The Big Guy
Not more than a couple of weeks ago, someone asked me, among the news anchors I had worked with, who impressed me the most. It was a difficult question because I’ve had the privilege to work with so many over the years. A good number I auditioned, some of whom I hired, while others, I regret, I allowed competing networks to pick up. There were those I worked with directly and those I only bumped into or watched from the sidelines. To put a time frame on this, one of the first newscasters I met personally was Helen Vela. Everybody remembers “Lovingly Yours, Helen”. Not many realize she also co-anchored “GMA Balita”. Despite the long list to choose from, however, I quickly answered with the name of one guy: Mike Enriquez.
I wish I could it say it was my idea to make him a news anchor, but it wasn’t. Mike did, however, consult me about it. Back in those days, before he started going to the gym regularly, he and I used to eat a lot. We’d go out for ramen or pho or bangus. He’d already had a long, distinguished career in radio when the offer to do TV news came, and he was perfectly happy sitting in his office listening to new music, deciding which tracks to put on the playlists. He certainly didn’t need to go on TV every night. I recall he thought he had already become a big fish in the small radio pond. Why chance being a small fish in the big TV ocean, he said. In spite of his prodigious talent, he had his insecurities.
From his first day on “Saksi”, he was never small. He was larger than life—he gave himself a persona that was much bigger than reality. His stylized delivery and fearless commentary changed the face of News. He put his personal stamp on newscasting in a way no one else has done. Love him or hate him, you watched him. And he worked hard at keeping his audience. When he and I used to fly out to the provinces to visit regional stations, his first stop on arriving in any city was the public market to find out what people were listening to. When his face became famous, he couldn’t do that anymore, but he found ways to stay in touch with regular people. He pushed to anchor newscasts from the field. For his public affairs program, he liked trying out the jobs of real people. He was particularly fascinated with firemen. Maybe he had a red toy fire engine when he was a kid. In any event, Mike demanded that the people around him do their best, and he was passionate about getting the news right. Sometimes this could make him difficult. I’d visit him before the newscast to remind him that the entire newsroom was working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to make him—the guy on air—look good. After that, he’d walk around making jokes with everybody. He knew the cameramen and the drivers as well as the reporters, writers, and producers. He was big, but he took care of the small guy. I know that from my own personal experience with him.
Several times he was told that he was a shoo-in to be a Senator. All he had to do was give the go signal to his childhood friend who happened to be among the most successful political strategists in town. On each occasion, however, he chose not to do it. Our country needs more people who believe the ability to win is not enough reason to run.
It was my great privilege to know Mike Enriquez. Because I could repay him by making him the butt of jokes to which he never ever took offense, it was one of my great joys to call him a friend. His memory will always be a blessing.