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​ Chit Estella as children’s storyteller

Chit Estella, known for her hard-hitting reportage, her high ethical standards and unimpeachable integrity, was mourned by family, colleagues and friends when she died in a freak vehicular crash. But 10 years later, her voice cannot be stilled with the publication of a children’s book she authored. The stories in the collection were originally given as gifts to her nephews and niece.

The book, entitled Tatlong Kuwento Para sa Batang Pilipino, is published by Vera Files of which she is one of the founders. As far as her husband Roland Simbulan was concerned, Estella kept only a set of the stories’ hard copy. This was found in a baul (wooden chest) among her papers at home.

Chit and nephew, Gino Estella

He said, “When she gifted these stories to her pamangkins Gino, Carlo and Helene—I don’t remember the exact year of that Christmas—they were ring-bound hard copies with thick plastic covers. It was only during the long lockdown last year when I was doing some house cleaning that I found them and read each one.”

This year, since it is Estella’s 10th death anniversary, he thought of commemorating the occasion by having the three short stories in the manuscript published as a one book. He received the total support of the Vera Files ladies, Estella’s best friends.

The 82-page book, with a cover done by Fidel L. dela Torre and illustrations by Jeanet Herbosana-Simbulan, will be launched on Aug. 19 via Zoom on what would be Estella’s 64th birthday, instead of on her death anniversary. The launch will be hosted by Vera Files, Estella’s media friends and colleagues at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication’s Department of Journalism.

Simbulan said, “It is really more appropriate to remember her on a happy occasion as her birthday, not her death anniversary. The Chit that I knew would have also preferred it this way.

With the graphic film series Trese gripping the Filipinos’ imagination, what is the relevance of Estella’s children’ stories that also cull characters from the rich mine of Philippine mythology?

He answered, “Chit blends the aspect of our local popular culture like the aswang and others that we usually like to use to scare children with the realities of our times. This is why the book is also for adults. It tells children that the things that scare us are not what they seem if we get to understand them better. And that wherever, whenever there is oppression, there is ultimately also liberation. But only if we get to understand the situation, and all work together to solve it.”

Asked why the author chose underworld or mythical creatures to make her point, Simbulan, a retired professor from UP Manila, answered, “Because these are very much a part of who we are as Filipinos and as human beings. Our deep spirituality, which we impart to our children, keeps us believing in mythical creatures that may guide our lives, for better or for worse. But our liberation from any oppression is really in our hands. This is my own interpretation of her point.”

Also asked what Estella was like as person, partner and journalist/story-teller, Simbulan said, “In my acknowledgment to her book A Reader on Media Ethics, People’s Issues and Governance, published posthumously in 2012, I described her as ‘my wife, best friend and comrade.’ Her writings –always with a pro-Filipino, pro-poor perspective—represent the full force of her compassion and indignation over the realities around us.”

He continued, “She was truly the very first angel I met on earth who inspired me and others how to live a full life in a journey of love and compassion for others. I now recall her telling me once out of the blue, as if she had a premonition: ‘Roland, pag nauna ako sa iyo, mag-asawa ka muli dahil ayaw kitang maging malungkot (if I die ahead of you, you must marry again because I don’t want you to be lonely).’ It is only now that I remember the incident which I had then brushed aside.”

He shared another anecdote involving Estella as an editor. “She fully edited my father Dante’s book, The Modern Principalia: The Historical Evolution of the Philippine Oligarchy, published by the UP Press in 2005. In my father’s original draft acknowledgments to his book, he described Chit as his ‘talented daughter-in-law.’ Chit modestly edited the phrase by deleting ‘talented.’ That was the essential Chit.”

Copies of Tatlong Kuwento Para sa Batang Pilipino are available at Popular Book Store, 305 Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City (.Tel. (02) 83722162) and PGX Fair Trade Market, 112 Anonas Ext., Sikatuna Village, Q.C. (Tel.(02)851-60324 or 0939-2999535).

This article was also carried by ABS-CBN online.