"This was an editor’s editor."
In the language of journalism, “to write ‘30’” means a member of the Fourth Estate has passed away.
This was what editor Enrique “Pocholo” Romualdez did last week—write ‘30.’ The outpouring of sadness and admiration for the man by his people at the Malaya publications and the former Philippine Daily Express came like a torrent, as if the man were God.
Pocholo as he was known to his staff had a reputation as a terrorist in the newsroom yet he commanded respect as the editor’s editor. He was more a master mentor’s mentor. Under his tutelage, many of the leading figures in the Philippine newspaper profession learned the basic tenets of journalism—accuracy, truth, fairness , spelling and grammar.
At his wake last Monday at the Magallanes parish church, the key members of his staff spoke lengthily about how Pocholo tore into their copy and red-penciled them like flower-like. Those he found beyond redemption he threw into the wastebasket with epithets from his booming voice that filled the Daily Express newsroom. His staff at the Malaya said Poch had mellowed from a grizzly to a teddy bear.
There are actually two sides to Pocholo Romualdez. One was the newsroom terror whose mere presence journalists cowered and shuddered from when they were the subject of his ire. He had zero tolerance for incompetence and yet was a gentle soul who pointed out another editor or reporter’s negligence in his copy. Pocholo was the quintessential editor which was why would-be journalists admired him and acknowledge that they turned out to be better because of him—thanks to the man who was a fountainhead of knowledge.
Pocholo Romualdez studied journalism at Northwestern University in Illinois. His knowledge of things and events encompassed subjects from American Major League Baseball to classical music.
I will not add to the glowing words delivered at his wake. I will, however, cite instances of his knowledge outside the newsroom where he was a legend. One time, we were watching a musical show on Broadway—something he enjoyed during breaks in his job as a member of the Philippine delegation every year during the United Nations General Assembly. During the intermission, piped in music was played. An elderly couple beside us were trying to place the title of music being played. Pocholo could not help himself and identified Mozart’s symphony, including the stanza, etc. The American couple were amazed and said “that’s it, that’s it. How did you know and where are you from?”
“From a small country called the Philippines which you used to own” was something I would have said. Mercifully, the curtains were raised, signaling that the play was about to resume and the time for talking was over.
Poch and I spent a lot of time together in New York. His people at the Daily Express and the Malaya attested that he was also a horseracing aficionado. On weekends when he was free from his duties as Philippine delegation member, Poch hied off to either the Aqueduct or Belmont to bet on the ponies. He never asked anyone even me to provide him with a car and driver which I could have easily done. Instead he took the train from Manhattan to the two racing venues.
That was the kind of man he was. He did not want to impose. Yet when he won at the races, you would know. He treated me and other friends at the Philippine Mission to the UN and the Philippine consulate to sumptuous lunches at the Philippine Center Maharlika restaurant.
Pocholo Romualdez had a zest for life. He also loved to eat – he certainly knew good food. At the Philippine Center in New York, the labor attaché Efren Cristobal, the brother of presidential speechwriter Adrian Cristobal, was a big man with an equally big appetite. One day the question came up: Who could eat more, Efren or Pocholo? The regulars at the restaurant decided to pit Pocholo and Efren against each other.
To make a long story short, Efren quit and Pocholo, who looked like he could continue on to dinner, asked: “OK what’s for dessert?”
Pocholo, as his editorial staff said, was an editor’s editor. I would not be surprised if up there he would edit the Ten Commandments as written on a rock tablet.