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‘Funfare’ thee well, RFL

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published May 07, 2021 5:00 am

His death was breaking news, just like his columns.

When people awoke Wednesday to the news that The Philippine STAR Entertainment editor Ricky Lo (who went by the initials RFL) had written “30” the night before, it was as if they had just read a flash report about a beloved celebrity’s death in one of Ricky’s columns. It was jolting. It was news.

“Ricky died with his boots on,” said STAR president and CEO Miguel Belmonte last Wednesday. “Ricky still has a column today, his last.”

Ricky, who was also one of the paper’s associate editors, was working from his hospital bed since April 24, till his health took a turn for the worst.

“My mother and I are heartbroken,” Sen. Grace Poe, daughter of another movie legend Susan Roces, told me in a text message early Wednesday morning.

Few entertainment writers since the print industry dawned in the Philippines had the stature of soft-spoken Ricky, who wrote daily columns and didn’t skip a day, come hell or high water.

‘I was very fascinated with the stars. They seem so unreal, like they’re not human at all. When I started writing, I realized they were just people, too,’ Ricky Lo told PeopleAsia. 

He became legendary for his “blind items,” and he would confirm your guess if he trusted you — but usually not by text. He would call you up — to leave no evidence that could be traced back to him. Before long, to be different from other columnists, he would call his sources his “DPAs” (for Deep Penetration Agents).

His column was so widely read that the late STAR founding publisher Max V. Soliven once said on record that he wasn’t the most widely read columnist in The Philippine STAR. “Ricky Lo is.” Coming from Max, you knew that was a true compliment.

 His column was such a staple for readers they did not only take it as Gospel truth, they also started using “funfare” to mean “fanfare.” That’s when you know your column has “arrived,” when people even make its name part of their vocabulary.

First meeting

I first met Ricky on my first day at The STAR news desk in August 1992. His seat was not far from mine. He called me and showed me a page from a magazine and pointed to a photo. “You look like her,” he said as he gave me a welcoming smile.

It was a photo of Anne Archer, who portrayed the wife of Michael Douglas in the movie Fatal Attraction (with Glenn Close as the woman fatally attracted to Michael.) Of course I was flattered. Pang Hollywood pala ang beauty ko!

Many friends remember his generosity. Leah Salterio, who would contribute to his section, recalls that on a media trip to Singapore, she dropped some cash while walking. She was dejected when she discovered her loss. That night, Ricky quietly gave her a $100 bill, “So you will feel better.”

A fascination for stars

In 2014, Ricky was honored as one of PeopleAsia magazine’s “Men Who Matter.” In an interview with then PeopleAsia writer Denise Roco, Ricky revealed that just like two of his close friends, his childhood dream was to become a priest. He was a sacristan during his grade school years in Las Navas, Northern Samar.

He would go to church every day and serve in the morning Masses, which were then said in Latin. Ricky said he formed a bond with their parish priest Fr. Fernando Tan, who was also of Chinese descent like himself.

“We would be playing, swimming in the river, then he’d call out that there’s someone about to die. We helped in administering extreme unction. One of us held the crucifix, the other holy water, and the other incense,” recalled Ricky.

Ricky and his two best friends were supposed to enter the seminary after graduating from grade school, but fate intervened. 

During one boating trip, Father Tan was suddenly thrown overboard. He hit his head on the side and drowned. With the death of his mentor, Ricky’s dream of joining the priesthood sank, too.

He pursued another calling. Ricky started submitting articles for the school paper in Tabaco Pei Ching School in Tabaco, Albay, where he graduated high school, with a first honorable mention award.

Even then, he told PeopleAsia, he knew in what constellation he wanted to belong.

“I was very fascinated with the stars. They seem so unreal, like they’re not human at all. When I started writing, I realized they were just people, too,” he told PeopleAsia

He enjoyed interviewing Hollywood action star Jackie Chan. Antonio Banderas, The Rock, and Will Smith are among other celebrities who Ricky’s had the pleasure of interviewing. Not to mention Han Solo a.k.a. Harrison Ford!

Excerpts from the article penned by Roco:

“His first job was as a helper in Stardust magazine in Malabon City, one of the movie magazines at the time. He used to get P1,000 a month, a sum he could live with in the ‘60s. He also used to contribute to Variety magazine, the Sunday supplement of The Manila Times. Then, when someone resigned from The Manila Times, the editor asked him to apply.

“It was an opportunity he could not pass, as it was a very prestigious matter to have a byline at The Manila Times. As the new talent still under probation, ‘I used to cover the First Quarter Storm, rallies and Congress, student activism. Every night when I got home, my pants were ripped from running. When the rallyists ran, we ran, too,’ he recalls with a chuckle.

“After his probation, Ricky then became editorial assistant, which allowed him to cover more showbiz features. Unfortunately, when martial law was declared, ‘I was jobless for two months!’ His career trajectory then found him doing stints in Expressweek magazine, Daily Express and the Sunday magazine called Weekend with Millet Mananquil and Ching Alano.

“The People Power revolution pushed him to go to the US for three months but upon his return, Mananquil (then and still the Lifestyle editor of The Philippine STAR) called Ricky, inviting him to be part of a new broadsheet founded by Betty Go-Belmonte in 1986.

“Of course, Ricky would have countless memorable interviews to happily reminisce about. From the great archive of his memory, he pulls out the best of the best. Ricky loves the talkative ones — and most definitely not the ones who reply in monosyllables. He tells this writer of the late Nida Blanca, who in one question could provide more answers than asked of her. Her storytelling to Ricky would be matched by bubbly animated action.

“He also enjoyed interviewing Hollywood action star Jackie Chan. When Ricky asked about the worst injury he ever sustained, Jackie said that he jumped off a building, missed his landing spot and fell on the ground, cracking his skull when shooting Armour of God. Ricky prodded him further, to which Jackie gamely grabbed the hand of Ricky and positioned Ricky’s finger right on top of the hole on Jackie’s head! Antonio Banderas, The Rock, and Will Smith are among other celebrities who Ricky’s had the pleasure of interviewing. Not to mention Han Solo aka Harrison Ford!”

Ricky distilled what I also believe is the essence of being a writer — the ability to connect with as many people as possible.

“What’s important is that you’re read by as many people as you can attract. What’s the use of writing if you’re not read? It’s like you’re talking but no one’s listening to you. Writing is not to impress, but to inform people,” he said.

“Funfare” thee well, Ricky. Your legacy shines like a thousand stars.

Banner image by Mau Mauricio courtesy of PeopleAsia