Letty, as she was called by many, was a “military brat,” a tag that referred to military officers’ children who grew up in a military environment. But Letty was far from being a brat in the real sense of the word. She grew up in a comfortable home, was a thoughtful eldest sister to eight siblings and a cherished friend to many. As a journalist and editor in chief for many years, she was a friend and mentor who encouraged daring journalism that she herself practiced. To the young journalists and colleagues at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, she was plain LJM, the boss who cared and dared.
Letty was, first and foremost, a caring mother and wife who maintained a warm, comfortable home despite her late hours in the newsroom. Proof of her mothering skills are her three accomplished and equally caring children who are devoted practitioners in their chosen fields.Letty was a deeply spiritual and religious person and she did not hide where her faith was anchored.
History of political involvement
Letty was on the staff of the Philippine Panorama, the Sunday magazine of the Bulletin Today when Pres. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Not long after, Letty became the magazine’s editor. Slowly and quietly, she transformed the magazine into a medium where crucial political and social issues could be aired even while she maintained the magazine’s light Sunday tone. She had a knack for this mix. Never the “grim and determined” kind of journalist who went about with rage and a long face, Letty was known for her sense of “fun and freedom”—a phrase she loved to use—that gave lightness to the gravity of her work and responsibilities. Her infectious, guttural laugh was an indication of this.
Letty did not however take lightly the happenings on the national scene. She wrote about what she heard, felt and saw during those dark martial law years under the Marcos dictatorship. As Panorama editor she published stories critical of the Marcos dictatorship and about the abuses of the military. She defended her writers. She herself wrote damning, sarcastic pieces in her magazine column “Sundays.” One day, the dictator just had about enough of them and made moves that led to Letty’s forced resignation. Her case became a cause célèbre in the already embattled media community.
Many journalists had already been thrown into jail, and the so-called alternative press and the sub rosa mosquito press were under threat of being raided. The threats were real as in the case of We Forum. Journalists who continued to fight openly with the pen were an endangered species.
Although Letty was not one to call attention to herself and her case, she became a sought-after speaker in forums on press freedom. Her case has been written about in several books.
For some time after her forced resignation from Panorama, Letty receded into the background. She wrote occasional columns (“Letters from Letty”) for Mr. & Ms. magazine, a family and entertainment-oriented publication which featured respected opinion writers who wrote biting articles on the national situation.
When former senator and US exile Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated upon his arrival at the Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983, a groundswell of protest began. Mr.& Ms. publisher-editor Eugenia D. Apostol pulled in Letty to edit the weekly Mr.& Ms. Special Edition which focused mainly on the anti-Marcos protests and the investigation of the Aquino assassination. Again, Letty used her innate editorial sense (fun, freedom and daring) to come out with a feisty magazine that roared. In every sense, Mr.& Ms.Special Edition was a case of the “alternative” becoming mainstream. With Letty in charge, it sold like hotcakes.
Letty was not a street protestor. Her domain was the editorial room. But she knew of the excesses of martial rule. Her own first cousin, Leticia “Tish” Pascual, was among the desaparecidos of martial law, killed by Marcos forces and never found. Pascual is on the Bantayog ng mga Bayani’s roster of heroes and martyrs. Just as Letty is now.
In December 1984, when the ailing Marcos announced the holding of the so-called snap elections that he thought would further entrench him in power, Apostol, along with Letty and several others founded the Philippine Daily Inquirer. No doubt the paper, along with other bold and daring alternative media groups, contributed to the rise of People Power and the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship on Feb. 25, 1986.
Letty became the Sunday Inquirer’s first editor, a post she held for about three years. Then she did column writing (“Leavings”) for the Inquirer. In the mid-1990s, Letty became the Inquirer’s editor in chief. The paper was then the leading national paper but Letty pushed it to higher level. The paper and its writers received awards after awards after awards. Exposes on corruption in government and investigative reports on society’s hidden rot were published despite threats—legal and physical. But Letty also continued to give readers great reads with feel-good stories that inspired. Letty herself received a string of awards, among them from Time Magazine and the University of Missouri, her alma mater. But awards were not something Letty basked in.Although far from shy, Letty shunned being in the limelight.
For Letty, journalism was not a career, a profession or a job. It was a vocation, a calling. And she thrived in the grace that came with it.
Circumstances of death and impact on the community
Letty died suddenly on Dec. 24, 2015 with her boots on. She was not well for some time but no one, not even her family and colleagues, expected her to go so suddenly. She was then at the helm of a very influential broadsheet with a multi-platform global reach. She was close to officially retiring perhaps, but when, only she was to decide. She died on Christmas Eve, leaving family members and media colleagues in shock and grief, her young media wards inconsolable.
An outpouring of praise and appreciation from many sectors and across social classes came in the wake of Letty’s passing. They mourned but they also came to celebrate her life. Always mentioned in the written and oral accolades heaped on Letty was her courage and daring during the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship, how she used the written word to challenge the dictatorship.
Shortly after Letty’s death, the Philippine Senate passed a resolution citing her for her contribution to the restoration of freedom in the Philippines. In 2016, the Philippine Daily Inquirer chose her 2015 Filipino of the Year, an award that goes back to 1994 and which Letty herself started. On Feb. 22, 2016, the Spirit of EDSA Foundation posthumously honored her as one of the fighters for freedom, justice and democracy. On the 30th anniversary celebration of EDSA People Power on Feb. 25, 2016, Pres. Benigno Aquino III posthumously conferred on her and Eugenia D. Apostol the People Power Award.
Born September 13, 1942, Cagayan de Oro City
Died December 24, 2015
Parents Col./Ambassador Nicanor Jimenez and Ma. Clara Vega
Siblings Eight (5 sisters and 3 brothers)Birth order: eldest
Spouse Carlos Magsanoc MD
Children Three (Ma. Jocelyn Kara M. Alikpala, journalist, early breast cancer detection advocate, founding president of ICan Serve;
Nikko Magsanoc MD and Martin Magsanoc MD)
Elementary St. Theresa’s College, Manila
High School St. Theresa’s College, Manila
College St. Theresa’s College, Manila
Post graduate University of Missouri
Master’s Degree in Journalism
Bantayog Profile Form
Nomination narrative written by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, friend
“The Silencing of Letty Magsanoc,” by Salvador P. Lopez, Mr. &Ms.Magazine , July 28, 1981
“The Letty Magsanoc Story,” by Leonor J. Aureus, Mr. & Ms. Magazine, Aug. 25, 1981
“President Marcos Talks About the Magsanoc Affair,” by Salvador P. Lopez, Mr. & Ms. Magazine, Oct. 8, 1981
“Women in Media,” by Letty Magsanoc
Philippine Press Under Siege, vols. 1 and 2
Panorama Magazines 1980
Philippine Daily Inquirer December 2015 to February 2016 issues
The Quiet Revolt of the Philippine Press by Marcelo Soriano
“You—we—have a cause worth fighting for,” by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dec. 28, 2015