Looking back at 3 decades of ‘Looking Back’
Thirty is a long time for any relationship. For close to three decades I have been writing a very unusual column for the Opinion page of the Inquirer. With almost everyone on our page focused on the present, my sights are trained on the past. While everyone else on the page cover current political and social issues, I try to comment on these by using the past.
I first wrote for Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc when she was editor of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. I remember submitting my first article, in hard copy, when the Inquirer office was located on what was once the famous Madrid restaurant on Edsa.
Walking into the building was a step into the past. In its heyday, Madrid restaurant was the setting of many upscale social events, with its dark interiors, gold-painted (not gilded) fully carved furniture and faux Spanish décor once serving as a marker of good taste and social standing.
Letty went over my copy and discussed her changes: moving the concluding sentence to the beginning, tightening sentence structure, asking about a number of adjectives she had encircled in red: “what exactly do you mean?” We agreed on more precise terms, and the article and photos were sent to press.
Millennial journalists who submit their copy via email and see the edited text when it gets published online and in print will never experience the hands-on training we received at the cusp of the analog and digital age.
After the Madrid building on Edsa, I submitted articles to Letty in the Inquirer office on the second floor of the old Banco Filipino Building in Intramuros, then later in another old building on Romualdez Street in Paco, and finally, the modern, purpose-built building on Yague Street, Makati, that we know today. Having known the Inquirer through four different locations dates me. But it also makes it part of my personal history.
Letty followed my writing when I was at the Daily Globe and once called to offer unsolicited advice: Speak to the editors and ask to be moved to the Opinion page. I was then very happy in the Lifestyle-Entertainment section under Emmie Velarde and since it was in the back page, one need not open the newspaper to read my column, “Looking Back,” whose title by the way was thought up by veteran editor E. Aguilar Cruz.
I told Letty that I had more space in the Lifestyle section and the opportunity to use an archival photo or image to complement the text. Letty explained that Philippine history was important enough to migrate from Lifestyle to the Opinion page, adding: “How will people take you seriously if your column appears on the same page with a photo of Dolphy?”
I do not recall now how “Looking Back” moved from Lifestyle to the Opinion page of the Globe, nor how it moved from the Daily Globe to the Inquirer. All I remember was going to the Inquirer office on Romualdez Street and being introduced to then founding publisher Eugenia Apostol who I only knew from a terrifying sign in the Editorial office that screamed “Deadlines wait for no one. —EDA.”
So what has it been like writing vignettes of Philippine history for the Inquirer all these years? Letty once asked, “Why do you have such a negative view of the past?” I replied: “That is what the primary sources tell me.”
But then over three decades, I’ve realized that history is a conscious act of remembering, and that my column reminds people that we shouldn’t be imprisoned in the past. That while we seem to be repeating history all the time, there is light at the end of the long tunnel.
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