For many years, alone with his editor while already in his 50s, and with one junior reporter when he was pushing 70, Fred C. Espinoza filled the pages of the business section with his somber pieces on investment climates, emerging markets, and business developments.
By Kevin A. Lagunda and Karlon N. Rama
AVID readers of Sun.Star’s business section from 1982 up to the year 2001 could not have missed Fred C. Espinoza’s bylines and articles. His name and stories came out day in and day out, like clockwork.
“You could rely on him because he was seldom absent from work and never ran out of stories. News sources used to call him and give him leads,” recalls Marites Villamor-Ilano editor of the paper’s business section from 1992 to 1997.
“He was the one who showed me around. He brought me to the Department of Trade and Industry, and introduced me to the chamber presidents,” adds Cherry Ann T. Lim, who took over the page until she became managing editor of the entire paper in 2005, four years after Pops had retired at 73. “At that time I took over, it was the height of the Asian Financial Crisis.”
Pops wrote 30 at a local hospital, Sunday, April 28, 2019, following confinement for a pulmonary-related ailment. He was laid to rest at the Queen City Memorial Gardens on May 5.
The veteran journalist, husband, and father of 11, was 91 and had spent the last 17 years in quiet retirement.
For many years, alone with his editor, and with one junior reporter sometime thereafter, “Pops” — the newsroom’s term of endearment for FCE — filled the pages of the business section with his somber pieces on investment climates, emerging markets, and business developments, all written in a language readers could understand.
“The common feeling was that ‘the stakes are simply too high’, taking into account their children’s future; that they could no longer afford to remain passive,” he once wrote, reporting a meeting of doctors concerned about fellows leaving the practice to work as nurses in the US.
Simple, elegant, and somber writing of a story so easy to sensationalize into lazy drivel: ‘doctors leaving patients to die in pursuit of higher-paying jobs as nurses abroad.’
In many ways, the writing mirrored the man: always neatly-dressed in pressed collared shirts, slacks, and leather shoes, with his signature beret and man-bag. All in perfect contrast to the rough-and-tumble ways of younger, more rash counterparts.
“After leaving Sun.Star, Daddy stayed in Cebu,” says eldest daughter Emerita “Emy” Fumagalli. “He kept himself occupied by playing chess. He taught his grandchildren how to play and then played with them after school and during the weekends.”
He spent most of his time with his grandchildren. And if they weren’t around, he’d sneak off — beret, man-bag, and all — to a local mall to play chess and then come home with groceries, a nod to the earlier years of him always coming home from work with a pack of hot bread.
Years later, when the grandchildren all went off to college and Pops was considerably slower on his feet, he moved in with one of his children in Tanjay, Negros Oriental.
“We’d visit regularly, all of us together in the same place. That was when he was most happy, when we’re all together in the same place,” Emy says.
“Daddy was such a patient and courageous man. He had a big heart and was such a hero to the family,” another daughter, Milagros “Chuchi” Tfesemalli, joins in.
In many ways, the writing — simple, elegant, somber — mirrored the man: always neatly-dressed in pressed collared shirts, slacks, and leather shoes, with his signature beret and man-bag. All in perfect contrast to the rough-and-tumble ways of younger, more rash counterparts.
“He was fatherly,” reflects Ilano, who worked with Pops from the time she joined paper in 1992 until 1997.
Pops was a Sun.Star pioneer but didn’t start out as a journalist. He was into advertising and worked at the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency in Manila as a young man.
His first venture in journalism came later and in the broadcast industry. He worked at radio dyHF in Iloilo City and then managed radios dyVL and dyMF in Tacloban city, where he was also a newscaster.
When he returned to Cebu, Emy said her father freelanced for the Philippine News Agency and the Visayas Observer and was looking forward to retirement when, in 1981, personal tragedy struck — the death of his wife.
“It was very difficult for us when mommy died. Daddy felt lost and, for a short while, he wasn’t really motivated to doing anything. But he had to support all of us, so he went back to work,” Emy remembers.
Work meant joining Sun.Star, then newly-founded, in 1982.
It was at this point, fellow reporter Elias O. Baquero recalls, that he and Pops met. It would be a friendship that lasted decades.
“Family comes first,” Baquero recounts Pops often saying. At the time he joined Sun.Star, Pops had 11 children — four in our barely out of college and the rest in either high school or elementary — to raise alone. He never remarried.
The children — Noel, Alfredo Jr., Emile, Emy, Marcelina Guerra, Ma. Socorro Marchefini, Carmel, Ma. Victoria Martelino, Chuchi, Ma. Carmen Cadampog and Emily Mercedes Aguilar — all have thriving families now. One grandchild is studying communication.
“We tried to help. Me and two of my brothers formed a show band and later went to Manila and toured abroad. We sent what we could to help out. But it was still all daddy keeping things together,” she says.
Emy said Pops wasn’t the type to ask for help when things got difficult financially. So, sometimes, he juggled one or two jobs on top of his reporting work.
“He would accept jobs like doing market research, or write or edit proposals for businesses on his free time,” she recalls.
As a Sun.Star reporter, Pops toured the beats — including City Hall, where he earned the ire of the mayor who felt alluded to by a blind item he wrote, and got named in a libel suit filed by an architect over a corruption story on the construction of the City Central School, which later partially collapsed — before finally settling in to the business section, where he became contributing editor.
And in a culture where the seniors are expected to teach the tenderfoot, Pops didn’t disappoint.
“Sa among group of business reporters, siya among mora’g Papa or Lolo,” Ilano remembers. “He mentored me and other younger reporters, gave insights, helped us analyze business developments in Cebu, and helped us reach sources in the business community.”
“Even at his advanced age na at the time, he did not lose the drive to go after and write a good business story. He continued to cover events in the business community. Even after I left Sun.Star in 1997 to join another publication, he continued to write stories and his column,” she recalls.
“He wrote extensively about businesses affected by the financial crisis like the seaweed industry and furniture exports,” adds Lim for her part.
“Sa among group of business reporters, siya among mora’g Papa or Lolo,” Ilano recalls. “He mentored me and other younger reporters, gave insights, helped us analyze business developments in Cebu, and helped us reach sources in the business community.” — Marites A. Villamor-Ilano
But it was, Lim narrates, Pops’s work ethic that left a lasting impression.
“He never refused an assignment and you didn’t need to follow up and ask him where is his story. He never made excuses about not having anything to submit,” Lim recounts.
“He showed up to his coverages on time and met his deadlines. In fact, I don’t remember him ever missing a deadline. And he was already in his 70s then, writing both news and his column,” she adds.
With Espinoza’s passing, Ilano says his legacy in journalism lives on in journalists who he influenced and who, in turn, are influencing others.
“There are young journalists who do old-school reporting in this digital age, pore over government records in search of information that is not volunteered by news sources, shun pack reporting, and are not daunted by elusive news sources,” Ilano observes.
Then there is Pops’s direct contribution to the wider business community.
“He never refused an assignment and you didn’t need to follow up and ask him where is his story. He never made excuses about not having anything to submit,” — Cherry Ann T. Lim
At his wake, messages of bereavement and offerings of condolences poured from recognized names in Cebu’s business community, as well as past officials of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Elder and younger daughter Emy and Chuchi say they are touched by how fellow journalists and news sources alike fondly remember Pops.
“Daddy always said that when you work, you should give it your all because the results mirror who you are,” Emy recalls, explaining why Pops seemed so driven.
“I might not have wealth to give you but I can leave you my good name,” she recalls him saying. With a report from Elias O. Baquero