Perhaps not too many people know that before we became a pioneering businessman in the Middle East and North Africa in the 1970s until the early 1980s and then, with God’s blessing, a five-time Speaker of the House of Representatives, we were first and foremost a journalist.
We believe it was spending many hours everyday in our father’s library of history, literary books, biographies and periodicals as a young boy that attracted us to journalism – the elegance of writing, the power of the printed word, the places around the world where events were happening, the men and women who shaped the course of history.
We earned our degree in Bachelor of Science, major in Journalism from the Ateneo de Manila, where we became an associate editor of The Guidon, the award-winning student newspaper, and, in our senior year, an editor in chief of The Aegis, the school annual.
At the age of 19, we became a foreign correspondent, then promoted to Manila bureau chief of the first Asian news agency, the Pan-Asia Newspaper Alliance, founded by the late Norman Soong, who was Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “favorite war correspondent” during World War II. The largest international news agencies at the time up to today are Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Reuters, and Agence France Presse (AFP).
We also had a Pan-Asia weekly column then, printed once a week in the old Philippines Herald, which in the old days was edited by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Carlos P. Romulo, who later became President of the UN General Assembly and then our Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Herald’s editor in the mid-1950s was Carlos F. Nivera, then our journalism professor at the Ateneo, who gave us our first journalistic job. He was married to Pat Nivera, the late President Ramon Magsaysay’s social secretary. Professor Nivera co-established the Pan-Asia bureau in Manila with historian Carlos Quirino and we served as the first Philippine correspondent, then 19, with a meager but liveable salary and our assistant was photographer Leoncio Alejandro.
As a 19-year-old journalist, we flew to the then South Vietnam capital Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City (Hanoi was then North Vietnam’s capital) in 1956 for the Proclamation of the Vietnamese Constitution and the first anniversary of the Vietnam Republic following Vietnam’s partition at the waist in the 17th Parallel after the French forces’ classic defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
We went to Vietnam for the second time in 1959, as a 22-year-old journalist, when we were invited by then President Carlos P. Garcia to join him on a visit to Saigon. We remember sailing the Saigon River with President Garcia and the then South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem aboard the Vietnamese leader’s presidential yacht.
President Garcia also offered us the position of Press Attache at the Philippine Embassy in Vietnam or somewhere in Europe but we politely declined, with deep humility and gratitude, as we were then enamoured with the adventure and honor of being a journalist at home and overseas.
Seven years after our Vietnam visit with President Garcia, we were back in Saigon, in 1966, as Presidential Assistant and Minister and Economic and Press Counselor at the Philippine Embassy there. Vietnam was then a hotbed amid an escalating war with the United States under then President Lyndon B. Johnson.
We also had the rare privilege of covering Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s fast-moving sentimental journey from Manila to Dagupan City via train in 1961, during his last visit to the Philippines, but sadly failed to even have a minute interview with our hero.
Journalism opened many doors for us and deepened our abiding interest in international affairs, which, many years later, inspired us in founding and/orleading various Asia-wide and global organizations, like the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI), Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC), and Universal Peace Federation (UPF).
As a father, we are happy and proud that our New York City-based daughter Leslie is a columnist for Barron’s, a leading financial magazine in the US She finished Journalism at Columbia University in New York and her Master’s degree at Yale. Before joining Barron’s, Leslie taught at Columbia and had a short stint as a correspondent for Bloomberg in London.
Our son, second-term congressman Christopher de Venecia used to be a youth editor and columnist in another broadsheet and in a magazine for several years before he became representative of the fourth district of Pangasinan and a current deputy majority leader of the House.
As fate would have it, in 2016, 50 years after our relatively brief stint as a journalist (1956 to 1966) and having been elected for an unprecedented fivetimes as Speaker of the House of Representatives, we were back to writing a weekly column todayhere in the Manila Bulletin.