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Newsmakers

From 13th Street to greater heights

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
From 13th Street to greater heights
The brand-new STAR building at the Amvel Business Park in Sucat, Parañaque.

For the Philippine STAR, founded by a lady who lived by her faith, 13 was never an unlucky number.

Before the STAR office’s big move to its very own “legacy” building in Sucat, Parañaque earlier this month, its home for 37 years was on 13th Street corner Railroad in Port Area, Manila. And from being the 23rd paper to hit the streets, the STAR rose to the top.

The main two-story building where the STAR was born was also once the home of the STAR! Monthly magazine, and the Fookien Times Philippines Yearbook.

The corner STAR office should indeed have a historical landmark marker, not only because it is over 50 years old, but also because it was a watchful witness to history, keeping the public informed truthfully amid political and natural crisis, an unwavering beacon. Oh, multitudes from Aparri to Jolo hung on to the paper for the latest and most reliable news and features.

The old lobby’s focal point was a spiral staircase symbolic of the paper’s aspirations. It also was a symbol of the paper’s founder, Betty Go-Belmonte, and her son, STAR president and CEO Miguel Belmonte’s, accessibility — despite the lofty post they held in the STAR. Everybody could ascend those steps to their offices — from the men at the printing press in their T-shirts, children needing help from Operation Damayan (the charity BGB founded) to senators, congressmen, holy men. They were given the most precious of gifts — time and attention.

In one of her editor’s notes in the pre-EDSA STAR! Monthly magazine, Betty Go-Belmonte, whose 29th year in heaven we marked this year, wrote: “While others call you people, we here at STAR! choose to call you stars. In other words, no matter your station in life, if you shine and give light to this world, you are a star.”

The new medium-rise STAR building on a 4,714-square meter lot in Sucat heralds the beginning of a new era: modern, forward-looking, savvy, employee friendly — with a café named the 13th Street café, no less.

The old STAR building in Port Area, Manila, its home for 37 years

When I told Miguel or “MGB” that his mother would have been very proud of the STAR’s big move, he said, “I believe Mom is. As my dad (former speaker Sonny Belmonte) told me years ago, we have taken STAR way beyond what Mom ever envisioned it to be.” Under Miguel’s leadership, the STAR group already built two brand-new buildings: for Freeman in Cebu some years back, and now for STAR.

According to STAR associate editor Marichu Villanueva in her column “Commonsense,” management considered the fact that a majority of STAR employees live in the south of the metro. There is a STAR Village in Laguna and according to the accounts of those who were the first to buy property there, BGB said they would have to pay P1,000 a month hulugan, but that she would give them all a P1,000-raise to pay to help them out. It was a gift wrapped in dignity, not a dole-out.  Miguel provided the employees a “school bus” or shuttle twice a day. When the south was under water, the school bus would be late, and the office would be half empty until the rains subsided.

“The choice of our new office site was actually based on the internal survey done by the management headed by our The STAR president and chief executive officer Miguel G. Belmonte – or MGB as we fondly address him. MGB wanted a site that would be ‘commuter-friendly’ to most STAR employees,” Marichu wrote.

***

I first entered the Port Area building in 1981, when I was an editorial assistant for STAR! Monthly magazine (now defunct), edited by BGB and published by her firstborn, Isaac. The entrance was actually to the side of the building, on 13th Street. The main entrance on Railroad Street (now R. Oca Street) led to the offices of a company called OTSI. On the corner of 13th and Railroad was the makeshift low table of a shoemaker to whom BGB offered a permanent job. The shoemaker declined and told BGB he wanted to be his own boss.

At first, assistant editor Marlu Villanueva (who recruited me) and I held “office” by BGB’s wide coffee table in her spacious office. We did our deskwork on her coffee table. She always had hot Ovaltine waiting for us, refillable anytime. Then we had our own cozy office with a circular desk by the entrance, across that of the Fookien Times Yearbook office. The coldest room in the house was the typesetter’s office, and their machines had these balls that whirred. The empty space in the middle of the office was where we had our daily 3 p.m. prayer meetings.

After being “seconded” to Malacañang in 1986, I returned to Port Area in 1992 and the STAR had grown so much as the country’s leading newspaper. We still had a round desk in the newsroom, with each editor having a seat around the table. BGB now held office on the second floor, and her office had partial glass walls, so she was visible to one and all. She still led prayer meetings outside her office.

And led by BGB, we would hold hands in the lobby of The STAR office and sing Amazing Grace, Si Kristo Lamang and Mansion Over the Hilltop.

There were cosmetic changes to the second floor after she died, and a major renovation a few years later as the STAR grew even more under MGB’s leadership.

My most memorable grand entrance to the Port Area office was when I was literally windswept by a gale from my car to the curbside and probably to the sea if not for the timely intervention of Nestor, another STAR employee from my STAR magazine days. My most explosive exit from a day’s work was when there was a huge fire near the office, there were explosions that seemed like those from firecrackers as my colleague Büm Tenorio Jr. and I waited for our ride. Bum was mesmerized by the dancing flames, I kid thee not.

My first job: With the STAR! Monthly staff: Raquel, Mila and Anita.

Presidents came a-calling. I remember being present for a dinner given for President Gloria Arroyo; when candidate Noynoy Aquino came with an ice cream cart for the employees; when he attended a STAR anniversary when he was already president; and when presidential bet Rodrigo Duterte came for lunch of, as per his request relayed to Edith Regalado, fried fish and monggo.

I know the new STAR Legacy building will be a treasure trove of news and memories again for STAR “troopers” — about 550 total, excluding the columnists and contributors.

I have yet to visit the new building but I have already noticed that Sucat is shining brighter these days with its new STAR.

 

 

(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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