The esteemed ‘Sir Doro’ made me laugh and kept me on my toes

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Considered as one of the pillars of Philippine journalism, Doro has also covered some of the pivotal moments in contemporary history, like the overthrow of Sukarno in Indonesia and the Vietnam War. —PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIA LOURDES DORONILA

I joined the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1995, as a proofreader, a year after Amando Doronila—“Doro,” accent on the second syllable, to his colleagues and friends—became the paper’s editorial consultant and Opinion columnist. I had always admired journalists like Sir Doro, but when I needed to talk to him for the first time to clarify a line in his column, I was nervous instead of excited. To my relief, he listened to me intently, smiled, and then told me to make the necessary correction. 

It was the start of my many years of working with an esteemed journalist who made me laugh and kept me on my toes. I got to know him well, including his quirks. When I learned of his passing on July 7 in Canberra, Australia, I dug up my notes—and found that my recollection of him is primarily personal.

Sir Doro preferred to write his once-weekly column, “Analysis,” in the Inquirer office, and I had the chance to talk with him often, especially when I was assigned to focus solely on the paper’s Opinion section as its editorial assistant. Eventually I got to see him almost daily when he transferred to a room which he shared with then Opinion editor Jorge Aruta. The room was adjacent to the huge newsroom, along with that of editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc and the editors’ meeting room—all on the third floor, the Editorial department’s domain. 

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Doro with some of his Inquirer colleagues at the newspaper’s library, where he was a frequent visitor. —PHOTO COURTESY OF TSAI CHIA

On Sir Doro’s desk were piles of notes and documents and books he kept for reference. I wondered how it was possible for him to find a particular reference he needed among the seeming disorder. I soon found out when, once, I informed him that there was a missing word in a quote in his column. He fished out a paper from the pile of other papers in front of him, told me to find the quote, and fix the problem: “Andyan yan, ayusin mo na lang.”

‘S’ word

We each have our way of expressing disgust or anger, and Sir Doro had his own style of conveying unhappiness. He spewed the “s” word whenever his column failed to register in the Opinion e-mail inbox and he was way past his deadline, or when the text on his computer screen suddenly disappeared due to a glitch, or when he could not quickly find something important that he needed at that precise moment. It was no big deal for us in the staff because we knew his displeasure wasn’t personal. Nevertheless, we took it upon ourselves to warn whoever was new in the staff to take Sir Doro’s “s” outbursts in stride. 

There was a time when Sir Doro had to leave for Canberra, where he and his family made their home upon his release from detention during martial law. He was away for quite some time but he never failed to phone me to check if I had received a column he had just sent. He was always ready to answer any questions that we had. 

When he returned to the Philippines, he was given a room of his own on the second floor of the office which he soon filled with books and local and international newspapers. Various notes and documents were also back on his desk. It was in that room, on a Sunday, that I first met his wife, Ma’am Lourdes; she was busy knitting while waiting for Sir Doro to finish his column. I was on the heavy side back then and she gave me tips on how to lose the extra pounds. Sir Doro would butt in and say that I should emulate him: Despite his age, he said, he still got to exercise just by walking whenever he was in Tagaytay, where they had a coffee farm. 

Related: Hail and farewell: Luis V. Teodoro

Deadline blues

Deadlines are crucial when you work in a newspaper, and no one can be spared even if you’re Amando Doronila. Once, when Rosario “Chato” Garcellano became Opinion editor on Mr. Aruta’s retirement, she asked me to check on Sir Doro because it was almost the section’s production deadline. Instead of phoning him I decided to go down to his room to make him feel the urgency of my deadline reminder. He was furiously typing on his computer keyboard and, without looking at me, said, “Five minutes!” I went back upstairs. After five minutes passed and I still didn’t hear from him, I returned to his room and told him that the editor needed his column. “You know,” he said, “Chato was my student and she’s a smart girl.” 

He finally submitted his column after a few minutes, but of course Opinion did not meet its production deadline. It was not a rare occurrence. But whenever he made it on time he would immediately give me a call, announce that he was early, and ask if everyone was happy: “Maaga ako. Happy na kayo? Happy na ba si Chato?” Then he would let out a loud laugh.

(It was only after Sir Doro passed that I told Chato in a text message about his remark that she was once his student and “a smart girl.” She chuckled: “Haha! What a compliment! I will remember it to my dying day.” She said she and her then boyfriend, Edel Garcellano, were in Sir Doro’s journalism class at the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Mass Communication, “along with a motley group of campus writers and bohemian types.”  She said she was then “beginning to suspect that journalism is best learned on the ground,” and that “indeed, Doro showed the way.”) 

When Sir Doro returned to Canberra for good, his column submissions became scarce, until he finally stopped writing altogether. There were times when he would call and say that he could no longer file his column. When even the phone calls stopped, I worried about him. For me, he wasn’t just someone I worked with. He was kind, approachable, and always had a ready smile for me. (Chato fondly remembers his “French-Visayan patois.”) When I learned last February that the second part of his memoirs titled “Doro: Behind the Byline” had just been launched in Canberra, it made me happy to know that he was doing okay even at 95. 

‘Secret pain’

Amando Doronila wrote mainly on political and socioeconomic issues as well as international affairs, but there’s one column, titled “Secret pain,” run in the Inquirer on Nov. 6, 2012, that led me to discover that apart from his incisive analyses of the problems afflicting his native land, he was harboring a deep anguish for lost loved ones. In that column, Sir Doro wrote in part: “For the last 69 years, the feast day of departed souls has come and gone, and I have never visited a cemetery simply because the remains of my parents are nowhere to be found. My parents, together with three of my youngest siblings, perished during a massacre of civilians by a punitive Japanese army expedition in the mountains of Ajuy, Iloilo, in September 1943. In short, they were victims of Japanese military atrocities during the Occupation.”

In Sir Doro’s long life as a journalist who covered, among others, the overthrow of Indonesia’s President Sukarno by General Suharto in 1966, the United States’ intensified bombing of North Vietnam in 1967, and the funeral of France’s President Charles de Gaulle in 1970, he has done many things that aspiring writers would want to achieve. He will continue to serve as inspiration to many and will be sorely missed.

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