The last time I saw Amando Doronila, purely by happenchance, happened to be on his last day in the Inquirer. I was seated in the lobby, and I looked up and saw him emerge from his office on the top floor. He walked slowly, with that pouchy eyed scowl of his, to the top of the stairs, and then even more slowly, proceeded to go down the stairs, studiously looking straight ahead. The normal hustle and bustle of a standard editorial day accompanied this slow progression down the stairs. There was a small cluster of people in the lobby, waiting for him, holding a few small boxes.
Looking neither to the left nor the right, he straightened his back and shuffled out. I didn’t have the heart to greet him on this somber occasion, and I suspect neither did many others. It was better, perhaps, that he just left, on his own steam, with no fuss, in the middle of a regular working day.
Francophile that he was, I know Doro would have known and agreed with the famous declaration of Charles de Gaulle, that “old age is shipwreck.” Age, in the inexorable way it does, had been catching up with him. A colleague had told me, with mingled awe and pity, of seeing him manfully climbing those same office stairs, grasping the banister with one hand, and, thrusting another arm forward, literally hauling himself up, stair after stair, floor after floor. In his last years, he’d come to share an office with a colleague literally a third of his age, in charge of digital marketing, and knowing he was a mutual friend, Doro once bellowed at me, “It’s like sharing an office with Death! The Grim Reaper looking over your back!”
He was a man of his generation. A ceremony of sorts would mark the conclusion of each column. He would put in the last keystroke and then call for our universally beloved editorial assistant, Tintin, who would, in that magical way of hers, magically appear in a flash. She would then save Doro’s column on a diskette (and eventually, a thumb drive) because that is as far as his dealing with the system would go.
Yet wherever he was, and for the longest time he was a journalist whose datelines were either Canberra or Manila, his roving curiosity, phenomenal memory, and analytical preeminence meant nothing fundamental escaped his attention. It was, indeed, on his powers of analysis, and not on his ability to extract an inside scoop, or to the gleeful, willful, ultimately egotistical exercise of influence, that he took the greatest pride and which was, unquestionably, (to use a word of which he would have approved) his métier. It was a competitive advantage that only sharpened and didn’t dull, with age.Writing, like the other arts, is an activity that can greatly improve with age. Or to put it another way, age in and of itself is not a deterrence to the craft. To this day, I celebrate the élan of Carmen Guerrero Nakpil who sang the praise of melatonin, saying it made her sleep like a baby—after she’d downed each dose of this natural cure, with a snifter of brandy. One of the few things to make Doro smile was the mention of wine and food: He would suddenly look young again.
An active, inquisitive mind is probably one of the best ways to keep functioning to a ripe old age: witness the remarkable longevity of Filipino columnists, very few of whom lived truly abstemious lives.
I started reading the papers avidly in my teens, after Edsa, when the bylines were a Who’s Who of journalism. Eldest of all was Vicente Albano Pacis, who’d already been a senior editor in prewar years. He was literally a living link with Philippine journalism stretching back to the 1920s. Armando Malay occasionally wrote a link to the 1930s, while Teodoro M. Locsin, Nick Joaquin, Luis Mauricio, and Carmen Guerrero Nakpil harked back to the ’40s and ’50s. Max Soliven, Doro himself, were the Young Turks of the ’50s turned seniors of the ’80s and ’90s. What they all imbued the reader with, was what goes by that humdrum term, “institutional memory,” which goes beyond knowing who’s who, or what’s what, but the whys that link the who and the what.
It struck home one idle moment after one of our quick editorial discussions with the late Gani Yambot. I was walking with Doro to the fabled stairs when he turned to me and said, “You know, this Noynoy thing, I haven’t seen such enthusiasm for a campaign since Magsaysay. Not even in 1986.”
With his passing, I celebrate the miles of column inches he wrote but mourn the books he planned but in pursuing daily events, never got to finish. Over the 20 years I knew him, he kept on talking to me about his dream of writing a book comparing Quezon and Atatürk, of whom he had an interesting thesis he only got to hint at in a four-column series in this paper. You may be a columnist for decades, but you will always end up running out of time.
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