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Tita Eggies show, dont tell brand of storytelling
[September 16, 2006]

Tita Eggies show, dont tell brand of storytelling

(Philippine Daily Inquirer Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) AND so it came to pass that on my seventh year in Imeldas City of Man, I met Eugenia Tita Eggie Apostol.

I had gone to see her after she put out a two-line note in the Letters to the Editor section of the phenomenal Mr & Ms Special Edition, then on its third or fourth issue, asking me to report to the magazines Edsa office, pronto. Two weeks before, after I went to the mammoth martial law rally where Cory Aquino spoke for the first time about ending the Marcos regime, I had gone to Eggie with my personal account of the Sept. 21 Mendiola rally at Mendiola that ended with 11 dead and scores wounded.

Mendiola had been heavily barricaded, with armed troops ready to do battle. With the crack of gunfire, everybody started running towards Recto. I saw a man fall on my right, and another slumped on the pavement. Placards were set on fire, lighting up a scene filled with men uprooting lampposts and sidewalk railings, and kids running with sacks of rice and canned goods from Imeldas Kadiwa Centers. I ended up at the FEU Hospital where, like most survivors, I had helped bring the injured.

Women in media

I wrote my account and brought it to the Mr & Ms office, where I met the two women with balls: Ms Apostol and the celebrated Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc. In July 1981, Letty was sacked as editor in chief of the Panorama Magazine for writing a seditious and libelous article on the inauguration of President Marcos. The story behind her resignation would be published in Mr & Ms despite threats from Marcos media managers. Two years later, on July 2, 1983, I was among Lettys audience at the Philippine P.E.N. (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) conference on The Writer in a Climate of Fear at the National Press Club. Letty spoke about women in media.

Now the two women were going over my story. It turned out that they had a lot of photos on the rally but no story. Letty started editing my story with a green pen. Tita Eggie simply asked me, What is your politics?

Actually, I had none. But I said something about being left of center, being anti-Marcos, and so on. I gave the basics: I was a Journalism graduate and had been working on my MA in Journalism while writing press releases for Bibsy Carballos PR agency, researching on the evolution of the Philippine terno for the poet Virgie Moreno, and writing feature articles for the lifestyle and entertainment section of Times Journal, and its TV magazine, Parade. I did not tell her that I had difficulty holding an 8-to-5 job; that after college (Silliman University and the Lyceum of the Philippines), I had worked as writer at the Current Events Digest (three days), researcher in-charge of news clippings at the Philippine Navy (four months), writer at the Junior Citizen (four months), copywriter at an ad agency (one day), and news writer at the defense department (one month). I quit them all because of the bundy clock.

Not knowing this, Tita Eggie took me in.

My first job at Mr & Ms entailed opening letters, hundreds of them, and sorting them according to topics. The boxes of letters were received by the guard, secretly transported to a low-ceilinged room on the second floor that had the signage LJM Garments on the door. It was Tita Eggies idea of misleading Marcos, just in case they wanted to raid the magazine. The cave was press work area for threethe editor in chief, typesetter Nitz del Rosario, and myself as proofreader, editorial assistant, clerk, etc.

Sheer paradise

Tita Eggie, a non-smoker, worked downstairs, with artists Jess Abrera, Marlon Diamante and the production group led by Joe Ocampo. On other days of the week, I was out in the streets covering rallies with photographer Mandy Navasero.

Without a bundy clock, Mr & Ms Special Edition was sheer paradise. There were only rallies, press work and Tita Eggie, who, with her breathy, sing-song voice, was always telling us. O sige sige na, tapusin na.Tama na yan. Well be late. She seemed to be gliding, or waltzing, around the office. Some afternoons, she would be on the phone verifying the names of the people in the photos from the rally I had covered the day before. Thus my first lesson when covering the confetti rallies: Always get names, titles, affiliations, phone numbers. She would be a stickler for accuracy, grammar and proper punctuations. When we had the Agrava board on the cover, Tita Eggie was frantic for blurbs. Is it cuadro de jack? The queen and her court? The queen of hearts?

She was also excitable. A tip about Cory going to Ayala or Ateneo, or wherever it was, and Tita Eggie would egg us on: Oy, punta na kayo ni Mandy, dali, dali! She had this thirst for details, facts, a story, for that matter. Once, a tabloid reporter came to her with an ex-convict who claimed to have donated a kidney to Marcos. Tita Eggie had the ex-convict temporarily housed at the condominium for which she had paid the down payment and three months advance rental for Candy Quimpo, Francoise Joaquin and myself, all staffers of Mr and Ms Special Edition. In search of a scoop, again, she sent me to Maramag, Bukidnon to fetch a cousin of Rolando Galman, the other dead man on the tarmac with NinoyAquino. The cousin was supposedly a potential witness for the Agrava Commission. Tita Eggie wanted to beat the Commission to the draw and sent me and Rolando Galmans mother all the way to Bukidnon. We found the Galman cousin, but alas, he refused to come to Manila. The Marcos agents had already warned him against testifying.

Growing household

There were talks then that Tita Eggie was running the magazine like her household. It was partly true. If we needed money for coverage, shed pull the money from somewhere. No vouchers or checks to sign. She also fussed about her growing household, which by then had included staffers Joey Nolasco, Raul Alibutud and JP Fenix. She worried over our safety. While covering a rally in Central Luzon, Mandy and I ended up being held in Camp Olivas, San Fernando, Pampanga. It was near midnight. Word reached Tita Eggie in Makati that her photographer and reporter needed a lawyer. At 4 a.m., a Mercedes Benz entered Camp Olivas, with two attorneys in pajamas: Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag.

Tita Eggie wanted stories told through people. No matter how serious the topic, she made it warm and real because she told the story through people. The oppressive martial law regime became even more vivid in Mr & Ms because Tita Eggie told them through the sufferings of the victims. Dont say it, show how it affects people. Years later, when I started going for hardcore, beat reporting, I often found myself inserting a paragraph or two describing how the event had affected the victim. Or writing sidebars about the people in the event to give the story a human face.

A TV reporter once asked me, how do you look for that kind of story? How do you know which story to write? Actually, I dont. I just follow what I feel. And Tita Eggie, I believe, has a lot to do with this.

But definitely, the woman has shaped the feisty character of journalism today, as she eschewed the perks of the crony press in favor of fearless and independent reportage. She certainly deserves this years Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts.

Copyright 2006 Philippine Daily Inquirer. Source : Financial Times Information Limited (Trademark)

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