Much is known and has been written about Mario V. Dumaual’s near-legendary coverage of entertainment news for ABS-CBN, where he served for three decades as, one report put it, “the face” of the network’s entertainment, elevating it to a dignified genre, away from the stereotypical “tabloidish” fare of screaming headlines on scandals.
But years before he became the hugely popular TV journalist—as many accounts, including BusinessMirror’s Edwin Sallan, describe the “fan-girl” and “fan-boy” effect he had on others as if he himself were a celebrity—Mario was writing for Joe Burgos’s Malaya, in the twilight years of the Marcos First administration.
Those were interesting times, and Mario was as crucial to the overall reportage as those who worked the political beats because many of the artists and entertainers of that pre-1986 era were outspoken figures and a presence in many protest actions.
But if you thought Mario was a fire-and-brimstone kind of writer for what was then the biggest paper—and a trailblazer—in the so-called Mosquito Press, nothing is farther from the truth. He was perpetually happy and smiling, but always insightful in his analysis of things. And it was perhaps this congeniality that was his secret, serving him in good stead then and years later, at ABS CBN, when he had to track down celebrities.
In short, Mario was Mr. Chill personified. No macho-style posturing, no self-righteous airs, or the slightest inclination to give people the impression that he was doing something “important” or “patriotic” even though the situation of journalists then, at least those in non-crony media, often bordered on high-risk or perilous to life-and-death circumstances.
He would drop by Malaya’s offices in Quezon City with his trademark smile, his boyish mien, and calm demeanor. One day, we were chatting beneath a tree on Malaya’s driveway and he suddenly looked conspiratorial. Then, he lowered his voice and said, “do you know that I live just next to our printing press?”—a question that floored me because we all knew the location of the plant was kept a secret as much as possible to shield from harassment our brave printer.
Then, in his uniquely “Marites” way, he volunteered further: The printing press, he said, has no security guards, but lots of HUGE dogs—all canines obviously intended to deter any intruder from the “ajax” type. “Ajax” was the term used in those days to describe government spies routinely deployed to entities deemed threats to the state or the rulers. That precaution was understandable, because Malaya’s predecessor in Joe Burgos’s stable of newspapers, the WE Forum, was raided by the military in December 1982. Its editorial offices and printing plant on Quezon Avenue were padlocked while a sedition case was lodged against Burgos and several officers and columnists of the paper. Weeks before that raid, which the Supreme Court struck down two years later for being illegal, and void, the WE Forum premises was crawling with “spies” of all sorts. Street vendors, walk-in volunteers, parking attendants, etc.
Back to Mario Dumaual. He seemed to derive some pleasure in being among the few who knew the Malaya printer’s location and security protocols, but he never once conveyed any sense of anxiety about writing for a paper that he knew was under perpetual watch by authorities.
Instead, he had the same unflappable disposition, congeniality and consistent professional behavior that endeared him later to coworkers in his TV network, and earned him the respect and friendship even of his “rival” in GMA, Lhar Santiago, who called him like a brother. Lhar, by the way, also started his professional career by graduating from the campus press to Joe Burgos’s WE Forum.
It is understandable why Mario’s death, at 64, has shocked and saddened so many people. Anyone who knew or had worked with him has the same recollection of the guy. It’s interesting how uniformly loving is the tone in which people, especially from media who are only now piecing together bits and pieces of Mario’s career, all share their memories of him. Thelma Sioson-San Juan, who was with Times Journal and later the Manila Chronicle, Inquirer, and ABS-CBN was one of them. Another Times Journal alumna, Berroth Medenilla, was credited with giving him an early break in the news media. She had been approached by Mario who wanted to write in newspapers because, said one report, he was “bored” with his day job.
Berroth, who subsequently also worked with us in Malaya, confirmed this in a recent conversation. She recalled him as a “perpetually curious” person, really suited for entertainment reporting. But he was dignified in his demeanor, she stressed, never stooping down to the level of someone gleefully purveying accounts of scandals.
And of course, he would eventually write as well for Malaya, joining the ranks of the paper’s entertainment and culture reporting stalwarts—Mario Hernando (now also deceased) and Ester Dipasupil.
There, he would also get to work with Joel Saracho, the writer-actor. Here’s how Joel remembers Mario: “While Mario started out in the Journal publications, it was in Malaya where he honed his entertainment writing with a more critical lens. His stories about movie stars and the ongoings in showbiz were viewed in a subtle political frame. He refused to be trapped in the usual chismis stories prevalent in entertainment journalism. This frame he brought with him even when he shifted to broadcast news.”
Another coworker of Mario in the Burgos-era Malaya, Joe’s widow Edith, said Mario “will always be remembered [as] a gentle presence in the Malaya newsroom.” Her first encounter with him was a window, Edith recalls, to his personality. She noticed that he looked very clean-cut and presumed he might come from an upper middle class family, so she asked him twice, “are you not scared of working for a paper where you could be arrested?” He quickly replied, sans any macho posturing, “no, mam.” Then she asked, “do your parents know you’ll be working for us?” and he just assured her, “I’ll tell them, mam.”
Indeed, that was the essential Mario. Eager to chase the stories that mattered, but always knowing in his heart they are never about him. So, I don’t know how this gentle, self-effacing man would react to being written about these days. Blushing, I’m sure.