Reminiscing life with the late Panay News founder

DANNY FAJARDO (right) on vacation with columnist Herbert Vego at Hobbiton Village, New Zealand.
DANNY FAJARDO (right) on vacation with columnist Herbert Vego at Hobbiton Village, New Zealand.

“OH my God! Has it been one year already?”

That was how I reacted when our editor-in-chief asked me to write about this paper’s founder, Daniel “Danny” Fajardo, who died on Sept. 10, 2018.

While sitting down to write this, I remember that Monday night when our common friend Rodolfo Jarumahum Jr. called to say, “Wala na si DF.”

The words stabbed me.  It was hard to believe that Danny had not survived an emergency heart bypass surgery in a renowned hospital in Metro Manila. It had only been one week since we three last met for coffee at Café del Prado of Hotel del Rio.

Today, Danny Fajardo has been gone for exactly one year. But his memory lives on because of his unprecedented accomplishments. As publisher of what used to be a weak weekly that has turned into a strong daily, he had charted a never-done-before journey. He died confident that this newspaper would outlive him.

His passing reminded us of two other recently-departed journalists who used to exchange pleasantries with us at the same coffee table — Teddy Sumaray and Sammy Julian.

I could not recall the number of times I had written about the living Danny throughout the 38-year history of Panay News with each anniversary issue every seventh day of April. I had always been his working partner through thick and thin since the birth of this paper in 1981.

At the risk of being repetitious, let me say for the nth time that I had known him way ahead. It was sometime in 1973 when I saw him for the first time in a passenger bus negotiating the San Jose, Antique-to-Iloilo City route. He and his wife Maria were with their baby boy Ade while I was with my wife Norelyn and our infant son Norbert.

The former Maria Santillan – my classmate in the elementary school and college – introduced me to her husband.

It took seven long years later in 1980 when the opportunity to see Danny for the second time presented itself at the Aloha Hotel in Manila. I was then publisher of Charm, a monthly magazine, and would like him to place a back-page ad for a bus company he had established, D.G. Fajardo Lines. He did me that favor.

By then, I had spent 10 working years in Manila as freelance journalist, ghost writer and press relation officer of several music and movie producers.

In April 1981, I received an unexpected telegram from Mary asking me to help her and her husband edit a new tabloid they were putting up.

The first issue of Panay News, edited by Jerry Taclino, had come off the press when I reported for work. But he had resigned and I was taking over his temporary substitute, the late Vicky S. Primero, Mary’s elder sister.

The paper was a “squatter” in Danny’s insurance agency at Ong Bun Building on Ledesma Street, Iloilo City.

There were already three English weeklies in Iloilo which were surviving on paid legal notices from the local courts of law. Would one additional paper be viable?

The “birth pain” was almost unbearable. To pay the printing press, Danny had to withdraw money from the income of his bus and insurance ventures.

Since he could not afford to hire reporters, we wrote the news stories ourselves and also relied on press releases from government agencies to fill up eight pages.

There were weeks when we could not submit our materials to the press due to lack of funds. I shared the “sacrifice” by giving up the motorcycle I had acquired on installment plan.

The Fajardo residence at that time was in San Jose, Antique.  Until then they had four children known to me by their nicknames Ade, Owa, May-may and Strawberry. The first three were pupils in the elementary school while Strawberry was a tiny toddler.

Two other children, Idol and David, would emerge in better circumstances years later. Those were the days when Danny found the right people to deal with advertising agencies in Manila.

He would also motivate our local staff to solicit ads and subscriptions during weekly meetings.

“If you can sell refrigerator to the Eskimos,” he would lecture, “then you have what it takes to succeed.”  

He was also a natural newsman. I found that out during his business meeting with an insurance manager in Kalibo. On learning that a rich widow nearby had been stabbed dead by a poor relative, he adjourned the meeting so we could interview the widow’s relatives for a front-page story.

While competitors were contented with “praising” the government, Danny encouraged us to be the only “alternative press” in Iloilo. Although President Ferdinand Marcos had already lifted martial law, our nervous friends tried to restrain us from criticizing him.

By the time Marcos flew out of the country during the “People Power” revolution in 1986, Panay News had gained regular subscribers and advertisers regionwide.

I had quit as editor-in-chief by the time Panay News acquired its own printing press and gradually moved from weekly frequency to semi-weekly to tri-weekly and eventually to daily frequency.

Danny also established a radio station in San Jose and hired a long-lost college classmate, veteran broadcaster Sammy Julian, as station manager and chief broadcaster.

Unfortunately, the radio station was not meant to succeed. But since Danny could not afford to lose a talent, he “converted” Julian into Panay News’ beat reporter covering Malacañang. It turned out to be another milestone for this paper when Sammy was elected president of the Malacañang Press Corp. No other journalist from the provincial media had won that post.

Under Danny’s wings, many other “starters” from this paper have carved a niche for themselves in various endeavors, whether here, in other cities and towns or abroad.

We feel that while this paper remains in good hands — with his son Dan “Idol” Fajardo II, other children and children-in-laws effectively manning the family corporation — Danny Fajardo at 72 departed ahead of his time. He could have soared higher while fulfilling his self-imposed mission “to expand the frontiers of press freedom in this part of the country.”

So long, Danny./PN


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