“Sometimes, only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated.”
– 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