BY HERBERT L. VEGO
TIME seems to have stood still. I could hardly believe that three years have passed since Panay News founder Daniel “Danny” Fajardo passed away at age 72 on Sept. 10, 2018.
While it was as editor and columnist of this paper that I had worked closely with Danny, this time let me reminisce memories of him as a close friend. I had known him long before I first saw him because his wife, the former Maria Santillan, had been my classmate from Grade 5 in an elementary school to first year in college.
The first time I met her husband in 1972 was incidental. My wife and I plus our three-month-old son Norbert were boarding a bus which was plying the San Jose, Antique-Iloilo City route when our paths crossed. They were also on board with their first-born son Abdiel.
I was working in Manila in 1980 when I heard that Danny had come to buy spare parts for his buses. I visited him in his hotel room. I gave him a copy of a monthly magazine I was publishing, Charm. Would he favor me with an ad?
Minutes later, I left his hotel room with a signed contract for a back-page advertisement of D. G. Fajardo Lines, his bus business. It never crossed my mind that he would soon engage in a similar business.
How could have I known that that first meeting was going to trigger a long-lasting professional partnership and personal friendship?
To recap what I have repeatedly written every year during each anniversary issue of this paper, a telegram from his wife Mary reached me in Manila in the first week of April 1981 – long before the cellular phone era. They would like me to be editor-in-chief of the English newspaper they were putting up. I would have to abandon my job in Manila and come to Iloilo, which I did.
Serendipity, I thought, remembering that Maria and I had worked together as student journalists. How could I refuse someone who had been a classmate for seven straight years?
Since my wife and I had separated, I reckoned it would be a calculated risk to rise or sink with the new local newspaper.
By the time Danny died in 2018 following an open-heart surgery, the newspaper had blazed a successful 37-year trail from being a fledgling weekly to a regional Iloilo City-based daily under the management of his professional children. By then, at age 68, I had also let go of my office duties to concentrate in column writing.
Recalling those 37 years with Danny brings back unforgettable memories.
In the newspaper’s infancy as a weekly that could not always come out weekly, Danny was literally dipping his hands on cookie jars of his other businesses – namely an insurance agency and a bus company – to pay the printing press.
Panay News was a “squatter” in his insurance office at Ong Bun Building on Ledesma St.
Since Danny’s house was in San Jose, we slept in a rented house. But whenever we had money, he would ask me to spend a night or two at Hotel del Rio.
He had a brown car which we would often use to visit his insurance offices in San Jose, Roxas City and Kalibo.
He also owned a motorcycle, which was available for me to use whenever I wanted to visit my parents and siblings in San Jose.
There was a time when he told me he had to sell the motorbike to pay an overdue debt to the printing press. He was such a trusting seller that he gave away the bike to a buyer who promised to pay in full a week later.
A week, a month and a year passed. We patiently searched for the buyer and the bike but in vain.
“Charge to experience,” he said of that incident.
Realizing my flair for motorcycle, however, he asked me later to buy one on installment.
I hesitated because I was not earning enough from Panay News for that.
“Ako ang bahala,” he insisted.
After many months of riding my new Kawasaki, however, I had to surrender it to the dealer due to three months of installment overdue.
Danny felt sad but I was sadder for him because the Antique Electric Cooperative had disconnected his home’s power line. His family had to make do with “kingki” to illuminate their home at night. It would take months later before he could pay his overdue bill and be reconnected.
It was apparent that the one thing he could not do without was keeping Panay News alive. It was his obsession to be the first publisher of a regional daily newspaper that drove him to go on.
I contributed my two cents’ worth by suggesting that we establish a reputation for the paper as “the alternative press” exposing the evils of the Marcos dictatorship. Even if President Ferdinand Marcos had already lifted martial law, no other local newspaper printed opinions critical of his regime.
We welcomed hard-hitting columnists, including the late Oscar Verdeflor, who would eventually become mayor of Bacolod City.
By the time Marcos flew out of the country during the “People Power” revolution in 1986, Panay News had hired regular employees, reporters and editors.
Whenever he went abroad, Danny would ask a friend or two to accompany him. I accompanied him to four trips abroad – twice in Hong Kong, once in Bangkok and once in New Zealand.
There was a time when Danny confided to me his intention to hand over the management of the paper to his children. I figured he would like to “retire” from the daily stress of business.
He would do nothing henceforth but write a daily column and host a weekly media forum on Aksyon Radio, “Reklamo Publiko,” where we interviewed guests, mostly politicians.
He loved to discuss controversial issues and current events. In fact, months before his death, we would join common friends for coffee almost every morning at Hotel del Rio.
I never knew he had a heart problem until one day when he telephoned from Manila, saying he would have to undergo heart operation.
“See you after the operation,” he said.
It never crossed my mind that I would never hear and see my friend Danny again./PN