The public intellectual Luis V. Teodoro was not known to be ailing, which was why his many friends and admirers could not immediately come to grips with word that he had passed, felled by a heart attack. How could that bodily treachery occur in someone who watched his health as carefully as he watched the way this unhappy archipelago was sliding ever closer to the edge of the precipice?
“Too sudden!” his sister, Irene Teodoro, wrote online in imparting gracious notice of his departure, her message forwarded faithfully by friends. If I had received it first-hand, I thought, punch-drunk and petulant in the early morning, I would have wrestled with it, would have balked at sending it spiraling into the ether, loath to be the bearer of news of loss: not only mine but also yours, others’, the motherland’s.
The spasm of shock and sorrow now a bit eased, it has become possible, like his other friends and admirers, to claim connections, to remember that we (also) went back a long way.
I was Luis’ student in his short story writing class at the University of the Philippines, late in 1970, I think. Even then the young instructor always dressed in white shirt and dark pants was sharp. But taciturn, quick to show annoyance at a hum of conversation in the back of the room where there should have been silence broken only by his remarks.
Toward the end of the semester, he presented me a surprise: He had submitted my short story to the weekly magazine Graphic, for which he wrote political commentary regularly and of which his then girlfriend, Ninotchka Rosca, was associate editor.
The story was run a week later. Imagine the pleasure, even of this upstart feigning indifference and ennui, at seeing one’s words on newsprint for the first time. (I have no copy of that initial foray, only a blurred memory of a vignette about an orphaned child bewildered and demanding meaning from the Universe. But the last line I remember: Oh, why did you have to die?)
Even more wonderful, Luis said Graphic had an opening for a staff member, and sent me to see Ninotchka at the magazine’s office in Port Area, Manila. Thus did the man nudge me into journalism, where I continue to toil, and where he has made a profound mark now being acknowledged by his students and colleagues in a blizzard of tributes.
Past the martial law years I managed to get Luis to commit to writing a weekly opinion column. Rod Reyes, my boss at the defunct fortnightly magazine Celebrity, had invited me to edit the Opinion section of a new daily he was putting out, the Manila Standard. It was 1987; each deadline day Luis arrived at the crumbling apartment where Edel Garcellano and I lived, to submit the hard copy of his column that I would in turn hand over to the ministrations of the typesetter.
But not before we had coffee and an hour or so of talk on stuff momentous and mundane, past and present, pedestrian and philosophical. It was a near-ritual, necessary for a continuing acquaintance with and immersion in one another’s perspectives and stances, so that in time, it became possible for one to be “certain” of the other’s position on an issue, and be startled at being shown otherwise.
He was almost-family, who would appear lugging empty pails in his car when there was a water cutoff in his neighborhood, to fill from our taps. “Look at that fat face!” he said of our cat, Kayenne, a scrawny stray who grew into a handsome specimen of cat-hood and who came to regard him somberly whenever he strode in and settled on a chair.
Unbeknownst to many (then again maybe not), Luis was a softy. He spoke of his son Renato as a happy boy bouncing around at the beach in Honolulu. He took pride in Ninotchka’s child Sibyl Jade Pena, now with Medecins Sans Frontieres, whom he put through med school.
We had history. When, in the course of my journey through Philippine journalism’s many doors, I moved to The Manila Times, I took him with me. Unerringly, he made his weekly space shine, then as in the ensuing years, and in other venues, always on point about the contradictions that animate the democratic project; the necessity of vigilance, of distrust of power, and of a clear understanding of the society in which one lives; and of the overriding importance of accuracy, proven facts, and language skills, whether in the dominant English or in Filipino, in storytelling.
Luis championed the alternative media, which he described as “by history and tradition all about change” and for which most every earnest journalism practitioner now yearns. “Its noncorporate character protects it from economic and political pressure and enhances its capacity for independent reporting and analysis,” he wrote in his introduction to “Divide by Two,” a compilation of his essays published by UP Press and originally posted in the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s blog, “In Medias Res.”
True to his advocacy, he was founding chair of Altermidya and friend and mentor to community journalists nationwide. Earlier, he was dean of UP’s College of Mass Communication for many years. On top of his many other activities, he made time for teaching journalism.
In our text exchange in November 2021 after a long spell of silence, I asked about his Zoom classes and whether the kids were good. “Actually, yes,” he said. “I have two classes of three hours each Mondays and Wednesdays. Their questions and comments show they understand both the subject and what’s going on—the necessary context!—despite much of the media’s failure to provide it.”
I saw him last in October 2022, at the steps of the CMC building. A meeting on the wing, as it were—he hassled by his car acting up in transit and myself harried by errands that (I thought) needed to be done as we managed a chat. He looked well, though a bit rumpled, and was as droll as I remembered.
Why, I now ask my immortal soul, have I never gotten into the habit of freezing a moment? When my phone was in my pocket, there for the taking, and he was saying goodbye and preparing to step into his milieu? When, as Updike wrote, a photograph “offers us a glimpse into the abyss of time”?
On the night of Jan. 28, 2023, without any provocation, he slid into my mind. I was sufficiently moved to punch a text message: “Thought of you, Luis. I hope you’re well.” He replied within minutes: “I’m ok. Thanks. Hope you are too.”
Not even two months later, embodying a loss too grievous to contemplate, he made his exit.
The staff and officers of the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD) deeply mourn the passing of Dean Luis V. Teodoro, mentor, partner, friend, colleague, and kindred spirit.
We will sadly miss his biting commentaries that cut to the quick but tempered by his sense of justice and humanity, his unwavering faith in a kind of journalism that can transform people’s lives, and his wellspring of inexhaustible wisdom that guided many of us when darkness seemed impenetrable.
To Dean Luis, farewell and thank you for gifting us with the knowledge and understanding of what journalism is and should be.
Red Batario and G Sevilla Alvarez
Center for Community Journalism and Development