ESTELLA-SIMBULAN, Lourdes P.

 

estella-simbulan-lourdesLourdes lived most of her life in Quezon City with her family. She projected a quiet and unassuming personality but those close to her describe her as bullheaded, even passionate and fiery, in things she believed in. She also showed an occasional sense of humor that made you laugh at odd moments, remembers schoolmate Fides Lim. Her students describe her as friendly and helpful, and a stickler for truth.

History of political involvement

Lourdes, whom most people called Chit, was a student of journalism at the University of the Philippines (UP) during the early years of the martial law regime. In her sophomore year, she joined the staff of the school newspaper, the Philippine Collegian. The martial law regime had ordered Collegian shut down immediately upon the declaration of martial law. Persistent demands by the university’s population succeeded in having it revived by late 1974. The revived school paper immediately took a strong editorial stance against the repressive government. Chit Estella was part of the newspaper’s news section, often covering events that exposed administration coverups, corrupt practices and human rights abuses, coverage that would have scared older and more professional journalists in the dictatorship-controlled mainstream newspapers.

Fides Lim remembers that Chit was a fast writer who quickly put together a coherent report about a news event.  In 1975, they spent many hours together at the Liwayway Press in Sta. Cruz, Manila, putting their heads on their arms trying to doze despite the noise of the typewriters and linotype machines, babysitting the Collegian issue on its way to publication.

Chit became president of the UP Journalism Club in her senior year. By then she was also writing for the underground resistance press, including the Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas (BMP), Taliba ng Bayan, and the Liberation, using the nom de guerre “Ka Sandy.” She and fellow college writer Jack Peña (Bantayog hero, 2005), would steal a few days away from their classes at the university to pursue assignments for these underground publications. These publications became vital channels of information as well as independent opinion to a Filipino public hungry for real and objective news.

Upon graduation from college in 1979, Chit tried to find a job with Marcos crony-controlled publications. However, she kept getting rejected because her human-rights and protest-action stories were frequently unflattering to the government. Chit then wrote articles for anti-dictatorship publications under the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) of the CBCP. She also found a job writing for the Pahayagang Malaya, known as an independent newspaper that was part of the so-called mosquito press. Malaya was published by the fearless Jose Burgos (Bantayog, 2004), with Chuchay Fernandez as editor-in-chief, and included staff writers Ellen Tordesillas and Joel Paredes. Chit also later wrote for other critical publications, such as the Mr. and Ms, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Even as she worked with what by-then were open publications, she continued to contribute articles to the underground publications. Her particular assignment was to handle the news section of Liberation, called “Sparks.” She barely escaped being arrested on one occasion in 1982.

The hazards of her work as a journalist during martial-law is described by fellow journalist Ceres P. Doyo, in a 2011 article:

“The year was 1979. Chit and I were together, when (maybe a dozen armed men) in civilian clothes seized us along Kamagong street in Makati. I was driving, and my car was loaded with ‘subversive’ booklets we had just picked up from the press that night. The publication was titled Iron Hand, Velvet Glove, a report on the military abuses under the Marcos dictatorship … We were being taken to Camp Crame, where we could be detained for who knew how long. We refused to go. The ASSO (arrest-seize-and-seizure order) they carried was for (another person). We insisted that we drive back to the press, where we … bluffed our way … until the NASSA executive secretary Fr. Ralph Salazar and Sr. Christine Tan, RGS (Bantayog, 2003), came to our rescue.”

Chit became friends with many journalists critical of the Marcos dictatorship. She was part of a core group of newspaper journalists who sought to help other journalists understand the realities of life under dictatorship. She also became a union leader in the media institutions she worked for.

Another part of Chit’s character showed in her rejection of pay money, believing that accepting gifts and bribes compromised one’s objectivity and independence. Colleagues considered her a compassionate, but principled and straight-as-an-arrow journalist, who chose the hard choices because it was what it meant to be committed to the truth.

After the dictatorship was dismantled, Chit wrote for the Manila Times and later was editor-in-chief of the groundbreaking workers’ paper, Pinoy Times. She helped put up the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the Vera Files, often writing articles about human rights concerns.  She also taught at her own alma mater, the College of Mass Communication at the UP Diliman, from 2001 until her death in 2011.

Circumstances of death

She died in an accident in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City, when her taxi was hit by two speeding buses.

Impact of death

Upon her untimely death, friends and media colleagues offered many warm tributes and testimonials about her life and work.  “Her whole brave life was dedicated to the service of her country through journalism,” said one.

Chit “belonged to that risk-taking, fiercely independent, and assertive brand of young women … whose mightly pens pierced the dictatorship and contributed to its downfall,” wrote columnist Filomeno Sta. Ana III in his column for the Business World.

UP journalism professor Yvonne T. Chua described Chit as an “indefatigable union leader, arguing quietly but firmly for the rights of employees.” Then House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. also sponsored a resolution in the House of Representatives expressing the House’s “profound condolence” at her death, calling her a patriot, journalist and educator. Similarly the Quezon City Sangguniang Panglunsod approved a resolution expressing the city’s condolences to the family and acknowledging her contribution “as one of the country’s premier academicians and journalists.”

A collection of her best writings was published in 2012 by the Center for Empowerment and Governance (CenPEG), titled Chit Estella Reader on Media Ethics, Peoples’ Issues and Governance. The UP College of Mass Communication has created an annual Chit Estella Simbulan Journalism Research Award, as well as, this time with Vera Files, an annual Chit Estella Simbulan Memorial Award for Best Investigative Reporting on Human Rights.

Born                August 19, 1957 in Quezon City

Died                May 13, 2011 in Quezon City

Parents           Atty. Elijio Edarad Estella and Antonia Mapala Panganiban

Spouse             Roland Guanlao Simbulan, no children

Education

Elementary     St. Joseph’s College

High School     St. Joseph’s College

College                        University of the Philippines, AB Journalism, 1979

Graduate          Open University, University of the Philippines, Master of Public Management

Studies

Sources:

Nomination letter by Prof. Roland Simbulan, Development Studies and Public Management, University of the Philippines

“Remembering the essential Chit Estella,” by Fides Lim

Office the Secretary, Quezon City

Bantayog nominees profile

Filomeno Sta. Ana III, Executive Director, Action for Economic Reforms, Business World columnist

Ceres P. Doyo, columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer