TRIBUTE | Antonio M. Ajero: Davao’s journalism pillar as I know him

Antonio M. Ajero

My connection to the late Antonio Movera Ajero started when I was working as information officer of the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur. It was then when I decided to contribute some features for a Davao-based publication.

I went through some of the local newspapers in Davao and decided to send my stories to Ang Peryodiko Dabaw (APD). I mailed my write-ups through the post office and was ecstatic when they were published.

A few months later, I visited the APD office in Claveria. I had the opportunity of meeting some of the staff, including Stella Estremera, the late Nelson Bagaforo, Carmelito Francisco, and Lolito delos Reyes.

But the highlight of the said visit was finally meeting THE Antonio M. Ajero, whom local journalists called AMA (acronym for his whole names) and Daddy Cool. He was indeed a cool person. There was something in him that you will be drawn into.

AMA and the author

We talked for about ten minutes and when he found out that I worked as an information officer of an agricultural training center, he told me: “Why don’t you write a regular agricultural column for our paper?”

That was how “Agribiz Jottings” was born. I told AMA, however, that I wanted to branch out – not just agricultural features. I wanted to write some in-depth features and a column, “As You Like It” (where I can write anything about science, travel, environment, and lifestyle).

I thought AMA would reject the idea since I had already a column. But to my surprise, he was very supportive.

On my next visit, he asked me whether I was interested in contributing my stories to the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA), which released a weekly dispatch to local newspapers all over the country.

Yes, it was through AMA that I was able to write for DEPTHnews.

When the Press Foundation of Asia invited me to attend an international training seminar in Bangkok, Thailand, AMA immediately signed the form, allowing me and agreed to use the features and articles I would be writing from the training.

AMA as host

I lived in Bansalan, Davao del Sur and Davao City is about 86 kilometers away. So, my visits to the office were not often. During another visit, AMA asked me if I heard about the Rotary Club of Journalism Awards. “That’s good,” he said. “Collect some of your published articles and features and send these to this address.”

I did what I was told. Then, a few months later, I received a telegram (yes, that was the fastest way of communicating in those days) from the Rotary Club of Manila’s secretariat congratulating me. I was not told which category I won but I was invited to join the awarding ceremony which would be held at Manila Hotel.

I went to the APD office to break the news to AMA. He was so happy about it and told me that he would attend the awarding ceremony.

AMA did. And he was jubilant when Edith Regalado, of Philippine Star, was named Journalist of the Year for Mindanao while I won the Top Journalist of the Year. Edith was a former reporter of Sun Star Davao, where AMA served as publisher and editor-in-chief.

In 2018, I was in the United States when I received a text message that I won another award. Since I won’t be able to attend the awarding ceremony, I asked AMA to attend in my behalf. He readily agreed.

During the awarding ceremony, he told me later, he said he felt uneasy when all winners were called but my name wasn’t called yet. “I thought you were just a nominee,” he said. “My trip was for nothing.”

AMA with other Bright Leaf winners

Fortunately, the series which was published in Edge Davao on rice, was named Agricultural Story of the Year. AMA stood immediately when my name was called and went to the stage to receive the coveted trophy, the cash prize and the iPod that went along with the award.

When I went to the office to get the award, he shared me the story. And after giving me the trophy, AMA said, in a voice which most Davao journalists already were already familiar with, “Congratulations again.”

AMA was a man of integrity, honesty, and had a good sense of humor. He was not actually from Davao; he came to the city in 1951. He was born in Calbayog, Samar.

Writing was in his blood. Even when he was still in high school, AMA was already writing; he was the editor-in-chief of the school paper of Davao City High School, where he attended from first year to third year.

In his senior year, he moved to Mindanao Colleges (later known as University of Mindanao), where he graduated in 1955. Years later, he founded the University of Mindanao Broadcasting Network.

He was not only good in writing but also in talking. So much so that in both DXUM and DXDC, he served as station manager for a decade. His most prominent radio program was entitled, “Radyo Ukay,” where he did investigative reporting.

AMA was also known to television audience. He co-hosted and was a TV presenter of Brainstorm, a weekly program that ran from 1989 to 1991.

But it was in print media that he excelled. From 1988 to 1995, he was the editor-in-chief of Ang Peryodiko Dabaw. When it was bought by Sun Star, he was designated as its first editor and publisher, a stint he held until 2006.

Aside from those two papers, AMA was also involved in other local publications like Mindanao Daily Mirror, Mindanao Times, Davao Sentinel, Davao Star, Mindanao Gazette and The Oro Eye.

Since its inception in 1978, AMA was also a correspondent of Asiaweek until it ceased operation.

In 2006, he founded Edge Davao, where he held the following positions: chairman of the board, president, publisher and editor-in-chief. Under his leadership, Edge Davao won several awards from the Philippine Press Institute.

AMA was indeed a gamechanger in the field of journalism.

AMA was a person who fights for the rights of his fellow journalists. Unknowingly, he was also fighting his own adversary – in the form of diabetes. He had been in constant struggle with the disease since in his 30s.

AMA was diagnosed with diabetes after a free annual examination that was offered by the University of Mindanao. This was in 1978 where he worked as the station manager of DXMC.

“The first time, I was diagnosed to have a sugar level of 9 plus, I was simply given a list of things – food and drinks – to avoid. Actually, it was a list for people who have gout,” he recalled.

AMA followed the so-called “avoid list” and did brisk walking. The next time he had the annual exam, the numbers were down – chiefly sugar level and bad cholesterol.

When the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hit the country, AMA was just staying home as he was already a senior citizen. From time to time, he just texted me what he wanted me to write. Most of those requests were about profiles of some prominent Dabawenyos who are making a name for themselves.

Tony with Davao journalists in China

Consider this request about a feature on Ben John Tamayo: “(He is) based in Dubai. His three movies won in Japan, Russia and Turkey, where he won best actor. Anyway, he has been waiting for us to contact him. Just interview him about his awards.

“One of his awards has been featured by the Entertainment Section of Philippine Star,” AMA continued, “a few months ago and that was how I stumbled on his story. His group has continued producing guerrilla films and winning awards. Ikaw na ang bahala Lito.”

AMA is one of the few people in this world who called me, Lito. Most people call me Henry. In his text messages, AMA never failed to send some inspirational thoughts and some “gossips.” He also inquired if those gossips were true. Mostly, my answers were: “I had no idea, sir.”

Early this year, I came to meet him again when I visited the office. I just said the usual “hi” to him. I talked with him for a few minutes but that was all. I reminded him of answering the questions I sent to him for a feature story I would like to write. (He was not able to answer them.)

When I sent a text message greeting on his birthday last March 22, he answered: “Thank you. Unta maluoy ang Ginoo paaboton ko niya’g at least 85.”

Tony and Jun Ledesma
Tony and Jun Ledesma

On May 17, he sent me a text message that he and his friend, Serafin “Jun” Ledesma were arranging a trip for some Davao journalists to visit Malacanang in June before President Rodrigo R. Duterte would leave his presidential office. “We will ask Digos to give each of us a copy of the PRRD’s Legacy (achievements) and give us a 30-minute interview,” he wrote. (This never happened.)

Last June 2, I received a text message from his doctor telling me that AMA had malignant lung cancer. “(It’s) not a good type,” he said. “(It’s) fast and no cure; prognosis is poor.”

Three days later, I asked the doctor about AMA’s situation. “We haven’t seen each other lately,” he replied. “He had his follow-up check-ups with his doctors.”

Then, last Sunday, July 17, I learned through the Facebook post of his daughter, May Yamson Ajero, that AMA finally wrote 30: “My father… passed away peacefully in his sleep today. Please keep him and our family in your prayers.”

When I texted his doctor about AMA’s passing, he said, “So fast, now he’s gone. But the memories he left us will always be there. Rest in peace, Tony.”

AMA may be gone now but we know that his legacy lives on.

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