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Guiding star

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 01, 2021 3:00 pm

How can one forget a lady, who in her pursuit of journalism, aimed to treat everyone like a “star?”

In one of her editor’s notes in the pre-EDSA STAR! Monthly magazine, Betty Go-Belmonte, whose 27th year in heaven we marked last week, wrote: “While others call you people, we here at STAR! choose to call you stars. In other words, no matter your station in life, if you shine and give light to this world, you are a star.”

Those words pretty much summarize how Betty Go-Belmonte treated her fellowmen (and women). She regarded them with importance. She treated them all like they had light to share — from the shoemaker in front of The STAR office in Port Area, to the President at Malacañang.

The Betty I knew glowed — more like the gentle rays of the rising sun, not the flaming setting orb. From the time I met her in 1982, I saw how she wanted to share that glow through a life of purpose. Her faith was her sun.

The BGB I knew glowed — more like the gentle rays of the rising sun, not the flaming setting orb. From the time I, then a junior in college, met her in 1982 during the launching of the STAR Monthly! magazine in Club Filipino, I saw how she wanted to share that glow through a life of purpose. And definitely, her faith was her sun.

I remember how she was like during a crisis. In the days after Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983, when many companies closed shop and people were panic-buying in supermarkets (sounds familiar?), we didn’t know what tomorrow would bring — whether there would be a tomorrow, in fact.

And led by BGB, we would hold hands in the lobby of The STAR office and sing “Amazing Grace,” “Si Kristo Lamang” and “Mansion Over the Hilltop.”

Betty with Sonny Belmonte during his inauguration as world president of Junior Chamber International in 1976.
Photo from "Eternally Betty: In Loving Memory of a Wonderful Life"

Somehow, after our daily prayer meetings, we knew that we would live to see the stars shine even on the darkest sky tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow… And we did. She would often tell me, “You know, I work hard to keep this magazine together because for every employee, we are helping out at least four others in his family. I cannot let them down.”

I asked her son Miguel, president and CEO of The Philippine STAR, the lessons he learned from his mother that help him navigate a crisis, such as the one the world is going through now.

“I would say the most important lesson I learned from my mom is to always pray for God’s help and guidance and to put complete faith in Him. To care for others, especially those less fortunate that need help more.”

When Betty said she regarded STAR readers as “stars,” I knew exactly what she meant. One of my greatest lessons from her was to endeavor to identify every person in a photo correctly. “Every person’s name means a lot to him, Joanne.”

She was also the first editor in my life (well, she was my first editor) to shine the light on the half-full glass as a way of writing. She had always impressed upon me that she saw life, people, circumstances from the viewpoint of a glass half-full, though the glass is, realistically, also half-empty.

In a way, I was influenced by this kind of approach, the half-full approach. I don’t think I’ve ever bashed anyone in my career. Sometimes, people even tease me that I shouldn’t always be so positive or else my writing wouldn’t catch attention anymore (After all, it is the noisy wheel that gets the attention). But that’s how my first editor molded me.

Once, after reading an article I had just submitted, she put down her reading glasses on the table, looked at me for a few suspenseful moments, then smiled, “You know, your articles always give me this light and happy feeling.”

Somehow, after our daily prayer meetings, we knew that we would live to see the stars shine even on the darkest sky tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.

That was when she made me feel like a star.

Betty’ s youngest child and only daughter Joy, now Quezon City Mayor, credits her mother “100% for molding me into the public servant that I am today.”

Her mother let her pursue her own star.

From her mother’s own example, Joy said she learned “that it’s okay to be a working mom.”

“She taught me that women can make as much of a difference in the world as any man, and that we shouldn’t feel bad if we give up some of our time with our kids in order to serve God and country for as long as our kids understand the value of what we do. I am raising my son in the exact same way she raised me.”

Betty and former Speaker Sonny Belmonte had been married 34 years when she passed away on Jan. 28, 1994.

He once told me in an interview that he never asked Betty to give up her career and was proud of her many talents. (She took a leave from The STAR and campaigned by his side when he ran successfully for congressman of Quezon City in 1992.)

Aside from being editor of the Fookien Times Yearbook, Betty would also later on edit the Movieworld, the STAR! Monthly magazine and The Philippine STAR. She was perhaps the only woman who founded the two leading papers in modern Philippine history — The Philippine STAR and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which she left to establish The Philippine STAR.

In July this year, The Philippine STAR will celebrate its 35th anniversary. Betty, guided by a Bible verse, founded The Philippine STAR with Max Soliven and Art Borjal on July 28, 1986, the 23rd newspaper on the block. The Philippines had just regained press freedom after 20 years of dictatorship.

Armed with faith, she saw it through till it became the country’s leading newspaper, supervising its operations even as she valiantly fought cancer.

  BGB with STAR co-founders Max Soliven (right) and Art Borjal.

“Mom’s courage in the face of all the things that she experienced throughout her life is one thing I can never forget,” her firstborn Isaac, the head of The STAR’s editorial board, once described his mother.

“She showed her unflinching faith in all aspects of her life, from her family to her entrepreneurial spirit, to her battle with the disease. She triumphed throughout, because she knew she had our Lord with her always,” once recalled her second child Kevin, president and CEO of philstar.com.

“It seems like my mother’s whole life was dedicated to doing things for other people, she was constantly helping those in need. Never did she put herself ahead of others,” Miguel added.

BGB died exactly as she had lived her 60 years — with unquestioning and uncompromising faith in God.

She, in many ways, personified the last lines of the poem Amanda Gorman recited at the Biden inaugural: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

We miss her light, but know she is our guiding star.

Banner and thumbnail caption: The Philippine STAR founding chairman Betty Go-Belmonte. Photo from Eternally Betty: In Loving Memory of a Wonderful Life