Antonio M. Ajero: Davao’s journalism pillar as I know him

by Admin-Phmp

Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

I like – actually, love – writing. It was my English high school teacher who discovered my knack for it. Every time she gave an example of a topic for our formal theme, I wrote differently. Most of my classmates said that what I had written was wrong since it was not what our teacher had taught us.

But I wondered why my grades were higher compared to theirs. I asked our teacher about what my classmates had told me. She looked at me and never answered my question. Instead, she stood up and told the class: “You might be wondering why Henry’s score is higher than most of you is because he is, I think, a writer. That’s why he writes differently from most of you.”

I was already in college when I started contributing for some publications in Manila: Mod, Woman’s Home Companion, Expressweek, Focus, Philippine Panorama, Philippines Graphic, Philippine Free Press, Greenfields, and Mr. & Ms. My by-line also appeared in such newspapers like Philippine Daily Inquirer, Bulletin Today, Manila Chronicle, and Manila Times.

I was already working as an information officer of the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur, when I decided to contribute some features for a Davao-based publication. I told our director about it, and he supported me.

So, I studied some of the local newspapers in Davao and handpicked Ang Peryodiko Dabaw (APD) . I sent off my write-ups through the post office. Although I already wrote for national publications, I had never seen my by-line in a local daily yet. I was ecstatic when they were published.

A few months later, I visited the APD office in Claveria. I had the opportunity of meeting some of the staff, including Stella Estremera, Nelson Bagaforo, Carmelito Francisco, and Lolito delos Reyes.

But the highlight of the said visit was finally meeting Antonio M. Ajero, whom local journalists called AMA (acronym for his whole names) and Daddy Cool. We talked for about ten minutes, and when he found out that I worked as an information officer of an agricultural training center, he told me: “Why don’t you write a regular agricultural column for our paper?”

That was how “Agribiz Jottings” was born. I told AMA, however, that I wanted to branch out – not just agricultural features. I wanted to write some in-depth features and a column, “As You Like It” (where I can write anything about science, travel, environment, and lifestyle). Without much ado, he agreed.

Months passed, and then it was already a year since I started writing for APD. I had visited the editorial office several times already. In one of my visits, he asked me whether I was interested in contributing my stories to the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA), which released a weekly dispatch to local newspapers all over the country.

“Some of the articles you have written can be used for DEPTHnews,” AMA said, referring to PFA’s dispatch. “If you are interested, here is the address where you can send your articles and news reports.”

Yes, it was through AMA that I was able to write for DEPTHnews. Some of the articles that I wrote won me an award from the annual Science and Technology Journalism Awards, an initiative of the Philippine Press Institute.

As part of APD – which later became Sun.Star Davao – I had the opportunity of attending journalism seminars sponsored by PFA. During a seminar on sustainable agriculture at Los Baños, Laguna, PFA head Juan Mercado asked me if I was interested in joining a training on food security in Bangkok, Thailand, which the UN Food and Agriculture Organization convened.

I was excited that I readily accepted the offer – even though I had not told AMA yet about it. So, when I returned to Davao, I talked with AMA about the invitation. He immediately supported the idea and signed my paper, allowing me to attend the training.

Several more years passed by. I had already won several journalism awards, including the Hall of Fame in science reporting and the Binhi’s countryside agricultural journalist from Philippine Agricultural Journalists, Inc.

In a visit that happened a few months after I was elevated to the science journalism’s hall of fame, AMA asked me if I heard about the Rotary Club of Journalism Awards. “That’s good,” he said. “Collect some of your published articles and features and send these to this address.”

I did what I was told. Then, a few months later, I received a telegram (yes, that was the fastest way of communicating in those days) from the Rotary Club of Manila’s secretariat congratulating me. I was not told which category I won, but I was invited to join the awarding ceremony, which would w3be held at Manila Hotel.

I went to the APD office to break the news to AMA. He was so happy about it and told me that he would attend the awarding ceremony.

Then, it happened. Edith Regalado was named journalist of the year from Mindanao while Noel Pangilinan was journalist of the year from Visayas. A lady from Baguio was adjudged journalist of the year from Luzon.

Conrado de Quiros was declared journalist of the year for print, Ces Drillon was journalist of the year for television, and DWIZ’s Siyasat Team for journalist of the year for radio.

I was already not feeling well at my table since my name was not yet called. My sister, Marilou, who sat beside me, wondered, too. So was my director, Jeff Palmer, who also attended the awarding ceremony.

AMA, who sat at another table, tried to get my attention. He was also questioning using his hand why I wasn’t called yet. I answered in a whisper; I didn’t know.

Then, host Dong Puno announced: “This year’s Top Journalist of the Year goes to a print journalist from Davao City: Mr. Henrylito D. Tacio.”

In 2018, I was in the United States visiting my sister, Marilou, who now lives in Florida. I was already half asleep when I received a text message: “Congratulations. You again won another award.”

The text message was from the secretariat of Bright Leaf Agricultural Journalism Awards. I was so happy, of course. But I cannot attend the awarding ceremony since it would happen two weeks before I will return to the Philippines. I asked if someone could attend on my behalf. The secretariat readily agreed to it.

Via text message, I told AMA about the situation. He hesitated at first. But it will be an all-expense paid trip, including hotel accommodation. Knowing that he obliged to my request. I told him the winners were not informed which category they won.

AMA was there sitting with other winners. Then, one by one, the winners were called. Again, he felt uneasy when my name was not called yet. “I thought you were just a nominee,” he told me later. “My trip was for nothing.”

Right after the intermission number, the host read the citation of the winner of Agricultural Story of the Year. Then, the host said: “This year’s agricultural story of the year goes to Henrylito D. Tacio.”

AMA stood immediately and went to the stage to receive the coveted trophy, the cash prize, and the iPod that went along with the award.

Some people close to AMA know that he was suffering from diabetes. He was diagnosed with such disease after the free annual examination that was offered by the University of Mindanao. He was then the station manager of DXMC, a radio station of the UM Broadcasting Network. This was in 1978.

“The first time, I was diagnosed to have a sugar level of 9 plus, I was simply given a list of things – food and drinks – to avoid. Actually, it was a list for people who have gout,” he recalled.

AMA followed the so-called “avoid list” and did brisk walking. The next time he had the annual exam, the numbers were down – chiefly sugar level and bad cholesterol.

When the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hit the country, AMA was just staying home as he was already a senior citizen. From time to time, he just texted me what he wanted me to write. Most of those requests were about profiles of some prominent Dabawenyos who are making a name for themselves.

Consider this request about a feature on Ben John Tamayo: “(He is) based in Dubai. His three movies won in Japan, Russia, and Turkey, where he won the best actor. Anyway, he has been waiting for us to contact him. Just interview him about his awards.

“One of his awards has been featured by the Entertainment Section of Philippine Star,” AMA continued, “a few months ago, and that was how I stumbled on his story. His group has continued producing guerrilla films and winning awards. Ikaw na ang bahala Lito.”

AMA is one of the few people in this world who called me Lito. Most people call me Henry. In his text messages, AMA never failed to send some inspirational thoughts and some “gossips.” He also inquired if those gossips were true. Mostly, my answers were: “I had no idea, sir.”

Early this year, I came to meet him again when I visited the office. I just said the usual “hi” to him. I talked with him for a few minutes, but that was all. I reminded him of answering the questions I sent to him for a feature story I would like to write. (He was not able to answer them.)

When I sent a text message greeting on his birthday last March 22, he answered: “Thank you. Unta maluoy ang Ginoo paaboton ko niya’g at least 85.”

On May 17, he sent me a text message that he and his friend, Serafin “Jun” Ledesma were arranging a trip for some Davao journalists to visit Malacanang in June before President Rodrigo R. Duterte would leave his presidential office. “We will ask Digos to give each of us a copy of the PRRD’s Legacy (achievements) and give us a 30-minute interview,” he wrote. (This never happened.)

Last June 2, I received a text message from his doctor telling me that AMA had malignant lung cancer. “(It’s) not a good type,” he said. “(It’s) fast and no cure; prognosis is poor.”

Three days later, I asked the doctor about AMA’s situation. “We haven’t seen each other lately,” he replied. “He had his follow-up check-ups with his doctors.”

Then, last Sunday, July 17, I learned through the Facebook post of his daughter, May Yamson Ajero, that AMA finally wrote 30: “My father… passed away peacefully in his sleep today. Please keep him and our family in your prayers.”

When I texted his doctor about AMA’s passing, he said, “So fast, now he’s gone. But the memories he left us will always be there. Rest in peace, Tony.”

Antionio Movera Ajero, chairman of the Board of Edge Davao Review Publishing, Inc. and Zion Accuprint Publishing Inc., publisher and editor-in-chief of Edge Davao, is now gone, but his legacy lives on. 

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