The fantastic evolution of Panay News from a personal standpoint

TODAY marks another milestone in the history of Panay News, the only really daily newspaper (including Sunday) in Western Visayas.

Today, the paper reels off its newly-acquired web printing press – the first of its kind in the entire Western Visayas. Branded Goss, it consists of six connected machines that swipe pages of the newspaper all at once, whether in four-color or black-and-white, so that what come out at the end of the line are already-folded copies. This modern technology – which can print as many as 50,000 copies per hour – assures early-morning delivery of the paper to all subscribers and outlets in Iloilo, Antique, Aklan, Capiz, Guimaras, Negros Occidental and even Metro Manila.

The modernization of this paper, I must say, rests in the hands of his children who comprise the second-generation Panay News family, with Daniel Fajardo II as chief executive officer and better-half Leah Fajardo as marketing manager.

But of course, the couple would always pass on the “glory” to the first-generation founder of the paper, Daniel “Danny” Fajardo, without whom Panay News would never have germinated and sprouted.

Over coffee at Hotel del Rio recently, I frankly confessed to Danny, “I never thought the paper would go this far.”

“Neither did I,” he answered. “But I have always believed that when one dreams of something and works hard to shape it into reality, he will get it – sometimes when least expected.”

In retrospect, I am thankful to have been part of the first generation that gave birth to this paper 33 years and seven months ago, giving me vantage position to chronicle its evolution.

In the late 1970s until the early ‘80s, Danny Fajardo was the pioneering operator of a bus line plying the San Jose-Kalibo route. He was also general agent for Summa Insurance and Paramount Insurance companies. At that same period, I was already a newspaperman in Manila, prowling the entertainment beat.

I was 30 years young on the day I first came face-to-face with Mr. Fajardo in 1980 in his room at Aloha Hotel in Manila. He had come all the way from San Jose, Antique to buy spare parts for his mini-buses.

My purpose in seeing him was to solicit advertisement for a monthly magazine I was publishing in Manila at that time, Charm. Having introduced myself as “classmate of Mary from elementary to college” – referring to his wife, the former Maria Santillan – I won his confidence, plus his signature on an advertising contract.

Sometime in April 1981, I received a telegram from Mary, Danny’s wife. They would like me to join them in Iloilo City to be full-time editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper that they had just launched. Accepting the offer would be a gamble on my part, since I had already established myself as newspaper reporter and stage show producer in Manila for 11 years. Nevertheless I accepted the offer for a change.

IN THE BEGINNING

I reported to Panay News’ Iloilo City office, which was then at the Ong Bun Building on Ledesma Street, and met for the first time Mary’s sister Vicky S. Pimero, who was working as the acting editor following the resignation of the first editor, Jerry Taclino. She had to yield the job to me, Inday Vic said, because she was already “overloaded” with her job as college instructor.

The paper was supposed to come out weekly, but more often than not we made do with only one or two issues a month in our first year due to lack of subscribers and advertisers.

On a lazy day, Danny Fajardo confided to me, “Bert, I had never thought of going into newspaper business because I am not familiar with it. It only dawned on me when Jerry came to my insurance office to motivate me to publish a weekly newspaper. This is a challenge we both have to hurdle.”

At that time, there were already three English weeklies in Iloilo which were surviving on paid legal notices from the local courts of law. Soliciting ads from business establishments was like finding a needle in a haystack. But why should we expect a better deal? Most readers would rather be seen reading Manila dailies than local tabloids.

Rather than be discouraged, Danny took it as a challenge to hurdle. He made it clear to me that we would not be contented with legal notices. He vowed to attract not only the commercial advertisers but also readers all over Western Visayas. What a tough optimist!

With no money to pay reporters, we wrote the news reports ourselves and relied heavily on press releases from government agencies, notably the Philippine Information Agency, the Philippine News Agency and the defunct National Media Production Center.

With no printing press of our own, we made the rounds of practically all printing presses in Iloilo City, always badgering for the lowest printing cost and the longest payment term. There was a time when Mr. Fajardo brought our entire manuscripts to Adver Press in Manila to economize on cost. He flew back to Iloilo punishing himself with a heavy bundle of the week’s Panay News on his shoulder to and from the airplane.

We eventually managed to assemble a ragtag staff. Danny’s insurance offices in Antique, Capiz and Aklan doubled as our branch offices.

Within the year, we earned libel cases due to exposés that put certain public and private corporations in bad light. For a long time, the Fajardo home in San Jose, Antique suffered dark nights after the Antique Electric Cooperative (Anteco) had disconnected their power line as punishment for a “damaging attack” on said co-op.  At that time, the Fajardo couple had four children, namely Abdiel, John Dan, Mae and Strawberry. Still to come years later were Daniel “Idol” II (now Panay News’ chief executive officer) and David (now publisher of Watchmen, a Bacolod daily).

GIVING UP TWO BUSINESSES

It was a baptism of fire for Fajardo as the publisher. He had to give up his bus company and his insurance agency to concentrate on keeping the newspaper alive.

As editor with no other job, I had my share of financial hemorrhage. But I kept pinning my faith on Mr. Fajardo, who had already impressed me as a natural salesman.

Together, we broke readers’ resistance to the “lowly” local newspaper by going after local scoops, though this was easier said than done in a weekly paper.

I remember that afternoon when we were in Kalibo to meet with an insurance man. During the meeting, Tita Bong (Mary’s sister) broke the news that a rich widow nearby had been stabbed dead by a poor relative. Knowing it would sell as front-page banner story, I slung our camera over my shoulder as we rushed to the widow’s house to shoot the dead in her coffin.

It also paid that we chose to be an “alternative press” exposing the evils of the Marcos dictatorship under martial law. Since most Manila newspapers were “developmental,” we won their readers over. We also attracted advertisers with the help of Manila-based advertising agencies who had noticed said phenomenon.

Panay News had metamorphosed from a losing to a winning gambler.

We have also lost a few libel cases but won most. Thanks to Atty. Rex Salvilla and many other lawyer friends, we have survived them all.

DASHING THROUGH THE YEARS

In 1987 or 1988 (sorry for memory lapse), knowing that the paper could move on without me, I begged of Boss Danny to have me replaced. He agreed and wished me luck.

If I remember right, it was at that time when a young college graduate, Lemuel Fernandez, stepped in to become editor-in-chief. By then, we had set up branch offices in all provinces of Western Visayas.

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in the late 1980s that Panay News acquired its own printing press and gradually moved from a weekly frequency to semi-weekly and eventually daily.

The paper lured young professional journalists to join his editorial staff. One of them, Rex Maestrecampo, still stands out today as the loyal and workaholic desk editor manning the editorial desk (now in the town of Pavia) together with efficient region editor Daryl Lasafin.

Panay News having soared like an eagle, Danny Fajardo began another pioneering work with the publication of the first Ilonggo daily, Hublas nga Kamatuoran. Like Panay News, it has overcome birth pains and has slowly but surely revived readers’ interest in the Ilonggo vernacular.

Danny himself has assumed the position of editor-in-chief, giving up corporate management to his children who have established symbiotic relations with advertising agencies in Manila.

An executive office in Makati City has risen to serve the growing clientele.

The advent of the Internet has not diminished readership of the paper but has, on the contrary, complemented it. Our website – www.panaynewsphilippines.com – has made it more accessible to all Filipinos and foreigners worldwide.

Truth to tell, many other journalists working for other local papers today have at one time or another worked for Panay News.

Several ex-editors and staff reporters have expanded their horizons here and abroad, including Hazel Villa, now bringing to the academe her more than 15 years of experience in professional journalism as workshop facilitator and writing coach; Eden Jacosalem Stewart in the United States, Daniel Cajurao in Canada and Raj Padilla in the United Kingdom. We are happy for them.

John Paul Tia, general manager of Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo, also used to be staff writer of this paper.

Teddy Sumaray, one of our most active columnists and ad raiser in the early days who is now in his late 70s, is still strong and still drinks early-morning coffee with us.

I resumed column-writing for Panay News after receiving its “Journalism Award” during its 32nd anniversary celebration in April 2012.

The management asked me to rejoin the staff as managing editor in November 2013. I accepted the invitation. That means I really had gone full circle since 1981.

Today, Danny Fajardo has no more headaches as far as Panay News is concerned. He knows it’s in the good hands of the children, and there are already grandchildren waiting in the wings for their turn./PN