Rest in power, Neil Doloricon and Nonoy Espina

Published July 17, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz
Tonyo Cruz

His daughter’s Facebook post quickly spread like wildfire. Neil Doloricon passed away in the wee hours of July 16. It was just hours after we got news that he was fighting for life in the ICU.

We all thought Sir Neil would survive the night and this entire tragic pandemic he had been documenting through widely-shared — because truthful and courageous — editorial cartoons. Friends, fans, colleagues and admirers are now flooding Facebook with tributes and accolades, the stuff he politely refuses to listen to while he nurses a bottle of his favorite beer in meetings of the Tuesday Club and in social functions.

Sir Neil’s works of art are familiar to many because he was a prolific and accessible artist. He was editorial cartoonist to national newspapers, contributed artwork to non-government and people’s organizations, taught in countless campus journalism workshops, once led the Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas, served as dean of the UP College of Fine Arts, chaired the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, and known as an exponent of social realist art which put ordinary people and their concerns, aspirations and movements at the center of his artwork.

I first met Sir Neil in 1998. Our organization, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, wanted to publish a new Campus Press Sourcebook and we thought of no one else except Sir Neil to write the chapter on editorial cartooning.

When I visited him in his office, I was starstruck. But there he was: soft-spoken and interested in our idea. The conversation was quick. We soon discussed about the deadlines.

I came back some time later to obtain Sir Neil’s draft. Perhaps the shortest among all the chapters, but it was the most substantive and covered brief history of editorial cartooning, elements, what you need, and techniques.

Sir Neil wrote: “A semicolonial and semifeudal society where illiteracy shackles peasants the workers necessitates a visual form which can present Philippine society’s basic problems. Political cartooning answers this need.”

“As in writing, cartooning also means taking sides. Taking positions is the essence of an editorial or any commentary.”

Sir Neil leaves behind an abundant body of work that would illustrate not just art, but the economics, politics and daily lives of farmers, workers, and the urban poor since he started until July 16. Our barkada at Tuesday Club will always remember him fondly as a quiet, steady and great friend and idol.

Sir Neil’s passing comes at a time when we are still mourning the passing away of journalist and press freedom champion Nonoy Espina.

It is an absolute honor to consider him as a friend, to have met him many times, and to stand alongside him in many campaigns for press freedom and freedom of expression.

One thing I remember about him — and this has not been mentioned in any of the tributes — was that he was at the frontlines of taking journalism into the digital space at a time when legacy media was suspicious of the new platform.

We now take it for granted —- the online, digital and breaking news journalism that many enjoy and depend on nowadays. But what many did not know was that Nonoy was among the first professional journalists who presided over the early attempts to make the worldwide web a new platform for journalism and helped create the idea of breaking news that stole thunder from the broadsheets, radio and TV news broadcasts.

When the history of digital journalism is finally written, Nonoy’s name would be there as among the first editors. Perhaps the reason why this is overlooked is that Nonoy developed and practiced courageous, accurate and committed journalism everywhere his craft took him. The medium did not matter and did not make a difference. But looking back, his stint as editor in online news gave credibility to a new platform that now forms a leading role in news gathering and news reporting.

Both Sir Neil and Nonoy loved having fun and hitting the breeze with fellow artists and journalists. I never saw them while at work, but I’ve been fortunate to have shared beer, music and conversations with them.  Many friends also marched and protested alongside them, especially against the cybercrime and anti-terrorism laws.

Sir Neil and Nonoy are now in the pantheons of Philippine art and journalism.  They are Filipinos too, and living and struggling alongside them are associations that will forever mean a lot to me and many others. ###