Remembering Tony Zumel

Antonio “Tony” Zumel – journalist and revolutionary leader – would have turned 75 last Aug. 10. Aug. 13, 2007 marks his sixth death anniversary.

Vol. VII, No. 27, August 12-18, 2007

Antonio “Tony” Zumel – journalist and revolutionary leader – would have turned 75 last Aug. 10. Aug. 13, 2007 marks his sixth death anniversary.

Known to his colleagues and many friends as Antumel or Manong, Zumel was born in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte – the second of six children. His father was a lawyer while his mother was a schoolteacher. The Zumels were a rather well-off family, mainly because of the father’s successful law practice; and Tony and his two brothers and three sisters were sent to the Holy Ghost Academy in Laoag.

The Zumel siblings were early on taught by their father – who had come from a poor family and had to work his way through law school – to eschew oppression. “Don’t allow other people to oppress you, but don’t oppress other people either,” their father often exhorted them.

They were likewise taught the virtues of honesty and integrity.

His father died when he had just finished grade school, and as he himself described in an article, “the family’s livelihood plummeted.”

The change in the family’s fortunes found the Zumel siblings having to vie for scholarships or work to be able to continue their studies. Tony enrolled at the Far Eastern University (FEU) High School and stayed with an aunt who was running a boarding house in Manila.

By 1949, even his aunt’s business was not doing well, and he was thinking of dropping out of school when he got a job as a copyboy at the Philippines Herald, where his uncle Salvador Peña was then personnel manager. He worked in the daytime and at night went to college at the Lyceum of the Philippines.

A journalist with integrity

From the Herald newsroom and a couple of books on journalism which he had bought, he learned many of the tricks of the trade.

After two years as a copyboy, he was promoted to the position of proofreader. He quit college at that point, believing that he had a good job already – which he thought was what people went to college for.

Two more years and he became a reporter, covering at first the police and military beats. Later on he would cover the court and political beats. In his article “Our People’s Interests Come First,” he recounted:

“There was so much temptation covering the political beats. Although I tried to keep my nose clean as my parents had preached, I was not totally free of the corruption that were (and still are, so I hear) a fact of life in these beats. Even so, I tried to be as impartial as I could in all my stories, and gained some reputation as an uncompromising reporter… I worked according to a simple rule of thumb: to be close enough to the sources of news to be able to get the news, but to keep some distance so that proximity or even affinity to them would not color my stories.”

In the mid-1960s, he was invited by Manila Daily Bulletin editor-in-chief Ben F. Rodriguez to join his staff. He did, and after a few years of covering various beats he was promoted to news editor.

As a journalist his respect for facts, for the written word, and for the honor of the journalist’s profession was legendary.

In an article on Tony, his former Herald colleague Nilo Mulles had this to say:

“He had the natural facility with English of one who was at home in the language long before he took to writing as a profession, in contrast with many who get by simply by stringing words together. Tony also had that eye for the neat turn of phrase. He was the only Herald staffer I knew who habitually consulted the newsroom dictionary in the course of writing his well thought-out stories. He would take the time to ruminate over the exact meanings and nuances of words, a habit I did not find among too many newsmen whose main drive was to get the story done and get out of the office as soon as possible.

“He had integrity as a writer. Great respect for facts shows in his work. He would never put anything in his story the truth of which he had not verified.”

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