It was a great shock to me to hear about the death of Daily Inquirer publisher Isagani “Gani” Yambot Saturday. How could I believe that Gani Yambot was gone? He was a journalist icon that seemed to be always there. Everytime, there was a Philippine Press Institute conference, a seminar or pow-wow, Gani was always there. He was always a key figure in our awarding and closing rites, and everybody anticipated his wry humor, and self-effacing jokes.
For years, he had always refused to lead the PPI, even when perennial president Jake Macasaet of Malaya would threaten not to accept the position even if elected. But finally, in 2009, I think, Gani finally agreed, but characteristically, he bowed out last year. Maybe he was already feeling the strain on his heart then? But just like any dedicated journalist, perhaps, he wanted to die, figuratively, with his boots on, struggling, even when his health was already failing.
Gani and his wife, Mildred, became close friends of mine during some of those trips to other provinces and cities when she had been convinced to join us. They were an interesting couple to watch, with Gani always pretending to be the long-suffering spouse, while Mildred would refer to him as “Ang matanda (the old man)” even while whispering to me that there was not much difference in their ages. I always enjoyed being with them, because that was when I discovered that Mr. Yambot, who was reputed to be very strict in the newsroom, was someone you could kid around with, and who was also very accommodating.
One of our most memorable gatherings was during the awarding rites of the Rotary Club of Manila, the oldest Rotary Club in Asia, where both of us were awardees. I confess that I was both thrilled and intimidated because our fellow awardees in various categories were, aside from Gani Yambot, the late Max Soliven and Teddy Benigno, Amando Doronila, Jessica Soho, Gerry Espladana, Howie Severino and even the late Raul Locsin who was at that very moment, lying in state at the Arlington Memorial Chapel.
I was at the time writing a column for the Daily Inquirer, and, although my award was for editing the DAILY STAR, he insisted on having me join the Inquirer awardees in the picture-taking and later the front page report in the Inquirer included me among the awardees from the paper. I truly appreciated that. The only time when I got sore at him was when he pirated one of our writers and later tried to get another. When I confronted him, saying “What are you trying to do, cripple the DAILY STAR?” he mollified me by saying, “Kasi ang galing sumulat ng mga bata mo (because your kids write very well), you train nalang more of them”.
I pretended to be angry, but couldn’t resist saying “So you will scout and get them again”. He tried to look sorry, but soon we both forgot all about it, especially because I could call him anytime when we needed some confirmation of items and things like that. And we could even laugh together at the very flagrant and common errors of young writers changing genders and referring to males as she or her, and females as he or him. I heard later that he had imposed a fine on his staff who committed such errors. I hope it worked, because it still continues to be a problem in the STAR.
I know the hundreds of members of the Philippine Press Institute will miss Gani Yambot very much. For sure Jake Macasaet, with whom he had worked for so long will feel his loss badly, as we all will. I feel deeply for Mildred and their children, because they have lost an exemplary husband and father. Reports say he might have left the hospital prematurely after such a serious operation because he found it depressing. I am sure it was because he missed his newsroom, his staff and the company managers who, I know, admired and respected him, and will surely find it hard to find someone else to step into the shoes that he alone could fill.
Farewell for now, Gani. We will miss you, but we will pray that you will also endorse our media problems to the good Lord and His own “media men” called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.*
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