Remembering Tita Betty, the STAR’s guiding light

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star

(This piece was first published on the STAR’s silver anniversary, July 28, 2011.)


At The Philippine STAR employees’ appreciation party last July 25, held in celebration of the newspaper’s 25th year today, STAR president and CEO Miguel Belmonte paused poignantly in his speech to remember his late mother, founding chairman  Betty Go-Belmonte. “Because without her, I am 100 percent sure The STAR would not be here today,” Miguel, the youngest of Betty and Speaker Sonny Belmonte’s three sons, pointed out.

When they decided to put up The STAR, Betty’s first question to her partners Max Soliven, Art Borjal and Tony Roces was: “What are we for? To help in nation-building or to make a lot of money for ourselves?”

All three gentlemen, recalled Betty in her 1989 STAR anniversary memoir, said, “We are for helping nation-building.” Max Soliven added, “We are for giving everyone a good salary, we are for serving our readers, we shall aim for 700,000 circulation.“

On the paper’s policy on scoops, Max said, “Between having a scoop just to sell the paper and checking our facts thoroughly, we would opt for the latter.”

Betty added her own mission. “I am for projecting the positive. And in cases where the story is negative, we would present both sides and all sides.”

Betty said that Max’s guidance was to launch the newspaper on July 26, while Tony’s, on July 27. What eventually came to pass was that they had the dry run and blessing (attended by President Cory Aquino, Vice President Doy Laurel and Jaime Cardinal Sin) on July 26, started work on the 27th and hit the streets on the 28th.

* * *

Betty Go-Belmonte was a beloved wife, mother (to Isaac, Kevin, Miguel and Joy) and grandmother, but her unshakable 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 would go down on her knees in prayer, but get back on her feet to work. She lived her Christian faith in every thing she did and lived by it even when tested by physical suffering and death on Jan. 28, 1994.

Betty 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 year in the Philippines.

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.

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 the Movieworld, the STAR! Monthly magazine and The Philippine STAR. She is perhaps the only woman who 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.

Her husband was proud of her and supported her dreams. In fact, he helped make them come true from behind the scenes.

Sonny said he and his wife “complemented each other” even if they were of different personalities. (She took a leave from The STAR and campaigned by his side when he ran successfully for congressman of Quezon City in 1992.)

“But still, I understood her and she understood me. I wouldn’t even say we compensated for each other. We actually used each other’s strengths to make the other a better person,” the Speaker recalled.

He recounted that a family friend, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Bert Romulo told him how amazed he was at the Belmonte couple’s compatibility.

“Bert Romulo talked to me, and then he talked to Betty, on a different topic, at a different time and place. Then he commented to me, ‘I can see that there’s a lot of partnership between the two of you. Pareho kayo ng direksyon, pareho kayo ng values, even if you apparently didn’t consult with one another you gave the same answers’.

“Betty had a lot of capacity and I thought it was a good thing for her to bloom… she had a lot more capacity than I thought.

“I knew what she was doing at work, but it turns out she was doing so many things in addition to that. She was helping hospitals, the Red Cross and stuff like that, hardly the subject of conversation between us.

“And later on, a lot of people would tell me they were friends, they corresponded, they talked, that sort of thing. She touched a lot of lives.”

In her farewell to her mother in 1994, Betty’s only daughter Joy (now Quezon City vice mayor and who had taught poor children in Mindanao as part of the Jesuit Volunteers of the Philippines) 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.”

*  *  *

I met BGB through her son Isaac and his friend Marlu Balmaceda (now Villanueva) when we were all Journalism majors at UP Diliman. Tita Betty was setting up a magazine that she named “STAR! Monthly” magazine, of which Isaac would be publisher and she would be editor. Marlu and I started as editorial assistants and were one day promoted to assistant editors. Marlu left for abroad for further studies and I stayed on for three more years as associate editor. During the snap elections campaign in 1986, Isaac and Tita Betty would recruit me to work at the Cory Aquino Media Bureau, thus paving the way for the six years I worked at Malacañang as head of President Cory’s Presidential Press Staff.

I returned to the STAR group of companies in 1992. From my STAR! Magazine days to my STAR days, Tita Betty would always din into me the importance of making people feel valued. She was very particular about identifying every single person in a photo, reminding me how I would feel if I were in the photo and I was not identified by the caption writer. She also told me that if you put out many photos of people and correctly identified them in the caption, you would make an entire barangay happy.

She encouraged me by example to look at things positively, to write about the half-full, rather than the half-empty, glass.

I remember how protective of President Cory she was, and she did tell me more than once that The STAR was there to help the Aquino administration succeed. It must be a joy to both Tita Betty and President Cory that it is Cory’s son who is President as The STAR celebrates its 25th anniversary.

As a newspaperwoman, Betty was principled and fair. She would exhort her reporters to always get the other side of the story on the same day, 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 Damayan, a socio-civic and charity program in The STAR that continues till this day under Miguel’s leadership. She also initiated housing projects for the staff and gave everyone a raise to help them pay for the monthly amortization.

*  *  *

Betty believed enough in me to make me write a cover story for STAR! Magazine (on Christopher de Leon, no less!) even when I was still just a college junior. She gave me my first break, giving me the confidence to follow my dream — and hitch it to a star. The Philippine STAR.

I miss her (on a personal note, she was the godmother at my wedding 25 years ago) and thank her for being my writing career’s guiding, glowing light. She continues to be a star to those whose lives she has touched, her gentle light an eternal flame to us all. She dwells in the house of God now, and twinkles from the heavens like the STAR she was, and the silver STAR she left behind.

(You may e-mail me at [email protected].)

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