Although Eddie Lee has been around serving the Filipino Community for more than 40 years, only a few close friends really know him well. This comes from his humble nature in spite of his influence and achievements. He does not like to brag about himself. Eddie Lee was born in Ongpin, Sta. Cruz, Manila.
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