My first and last encounter with Ma’am Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, or LJM as how she was fondly called by us from the Inquirer, was only last year. I was having my on-the-job training under Ma’am Nancy Carvajal, who worked closely with her before as her secretary. Ma’am Nancy was working on her story of the pork barrel scam, and I was tasked to help her along with another intern and some people from the Research Department. It seemed like an endless task – printing heaps of documents, filing them inside envelopes, labeling each with surnames. Some were shockingly familiar: Revilla, Estrada, Enrile; while some were surnames I’ve never heard of: Ong, Tan, Zapote. The documentation was so tough there were nights when we would leave the office around 1am, also burdening the designated driver, Kuya Gerrs, for he would need to bring us home one by one. There was even an instance wherein we would leave the office by 9pm to attend a work-related function, only to go back after two hours to finish work.
When Inquirer finally released the exclusive report as a series, some people were skeptical with its veracity, others were scared of the repercussions. But not LJM. When things get tough for Ma’am Nancy, as she was putting herself and her family’s safety in line in the process, LJM would sit with her and calm her by saying ‘Stay the course.’ It was as if that phrase was enough to communicate a tacit trust, something I’ve witnessed through the short time I’ve already shared with Inquirer. There were the small gestures, the short talks, saying that she will be behind you every step of the way. That there is nothing to fear, nothing to conceal, if you are telling the truth.
During those ‘PDAF days,’ LJM would let us use her entire office including the computer, the infamous printer, and the couch where we would take stolen naps.
Being a woman of her stature, I was surprised to find a dainty room. There was no air conditioning (or maybe too weak for me to notice), no mini fridge, no impressive office throne. But what was interesting were the abundant displays of art works personally dedicated to her. There were paintings, sketches, sculptures – all with brief notes of how amazing she was – so many that some were left to sit on the floor. What has left a mark on me though was a huge birthday card pasted on one of her file cabinets. It bore messages from Inquirer reporters and editors, a collective memento so simple but carefully arranged, with words of thanks, anecdotes, apologies and jokes.
“Thank you for showing us that journalism is its own reward,” desk editor Mike Ubac wrote.
Looking to what Inquirer has become, the reflection of those words to the people consisting Inquirer was uncanny. When they learned of LJM’s death, the responses were quick.
“Not a thing, sir. For LJM,” Miss Tarra Quismundo said when assigned to write a piece about what happened. Everyone was more than willing to take on the last assignment not from LJM, but for LJM. I imagine our editor-in-chief looking at us from above, giving her nod of approval for passing the last test she has for the group: to function even without her, to continue despite the unimaginable loss. This was a news everyone knew was coming, but wished they never have to write nor read.
Going back to my encounter with LJM, she asked for my name and thanked me for helping with the special report. She knew well all I did was provide extra hands and legs for errands and what-nots. It’s a shame I wasn’t able to talk to her again because between the two of us, I should be the one saying thank you.
Thank you, Ma’am Letty, for showing us that journalism is not all blood and bones. Thank you for providing an avenue for young people like me by creating Young Blood. Thank you for enunciating integrity and fairness in a company I am esteemed to work on. Thank you. Thank you very much.