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Farewell to a Friend and a Great Publisher

The final chapter on Nilo P. Aureus’ 70-year life story took on an abrupt end three days after Easter Sunday, when he succumbed to cancer. It was a long and arduous fight, albeit painful, that took him to Manila regularly for his treatment. The last time I spoke to him, as a matter of fact, was April last year when he was in Manila for his treatment. He was his ebullient self, not giving any hint of the gravity of his medical situation.

I’ve known Nilo for nearly two decades when I started writing for Bicol Mail at the urging of Ernie Verdadero, a longtime media man and mutual associate. At that time, I was already writing for the Filipino Press, a community newspaper in San Diego for the nearly a quarter of a million Filipinos in the county. My handle then was “Siling Labuyo,” an allegory for my style of writing – slightly pungent, perhaps a little wild and tackles a wide array of topics from politics, religion, and health. It was this same handle that I carried over to Bicol Mail.

Although I’ve known Nilo for that long, I didn’t personally know him from Adam except for the few visits I made to Naga City when he would host a lunch gathering for some of the Bicol Mail columnists. Nilo had a coy personality, and our conversations then hardly went beyond pleasantries, were brief, and centered on local and national politics. I can’t tell his core beliefs in journalism, or in life, except from what I can deduce from his actions. He was clearly polite, unassuming, but deeply religious.

His Catholic faith and deep religiosity transcend well into his newspaper production. Whether it is the Peñafrancia Festival or other religious and faith celebrations, they found a prominent space in Bicol Mail. There was even a regular section in the paper for the Diocese of Caceres. These things conveyed to me an openness to explore the reader’s spirituality through topics germane to expanding one’s religious understanding.

It is for this reason that I pursued writing more about religion, the Roman Catholic in particular, that I feel my enlightenment could help others see beyond what was passed on to us for generations. In the Philippines, Bicol in particular, poverty and Catholicism have coexisted for a long time. It is okay to ask why. An incisive look on papal encyclicals helps me understand my faith better. Simon Peter’s denials and affirmations tell me that writing can be my way of affirming my love and faith in Jesus. Thank you Nilo for showing the way!

My columns would often stray into some delicate or uneasy topics that can be highly critical of a politician, a man of the cloth, or even of educators but Nilo to his credit, never censored my thoughts or ideas. His belief in transparency, impartiality, and freedom of expression bodes well for the paper, for press freedom, and upholds greatly the paper’s philosophy.

Nilo’s only complaint to me was that I habitually submit my columns very close to the allowed deadlines and would often carry lengthy dissertations. His point was that it was creating more work for the layout guys. But then he would chuckle. It was a gentle reminder from a gentleman worth his salt. I even missed some deadlines because I still work full time and would often just have a short window to write it. I never did get to tell him how well I appreciated him.

There was a time when I devoted a column as a rebuttal to one of the paper’s editorials. I can’t remember what it was on, but it was a topic that I felt strongly about. He published my piece without any reservations. It was a classy act that made me respect him even more. I knew that the conversations in the boardroom were probably not pretty, that one of its opinion writers saw it fit to criticize the paper’s editorial, in fine, Nilo hewed it close to the paper’s philosophy. I didn’t hear a peep from him about it.

Vaya con Dios my friend. Go with God. You have completed your mission here on earth and have left a continuing legacy that Bicol Mail puts a premium to defending press freedom and the people’s right to know. You truly lived up to the old maxim that your predecessors lived up to, that in your business, action, not intent, matters more - more than you’ll ever know. Neale Donald Walsch, an American author of the series “Conversations with God,” said this: “Your life is about everyone whose life you touch, and it is about the way in which you touch them.”

I’m truly honored and thankful that you became part of my life, and for giving me space in your newspaper. In many ways, you epitomized a crusader whose timely actions saved a newspaper from oblivion. Despite a brief closure, you found the courage and strength to persevere amidst the financial strain that is attendant with the printed news products. While the trend for local papers was going online, Bicol Mail continued to reach out to a regional audience while expanding its role with a global presence reaching millions.


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