Remembering Domini, a gentle soul

Published January 17, 2021, 6:28 PM

by Deedee Siytangco


Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways.

Proverbs 20:30

Today we remember an accomplished writer, editor, advocate for press freedom and human rights, farmer, loving spouse and mother, and a wonderful compassionate, gentle human being, Domini Torrevillas. She started her career in the Manila Bulletin as a writer and left after being editor of the paper’s biggest readership weekly magazine, The Philippine Panorama.

Domini and husband Saeed Daof

We asked several people whom she loved and who worked with her and loved her to share their thoughts of her who passed away on Dec. 28. 

Her only son Andres or Andoy said this of his mother:

Most of you knew Domini as a writer, an editor, a layperson, a farmer, or a staunch advocate for press freedom, women’s, children’s and human rights. She always did not fail to write on numerous topics and promote awareness for a number of advocacies. But all these things were surreal to me as I was young then and could not fully comprehend the magnitude of all the issues my Mom was writing about. 

In my eyes she was simply Mom, who took care of me. Mom who brought me to the Pasig, Columbian and Philippine Plaza tennis courts. Mom who brought me to the Manila Bulletin and Philippine Star offices. Mom who brought me along to numerous press conferences, kapihans, and Bulong Pulungan meetings. 

She was a caring and giving mother and I will never forget this story.  Back in 1992, my mom found out that a good friend in Maryland was in need of a kidney donor and she had volunteered to be screened as a possible donor.  She went through laboratory screening under Johns Hopkins hospital and she received an unexpected call from one of the doctors after a few weeks of evaluations. The doctor shared that she was an unlikely match. They found that my mom was diabetic and would not be able to donate one of her kidneys. 

It was an example of my mom’s unselfishness that she was willing to donate one of her organs to help a good friend. Although this did not push through, her kind heart was able to discover a disease that she was able to manage for the rest of life.

My mom’s death could be attributed to Covid and it’s sad that my family has been robbed by this virus and we have been robbed of a pillar of journalism. I sincerely think that she would have wanted her passing to teach all of us to remain vigilant, especially now that the vaccines are already out there. In life I know she touched all of us in one way or another, and now in death may her memory continue to inspire us all.

From former Tourism Secretary now president of the International Institute of Sustainable Tourism, Dr. Mina T. Gabor:

Dec. 28 was a sad day! I got a text message that Domini who has been a friend for more than 40 had passed away. 

I was an exporter of crafts when she first wrote about me. But more than that, she was a family friend. Joe, my husband, Domini and her family have known each other from way back when Joe was still in Cagayan De Oro, his home town and Domini was from Gingoog. Every time Joe would make kinilawin the house, he would call Domini. Over the years, we shared her fears, sadness, and joys and when my niece during her debut was worrying who would escort her, Domini said not to worry, Andy woulddo it.

Sometimes, she would ask me to see how she fixed her office. She was more than a family friend, she was a people’s friend. She would share with me the different work of NGOs and would always ask how I could help them. She would call from time to time to check what I was doing.

I attended the memorial service given in her honor by the Sillimanians and everything that they shared about Domini and her lifestyle was consistent to everything we knew about her, a very gentle soul and, as the Millennials woulds say, “very cool.” Yes, we had cool moments, like when we were at Deedee’s Hideaway in Tagaytay, everyone felt like dancing boogie but we had no music, so I started humming an Elvies song, and there were Letty Magsanoc, Deedee, Domini, and I dancing away, all humming thetune.

Last November, she warmed my heart when she called and said “Hi. Mina, my BFF! (Best Friends Forever) I cannot be there for the get together of the group but I will be there in spirit to celebrate Jullie’s (Yap-Daza) birthday.” My condolences to Saeed, Andy, and the rest of the family. Domini was a fearless—but most of the time soft hearted—great columnist. She was a lovable friend, wife, mother and woman for all season.

From her niece, Zonito T. Tamase, president of of Nature Fresh Corporationa sharing of Dominis life:

One summer day in New York riding a cab, my Tita Dom recollected to me that she started sobbing as she heard the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” on the radio. “That’s the theme song of my niece and me,” she told the cab driver.

She taught me that song. While singing it, she would pinch me on my cheeks, which made me feel loved. As I aged, every time she would see me, she did the same thing. 

I grew up with my Tita Dom. People who knew her would say I look and moved like her. With her, I learned how to bake gateau de sans rival, learned to play tennis. She always corrected my posture, taught me generosity, sensitivity, tactfulness, and other important lessons in life.

Tita Dom was taken from us unexpectedly and she left a big hole to fill. We are all saddened and I particularly am devastated. Even though she’s no longer here, however, all the wonderful things she shared and taught me will always remain a part of me.

Freelance journalist, founding director of the Creative Writing Center, book author, and former chair of the National Book Development Board, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz had this to say:

I first heard of Domini when I was still in college and she featured the group of students I was working with on a social action outreach, the Junior Operation Brotherhood, inspired by Oscar J. Arellano’s Operation Brotherhood initiative. I am sure it was her contemporary and close friend Deedee who made it possible. Deedee’s Sonny was Mr. Arellano’s special assistant. My SCA group of students from different schools was also featured, as my yellowing news clips revealed.  I also recall contributing articles to the Youth Page she edited—something I always was secretly proud of and which sparked my early interest in writing.  And look at where we all are, Domini! The youth you wrote about are now senior citizens and still such good friends. And I continue to write articles and books. What an influence you had on us, impressionable college students!

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz

Our paths would cross us again when Domini was already editor of the Panorama at a very challenging time for journalists and press freedom.  She courageously did what she could do within the parameters given her. With other women journalists at the height of martial law, she was subjected to military threats and intimidation for her reporting.

It is really my WOMEN (Women Writers in Media Now) colleagues who worked closely with her who knew her better. Sheila Coronel, now in Columbia University as director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and Toni Stabile Professor of Professional Practice worked with Domini in Panorama. She says, “I have fond memories of Domini. She was very caring and encouraging, a good person. She wasn’t afraid of making difficult choices. She did many other things, including organizing the women in her community to plant herbs. I am sorry she is gone.

The last time we were in touch was about a year ago when she messaged me from Gingoog, her beloved hometown out of concern for former Panorama writer and a co-defendant of hers in a libel case during martial law, Ceres P. Doyo.  She wanted to know if anything was amiss with Ceres because Ceres, in one of her angry moods about the state of things in society, had posted something that made her look like she was in deep mourning. She needed to reach out to Ceres to be reassured about Ceres’ wellbeing. That was so like Domini to be so caring and thoughtful.

In a way, we felt we had reconnected again in recent times as she was a “neighbor” columnist of my husband Elfren’s Thursday column in the Philippine Star.

What a full life Domini lived, professionally and personally. I am happy that she was so happy returning to her hometown that she was so proud of, turning into a farmer and community organizer, continuing to promote and uphold women’s rights, happily married to Saeed Daof. She has returned to her true home with her Maker, having made full use of the talents she was gifted with. Farewell, Domini, you will be missed. Thank you for the woman you have been.