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A brother remembers Gani


QUINTESSENTIAL JOURNALIST Publisher Isagani Yambot poses for a mug shot in a 2007 libel case filed by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. The judge threw out the case. EDWIN BACASMAS

One year ago last Friday (March 2), I received a call from Gani’s wife tearfully telling me he had suffered a stroke. They were in this community hospital in Pasig and she asked me to rush to the place. On the phone, the attending doctor told me Gani was dead on arrival and that the emergency room personnel had tried to revive him, to no avail.

Gani had suffered a heart attack at home within an hour after leaving Medical City in Ortigas, where he had a heart bypass operation and where he had been confined for more than a week. It was at the same hospital where he had his successful angioplasty months before.

The outpouring of sympathy from various sectors, especially the media community, the Inquirer, Gani’s fraternity brothers from the University of the Philippines and his friends, softened the blow of his passing.

For his children, for us, his two surviving siblings (Reuben and I) and other relatives, Gani left a void that would be hard to fill. He loved his children—Marivic, Junior, Juliet, Ma. Paz, Ernesto and Vilma—so much and doted on his grandchildren and great-grandchild. He also loved his profession and the Inquirer.

During the Inquirer night at his wake, Gani’s youngest daughter, Vilma, delivered the response of the family. Vilma—who lives in Tampa, Florida, with her own family—recalled  that a year before his death, Gani had come visiting and she had suggested he should already retire and stay a while with her family in Tampa.

“Retire?” Gani had said, “I would rather die than retire.”

But in our private conversation, days before he died at the age of 77, Gani had confided in me that he was actually planning to retire and devote his time to writing. He did not specify what, but I supposed he wanted to write essays and his memoir.

Love for journalism

Gani loved his profession so much and it showed, such that people, even my friends who only saw him on television or at cultural events, would remark that he looked so young and vibrant. He had a unique sense of humor, and he would occasionally poke fun at himself.

Gani was the eldest brother in our parents’ brood of six but some people mistook him for my younger brother, and I don’t blame them. Gani did not use eyeglasses for reading and he did not wear any contact lenses, either. He had only a few gray strands in his hair, and did not have his hair dyed at all.

There would have been two journalists in our family but for the unsolicited advice given to me by a famous journalist early in my youth. Up to now, I am not sure if it was the right decision to heed that advice.

Gani was then one of the “star” reporters of the old, premartial law Manila Times and we, his younger brothers, idolized him. When I was taking up journalism in my fourth year in high school (where, like Gani before me, I was editor of the Torres Torch, the student publication of Torres High School), our journalism class went on a field trip to the Manila Times and met some of its staff.

One of the then icons of the Times asked me if I was related to Gani. When I said yes, he told me, “Don’t go into newspaper work. One journalist in the family is enough.”

Childhood in Bohol

I took the advice to heart and ruled out journalism as a career when I entered UP in 1958. I enrolled in premed. But somewhere along the way, I had doubts about having a bright future in medicine and shifted to English and comparative literature, hoping to be a writer someday.

After marriage, my parents settled in Tagbilaran, Bohol, where our eldest, Erlinda, and Gani were born and where they spent their early childhood. Linda and Gani used to recall the simple beauty of the landscape and the beautiful bungalow built by my parents. It was surrounded by different species of flowers and it was not too far from the sea.

In the late 1930s, the family transferred to Manila—Gagalangin, Tondo—in an accessoria right across the sprawling campus of Torres High School,  where we all studied and where our  parents taught.

In a way, Gani took after our father, who was a close friend of the late essayist Federico Mangahas (father of Mahar, the top honcho of Social Weather Stations) during their years in UP. Our father wrote elegant English prose, as we gleaned from his love letters to our mother when they were in the courtship stage and even after they had been married.

Tribute from artists

Gani—and to a varying extent, all of us siblings—also “inherited” our parents’ love for poetry. Every now and then, our father would recite from memory interminable lines from famous English and American poets. My mother, on the other hand, would sometimes recite whole stanzas from Jose Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios”—also from memory.

Gani was a fanatic for good books, like our father, who had several shelves of hard-bound books in his library (including the Modern Library series: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Balzac, Schopenhauer, etc.), which all of us children—Gani most of all—devoured.

Gani loved good music, as well—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and some others. He frequented concerts, film fests, art exhibits and other cultural events.

At his wake, director and writer Behn Cervantes brought along some alumni from the UP College of Music and they sang a few songs. Behn said it was their way of paying tribute to Gani, who actively supported struggling artists in the visual and performing arts—especially the directors, producers and actors of “indies” or independent films, and budding musicians.

Gani was demonstrative in his appreciation of performing artists. Often, when he was impressed with a performance, he would  stand up and shout “Bravo!” more than once, emulating the passionate audiences in Europe and elsewhere in the world. In this regard, he was not your typical local concertgoer, who is quite reserved.

He liked the visual arts and often went to art exhibits. He himself dabbled in drawing.

Passion for justice

I remember when I was still in grade school, Gani quietly sat by the window of our two-story apartment. I peeked at what he was drawing—the fire tree across the road, on the campus of Torres High School, where he graduated valedictorian in 1951. With nothing but a box of crayons, he had conjured a tree on fire on the paper in front of him. I do not know if he bothered to keep that drawing.

I also recall coming across a short essay he wrote (published either in the Torres Torch or in the Philippine Collegian, where he became an associate editor). I do recall the title, “My One Passion in Life,” and its first line: “My one passion in life is to search for truth and beauty.”

In my eulogy for Gani, I said that this passion remained the constant throughout his life, in his writing, in his work; except that later in life, he had added one more: justice for all.

Teaching young journalists

Many people delivered eulogies during his wake, but one of the most touching was that told to me in private by an employee of the Inquirer, who occupies a supervisory or managerial position. Years back, he had gone to Gani’s office and told him he was resigning. Gani listened to him like an older brother, listened to his frustrations and disappointments.

In the end, Gani was able to convince him to stay on because he had bright prospects with Inquirer. My informant said he was happy he heeded my brother’s advice.

From Ariel Sebellino of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), I would learn that even after Gani’s stint as chair of PPI, and no matter how busy he was as a publisher, Gani would always find time to go to the provinces, where he would hold seminars for young campus journalists, and he would learn from them, too.

For not only was he a good teacher; he was also a good listener. There were times I would offer suggestions about the thrust of the Inquirer and he would listen patiently; he was never patronizing. He also never resented it when I pointed out some grammatical errors in his newspaper.

‘Teacher affects eternity’

Gani loved to teach, and so did many of us in the clan. The pedagogical DNA runs in the clan. Teaching was either a calling or an avocation for many of us—grandparents on our mother’s side, aunts, cousins, siblings, nephews and nieces. (I taught English at UP;  my brother Mario taught at the Philippine Military Academy; another brother, Reuben, a public relations professional, currently conducts mini-seminars for campus journalists; and our only sister, Erlinda, the eldest, used to teach children in my father’s hometown Jaen, before she died.)

Perhaps Gani, more than many of us, realized that—as a sage put it—“the teacher affects eternity.”

I also recall the first time I met the late Sen. Gil Puyat. I had just joined the life insurance company owned by the Puyats, and his son Alfonso introduced me to the old man. When he learned that Gani was my brother, he told me: “If you’re half as good as Gani, you must be good!”

I would learn later that the former Senate President was so impressed with Gani’s reporting on the Senate in the Manila Times that he asked my brother to accompany him on an official trip to Europe.

Anguished face

We were very proud to have Gani as part of the family but I, personally, was never more proud than when he had that interview—live over GMA 7—with Mike Enriquez at the height of a Malacañang-instigated advertising boycott of the Inquirer. Gani went around radio and TV stations to explain the side of the Inquirer. At the time, if my memory serves me right, the Manila Times had been sold, or was about to be sold, to a crony of then President Joseph Estrada. After the sale, the Manila Times made an about-face.

That interview is indelibly marked in my memory:

Mike: Gani, if the Inquirer were to be sold, what would be the right price?

Gani: There is no right price. The Inquirer is not for sale.

(Just like that, no nonsense, no hesitation.)

Another indelible image was the TV coverage of the candle-lit demonstration staged by the Inquirer personnel in front of their office to protest the Maguindanao massacre, where many journalists were killed.

My brother led the demonstration, tearful and grief-stricken. He had taken the Maguindanao killings personally. His anguished face said it all, in behalf of all Filipino journalists.

Rest in peace, my brother.

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Tags: anniversaries , death , Efren Yambot , Isagani Yambot , Journalism , Media , reminiscence

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