A household of readers and writers

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Jan 3 2011

IT WAS where they fell in love – with words, and with each other – as soulmates of the heart and the pen.
Recalling how their love affair flourished at the narrow alleys of the old Varsitarian office, lawyer Edwin De La Cruz and wife Josephine “Pennie” Azarcon-De La Cruz cannot help but walk down the proverbial memory lane and in-between laconic sighs beam at their only son Emil, who has also joined the V.

Indeed, writing for the Varsitarian has become a birthright of sorts for the De la Cruz family, and Pennie relishes the idea that her unico hijo is steadily making ripples as a budding writer himself, not unlike her and husband Edwin.

Starting young

For Pennie, who bagged a Shankar’s International Award for Short Story as a sixth grader, reading the works of prominent Filipino women writers Kerima Polotan-Tuvera and Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, inspired her to enshrine her thoughts and feelings on paper.

“I wanted to express my thoughts as clearly and as beautifully as the two women had written their prose,” she says.

Motivated by these women writers whose styles are “lyrical, funny, informal, and personal,” Pennie told herself that she wanted to write in such manner in order to touch people’s sensibilities.

Despite being the editor in chief of Arellano High School’s student paper, Edwin considered writing as a mere hobby until he went to college and met Mario Hernando, a former Varsitarian editor-in-chief. His newfound friend encouraged him to push his pen “more seriously and professionally.”

Their meeting inspired Edwin to join the V as Hernando, who manned the publication’s top post in 1967, began coaching him and their fellow “brods” at Phi Chi Rho, a fraternity of political science students, back then.

“Although Mario was already with Malaya when we were in Varsi, he still helped us with our articles, editing and teaching us how to write,” Edwin says.

But aside from Hernando, the other, and perhaps the most important person who had pushed him to enter the V, was “a charming lass” nicknamed Pennie.

Love flickered

Before their Varsitarian rendezvous, Edwin and Pennie had already crossed paths during their first and second years in college in the Faculty of Arts and Letters (Artlets).

“We had been classmates in our freshmen and sophomore years because before we had the Pre-Artlets,” says Pennie, referring to the two-year, pre-majoring system at Artlets that time.

But in their third year, the De la Cruz couple reached the crossroads. Pennie, already absorbed by the Tuvera-Nakpil experience, majored in journalism while Edwin took up political science.

It was in the Varsitarian office in 1974 that Edwin and Pennie got to know each other better. Pennie entered the publication in her sophomore year in 1973, a year earlier than Edwin did. The man was already with The Flame, the Artlets’ college publication.

“The Varsitarian witnessed the love affair between me and Edwin. Yet, we were not the only couple during those days. Actually, there were about five pairs,” she recalls.

Pennie supposed that the pairings were the result of shared common interests, like writing, among the staff members.

“We were always together there in our small office because there was no place where we could stay after classes. And that bond had given us the opportunity to know each other better,” she says.

She saw her Varsitarian days with her husband as simple, because “back in the 70s there were no drinking, drugs, and our games would always be vocabulary enhancers.”

During the early years of Martial Law, Edwin recalls how the Varsitarian taught them to become more prudent as writers and researchers when it came to dealing with both national and university issues.

“Student activities were repressed under Martial Law, but since (government officials) thought that the Varsitarian was harmless, the paper always got away unscathed,” he says. “It was a rewarding experience to be at Varsi because it gave us a venue where we could speak our minds out in behalf of our fellow Thomasians.”

Pennie and Edwin spent their last years in the Varsitarian in 1975 as associate and Circle editors, respectively. After graduation, Pennie ventured into print journalism while Edwin took up law in the University of the Philippines where he became a three-time associate editor of the Philippine Collegian, the state university’s student publication. There he worked alongside would-be media stalwarts Sheila Coronel and Marites Vitug.

Pennie and Edwin exchanged vows in 1981.

Culture of books

Now as the executive editor of Sunday Inquirer Magazine, a reporter specializing in women’s issues, and a mother of two, Pennie acquaints her children – Andrea and Emil – to the written word through reading.

Pennie fosters a reading environment for her children by filling the De la Cruz household, from the living room to their small library upstairs, with books.

“I exposed my children to books and we encourage them to read likewise. At their young age I can say they have already built a strong relationship with the written word,” she says.

Despite hardly lecturing her children about the canons of writing, Pennie has managed to raise young minds who are capable of expressing themselves through letters. What she only did was to influence them with the same passion for reading in a liberal sense.

“I let them read anything even FHM (men’s magazine) because inside the house, I and my husband know that we have raised our children well enough for them to discern what is good to follow and what is not,” she explains. “I do not censor reading. I think that is the way to bring up a writer.”

So far, the couple’s approach has reaped some fruits. Their son Emil is a sophomore journalism student in UST and a Varsitarian sports writer.

Although Pennie says she did not entice Emil to take up journalism, she says she knew all the while that his only son was going to that direction. She says Emil is a born writer, having reaped several awards in various writing tilts in high school, notably placing first in the Department of Education-sponsored feature writing contest.

‘Wall of achievements’

While her mother reveres Tuvera and Nakpil, Emil marvels at the writing prowess of Dave Barry, an American humor columnist for the Miami Herald who won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

“One of the reasons why I took up journalism was because I was inspired by the writings of Dave Barry,” he says. “When I first read his book, I could not stop laughing. At that moment, I realized that that was something I wanted to share with the world. I wanted to provide people with comic relief but without making neither them nor I look stupid.”

Both parents describe the genre of Emil’s books as “witty, funny, and humorous.” Edwin says it is “something that he finds amazing and entertaining at the same time.”

For Emil, joining the Varsitarian was not an idea he heard from his parents, though he knew too well that both were alumni of the country’s oldest Catholic campus organ. It is simply something, according to the 18-year-old Emil, that he had to do.

“The members of my family have achieved so much during their lifetime and it sort of made me insecure,” he says. “There was even this ‘wall of achievements’ in our house and I did not really feel that I belonged (to it) since I had not done anything worth putting up (there yet). Getting into the Varsitarian was a really a big deal for me.”

His parents, though, see only a lot of promise in the young man.

“When I look at my son’s article, I admit that I do not really know the jargons of sports,” Pennie says in between laughs. “And it feels really good especially when even my friends can identify that it was my son who they read in the paper. I do not know but maybe the Varsitarian put Emil in sports so that I could not help him out with the articles at home.”

Yet, just like any parent, Emil’s were concerned that his Varsitarian work ate much of his time.


Still, Edwin and Pennie want their son to appreciate the opportunity that the paper is giving him.

“If there is one thing that I learned in Varsi that I want Emil to learn, that is discipline,” Pennie says. “It is something that you can imbibe that will be useful even after Varsi.”

And part and parcel of discipline is to keep deadlines sacred, she says, proud of having supposedly beaten all her deadlines during and after her Varsitarian days.

“Set your priorities first and do not let anything hamper in your way,” she says. “You can do almost anything after you have done your article, but for the meantime, deadlines are deadlines and acknowledging them is being disciplined.”

While the father equally believes in the value of deadline and discipline, he knows humility is just as important in a writer’s success formula.

“You can never be a good writer if you would not have your work edited and if you take editing personally,” he explains. “Editors are people who are always one step ahead of you and their editing is important to the outcome of your work. Editing is very necessary.”

Insecurity and all, Emil is taking everything in strides thanks to his “Varsi” parents.

“I had my doubts (when I joined the Varsitarian),” he says. ”I wondered if I joined just to vanquish my insecurities. In the end, I realized that that was not the case. I also joined because I believed it would help me become a better writer and at the same time improve my work ethic. In fact, being in the Varsitarian may be the greatest thing I have achieved in my life so far.” V John Constantine G. Cordon and Joseinne Jowin L. Ignacio