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Remembering ACJ

Rodney JalecoBy Rodney Jaleco

He would give “the stare”  head slightly angled, hair falling slightly on the forehead, one eye squinting a bit  to put us in our place. I imagined Angelo Castro Jr.  ACJ to the broadcast universe  may have practiced it while he still did movies with his compadres Joseph Estrada and the late Fernando Poe Jr.

ACJ passed last Maundy Thursday. He was 67. His son Diego said he died peacefully about an hour after he reportedly asked to be taken off life support.

I first met him  a fleeting and forgettable encounter — sometime in 1986 when ABS-CBN was just beginning to pick up the pieces after Marcos and I was looking for a job.  Over a decade would pass before the next meeting.

The Philippine broadcast industry just became a bit dimmer by the passing of this brilliant star. He represented a generation of broadcasters who delivered the news in a sober and deliberate manner. He respected news enough to demand they are always accurate, timely and objective.

ACJ bred a generation of journalists who have to be thankful because he didn’t help just anyone  you had to show him just how badly you wanted to learn.

All the top ABS-CBN News executives today were at one time or another, ACJ’s understudies.

One complaint I often heard from him about the new crop of reporters is how they opinionated they are.

I recall one reporter, who later turned to politics, who did a live report about an earthquake. He was obviously unprepared and it took just one seemingly trivial question from ACJ to unnerve him.

His report disintegrated on the face of a simple query because that reporter failed to grasp and understand what he was trying to dish out to the public. That evening, all the rookie ABS-CBN reporters received a valuable lesson  you never go on the air half-baked. And more importantly, the need to respect the news.

ACJ demanded perfection or its closest facsimile from everyone only because he applied the same, uncompromising standards on himself. He and Tina Monzon-Palma anchored “The World Tonight” the longest running English newscast in the Philippines.

I worked with him when he was called back from retirement in 1999 to take over his old job as head of the News Department. It was one of the most momentous chapters in the already storied history of ABS-CBN News.

The Estrada administration was falling apart  the President’s impeachment was cut short and thousands began gathering at the EDSA Shrine, angry at how Estrada allies in the Senate were hijacking the trial.

When ACJ brought a folding bed into his office, Danny Buenafe (who was News Director at the time) and I knew we were not going home anytime soon. We devised a plan to keep ABS-CBN News operating and on-air even if the station was overrun.

It was simple enough to disperse the OB vans and editing gadgets, but his biggest concern was the people’s safety  the news gathering staff, engineers and support personnel  especially after a mob burned one of ABS-CBN’s ENG vans.

He was a stern disciplinarian. He nurtured an image of machismo but partly because my job occasionally entailed disciplining erring personnel, I knew from personal experience that ACJ was a marshmallow at heart  only I didn’t dare let him know that I knew.

He was a hero for many in the newsroom. He was certainly mine. Goodnight and Mabuhay ka ACJ!

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