Late journo still coming up with gripping tales – for kids

THE CHIT WE KNOW: The author, Chit Estella, and her much-awaited children’s stories (right) to be launched on Thursday. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS)

MANILA, Philippines — She was best known for her “Pinoy Times” investigative pieces that exposed the excesses of then-President Joseph Estrada, scandals that led to his ouster in 2001. Now, 10 years after her death in a road accident, journalist and professor Chit Estella’s lighter side comes to light with the children’s book, “Tatlong Kuwento Para sa Batang Pilipino.”

The book will be launched online on Aug. 19, when Estella would have turned 64, according to her husband, University of the Philippines (UP) professor Roland Simbulan.

“I thought of commemorating her untimely demise by having her stories published in a book,” Simbulan said. The stories actually have “very timely lessons even for us adults.”

But Simbulan and Estella’s close friends and former colleagues at the media group Vera Files thought it would be “more appropriate to launch the book on a happy occasion” — on her birthday instead of on her death anniversary on May 13.

“The Chit I knew would have preferred it that way,” he said.

Lockdown surprises

He didn’t get to read the stories which were written in the late 1990s and were given as individual gifts to two of Estella’s nephews and a niece, Simbulan said. But last year’s long lockdown brought a few surprises, including a hard copy of the stories that he discovered among Estella’s papers.

The three stories — “Ang Batang Matapang at ang Multong Duwag,” “Ang mga Mandirigma,” and “The Invisible Boy” — take young readers to a fantastical world, where ghosts mix freely with children, “manananggal” (ghouls), otherworldly creatures, and bird warriors defending their turf. The characters include Mona Nanggal, whose stench drives away fireflies, the cowardly ghost Igmo, and four school friends with unusual gifts.

“I think she chose the underworld and mythical creatures in her stories because these are very much a part of who we are as Filipinos and as human beings. We are deeply in our folk culture and a deep spirituality that we impart to our children,” Simbulan said.

Guile, grit, goodness

The heroes and role models in the stories show how “Filipino children must be nurtured with basic values that make us more humane and compassionate. These values include truth-seeking and truth-telling,” Simbulan said. And while stories like these “keep us believing in mythical creatures that may guide our lives for better or for worse, our liberation from any oppression is really in our hands,” he said.

The stories, with their young characters resolving conflicts using guile, grit, and goodness, “run deep [but are told] in a calm and deliberate manner. They make you think,” Vera Files president and fellow journalist Ellen Tordesillas said in her foreword. So while she was surprised by Estella’s distinctly different output, “I realized that was Chit all over again,” she added.

Simbulan, who is vice chair of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a public policy think tank, continues to teach and do research and scholarly work, while also giving lectures in national and international webinars organized by the government, the academe, and civil society. He has since remarried.

“Chit’s sudden departure was life-changing for me,” he said. “We had so many plans considering that we were about to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in 2011. At first, there was a sense of denial in me, but a psychic whom a friend of Chit’s brought to me said I had to move on, be productive again. This is how Chit would have wanted it.”

For Simbulan, Estella’s greatest legacy is “the benchmark and standard in media ethics and professionalism that she set out for herself. She truly belonged to that rare breed of writers who lived by their progressive principles and who stood for truth and social transformation. Always inquisitive and with a critical mind, she was receptive to new ideas. An investigative sense truly molded her writings.”

Estella died instantly when the cab she was riding was rammed by two buses racing along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. She was then on her way to meet friends at the Technohub just across UP Diliman, where she taught journalism at the College of Mass Communication. Ten years after the fatal accident, no one has yet been held accountable. The pandemic has shut down the courts and delayed the hearings further, according to the family counsel, Arno Sanidad.

Greatest legacy

In 2012, the first Chit Estella Journalism Awards and Memorial Lecture was established. It aims to honor significant journalism on human rights, both in print and online publications. In 2015, Vera Files launched the Chit Estella Road Safety Journalism Award given to journalism or communication students with outstanding research papers or reports on road safety.

Estella-Simbulan’s name was also inscribed in November 2016 on the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Memorial Wall, a shrine that celebrates individuals who “defied risks and dedicated their life for the cause of truth, justice, peace and freedom for the Filipino people” during the Marcos dictatorship.

“Tatlong Kuwento Para sa Batang Pilipino” will be launched at 2 p.m. via Zoom on Aug. 19. The book is now available at Popular Bookstore on Morato Avenue in Quezon City (tel. 83722162) and the PGX Free Trade Market on Anonas Extension, Sikatuna Village, Quezon City (tel. 85160324).