Vic Tirol: In very fond memory

by Vergel O. Santos

Photo from Vicente Tirol’s Facebook page.

VIC TIROL and I belonged in the same generation of journalists. We knew the press when its freedom burned properly fiercely, when it was killed suddenly, and when it burned again. That would come to more than 30 active years, longer than a generation.

Those were years, save for the 14 of martial law (1972-1986), when newspapers were the preeminent news medium, when, until they had published anything, it did not become safe for consumption — although already delivered the evening before, television news had to wait till the next morning to be sanctified in print.

I worked at The Manila Chronicle, which, along with two of the three other national dailies, was sited, tucked away, in sleepy parts off Manila’s docks. We begrudged the situation of Vic’s Manila Times. It resided across the river from us, right in the thick of things; for one thing it lived luxuriantly: The Times house sat along the street that demarcated Main Street on one side and Chinatown on the other.

But our grudges went deeper than that. The Times was published by a man who recognized the primacy of editorial freedom over everything else in the newspaper business, and proved that it was good for the business; his newspaper had nearly twice as many readers as we its rivals lumped together.

That man was Joaquin P. Roces — the legend Chino. It naturally helped that Chino’s family, who owned the Times, was unencumbered by other business interests. Our own owners held such wide and major and varied interests they rather, to say the least, cramped our style.

At a particular time, we at the Chronicle concentrated our grudges on Vic. He stole our muse, snatched her from the news desk, and carried her off — he even married her. My own feelings about it were actually something on the order of tribal sympathy: I did quite like Vic, almost immediately, and felt him and our own Lorna Kalaw a fine match. We had a lifelong friendship, actually developed from even before he and Lorna got married and cemented by serendipity, which he and she and I and my wife, Chit, were only happy to help along.

Vic and I were seconded by our newspapers to a new regional news enterprise that involved them. Both bachelors at the time, we lived and worked in Hong Kong, where it was based, he doubtless lonely for Lorna, me doubtless a scarcely assuaging, decidedly inadequate stand-in. Once my secondment was over, in a year, they married and Lorna joined him in Hong Kong as wife and colleague. Toward the end of martial law and shortly afterward, Lorna and I worked for the revived Times and Chronicle. Much later she and Chit became part of a group of women writers called First Draft.

I had always looked to the day Vic would take up a newspaper editorship. He had both trained and not only studied formally but taught the disciplines for it. And he possessed the even rarer suitable quality: temperament and predisposition — that combination of executive and orchestrative instincts to simply preside and keep his finger off certain things, which I myself definitely lack.

Finally, his newspaper came along — Pinoy Times. It would pass quickly, as more or less the fate awaiting any newcomer in the sunset days of newspapers, but not before it made its mark. Where other newspapers fired ineffectual buckshot at general targets, Pinoy Times shot, and did so with learned skill, at the specific targets that plagued the day.

As Vic slipped deeper into illness, Lorna slipped into concentrated loving care for him, and both slipped out of our physical company — even before the pandemic. And maybe just as well: Vic left me an image of himself I will especially like to recall, the exact one I last beheld — supported with a cane, but walking not weakly but venerably, hair and signature mustache and beard neatly trimmed, and cheerful.