor, friend, boss, ninong and kapamilya.

Forty days. That’s how long the world has been bereft of RVP’s presence thus far. How surreal is that? Perhaps as strange as having to remind myself to refer to him in the past tense, something that still doesn’t come naturally to me. Because the Dong Puno I know still looms large in my thoughts, as I’m sure he does in the hearts and minds of all those who miss him dearly, especially his family.

On behalf of the Puno family, his son Donnie thanked all those who sent their tributes and condolences. “Dad’s last public appearance was around 2012. We weren’t quite sure if people still remembered him,” he said. “It was a heartwarming revelation to us that in spite of his absence, Dad’s struggles were not in vain, and that he was not alone in his journey…We hope that his journalistic idealism will continue to create ripples in our national consciousness, as it has done for the many lives he has touched.”

I am one of those lives. As I sit here, trying to come to terms with my personal grief, I’m also reminded of what RVP’s loss means to us, the Filipino people. And the magnitude of this collective loss staggers me.

Atty. Dong was the consummate media practitioner. His precision with words, whether written or spoken, stemmed not just from his brilliance, but also from his sense of justice and responsibility that Donnie called his dad’s “tireless pursuit of truth and fairness.”

His long-running column My Viewpoint, which appeared in The STAR as early as the 1990s, is proof positive of this. RVP’s astute observations and keen analysis made him a trusted source of reliable information. But with The STAR’s reach, he became more than that: a thought leader, an influencer, long before those concepts even became the buzzwords they are today.

During his tenure as a public affairs host, he never hesitated from tackling controversial or contentious topics. Nor did he ever shy away from asking tough questions. According to ABS-CBN News chief Ging Reyes, “No one did an interview like him. Dong was incisive, insightful and thoughtful. He did his research; he did his homework. He had no frills, no drama, but always he was polite and fair to his guests. Marami ang talk show hosts and interviewers ngayon pero iisa lamang talaga si Dong Puno.”

RVP then went on to become one of the stalwarts of the newsroom as senior vice president of ABS-CBN’s News and Current Affairs. He was definitely one of the greats, setting the bar high and exemplifying credibility, accountability, and professionalism.

As he gained his stride in television, he proved to be a visionary. Aside from pioneering the first exit polls, he also spearheaded the first morning show in the Philippines. He led by example and broke barriers without ever grandstanding, without ever resorting to sensationalism and, above all, without compromising his principles. He brought dignity and gravitas to the profession, and he made it seem so effortless that many of those around him were encouraged to do the same.

How would RVP have shown us a better way to do things if he were in his prime today?

How would he have embodied the highest of standards in this age of rampant misinformation and disinformation? As we face one of the most crucial elections the country has ever known, how would he have run each and every candidate through the wringer to help us determine the worthiest of them all?

That we’ll never know is both sad and sobering. RVP mentored a whole generation of newsmen and women, myself included, who now have to navigate through a new and ever-changing multimedia landscape. One that is certainly more unforgiving and seemingly alien from what we’ve grown accustomed to. Without him, there is one less vanguard to remind me – all of us – to stay the course, even though the course has changed beyond recognition.

Perhaps RVP’s greatest bequest to us, his mentees, is how he encouraged us to be the best versions of ourselves. This he did through his guidance and his unfailing support. According to GMA-7’s Vicky Morales, a few weeks after she was fired from a broadcasting job, Atty. Dong offered her a co-hosting job. “I was over the moon (to) be working with one of the most brilliant minds in Philippine television…My heart is filled with gratitude for this person who believed in me – even at a point when I was not sure if I believed in myself. It was the faith he had in me and many other people like me that pushed us to really want to keep getting better.”

Added CNN’s Rico Hizon, “When I had reached a crossroads in my career, (Atty. Dong) said ‘Rico, follow your dreams. Trailblaze for Filipino anchors. Never rest on your laurels. Dream and dream big’...Without his confidence in me, I doubt I would have had that confidence in myself.”

RVP blessed me with this kind of generosity, too. The potential he must have seen in me – first, when I was his Broadcast Journalism student at the Ateneo, and then later, when he invited me to return from New York’s ABC News to join ABS-CBN – make up two of the most defining moments in my life. He told me that for the media to truly have value, it should be used in the service of our kababayans.

One thing’s for sure: there is no way to fill the void left by someone like RVP. The most that we can do is to honor his memory by doing as he had done. And, by some measure of imagination, by doing as he might have and would have done, too.


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