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Philippine journalism loses a towering figure

"Yes, Gabino Tabuñar, you did it your way, and you did it very well."

 

 

Those two old sayings about the connection between virtue and human longevity—“Only the good die young” and “Mala hierba nunca muere (Bad grass never dies)”—were disproved anew two days ago with the passing of Gabino Tabuñar Jr. Gabby, as he was known to his countless colleagues and admirers, was 95 at the time of his passing.

At the time of his retirement from his journalistic profession, Gabby Tabuñar was bureau chief for Asia of the leading US news network CBS News. From his perch at CBS News, Mr. Tabuñar had an advantage that his Philippine colleagues did not have, to wit, direct and full access to the news and views gathered by the worldwide correspondents of that American news network. Gabby Tabuñar’s affiliation with a foreign news network qualified him to be a member of FOCAP (Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines). In due time, he was elected FOCAP president.

It is probably as head of the organization of foreign journalists assigned to the Philippines that Gabby Tabuñar is best remembered. The former CBS News man was a very courteous and highly likeable person, but once he called a FOCAP meeting to order, Gabby Tabuñar assumed the personality of a stern and order-minded manager.

The fact that Mr. Tabuñar was tall and looked very dignified helped a lot. When he conducted the question-and-answer segment of a FOCAP meeting—as he was invariably requested to—Gabby was polite, accommodating but to-the-point. The Q&A segments involving controversial FOCAP guests never gave rise to incidents when Gabby Tabuñar was in charge.

Although he could easily be mistaken for a Caucasian person—as I did when I first saw him—Gabby Tabuñar was every inch a Filipino, and he fiercely loved his country. In my conversations with him during the last three years, he conveyed sadness over the fact that real, on-the-ground Philippine sovereignty was being blatantly violated.

If children of military officers are often called military brats, Gabby Tabuñar could be called an education brat. He was very proud of the fact that his father was an educator. Born and brought up in La Union, Gabby traveled with his father to the educational institutions in the Philippines which the older Tabuñar was called upon to head. He had a deep yearning for the improvement of the public school system of this country.

Ninety-five years is a lot of history, and numerous friends and associates—myself included—tried persistently to convince Gabby Tabuñar to record his memoirs of his decades of experience as a journalist, which included interviews and private conversations with the leaders and high personages of the Philippines and other countries. After all, as a journalist he observed and reported the happenings in almost all post-World War II national administrations. But our efforts were unavailing and Gabby Tabuñar took all his knowledge with him to his final resting place.

Gabby Tabuñar will be sorely missed by many people. Chief among them will be the members of the club that he co-founded—the First Thursday Club, a group of current and former journalists who met regularly on the first Thursday of every month. He also will be missed by his fellow-music lovers; music was one of the abiding passions of someone who for 61 years was married to a coloratura soprano, the late Maitoni Equaras-Tabuñar.

As one of Gabby’s favorite Frank Sinatra songs declared: “I did it my way.” Yes, Gabino Tabuñar, you did it your way, and you did it very well. You ended up as a towering figure in Philippine journalism.

Topics: Rudy Romero , Philippine journalism , Gabino Tabuñar Jr.
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