To paraphrase John Stamos on the passing of Bob Saget, "It's hard to explain who Dong was to me personally without understanding that he's your Dong too."
When the news of his passing broke, those of us who knew him, well, broke too. His life and achievements have impacted so many people in a very deep and meaningful way, showing his genuine connection with all of us, across so many generations.
I first encountered him when I was a student in Ateneo, and he was my Broadcast Journalism professor. It was 1990, and the height of his TV show on GMA-7, Viewpoint. He had the same energy and delight going into class that we did, knowing that our professor was as well-known, as famous as he was.
Despite his hectic schedule, he took the time to really gather our opinions, to argue with us on current issues of the day, and to show each and every one of us that our viewpoints were valid. The class may even have been a workshop or an FGD for Viewpoint, who knows?
There were times I would take an opposing view, and after class, going down the stairs, we would continue the discussion and he would still be as fired up. He used to be a champion debater when he was a student, so ang sarap makipagbatuhan ng ideas.
We were also both members of ‘The Guidon,’ Ateneo’s College newspaper. I also appreciated that he would take time to share his thoughts and ideas, especially to a student like me.
I truly believe that without Dong, I would not be who I am today. We kept in touch after graduation. Dong, as my mentor, occupied a place of trust in my life, and I'd consult him on everything. He even helped me decide what I eventually ended up taking up for my Master’s Degree. Sabi niya, “Huwag ka na mag-Master’s sa Journ. Magaling ka na magsulat, alam mo na yun. Learn something you don’t know.” So I got my Master’s in Business Administration instead.
A few years later, while I was at the New York University taking up some communication classes, he emailed and asked if I was interested to go back to Manila. I was also in ABC News at that time, interning under Peter Jennings. Dong said he needed help with the news operations as they were restructuring ANC (at that time, it used to be called SNN - Sarimanok News Network).
He also shared that media should be used in the service of our kababayans for it to truly have value. So I said yes to my mentor and went home. This became the start of my ABS-CBN adventure. Under Dong, the ABS-CBN newsroom was professionalized and updated, allowing more people to pursue careers in journalism. He headed our Integrated News and Current Affairs for 7 years (1995-2000; 2003-2005).
As a side note, my husband, Nonong, would always say that he is grateful to Dong for having convinced me to come back to Manila. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have reunited and gotten married. And my boss became our Ninong Dong.
His presence in the fabric of Filipino media was so vivid. Dong would always break issues down masterfully yet engagingly on his shows. His death leaves a void, where there once was breathtaking activity; white noise where there once was deep and meaningful insight, and… humor.
Each person who knew him will have his or her own stories and memories.
I remember how he couldn’t finish his sentences if he started laughing halfway through. And he'd laugh about a lot of things. He shared with me how some people - - who would argue and fight in his office -- would literally start picking things up from his desk and throwing them at each other (staplers, tape dispensers, video tapes) and how he had to learn fancy, evasive moves to avoid getting hit. He was such a decent man, who really began professionalizing the newsroom and creating systems that allowed for fairness, for equity, and for ownership of our responsibilities as journalists.
He was a master of balancing egos (just like any TV network, ABS-CBN had a lot of egos)! He had talent, foresight and class. He was a national treasure, a source of delight and happiness to those he is survived by.
Like everyone who ever became a journalist, Dong was always seeking. Some seek the truth, others seek personal acclaim, others yet seek new ways to communicate. But Dong would seek meaning. Perhaps because his life was full of it. His family, his practice, his calling, and his career were cultivated like a garden patch of temperamental tomatoes. I would like to believe that he found meaning in being himself.
Upon his passing, there is a melancholic sense of imbalance. He gave us all so much -- and yet it is hard to say if we ever were able to give him the regard, respect, and value that he deserved -- no matter how much we loved him as a friend, colleague, and boss. I'd like to thank Tita Christy, Ricky, Donnie, Anna, Dong’s apos and his 11 siblings, for sharing Dong with us in the newsroom all those years. He kept late hours, like anyone in his position, and yet his family was always supportive of him. I know that behind any successful career is a strong family, and Dong was fortunate enough to have that with him all the days of his life.
To those he is survived by, Tita Christy, Ricky, Donnie, Anna and the Puno family, I send you my deepest condolences and most fervent prayers.
For the rest of us, the task now is to remember -- and delight in the picture of what and who he was, how and what he gave to all of us.
RVP, Ninong Dong, Atty. Ricardo V. Puno, Jr. -- rest in peace. Maraming maraming salamat sa lahat!
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.