By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
I will remember where I was when I learned we lost Dolphy.
The big story that day was the extreme traffic wrought by keeping the Metro Manila buses along one lane of EDSA. Our van was at a concrete island on the turn to Quezon Avenue from EDSA.
After we aired a live report for TV Patrol, the news desk told us to stay put while deciding if we would do another for the 11 p.m. newscast.
It was nearly 9 and raining. A crew mate and I were already settling down from dinner, shut in our crew cab.
The desk editor on duty called. “Who’s on standby at Makati Med?”
I gave the name. “Okay. You get ready too,” he said, and hanged up. I called our guy at Makati Medical Center.
“Nag-tweet na si Ruffa,” he said. “Nag-aabangan na dito.”
We read Ruffa Gutierrez’s post via a workmate’s Blackberry: “R.I.P Ninong Dolphy.”
The Net was already abuzz, but no one was yet confirming it.
Commentators on DZMM radio were still bantering about the traffic, cryptically telling listeners who texted queries, “Please wait. We still don’t know.”
By then, we were told to pack up, pick up some hardware at the base, and proceed to Makati Med. Another crew watching traffic elsewhere in EDSA was diverted there too.
The TV news break greeted us when we got to ABS-CBN. Dolphy’s partner, Zsa Zsa Padilla, confirmed that Dolphy had indeed passed away.
And just like that, our headlines quickly shifted gears from commuting to the loss of a showbiz great.
For us in the media who kept tabs on the Comedy King’s condition for nearly a month, this moment was only a matter of time.
But there was no predicting the reactions and emotions we would cover once that moment came.
The nearly-24/7 lookouts at Makati Med began when the Quizon family announced on June 20 that their patriarch was critically battling Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Live updates from reporters and anchors were gap-one stories on every newscast then. Loved ones and personalities who came to visit were not spared interviews.
Segments aired reviewing Dolphy’s last interviews and detailing memories of people he knew and touched.
TV ENG crews automatically spent graveyard shifts there. Only when rains and more pressing stories called for live vans were they pulled out. But after sign-off, they would always to return to the parking lots near Makati Med.
It’s no new thing. Back in 2009, TV news vans also kept guard for over a month at Makati Med after former President Corazon Aquino was confined for her worsening colon cancer.
As July came, the coverage gave way to optimistic stories on Dolphy’s improving health.
But some we talked to, like the owner of nearby eatery whose husband also died of COPD, said people with Dolphy’s illness would rally first before taking a final turn for the worse.
Dolphy’s death was confirmed with text messages or short phone calls from his immediate family. But the media people outside Makati Med waited for someone to come out and say that to the cameras.
Covering was difficult at times for some, especially long-timers in the entertainment press who grew close to Dolphy and the Quizons.
One who came on short notice that night carried a worried look, one I also saw on him the morning after June 20.
While their access was an asset to their news desks, it was emotionally challenging for these reporters to deliver up-close-and-personal stories on a person who had treated them like family. Still, the task was theirs.
The live updates went to the general assignment reporters.
Along with the long-prepared obituaries, the late-night newscasts headlined the reactions of celebrities who arrived at Makati Med as well as reactions on the Internet. No more mention of the day’s traffic problem.
Even Boy Abunda led in Bandila’s showbiz segments (with an interview to boot) live from outside the hospital.
On our end, we ran man-on-the-street sound bites for Jacque Manabat’s short report on Dolphy fans who flocked there.
Still, the news shows had nothing else to insert but live shots of news crews and nosy passersby.
Cameramen and technical producers soon scoured the area for car exits after learning that a hearse was parked outside one. A TV crew had already caught on cam a casket being carried inside the car. Next, Quizon family members were seen leaving that exit.
As cameras trained on the black hearse, crews at the front entrance massed toward the door when Eric Quizon went out and read from his iPad:
“My father Dolphy left at 8:34 p.m. following a cardiac arrest.”
The microphones, handsets, and recorders huddled close to his head. A mic got too close, covering Eric’s tablet screen. He lifted a hand to shove it off.
At midnight, it was the family’s first official word.
“In his honor, please smile at the person standing next to you,” Eric ended. “Heaven is a happier place with him there, and for us whom he’s left behind, comedy is dead, but long live comedy.”
He quickly got back in, and no one bothered to ask a follow-up.
We played back the entire statement at the news van for an already-overtime Bandila.
Once the hearse at the back finally left, reporters and crews were packing up to join their colleagues at the hearse’s destination—Heritage Park in Taguig.
There, our teams would spend the overnight outside its gates waiting for permission to be let in. We only got it by afternoon the next day.
By then, Dolphy’s remains were brought to his two “homes” in Parañaque and at the eponymous Dolphy Theater in the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center.
The TV networks had long devoted airtime in retrospect to Dolphy’s legacy in the past month, to the point that some viewers were decrying the coverage for already “killing” the man. The likely intention was to evoke honor while the man was still alive.
More tributes would come in the five days after this night, as the nation poured out a final farewell to its King of Comedy.