Retired Filipino journalist Ruben Alabastro writes 30 

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Retired Filipino journalist Ruben Alabastro writes 30 

FILIPINO JOURNALIST. REtired journalist Ruben Alabastro died on June 21, 2024.

Ruben Alabastro Facebook

Ruben Alabastro, 'Tata Ben' to most of his former colleagues, worked for Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He was a UST alumnus.

MANILA, Philippine – Retired journalist Ruben Alabastro, a longtime reporter and desk editor of various foreign news agencies, died on Thursday, June 20, his family confirmed. He was 83.

“It is with a heavy heart to let you know that our Tatay passed away yesterday. Please pray for the repose of his soul,” his daughter, Rachel Alabastro-Federez, said in a Facebook post on Friday.

Tributes from his former colleagues and other journalists poured in for the veteran correspondent whom they called “Tata Ben.” He covered major events such as the surrender of Japanese straggler Hiroo Onoda in Lubang Island in 1974, the Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. assassination in 1983, as well as the tumultuous events that led to the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.

In a Facebook post, Filipino Pulitzer Prize 2018 winner Manuel Mogato, who replaced Alabastro in the Reuters Manila bureau in 2003 after Alabastro retired from the foreign wire agency, called his former colleague a “superb storyteller” and a “patient” mentor.

“His flowery prose was much better than that of the English writers and poets. The news stories he wrote read like a fiction story. He was the most superb storyteller. He was a legendary journalist,” Mogato, who retired from Reuters in January 2019, said.  

He recalled that Alabastro filed news alerts “even when the ground was shaking” during the July 1990 Luzon earthquake, and when rebel soldiers occupied the Makati Commercial Business District in the 1989 coup that almost toppled the Aquino government. 

“He grilled news sources for the smallest detail of an event, asking stringers the source of information, and always aiming for accuracy, fairness, and impartiality,” Mogato said. 

Recalling Albastro’s pre-writes or embargoed stories on famous Philippine personalities, such as Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, and Imelda Marcos – which are published in case they die – Mogato said: “I updated the stories occasionally but kept most of his written details. I was in awe of his masterpieces…Goodbye, my mentor…”

Raju Gopalakrishnan, a two-time former Manila bureau chief of Reuters, described Alabastro as the “bedrock of our small bureau.”

“[He was]…always manning the late shifts and the weekends and expertly covering the twists and turns that the Philippines throws up. I learned a lot from him. His English…was flawless and he could distill complicated stories into easy reads. We are all poorer for his loss, but sure he is up there somewhere tapping out what it’s like to cross the great divide, a smile on his lips and a lit cigarette close by,” he said. Alabastro was a heavy smoker.

Longtime justice beat reporter Peter Tabingo, a former Reuters stringer, said that during the plunder trial of deposed president Estrada, Alabastro would call him up even past midnight to verify details. “He was already home but he needed to satisfy himself that he got them right,” he said in comments to Mogato’s post.

Another former Reuters stringer, Diana Mendoza, said she learned a lot from Alabastro. “‘Yung alam mong perfect, flawless na ang storya, pero may makikita pa siyang butas (You’d think the story was already perfect, flawless, but he’d still see something missing). And I learned a lot from the way he conducted interviews. Unassuming, highly revered, real,” she said, also in comments to Mogato’s post.

Veteran journalist Ignacio Dee said: “In 1976, I met him. He was quiet, observant but would ask that one question that was the angle. Mapapasalita ang kausap (The person he was talking to would be forced to say something). Then details would come out in the AFP [Agence France-Presse] story.”

Alabastro also worked for the Manila bureau of the French news agency Agence France-Presse under the late Teodoro “Teddy” Benigno Jr., and the Manila bureau of the US news agency, Associated Press.

After retiring from Reuters in 2003, Alabastro would later join the broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer as chief of its day desk, after which he moved to Inquirer online. He was an alumnus of the University of Sto. Tomas, according to his Linkedin profile.

His wake will be in the St. Luke room of Loyola Memorial Chapels and Crematorium in Guadalupe, Makati City, with public viewing scheduled to start on June 22 at 3 pm. –

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.