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Looking back, looking forward

On a Friday nearing noon, a man wearing a face mask and pushing a wheelchair (his own) abruptly crumbles and falls on the sidewalk, groaning mightily. At once a tiny crowd of men and women materializes around him to address his lonely moment of weakness; even a passing motorcycle rider stops, gets off and doubles back, with an obvious intent to help him regain his breath and possibly get him on his feet again.

The observer rendered stupid and paralyzed by the man’s display of existential helplessness is comforted by the quick kindness of strangers. The boon from an otherwise indifferent Universe seems of a piece with the faint December chill, as though it were demanded by the yearly celebration that humanizes us and strengthens us for when the new year barrels in and, more so these days than in the past, compels us to wrestle with life on extraordinarily brutal terms.

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The long holiday season is well underway, heartening children of all ages and even curmudgeons generally aggrieved with living. Indeed, December — not the soda that is the world’s addiction — is the pause that refreshes. Nearly everyone is in its thrall. The crooked and the incompetent in the government, for example, view this time of year as breathing space — some sort of interregnum when simmering public anger ebbs a bit in favor of beloved family rituals that beef up the ties that bind. (Tomorrow, as sure as the sun rises, the deluge.)

But December is doubly special for the women and men of the Inquirer. Three decades and four years after its modest beginnings in rented space in Intramuros, Manila — when a power outage marked the production of the paper’s first issue on Dec. 9, so that frazzled desk editors had to do their thing by hand in the inconstant glow of candlelight — they are alternately weepy and cheery, preoccupied and put upon. But loud and proud: Look how far they’ve come. On a path far from smooth. In times occasionally kinder and gentler and also in eras marked by power play, a dangerous populism, and now, as formulated by an online wit, “the dictatorship of the trolletariat.”

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In the newsroom, on the desk at which the late, lamented Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc sat when she presided over the nightly ceremony of putting the paper to bed, sits a fresh pot of stargazers. Bold and beautiful, they comprise homage for the woman whose love for flowers was well-known, and who steered the paper to the particular spot that it occupies with great flair and a steely strength of purpose. The flowers are regularly supplied by a longtime friend and colleague of Letty’s, who does so with love as well as a persistence of memory: In life as in newspapering, remembering is crucial.

On their 34th anniversary, therefore, the women and men of the Inquirer are looking back and looking forward — a stance imperative for it to not only endure in these perilous days, but also to stay true to its commitment to report the information necessary for Filipinos to make critical decisions in their daily lives. It’s also a commitment to come to the aid of fallen strangers, as it were, and help them get their bearings in the suddenly hostile air. To lay flowers at the table in memory of a loved colleague, or to take stock, acknowledge mistakes and press on with the struggle.

“Certainly in writing and speaking,”Edward Said wrote, “one’s aim is not to show everyone how right one is but rather to try to induce a change in the moral climate whereby aggression is seen as such, the unjust punishment of peoples or individuals is either prevented or given up, and the recognition of rights and democratic freedoms is established as a norm for everyone, not invidiously for a select few.”

The Inquirer has told critical stories, presenting society’s ills and weaknesses and also its strengths, in the process actively involving itself in the nation’s present and future.

What a privilege to be a cog in its wheel, a part of its becoming.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rosario A. Garcellano
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