Isagani Yambot: PDI grammar cop, pillar of free press, friendBy Cynthia D. Balana, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Philippine Daily Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot Sr. liked running his fingers through his hair, as it helped him fall asleep.
The night before his death, Yambot asked his son, Isagani “Jun” Jr., to stroke his hair repeatedly so he could sleep.
Jun, the second of his six children, was visiting his father at The Medical City in Pasig City, where the elder Yambot was confined following a quadruple bypass on February 21.
“That Thursday night, Daddy asked me to stroke his hair again, lambing niya palagi sa akin iyon maski noong maliliit pa kami kasi gustong-gusto niya iyon nakakatulog siya (he always asked us to do that when we were young because it put him to sleep),” Jun told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Jun also recalled that his father was very particular about cleanliness. Yambot would scold him when he showed up in the Inquirer with shoes that were not “tidy and shiny.”
“But the irony is, while his shoes were always clean and shiny, my Dad would sometimes not wear socks for convenience, saka pa-jologs,” Jun remembered fondly.
Jun said, when he last saw his father in the hospital, he got worried when Yambot told him not to return the following day because he might be allowed to go home.
“Dad, are you strong enough to leave the hospital?” Jun asked.
Yambot insisted he was OK.
Minutes before Yambot’s discharge from The Medical City, he reportedly told his wife Mildred: “Halika na, dalian mo. Umalis na tayo dito. Nakaka-depress dito. (Let’s get out of here quickly. It’s depressing here.)”
At 3:30 p.m. the next day, Friday, Yambot died of “cardio-respiratory arrest secondary to coronary artery disease” at St. Therese Hospital in Pasig City, where he was rushed by family members hours after his discharge from The Medical City. He was 77.
Jun said his father’s attending physician told him that nurses saw Yambot weeping in his bed two days after his surgery, probably because of the news that Ambassador Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez had passed away.
Yambot worked with Romualdez’s Journal Group for many years. He was also the late ambassador’s press attaché from 1981 to 1982 at the Philippine Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and from 1985 to 1986 at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.
Before his operation, Yambot went to the PDI library to update his bio-data.
Yambot was born on Nov. 16, 1934, in Tagbilaran City in Bohol. His mother was a science teacher and his father a mathematics-English teacher.
When the family moved to Manila, they settled in Tondo where they became neighbors of the family of fashion designer Pitoy and poet Virginia Moreno, who always considered him a very dear friend.
Yambot studied Liberal Arts in the University of the Philippines and was a fellow of the Washington Journalism Center.
A lifetime member of the National Press Club, Yambot was chosen Outstanding News Editor by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines in 1975. He won the Catholic Mass Media Award for Best In-Depth Article in 1994 and received the Lakan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Journalism by the Tondo Rotary Club in 1995. During the celebration of the Araw ng Maynila in June 2000, he was honored as an Outstanding Manilan in the Field of Journalism by the city government.
Yambot began his career in journalism in 1953 as a deskperson at the defunct Manila Times. He would later cover the Malacañang and Senate beats.
In 1973, he joined the news service United Press International as night editor. A year later he transferred to the Times Journal, becoming managing editor from 1983 to 1985. He joined Malaya in 1988 as managing editor then moved to Inquirer in April 1989.
Yambot came to work as executive editor of the Inquirer and was appointed associate publisher in June 1991.
He became publisher in February 1994.
In 1999, as PDI spokesperson, Yambot spoke out in defense of freedom of the press when the Inquirer’s survival was threatened by a boycott that lasted for five months of major advertisers who were supporters of President Joseph Estrada.
Known as “PDI’s grammar cop,” Yambot co-wrote the Inquirer Stylebook with University of the Philippines professor Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo. Before that, he wrote portions of the first Stylebook of the Manila Times and the Stylebook of the Development Academy of the Philippines.
Yambot is survived by Mildred; Patricia; children Maria Victoria, Isagani Jr., Maria Julieta, Ernesto, Maria Paz and Maria Vilma; brothers Reuben and Efren and other relatives.
The body lies at the Arlington Funeral Homes on Araneta Avenue, Quezon City. Other details will be announced later.
In its statement, the PDI management said Yambot will be “surely missed but his spirit lives on in the work they (editorial staff) do to ensure editorial policies are closely followed.
“We are very grateful for all of his contributions and we applaud his passion and commitment to his work. We request that you join us in prayer for the eternal repose of his soul.”
Malacañang deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said, “Isagani Yambot was… one of the links with the pre-martial law press who mentored a new generation of journalists to understand just how much a free press matters, and who stood shoulder to shoulder with his peers each and every time free speech came under attack after Edsa.”
She said Yambot was a calm, cheerful presence in the Inquirer’s newsroom and boardroom, and in every media gathering of note.
Secretary Herminio Coloma, head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office and a former newspaperman, said younger journalists should follow Yambot’s example.
“He believed in the power of the mass media… as a catalyst for social transformation and in the responsible exercise of press freedom,” Coloma said in a statement.
Asia News Network (ANN), an alliance of 21 newspapers in 18 countries in the region, tweeted its condolences.
Yambot, a member of the ANN board, chaired the network in 2009 when it celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Pana Janviroj, ANN executive director and president of Thailand’s English daily, The Nation, described Yambot as “a towering figure and a lively and engaging person.”
“Isagani added a human face to ANN with his comments and inquisitive thinking, as an ANN board member, in our interactions with Asian leaders and people over the years. He will surely be missed by all of us,” Janviroj said.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said Yambot was “one of the country’s most respected journalists and an ardent defender of press freedom.”
Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, a former Inquirer columnist, said on Twitter: “[He] was first and foremost a journalist’s journalist, never jaded, always a perfectionist and a gentleman.”
Former United States Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney tweeted. “He was a true gentleman.”
Journalist Maria Ressa, chief executive officer and executive editor of online news site Rappler.com, tweeted: “We’ll miss you.”
“A great loss for Philippine journalism… one of our most respected journalists, passed away,” tweeted Bryant Macale, CMFR senior staff writer.
Online news outfit Bulatlat said on Twitter: “He is a big loss to the industry.”
Filmmaker Paolo Villaluna called Yambot, an avid cineaste, a supporter of independent cinema. “Mr. Yambot and PDI supported independent cinema way before it was hip to do so, even personally appearing in ‘Pelikula at Lipunan’ indie screenings back in the 00’s,” he said on Facebook.
Top trending topic
As of 2 p.m. Saturday, “Isagani Yambot” was among the top trending topics in the Philippines on Twitter, alongside “iOS 6” and “Taylor Kitsch,” among others.
Messages of condolences also poured in from people who knew Yambot as an educator and others who had the chance to meet him personally.
Interview with Gani
Rex Arcadio II San Diego remembered how Yambot obliged to be interviewed in 1996 by high school student writers. “(Although we had no prior appointment), he accommodated us… and even gave us a tour of the PDI office in Makati.”
San Diego added that the full page article in the school paper that resulted from that interview won the top prizes in the National Schools Press Conference and Valencia Cup.
He said exchanges with the late publisher through the years made him realize how the media and its practitioners could influence society and the future, and why there was a need to make a stand on pressing sociopolitical issues.
Julio A. Cabacungan remembered Yambot as their lecturer on Technical Writing Course for Government Communicators at the Development Academy of the Philippines in 1989.
Len O. (@LOvereforms) tweeted about meeting Yambot in a convention in Davao and finding him “a very humble man.”
The Philippine Press Institute (PPI) said the veteran journalist would surely be missed. Yambot was trustee of the institute at the time of his passing. He served for two consecutive years as chair-president, 2009-2011.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called Yambot one of the pillars of the media community, “a tireless advocate of press freedom and was a constant source of inspiration to us.”
NUJP said the late publisher, despite his many responsibilities, always found time to get involved in campaigns for press freedom and to end media killings.
It said, Yambot and the late Joe Pavia were the “Twin Pillars of the struggle for press freedom.”
The NUJP vowed to continue the fight for genuine press freedom in the country when a journalist would be able to practice his profession without “fear of losing his life, limb or employment for pursuing the truth, when media owners were truly committed to the welfare and safety of their employees.”
First posted 12:51 am | Sunday, March 4th, 2012