– Alphonse de Lamartine
TORONTO – Even as he was an active role player in the local newspaper industry, Eddie Lee never pretended nor called himself a journalist out of respect for those who truly are.
He had firmly refused to do so, but because of his devotion to community journalism up to his dying day on Sunday, August 18, 2019, he might as well had been one champion of what true journalism was.
He had abided by an understated principle of not showing off some influence and power he could have wielded as the founder and publisher of Atin Ito, the oldest, at 43 years, Filipino newspaper in Canada and widely distributed in the Greater Toronto Area.
Eddie Lee’s humility defined his limits as a person, as a businessman, and as a newspaperman – this last one not as a reporter writing the news but as the person who made sure the paper kept going in good or foul weather.
And that modesty applied as well to Atin Ito, the tabloid he had nurtured since 1976, the year a group of friends, including journalist Ruben Cusipag (July 12, 1938 – July 9, 2013) came together and began a journey to create awareness in the Filipino community.
The name of the paper he had chosen to carry was non-conventional, in fact, radical in so many ways that describe the man himself and his venture into a world traditionally reserved for lovers of the written word.
His was public service through a platform called Atin Ito, the Tagalog phrase that literally translates to “this is ours” – quite a bold affirmation in those times of Filipino identity in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Canada where being Filipino meant very little to mainstream society.
As publisher, Eddie Lee, age 84 at the time of his passing, had his share of controversy, which was foreseeable anyway for one heavily involved in community affairs as he had been.
From what I could appreciate now, or nearly a decade later after I moved here from California, some sectors had mounted a word war against him over an article in his Atin Ito newspaper supporting lawyer Frank Luna, the then labour attache based here in Toronto.
The article touched off a raw nerve in the overly-sensitive press club – then and now habited by deadbeats – for it was something nobody dared to articulate in print. Once published, it sparked an uproar, then a squabble, then a big national controversy impacting one of the Philippines’ biggest resources – the caregivers.
The good thing about that controversy was that it resulted in meaningful changes in the systemic processing and hiring of caregivers – a big boost to the caregiving community. Eddie Lee’s Atin Ito was probably not much of an influencer but he did shake the establishment!
As I read the historic rebuttal now, it would have the effect of negating my considered assertion that Eddie Lee was not a power broker, nor a power wielder, which his critics said he was, though he had held considerable strength to brandish it if he had chosen to.
He knew whereof he spoke, especially as an honest businessman who happened to have personal connections with people in the corridors of power, most of them his fraternity brothers in Upsilon Sigma Phi, the oldest student male-exclusive organization in the University of the Philippines.
Among the notable alumni of Upsilon Sigma Phi are President Ferdinand Marcos, President Jose P. Laurel, Vice President Salvador Laurel, Senator Joker Arroyo – all deceased – and incumbent Senator Richard Gordon. Toronto has a number of alumni too.
Eddie Lee graduated from UP Los Banos, his widow Marita Lee said, with a degree in agriculture. His formal education was an unlikely background for somebody who had engaged in a stressful, less-rewarding job as publisher, editor, and occasional photographer for Atin Ito newspaper.
But it is to Eddie Lee’s credit that Atin Ito newspaper prospered through more than four decades – a considerable feat for one whose bona fides were not in journalism or its allied branches.
“Service was his commitment,” according to Marita who helped husband Eddie in producing the paper every month at their home office in the western suburb of Oakville. (Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gHgKO9MUkQ).
His dedication was the same spur for Atin Ito’s existence. “The paper was Eddie’s labor of love,” she says. That simple statement is a testament to his deep involvement in the Filipino community.
Eddie Lee himself had restated what everybody in the community already knew during a recognition ceremony in 2016. Noting his paper’s four decades of existence, he stressed that “Atin Ito has been there for 40 years. We try to do and help whatever help we can give to the community. We will continue to do the same”.
Eddie Lee had wanted to help a friend and fraternity brother, the late Ruben Cusipag, continue his journalism advocacy in Toronto once he had immigrated to Canada in late 1974. The two then co-founded Atin Ito in 1976. Two years later, they split and Ruben founded Balita newspaper.
I first met Eddie Lee during a luncheon meeting for media in 2011, my second year in Toronto, and I found him to be outspoken and courageous to speak out his mind. (Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpJoaUnNFqs).
We would bump into each other in community events that I also covered for my online blogs and YouTube channels.
In 2016, Michael Levitt, Member of Parliament for York Centre, recognized Eddie Lee for his “continued work in preserving the value of multiculturalism found in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. The citation reads: “You and your organization are at the core of what makes Canada great, our diversity”. (Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXvs_1R6UNQ).
Well-spoken for Eddie Lee, the non-journalist journalist. Well-spoken for Atin Ito.
By Romy Marquez
You only would know him better if you come to his office at their home in Mississauga and see his picture with the late President Ferdinand Marcos, the late Senator Benigno Aquino and other dignitaries. You find out that they are his brothers in Upsilon Sigma Phi Fraternity, the oldest Greek letter Fraternity in University of the Philippines since 1918. He and businessman Danding Cojuangco were classmates in U.P. Los Banos. So often, influential friends drop by to see him.
Eddie Lee and his fraternity brothers started the first Filipino newspaper in Metro Toronto, Atin Ito to help Ruben Cusipag have something to do when he arrived in Toronto. The credentials of foreign journalist are not recognized in Canada and Ruben can’t find a job to suit his talents. Eddie Lee became the Publisher with Ruben Cusipag as Editor with Rogie Concepcion, Jimmy Borres, Noel and Jun Cruz as partners. They started the mimeograph copies and contributed $50. each and then an additional $700. Later however, the paper become Ruben’s tool to vent his anger on Marcos for sending him to prison during the early days of Martial Law with the late Senators Benigno Aquino, Jose Diokno, and other oppositions leaders. And it was leaning towards the leftist ideology which Eddie did not believe on. A confrontation resulted in parting of ways and the birth of Balita. Eddie continued the paper with the help of other journalists brothers but remained friends with Ruben, protecting him many times from critics and enemies and quick to help him on charitable causes like the Mt. Pinatubo Fund drive.
Two of the biggest Filipino community newspapers and some writers, photographers, radio commentators started with Atin ito – Ruben of Balita and Bin Kon Loo of Filipiniana, Others who worked with Atin Ito were Ricky Castelvi, Jun Cruz, Vic Cruz as Editor, Ruby Talavera, Adam Aspilla, and Vic Lee as Sports Editor, Jess Cabrias of Talakayan and Joe Damasco as Distributor. I wrote as a columnist.
Eddie supported worthy organizations like the Philippine Heritage Band, giving them broad media coverage without much publicity. He also promoted PHYBA of Geopo Dacanay and Ang Bisaya in its formative stage with Dolphing Tigley as President. He is a loyal friend and despite the criticism to Ambassador Pacifico Castro, he continued to publish his achievements. Castro, in his parting words to Eddie before he left for his next assignment said, “How could I ever thank you.”
Eddie inspired me to write my thoughts despite my lack of journalistic training which resulted in this column Thinking Aloud and the publication of my book IN SEARCH OF A FUTURE, The Struggle of Filipino Immigrants. He also gave Adam Aspilla a break to write his book You Can Negotiate All Your Debts which was circulated at one time in major bookstores in Canada. Adam also wrote about religion and how to manage your finances in Atin Ito.
Eddie made the policy that the paper will be a free service to the community which was followed by all subsequent newspapers, financed only by advertisements while in the U.S. Filipino community newspapers are sold.
He does not go to a party unless he is given 2 free tickets. His reason is, it cost us money go to your party, publish and promote your organization and we have to get back something in return.
He is a recipient of various awards. In October 20, 2016 in the Senate Chamber of Canada in Ottawa, the Honourable George Furey, Speaker recognized Atin Ito publisher Eddie Lee in the Senate gallery as guest of Senator Tobias C. Enverga Jr. and paid tribute to Eddie Lee’s contribution to the Filipino Canadian community.
Senator Enverga Jr. said “I rise today to pay tribute to one of the notable seniors in my community — a senior who has been a beacon of inspiration and leadership for many Filipino Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond, Mr. Eduardo Lee, the publisher of Canada’s oldest existing Filipino monthly newspaper.”
“He is the recipient of several awards, many including the terms ‘outstanding’ and ‘merit’ but too numerous to list here today. Some more notable are the 1987 Ethnic Media Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Ontario Minister of Citizenship; the 1995 Better Understanding Among Ontarians through Journalism Award from the Honourable Bob Rae, the then Premier of Ontario; and the Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Honourable Sheila Finestone, the then Minister of State for Multiculturalism. Mr. Lee, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal recipient, received a Distinguished Alumni Award in Community Service from his alma mater, the University of the Philippines. Honourable senators, I want to thank Eddie Lee for his contributions to our community and to Canada” Senator Enverga Jr. ended his tribute.
Refused negative stories
He rejected publishing negative stories about our country and our people, “There is enough of that garbage in other papers and foreign media, that it has been unfair to our people. Let’s concentrate on our good side to bring back faith in ourselves and our people.”
Tolerance to brothers
After Ruben left, the paper was used once again by his fraternal brothers to promote the lost cost of Ferdinand Marcos and later of Imelda. In spite of the low rating of the paper by the community, he tolerated this to show loyalty to his brothers. When Danding Cojuangco run for President, he gave his full support to his former classmate.
Pro and Anti Marcos faction
The community during Marcos time was divided into the Marcos and Anti-Marcos faction. The Anti-Marcos Independence Picnic was celebrated at Seaton Park led by Ruben Cusipag, Fely Villasin and other leftist groups. The Pro-Marcos faction had its Independence celebration at Riverdale Park led by Francisco (Kiko) Portugal.
He spearheaded a few years ago to break the old clique of leaders who monopolized the Independence Day Celebration, had caused division in the past, and did not give a chance to new energetic and creative faces to lead our people. He worked silently behind Mann Nacario and Roland Chan, and was known as the king maker but was publicity shy. He vowed to let new and aggressive ideas dominate his leadership agenda as new Chairman of the 1997 Philippine Independence Day Celebration (PIDC). Participation of most organization, their chance to be recognized as leaders and ultimately unity of the Community are his aims. Also, he wants to prepare the groundwork for the 100th year of Philippine Independence.
He was appointed by the Philippine Government as the Overall Chairman of the Philippine Centennial in Canada recommended by Ambassador Pacifico Castro and the late Senator Doy Laurel.
A faithful husband and father
Eddie Lee traded his budding career as a Bank Manager in Pateros to come to Canada to follow his sweetheart Marita in Canada, brave the cold winter and uncertainty of a new life. But being talented and determined, he established the Atin Ito Newspaper as publisher and was a Real Estate Broker of Homelife Prosperity in his new home at one time.
Eddie gives a lot of his time to his three children Robert, Jude and Chris, and his having his office right in his residence gives him this luxury. He also refuses to go to parties where his wife is not invited.
While most of us saw convenience in taking Canadian citizenship, Eddie refused to give away his Filipino citizenship. During the Cory Peaceful Revolution, when the leftist and Cory group stormed and tried to take over the Philippine Embassy, Eddie protected the Embassy Consuls and staff and questioned their authority. He found out most of them are already Canadian citizens.
He was appointed Special Tourism Commissioner when Richard Gordon became Secretary of Tourism of the Philippines. He was also a Member of the Trade and Investment Council.
Refused to bow
When the officers of the Retailers Association passed a resolution not to distribute Atin Ito in their stores to pressure Eddie to take away the bargain prices of other stores in his newspaper, Eddie reasoned out that the interest of the Filipino customers comes first. And this pressure is an infringement on the freedom of the press. Other papers bowed to this pressure afraid they would lose their distribution outlets.
Eddie saw to it that his reporting and articles are unbiased and well rounded, educating the community of their roots, awareness to the social problems in dealing with their kababayan and adapting to their new environment.
He appealed to all Filipinos and the leaders of Community Organizations to extend a hand in making our people more visible in the mainstream and to excel. Eddie Lee was 84 years old when he died.
By Rodel Ramos
I remember… unlike today, it took a lot of sweat to bring out a newspaper in those early years.
Long before the age of computers, we would work for days until the early hours of the morning, to catch the publication’s deadline. Eddie and noel cruz would layout the proofs, assisted by mila eustaquio. I would write my column and back up jimmy borres who would typeset the articles and help layout. Tony Cruz and Ruby Talavera provided the laughs and entertain the many well wishers who would drop in our offices on queen street west. They were stressful, but happy nights. Unfortunately, it also widowed our wives and partners, who are all nodding in agreement, I am certain. Their sacrifices were substantial.
We set up Atin Ito 43 years ago, starting out as the newsletter of the Atin Ito Credit Union. Contrary to what some may believe, it was not a cabal, but a movement to establish a strong voice for the growing Filipino Canadian community, to protect and represent its vital interests in the increasingly multicultural face of Canada.
Looking back now, the alumni of Atin Ito, many of whom are Upsilonians, reads like the roster of the Filipino Illuminati, our first editor Ruben Cusipag, who later established Balita, Dr. Edgardo Lim, Tony Cruz, Jimmy Borres, Noel Cruz, Editor Vic Cruz, Ruby Talavera, Mila Eustaquio, Filipiniana publisher Bin Kun Loo who started as our photographer, Mel Catre, Jess Cabrias, Tessie Jew and the many others who were associated with the newspaper.
Many of them have since passed on. May they rest in peace and embrace Eddie as he joins them in a happy reunion.
I remember… I first met Eddie over 53 years ago, when I was initiated to the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity at the University of the Philippines in 1966. He was 13 years my senior. He was branch manager for a bank in Pateros and was not known to inflict physical pain, but was feared, nonetheless for his short temper. He only had one request from us initiates, to bring him an ashtray, not purchased, but filched, with a logo as evidence. I did manage to swipe an ashtray from a barbershop in baguio city. I do not know what he did with the over 50 ashtrays we brought to him. Perhaps it was a fetish, but to me, at 17 and not having done anything daring, it was a test of courage and confidence building, exploring the edges of what was acceptable social behaviour.
I remember… the story of how Eddie ended up in Toronto in 1972, 3 years before Tess and I arrived in Canada. We never heard the end of it for it is a wonderful love story.
He met wife Marita working in a bank in Manila. Falling head over heels for Marita’s charms and beauty, he followed her halfway around the world to Toronto where Marita’s family immigrated, and never looked back. Like Hercules,he was prepared to pursue Marita to the edge of the world. From this union came 3 wonderful sons, Robert, Jude and Chris.
I remember well … Eddie and Marita’s generosity. Not only were we fed well whenever we dropped in his home in Mississauga, he also provided us with financial help and make the downpayment we needed for our first home. $500 may not seem much nowadays but, in those days, as newly landed immigrants to Canada, that was a substantial life changing event.
This was at the core of Eddie’s nature. He was unflinching and sincere in his friendship, always there to help, and many in the fraternity, owe him a debt of gratitude.
His omnipresence was a force and gave comfort, guidance and stability in the early days of uncertainty as new immigrants to Canada.
I will always remember … and never forget, the legacy that Eddie is leaving. We can only hope and aspire to emulate his lifelong commitment and dedication to help our community.
To my brother Eduardo Lee Batch 1953 of the Upsilon Sigma Phi, an Upsilonian fanatic, while we mourn your passage, we also celebrate you. You have lived your life well, and I, and the 3000 Upsilonians who continue to pour tributes from around the world, salute you. We are proud.
You have done your duty of service to our community and humanity, and you can now rest with the assurance that you have inspired those who remain, with the courage and the strength to continue to carry on your legacy.
Farewell my brother.
By Rogie Concepcion
Eduardo Ibanez Lee or Eddie to many of us, fondly clasps my hands with a broad smile and a firm fraternal handshake each time we meet. Eddie’s warm gesture is a reflection of his sincere character that goes beyond universal routine greetings. With eye contact in place, he begins our conversation about our families and friends. Thereafter, the intensity heightens as Eddie speaks out his mind on advocacies for society, and frames these within the context of our university training as agriculturists and to my interests as an academic.
He challenges the status quo about the sustainability of agriculture, and the realities that it offers to communities, families, individuals, and the future generation who depend on it for their living. Global agriculture is transcending towards “smart farming”. This term may have sounded as an idea or concept in the 1950s when Eddie was still a student. At present and for my generation, it may not even be considered as a panacea towards the realization of genuine growth and sustained progress in the countryside. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, in its family farming knowledge platform, presented that “smart farming” is “key for the future of agriculture”. It said that the adoption of digitization such as the “Internet of Things” or IoT technologies and solutions can result to increased levels of precision, automation, productivity, and overall efficiency in farm decision making. Maria Aleksandrova, in an online article, “IoT in Agriculture: Five Technology Uses for Smart Farming and Challenges to Consider” published in DZone last year, stated that the global smart agriculture market size is expected to triple by 2025 from about $5 billion in the year 2016 to around $15 billion in the next six years. The IoT applications that can be used in agriculture include greenhouse automation, precision farming in livestock and crop management, IoT devices and sensors with built-in analytical and business application features to support end-to-end farm management systems, and technologies that can map future climate conditions.
Despite these seemingly attractive prospects and IoT’s favorable attributes, Eddie was quick to appreciate that “smart farming” relies heavily on access to state-of-the-art information and communication (ICT) technologies and logistics. It is natural for him to inquire about the realities of getting “smart farming” implemented on the ground especially in rural societies where (1) decent levels of ICT technologies and related logistics infrastructure are either weak or barely in existence; and (2) the accompanying quality and affordable education that needs to be provided to the rural populace to capacitate them for IoT technology adoption. I shall continue to dwell on these and a host of other issues related to the future of “smart farming” (or Agriculture 4.0), and “smart education” (or Education 4.0) in the future —– bearing in mind Eddie’s penchant and inquisitiveness on the urgency of addressing societal concerns especially in agriculture.
Interestingly, his high school class photo remains on display along the hallowed hallway of De La Salle University in Manila. As a LaSallian, I would think that the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who served as his mentors in his formative years in school, taught him the true meaning and application of “religio, mores, cultura”. As Distinguished Awardees of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association as well as the Upsilon Sigma Phi, he was inspired by the ideals of freedom, and unselfish and honest service to the people.
Rudyard Kipling, the English Nobel laureate, wrote a poem in the early 1900s entitled, “Six Honest Serving Men”. The excerpt of which states,
“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest”.
by Louie Divinigarcia