Her Family’s Hearth | Madam Mary is happy, and here’s why

Text and photos by DARYL Z. LASAFIN

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

IT’S quite difficult to imagine what would break Maria Santillan–Fajardo’s patience. She has always managed to look past every hump and bump that comes her way every day, and smile or laugh, heartily. She seems to have smelled way too many roses to get pissed easy.

“It’s OK. No prob. Smile,” she tells me on Facebook Messenger, as I request to move the interview while I try to estimate the time when I could also catch her husband, Panay News’ founder Danny Fajardo, who has become a little elusive days prior to the paper’s 35th anniversary.

When it was settled that DF — as Mr. Fajardo is fondly called by people at PN — cannot be back from Manila in time for what I’ve foreseen as an unforgettable conversation with the couple who initiated the run of one of the country’s most-read newspapers today, Mrs. Fajardo, or Madam Mary, the paper’s cofounder, agreed to chat with me alone in their house in Mandurriao, Iloilo City.

 “Hinahayaan ko na lang siya (I just let him be),” Madam Mary quips, her wide smile making her eyes squint: an image one sees every time she mingles with the paper’s employees. It’s not that she’s shrugging off DF’s absence; she says it as a woman who knows her life partner too well to try and micromanage.

Describing her present state of being is a redundancy of the enthusiasm than emanates from her: right now, Madam Mary is happy, especially with what PN has become. “I’m happy because the son is fulfilling his father’s dream,” she says, referring to the chief operating officer, Daniel Fajardo II, who is now the paper’s leading figure. “The children are doing it for their father.”

Daniel II’s two other siblings are very much involved in the paper, too: his sister Ma. Daneli Fajardo–Salonga is the vice president for finance, while brother Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo, a lawyer, is the chairman of the board.

She admits, however, that being less hands-on makes DF — who has been dabbling as publisher, editor and writer — uneasy. “He’s uncomfortable. He’s been miserable,” she says with a huge, huge laugh, making light of what caused tension in the family in the past few years. “He sticks to his traditional [ways], thinking that maybe our children may not handle things, because he sometimes still thinks of them as little children, but they obviously know what they’re doing.”

Madam Mary sifts through some things in DF’s office in Mandurriao, Iloilo City.

But Madam Mary says DF genuinely wants to give his children a chance. “There are times when some people are trying to make arrangements with him, but he would say that it’s the children whom they should talk to.” She says she doesn’t have a problem with his children taking control and believes that DF will still be “with and for Panay News through and through.”

She says her support to Daniel II is “all-out,” especially to the latter’s plans that veer away from, even attempt to completely overhaul, the paper’s traditional operations. “Daniel II implements plans in consultation with his siblings and the family as well, so all-out [support] ako dyan.”

Madam Mary strongly believes that her son can pull off his planned innovations, which include the further improvement of the Editorial Department. “The Editorial should definitely be the one carrying the name of the paper,” she says.

She hopes the editors and reporters would focus more on civic journalism, on “stories of the underdogs, the small-time people … ’yong mga hindi pa naririnig (those whom we haven’t heard about yet).” This desire gives an impression that Madam Mary did not become part of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Press Institute, the national organization of newspapers, by mere chance: Civic journalism is the Institute’s thrust.

This, she says, along with “just doing factual reporting,” will help Panay News dodge libel cases, which the paper has courted over the years with its “adversarial” brand of journalism, as what DF would call it.

“I don’t like that,” Madam Mary says of any one-sided and personality-centered reporting that make their way to Panay News’ pages. “Whatever comes now, it will all depend on you (the editors) and whoever is in Editorial.” When the “adversarial” style is replaced, “mawawalan tayo ng (we can get rid of) libel cases.”

“Kon wala ang Panay News? I don’t know.”

DF takes pride in surviving the libel cases he faced. All the way, Madam Mary was there for him. At first, she was worried. But she fondly recalls someone telling her, “Mary, hayaan mo na si Danny, alam na niya ang ginagawa niya (Mary, just let Danny be, he knows what he’s doing).” And she laughs again, more heartily this time.

She is the Fajardos’ hearth — particularly for DF — especially when the family faces challenges. “A mother would always put her children first,” she says in Hiligaynon, giving a hint on how she handled things when the family was settling on who PN’s lead manager should be. “I have shed enough tears. But now I am comfortable and happy [with how things are]. I was there the whole time to show my support [to all of them], and I think DF has seen that. He would always turn to me. It’s me whom he is most comfortable with.”

Her motherly concern extending to the paper’s journalists, Madam Mary also enthuses about having a “new breed” of Editorial staffers. “Not necessarily younger, but they should be tested journalists,” she says.

 As to what keeps her busy now, Madam Mary says, jokingly albeit with a tinge of seriousness, “I’m busy … sleeping.” And there goes the hearty laugh again. She goes on to tell me about her recent trip with DF in Manila and how they do about in their other house in Cavite, and bonding with her grandchildren and her siblings-in-law.

Madam Mary never thought about what kind of life they would have had without Panay News but hints that she may have focused on religious work. “Kon wala ang Panay News? I don’t know. But I have always been a Jehovah’s Witness, and I will do what a Jehovah’s Witness does: spreading the good news that Jehovah is God.”

Asked how she and DF would want to be remembered, she did not hesitate. “DF wants to be remembered as the Lapsus King,” she says. “Ako, I don’t want people to remember me, because I’m just a speck of dust among so many. What I dream is my God will remember me.” And she smiles, wide, making her eyes squint./PN