By Karlitos Brian Decena
Much has been said about the late Lourdes ‘Chit’ Estella Simbulan in the past few days, many of which have served to highlight her illustrious journalism career.
Yet for all her achievements, there was one thing most of the people she spent her life with remember best about Simbulan, who was “Ma’am Simbulan” to most of the students.
“She always smiled and always greeted you back when you greet her in the corridors,” said journalism student Jacques Jimeno, who was one of Ma’am Simbulan’s thesis advisees last semester.
As their adviser, she even pulled a trick on them – a memory of her that Jimeno counts as one of his favorites.
” I picked up our third draft from the Journ Department,” said Jimeno. “It had a tiny post-it stapled on top of it, and it had two boxes on top.”
“One box read: ‘Today is your lucky day,’ and the other: ‘Today is not your lucky day.’ The first box had a tick on it and below it she wrote, ‘OK for CD and hard copy.’”
He said, “I thought it was cute, and mainly I was just relieved we were done with the thesis.”
Journalism student Hans Dantes likewise recalled her “calm smile” and patience.
“She never got angry,” said Dantes, who took interpretative writing and journalism ethics under Ma’am Simbulan.
Ma’am Simbulan’s cheerful attitude also endeared her to students. Dantes recalled the time when he asked her to sign his Form 5. The encounter that was supposed to last a few seconds turned into a pleasantly lengthy conversation about his plans after graduation.
“(She was) professional as a journalist, but could also relate to students,” Dantes said.
Journalism professor Khrysta Rara called Simbulan a “peacemaker,” saying, “She always tried to see the good in the enemy.”.
Rara, who considered Simbulan her closest friend in the Journalism Department, recalled the things they enjoyed together: afternoon walks around the Academic Oval, halo-halo meriendas and even a visit to a fortune teller.
Journalists who once worked with Simbulan, more known in the newsroom as Chit, remembered both her dedication to her work and her placid nature.
“Beneath the gentle (character)… she has nerves of steel,” said columnist Ellen Tordesillas, who worked with Chit at VERA Files, a non-profit organization aimed at producing in-depth stories about issues in the country. Chit and Tordesillas were among the organization’s founders.
GMA News Online news editor Raffy Jimenez, meanwhile, said Chit was “soft-spoken and mother-like”.
“I think she’s quiet when she’s angry, because I’ve never seen her blow her top,” said Jimenez, who worked for seven years with the newspapers Chit edited: the Manila Times and Pinoy Times.
Jimenez witnessed Chit’s bravery when they fought for press freedom for the two newspapers.
In 1999, former president Joseph Estrada filed a P 101 million libel suit against the Manila Times for publishing a piece that called him the “unwitting ninong” of an anomalous government contract.
Despite pressure from Estrada and the Gokongweis who owned the newspaper, Chit still stood by the story. When the owners wrote an apology that appeared on the paper’s front page, Chit resigned from her post as managing editor. It was the painful decision to leave a paper she loved—along with her friends in it—that cemented Chit’s reputation as a truly principled journalist.
After her stint at the Manila Times, Chit became editor-in-chief of the Pinoy Times, a political tabloid in Filipino whichcontinued to be critical of Estrada. Though it only lasted two years due to financial problems, Jimenez, who had been one of the writers, said, “We always sought to report the truth despite all the risks involved.”
Simbulan’s cheerful yet brave attitude made her so beloved that when the news of her death broke, it saddened colleagues and students – even those who had never been in her classes.
“I never had the chance to be her student, but I admire her as a veteran journalist,” journalism student Kim Patria said. “She still serves as an inspiration for me, even if she was never my professor.”
Patria regrets not enrolling in any of her classes when she was still alive, but said he would certainly miss the only thing Ma’am Simbulan gave him every time they crossed paths within the campus.