By Severino C. Samonte

Remembering 5 old friends with the same first name 'Fred'

January 12, 2024, 3:32 pm

At the outset of the dragon-leap year 2024, instead of making new year resolutions like in the previous several years, I reminisced about many of the friends I have gathered since I started working as a journalist more than 55 years ago.

In that span of time, I also lost a number of friends, not because I no longer needed them as such or they no longer liked me, but due mostly to unavoidable circumstances such as deaths in the course of time.

Since the list of my friends has become quite long over the years, this column is limited to a recollection of the highlights of my close association to just five male journalist friends with the same first name Alfredo, or Fred, for short.

Four of them were from the defunct Philippine News Service (PNS), which used to have its editorial offices on the second floor of the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) building along Magallanes Drive in Intramuros, Manila.

I had just been assigned then by the PNS senior editors to assist the overnight deskman in-charge of the so-called "graveyard" shift from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following day.

Three of the four Freds at PNS came from Pangasinan province in Northern Luzon. They were Fred G. Rosario of San Carlos City; Fred G. Gabot of Binalonan; and Fred L. Mabalot of Alcala.

The fourth, Fred M. Roxas, was from Malolos, now one of the four cities of Bulacan province together with Meycauayan, San Jose del Monte, and Baliwag.

Their having similar first names made me wonder for a while if people with the name "Fred" were tailor-fit for becoming writers such as newspapermen, book authors, novelists, poets, and essayists.

The most senior among them was Rosario, who was already an editor at that time, having worked previously as deskman at the old Philippines Herald.

Roxas was covering the former First Philippine Constabulary Zone based at Camp Olivas in San Fernando, Pampanga.

On the other hand, Gabot covered the Department of Local Government and the then adjacent towns of San Juan, Mandaluyong and Makati, plus the entertainment beat.

Mabalot was taking care of the Education Department, Commission on Elections, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and special assignments, including the students spearheaded at that time by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) and the University of the Philippines Students Council.

My friendship with Fred M. Lobo of the Manila Bulletin began when we covered together the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the famed "Cry of Pugad Lawin" in Balintawak, Quezon City on Aug. 23, 1976. He was then on a regular coverage of the Department of Agriculture and other national government offices around the Elliptical Road in Quezon City.

PNS, by the way, was the first and only news-gathering agency in the Philippines, organized in 1950 by the eight major national newspapers in Manila, including the Manila Times-Daily Mirror, Philippines Herald, Evening News, Manila Chronicle, Fookien Times, Bagong Taliba, and Manila Bulletin.

After PNS ceased its 24-hour daily operations due to the imposition of martial law nationwide in September 1972 by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., it was replaced the following year (March 1, 1973) by the present Philippine News Agency (PNA) as the government's official wire news organization.

The replacement agency absorbed many of the PNS staff members, but many of them only stayed at PNA for a short while and transferred to other media outlets.

Among the four Freds of the former PNS, only Roxas chose to stay with PNA and became its regional bureau chief in Central Luzon, based in San Fernando, Pampanga.

Rosario was taken by then Secretary Blas F. Ople of the Department of Labor and Employment to head its Information and Publications Service, plus the Public Relations Section. He was appointed later as Philippine government labor ambassador to some countries in the Middle East as well as in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), notably Indonesia and Brunei.

Upon his retirement from government service, Rosario became a columnist and editorial consultant for a while in the restored Manila Times, upon the invitation of the newspaper's editor-in-chief, his namesake and long-time friend Fred Dela Rosa.

Rosario died on March 20, 2016 at age 87.

Roxas, who retired in 1999, migrated together with one of his children and family to the United States, where he died about four years ago.

From PNA, Gabot moved to the Manila Bulletin where he became a section editor. He also engaged in book writing and became president of the National Press Club of the Philippines from 1998 to 1999. He was also a former member of the Board of Regents of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila for two terms as well as one of the board directors of the Philippine Postal Corporation.

At present, Gabot is publishing a weekly newspaper for the Filipino community in the United States.

Mabalot, who first joined the staff of the Philippine Archipelago published by the erstwhile Bureau of National and Foreign Information (BNFI), also worked later at the Press Foundation of Asia, the Labor department, News Today, and People's Journal Tonight where he became one of its editorial writers. Every now and then, he writes feature articles and parts of his memoirs on Facebook.

When Fred Lobo was assigned by the Manila Bulletin editors as reporter to cover Malacañang during the time of Presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos, he often visited me at the Presidential News Desk (PND), when I was there as executive editor from 1993 to 1996. The PND was then located at the Kalayaan Hall of the Palace.

Aside from being a prolific writer and a world poet laureate, Lobo was also a college professor who taught at the University of the East in Manila and Caloocan City. He became NPC president for three consecutive terms (1995-1998) and head of the Confederation of Asean Journalists (CAJ) from 1998 to 2001.

Before his untimely death on June 13, 2022 at the age of 66, Lobo was writing a column titled "Punchline" in the Manila Bulletin.


About the Columnist

Image of Severino C. Samonte

He began his journalistic career by contributing to the Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines in the 1960’s. He was the night editor of the Philippine News Service when Martial Law was declared in September 1972. When the Philippine News Agency was organized in March 1973, he was named national news editor because of his news wire service experience.

He retired as executive news editor in 2003. He also served as executive editor of the Malacanang-based Presidential News Desk from 1993 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2008.