While sailing the waters of the South of France with wife Gina on board the private yacht of our good friends, Frenchman Christian Baverey and his Filipino wife Tetta Agustin, we reminisced our years as a young journalist in the late 1950s as well as our earlier visits to Vietnam, which was a French colony from the late 1800s to 1954.
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.
We also had a Pan-Asia weekly column, 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 U.N. 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 de Manila, who gave us our first journalistic job. 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 livable salary.
We believe it was spending many hours every day in our father’s library of history and 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.
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 to cover the visit of then Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, who was also Secretary of Foreign Affairs, 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.
We first flew to Hongkong and then flew to Saigon. We landed for refueling in coastal Da Nang, which was then called Tourane by the French, who ruled Vietnam as a colony since the 19th century, until the defeat of the French Foreign Legion and Army by the North Vietnamese forces in the classic battle of Dien Bien Phu in North Vietnam. The French defeat led to the Geneva Agreement partition of Vietnam at the waist, along the 17th Parallel into North and South.
Later, then South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem and his family were killed by assassins and much later, the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerillas overran the South, defeated the South Vietnamese Army and forced the pullout of the 50,000 US Armed Forces, and reunited all of Vietnam in 1975.
We remember President Garcia 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 minister, presidential assistant, 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.
Journalism opened many doors for us and deepened our abiding interest in international affairs, which, many years later, inspired us in founding and leading 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 U.S. 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, third-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.