By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Down-to-earth. Cool-headed. Simple. Soft-spoken. A coach. Role model. Inspiration. A newsman’s newsman.
These were how journalists and former co-workers saluted veteran reporter, editor, news director and press secretary Rodolfo “Rod” T. Reyes, who died on April 14 at the age of 80.
People who knew him in various capacities throughout a five-decade career that spanned print, broadcast and public media honored his impact as a daring investigative journalist.
But more so, they reminisced about Reyes’s unassuming and laid-back qualities in a relentless and tough profession.
At ABS-CBN, where Rod Reyes headed its news and public affairs division both before and after Martial Law, his former employees recalled how “RTR” (their monicker for him based on his initials) embodied the news organization’s slogan “malasakit”.
“Here was a small man with a soft voice who told us, ‘Good morning guys, I’m your new coach!’ I won’t forget that because it embodied RTR’s style of leadership,” recalled current ABS-CBN News chief Ging Reyes of their first time meeting her predecessor when he took over the reins of the back in 1990.
“The way he dealt with us in the newsroom in those days was very decent, very respectful. He was a most beloved news boss,” Ging Reyes said.
News employees rarely saw him angry nor heard harsh words from him.
“Often, we have had to strain our ears to hear what he was saying,” Fe Ramirez, who ran ABS-CBN’s documentary unit during Rod Reyes’s time, wrote in her tribute to him on Facebook.
“But such a superior was an inspiration. It would’ve been a shame if you had a boss that kind and yet you abused him by neglecting your duties.”
For former ABS-CBN reporter Arlyn Dela Cruz, RTR didn’t play favorites but rather trusted and supported his employees.
“He was vocal with his encouragement and never lacking in praise of a job well done, a story delivered, a coverage completed,” she wrote.
RTR himself went all the way for the success of any coverage. One of these was ABS-CBN’s “guerilla” coverage of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Manila in 1995, when the network was not the event’s official broadcaster.
“He engineered it even when we had zero access and most venues were closed to us. And we won the viewers in the process!” recalled ABS-CBN anchor Ces Drilon.
Loved his people, loved food
“Always hands on deck” was how ABS-CBN cameraman Val Cuenca described him. But RTR never forgot his people.
“During typhoons, he would get folding beds for the employees on duty. You wouldn’t go hungry too,” Cuenca said.
Others fondly remembered Rod Reyes’s love for food and their times eating with him.
“He didn’t drink much, but when he invited us out, it was always to eat,” said cameraman Jack Cangco. “He was fond of eating batchoy tagalog and sisig.”
Former ABS-CBN director Rolly Reyes wrote: “He (would) always invite us to cross the street and eat at Manay’s carinderia, especially during Fridays when it’s ‘mongo and fish’ day. Then he (would) invite me to eat every now and then where taxi drivers eat near Timog (Avenue) and order kare-kare, lechon kawali and dinuguan.”
Former ABS-CBN news reporter and exec Jing Magsaysay looked back on his nightly discussions with Reyes during their tour of the Philippines in preparation for the 1992 elections.
“RTR and I would sit at dinner (oh how he loved to eat) and talk about the developing digital technologies that was changing the way we did news. But at the same time, we talked about journalism and how it shouldn’t change.” Magsaysay wrote.
“He was gentle as he was fearless. A newsman’s newsman.”
“He always embraced change,” said Ging Reyes. “He was already old when he became our news boss, but he never stuck to the traditional. He would always try to find new ways of covering stories,”
“We were so, so lucky to have him,” wrote former ABS-CBN anchor Pia Hontiveros.
Journalists who didn’t have a chance to work in a news organization with Reyes met him as the first press secretary of Presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada.
Malacañang Palace, where Reyes founded the Presidential News Desk, called him a ‘lifelong journalist’ in a statement.
“(Ramos and Estrada) recognized his ability to establish a strong foundation for the communication infrastructure of the presidency,” said Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma in an interview.
ABS-CBN’s Lynda Jumilla called Reyes “perhaps the nicest of all the press secretaries I’ve worked with.”
For journalist Inday Espina-Varona, Reyes was “a straight man in a corrupt administration.”
But other than being a news boss and a communications manager, Reyes also influenced future media practitioners.
Between heading news organizations in the 1960s, Reyes taught journalism at his alma mater the University of the Philippines at the then UP Institute of Mass Communication.
Tessa Jazmines, one of Reyes’s students, now also teaches at the college. She recalled Reyes sending them out on field assignments with actual reporters.
“For me he was the most exciting teacher. He brought us out of the ‘ivy-covered walls’ of the academe and let us find our way in the real world of the police beat. He always had a warm smile for everyone and made you feel you occupied special column centimeters of his heart,” she wrote on Facebook.
“He was our hero, a role model for all of us aspiring journalists.”
Jazmines and her classmates showed their admiration one semester by giving Reyes a specially-designed card.
To “the first teacher we journalism juniors ever gave a card to,” they wrote:
“We’d like to scoop you on something about yourself… You’re OK.”
A sentiment echoed all those years later by everyone Rod T. Reyes inspired.
(With interviews by Jing Castañeda)