President Aquino calls LJM a ‘stalwart of the mosquito press’
President Benigno Aquino III expressed his deep sadness of the passing of an “icon and a friend” the esteemed Philippine Daily Inquirer editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc.
During his eulogy in the wake at Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig, Aquino said he was “shocked” upon being told that Magsanoc, fondly known as LJM by her peers, has passed on Christmas eve.
“You can imagine my shock when, during our noche buena, the news came that Tita Letty had passed away. She was an institution, and with institutions, you tend to forget that they are also people, with a beginning and an end. Even if I knew she had a chronic condition, there was the belief that, like every other instance of her having an illness, she would bounce back—more lively and more feisty than ever,” Aquino said.
“There was a period of disbelief, tinged with sadness for the passing of such an icon and
friend,” he added.
Aquino mentioned the numerous achievements of LJM, from having served as editor of the magazine Panorama, then transferring to Mr. & Ms. magazine after she was forced to resign from the Panorama when she wrote a column critical of the Marcos dictatorship.
Aquino, the son of the opposition senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. who was assassinated under the Marcos regime, said LJM had established herself as an icon of the mosquito press.
The term mosquito press stemmed from Marcos himself who described the critical press like mosquitos – stinging at the first bite, but easily swathed.
“Everyone knows that she was one of the stalwarts of the mosquito press. Tita Letty was among the women, who, at times, were seemingly braver than the men in standing up to the dictatorship,” Aquino said.
“Under her watch, the Panorama transformed from an innocuous Sunday magazine, into a publication that dared to question the regime, to the extent that the dictator and his minions perceived its pages as a threat. For writing about the truth, for exposing the ugliness of Martial Law, Tita Letty lost her job. This did not embitter her—it emboldened her. What one newspaper lost, Philippine journalism and the reading public gained, when Tita Eggy Apostol asked Tita Letty to join the team behind Mr. & Ms. Special Edition,” Aquino said.
“That publication made history, as it dared to chronicle what the controlled media denied.”
Aquino said the Inquirer under the Marcos regime played a significant role in mounting the public outcry to topple the dictator.
“The dictator went into the snap election not only with guns, goons, and gold, but with a controlled press to sing him praises. Even then, he knew that the buzz of the mosquito press had turned into a thunderous roar for democracy, for truth, for justice,” Aquino said.
“In a matter of weeks, the Marcos dictatorship ended at Edsa. It was at that moment that the Inquirer established itself as this country’s journal of record, with the headline that summed it all up: ‘It’s all over: Marcos flees,'” Aquino said.
Aquino said he snapped out of his deep sadness upon LJM’s death when he remembered LJM’s piercing but nurturing look.
Aquino said he was reminded of the stern nuns in Catholic schools when he thinks of LJM’s signature look.
“I am sure all of you have had mentors and teachers we considered terrors. You know what I mean. Tita Letty could give you the kind of look that would turn the blood in your veins to ice: at once direct, intimidating, and soul-searching,” Aquino said.
But every time LJM gives the president that look, LJM’s face would break into a wide smile, Aquino said.
“Every time she looked at me like that, I couldn’t help but think that a major sermon was in the offing. Thankfully, that never happened. At some point, she would always break out into infectious laughter, or give a wide smile. Of course, given the intensity of her signature look, it always took me a few seconds to
realize that she was smiling—at which point I could relax and return the gesture,” Aquino said.
Aquino said every time LJM would talk to him in “terse tones,” he would feel nervous and his blood pressure would shoot up, similar to a feeling when he was an Ateneo college student of a terror professor.
Aquino said he hoped LJM’s smile to him indicated that she was satisfied with how he faces the challenges of a presidency.
“With Tita Letty, I’d like to think that her smiles indicated that she was pleased at how I was rising to the challenges confronting me—and that she approved of my answers and my efforts,” Aquino said.
Aquino said LJM had a style of writing “snappy headlines” to hook the readers while at the same time staying true to the facts of the story beneath it.
The President said LJM made the Inquirer different from other media outlets, which only wanted to report the emotions instead of the newsworthy information.
“What I could always count on was that, with Tita Letty, the paper would always be reasonable, which was reflected in my interactions with its staff. For example, the last time I had occasion to meet with the Inquirer editors and reporters of all its formats, Tita Letty included, I found the discussion extremely stimulating—challenging, but undoubtedly positive ” Aquino said
Aquino said he could not help but contrast an interview with the Inquirer with that of a media personality who told him she found him difficult to rouse in anger.
Aquino said it seems the media personality only wanted news out of his emotions, instead of reporting information from him.
“I cannot help but contrast this to an interview I had with another media personality. At the end of her questioning, she said that it was very hard to provoke me to anger—and my immediate reaction was to ask myself: was that it? She just wants to make news, as opposed to getting newsworthy
information?” Aquino said.
“I couldn’t help but think that if it was just a game to her, if an adverse reaction from me was all she wanted, then the entire interview was a waste of time,” he added.
In the end, Aquino said LJM is a person of a nurturing heart but tough for the people to meet her standards.
“For Tita Letty’s truest and deepest nature was of a nurturer with a heart of gold—a nurturer who was still tough precisely because she expected you to meet the challenge of her very high expectations,” Aquino said.
Aquino said LJM never wanted “power, prestige or privilege” when she served as editor for different publications.
“The courage, idealism, and optimism she displayed in her work were all born of a deep and abiding love for her country and her countrymen,” Aquino said.
LJM was appointed editor-in-chief by the Inquirer founding chair Eggy Apostol in 1991.
Before her death, she served at the Inquirer for 30 years. She was editor of the Mr. & Ms. Special Edition from 1983 to 1986 and editor-in-chief of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine from 1986 to 1987. She was appointed by the Inquirer founding chair Eggy Apostol as editor-in-chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1991, becoming the first woman and longest serving chief in a male-dominated newsroom.
LJM has also become an icon of press freedom during the martial law. She has attributed the Inquirer in toppling the Marcos dictatorship, saying the Inquirer is the “keeper of the Edsa flame.”
Magsanoc, one of the founders of the Inquirer, passed away last Thursday, Christmas Eve, at St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City due to cardiac arrest.
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