202 13th street corner Railroad

SINGKIT - Doreen G. Yu - The Philippine Star

We had a farewell/moving out party at the newsroom last night, after we closed the paper and before they started packing up the remaining computers and keyboards and AVRs for the final move to our new office in Parañaque.

The mood was heavy with nostalgia, especially for those of us who have worked in this building for many years. Some took 360º views of the newsroom, every nook and cranny captured for posterity. There were selfies and group-fies galore. It may not have been much by way of a design showcase, but for years this was home.

This parting is especially sweet sorrow for me, for I’ve worked in this building – in its many transformations – longer than the life of The STAR. I was proofreader then assistant to our founder, the legendary Betty Go Belmonte, in the Fookien Times Philippines Yearbook and when we printed Bibles and textbooks for EDPITAF.

Before The STAR, the Philippine Daily Inquirer started right here (look at the address in the editorial box of the first issue in 1985), with a newsroom that was filled with cigarette smoke – until BGB banned smoking inside the newsroom.

The printing presses were at the back, not as many machines then as we have now, and we knew practically all of the pressmen, headed by “Taba,” a perennially ink-stained gruff of a man who nevertheless was always ready with a grin. Back then we only occupied the ground floor; offices of brokerage and allied shipping-related companies were on the second floor. I don’t remember when we finally took over the whole building.

Together with our sister publication Ang Pilipino STAR Ngayon, The Philippine STAR set up office here in July 1986. We were all together – editorial, production, printing, accounting, administration; there was no advertising department because the 8-page paper did not accept ads.

Our first editorial meeting was memorable. We were all crammed inside BGB’s office, sitting two or even three to a chair, some on tables. Our publisher Max Soliven was there of course. We had just done a trial run of the paper – July 27, 1986, a day before actual publication. I will never forget MVS chewing us – me – out (the first of many, many “Sonamagans” to come) for a glaring error where the start of the second column of a Sports story did not jibe with the end of the first column; paste-up had picked up and laid out the wrong pieces of text and we didn’t catch it. Remember this was way before InDesign and all that tech; everything was done manually – typesetting, making of heads, paste up, corrections (word by word, even letter by letter), then on to negatives and flats (oh, those orange cartolinas!). I got to be really adept with a stripping knife; I could change a comma to a period and add a tilde over an n – no sweat! I’m sure most of you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about.

Singkit was “born” in this building, a comic strip in STARweek magazine before it was a column, based on a feisty 7-year-old with pigtails who is now a feisty 40-something LPGA certified golf instructor. As well the Witches of Port Area; now our trio has to be renamed, but Witches of Parañaque somehow doesn’t quite have the same cachet.

We’ve gone through six presidents of the country – we’re on our 7th – three of whom have visited our humble abode. To one we served Coke and pizza, another monggo soup and the third brought lechon and his own libation. Ambassadors and generals and beauty queens have come to call, as well as legislators and showbiz folks, business leaders and even some scam artists – and victims – wanting to explain their side.

There’s a lot of history – and back stories – that these walls have witnessed, and whatever happens to this building, the secrets will be kept.

*      *      *

I have to “reprogram” my car (it’s on auto-drive to Port Area) to drive to our new office in Parañaque starting tomorrow. For nearly four decades the badlands of Port Area have been our hangout – amongst the hulking container vans, the stalls selling reconditioned sewing machines, washing machines, helmets and reflectorized vests for motorcycle riders and other interesting things. During the pandemic they did a bustling trade in bicycles, the prices of which very quickly rose by up to 500 percent.

I actually learned to drive because of having to go to and from Port Area daily. Since in the 80s and 90s we still kept newsman’s hours (meaning late nights, unlike now when deadlines are earlier), I just wanted to be able to drop off our family driver at his place and then drive the short distance home. After a while, I got used to it and became “self-driven.”

I’ve been taking the same route from home (San Juan) to office and back every day and night, despite well-meaning advice to vary my route for security reasons. I had what I figured was the most efficient and safe route, through main and busy (but not too busy) streets rather than dark and deserted side streets. Anyway, I really don’t think I’m a target for kidnapping or ambush, although during the time when kidnapping – especially of Tsinoys – was rampant, I’d put on a cap when I drove home at night so I wouldn’t look like a lone female driver. I also put a five-foot stuffed dwarf (I think it was Happy, a Christmas gift) in the passenger’s seat.

A couple of colleagues and I are carpooling, since it’s now quite a distance (19-plus kilometers) to get to work. In the next few weeks we’ll be figuring out the most workable schedules and most efficient routes traffic-wise, which will be a challenge considering the coming holidays. I’ve upgraded my RFID to auto-load so I won’t be running out of toll credits.

Our new office is a fancy four-story glass-encased building, with the 13th Street Café on the ground floor; the newsroom is on the second floor. In the days and weeks ahead we’ll be settling in and making it “home” (where do we hang our wall of newspapers of the day? where do I brew my afternoon Oolong?).

In the meantime the news will go on, and we will go on bringing you the news, guided always – then as now – by our motto “Truth shall prevail,” by faith in the God who is the source of all truth and with the welfare of the nation and the Filipino people top of mind.

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