By Artchil B. Fernandez
In a span of few days, Philippine journalism lost two major pillars last week. After long suffering from a stroke, legendary journalist Conrado de Quiros passed away. Five days later, Rina Jimenez-David, another revered columnist joined him to the “Great Beyond.” This double-blow is a huge misfortune to befall Philippine media.
Conrado de Quiros is sui generis, a class of his own. He is not simply a columnist, he is the columnist of our time. For almost three decades he shaped the national discourse and conversation in a way no other journalist did. Reading him daily is not only a personal habit of many Filipinos but a routine of the nation.
In the Philippine Daily Inquirer where de Quiros wrote the longtime column “There’s the Rub,” he is the personification of the other half of the paper’s motto “fearless views.” People read him, not only for his take on the burning issue of the day but on the unique and superb way he expressed it.
De Quiros’ command of words is par excellence. His prose is crisp and sharp, wit, sarcasm, and humor blending seamlessly. He elevated opinion writing to the level of art. Even if one may not read him for his views (critical, progressive, controversial), one is drawn to his column for his style of writing. The play of words is both entertaining and informative, eliciting a hodgepodge of emotion – anger and laughter, dismay and happy. Only a writer of de Quiros caliber can accomplish this. It is not a surprise he is the gold standard of column writing for his generation and the generations to come.
Writing for de Quiros, particularly column writing is not just a matter of brilliant knack of language. Substance is its other equally important ingredient. One maybe good with the play of words but if content of the piece holds no social relevance, is utterly divorced from social reality, disconnected with the signs of the times, and no link with what society or the nation is going through, the writing is sterile. Writing then simply becomes the tool of the ego, reduced to self-aggrandizement. This de Quiros abhorred.
Through his column, de Quiros was the conscience of the nation. Unapologetic, he spoke truth to power, heavens may fall. He minced no words and had no patience for niceties. His words cut deeply like a sharp sword, slicing flawlessly, tearing the object to pieces immaculately. Woe to the target of his biting language.
The words of de Quiros illuminated the burning issues of the day. The public turn to him for his take on current events. Whether they agree with him or no, his views are important inputs. The sharpness of his analysis is complemented with incisive dissection of issues.
There is no cold neutrality in him. De Quiros takes sides and that is the side of the oppressed, the powerless, the abused, the voiceless, the marginalized, the Filipino people – the masses. He gave flesh and blood to “serve the people” or “in the service of the Filipino.” Writing for him is a social duty and a serious responsibility.
Same can be said of de Quiros’ neighbor in the Inquirer, Rina Jimenez-David. She writes differently from him. If de Quiros was of the “fire and brimstone” kind, Jimenez-David in contrast was gentler albeit uncompromising in her position, providing a feminine touch on current events.
Rina Jimenez-David column “At Large” is a good counterpoint to “There’s the Rub” in the opinion pages of the Inquirer. While both columns have progressive bent, their approach to issues diverge. Jimenez-David championed the “women” standpoint. A woman’s perspective is an important and significant input in the debates of the day. Despite progress, Philippines remain a patriarchal and male dominated society. Voices of women still need to be highlighted and given prominence in national discourse. This is Rina Jimenez-David’s passion and vocation.
The passing of Conrado de Quiros and Rina Jimenez-David marks an end of an era in Philippine journalism. They are the last of the “Old School.” Opinion writing of the “old school” today is being taken over by “vloggers” and “TikTokers” devoid of social commitment with no modicum of basic ethics who are paid hacks and outright propagandists of whoever pays them. Digital prostitution is an ascendant occupation.
Even in traditional media “old school” column is becoming extinct or is a dying breed. Mimicking their social or digital media counterparts, the goal of columns now is generating likes and similar affirming clicks and emojis. Thus, topics in many columns at present veer away from public discourse on current events or burning issues of the day and are generally focused on “human interest” stories.
In the “old school” public sphere is viewed as an arena where issues and events are discussed through “rational-critical” debates. In their own unique way, Conrado de Quiros and Rina Jimenez-David in their columns provided venues for critical-rational evaluation and take of what is happening to the nation and society.
With the rise of authoritarian populism both at the national and global levels, the “old school” column is needed more than ever. However, the trend is to the contrary. Either fearful or intimidated or for millions of reasons, columns today chose to be safe, writing about topics that do not disturb the status quo or poke at the welders of power. Thus, favorite television series, sports, personal journey, tales of success, or even pets are the staple topics. Or worse, they are avenues to bloat or inflate esteem.
Conrado de Quiros and Rina Jimenez-David are big losses to the Filipino nation especially in a time where their voices are sorely needed. They are prophets in the mold of Elijah and Jeremiah.