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For years, he says, no newspaper cared about what was really going on in the community. One scandal after another unfolded, and the only way to learn about them was word of mouth, because the newspapers were not interested.

“People talked in whispers,” he says. “One true story took the form of a rumor peddled from one misinformed mouth to another.

“The so-called meat of Filipino newspapers,” Romeo continues, “are pictures of the same people in various poses.”

Romeo mimics these “candid” shots.

Here are his three favorites:

“One is when the head is being crowned,” says Romeo. “Two is when the right arm is raised as in taking an oath. The third is when everyone is applauding and the mouth is wide open in glee.”

The publisher-editor of Diario Veritas tells me that Filipino newspapers excel in coverage of the first type of photograph. He goes on to explain that most organizations have beauty pageants and therefore — beauty queens. Then these “queens” compete with other “queens” for still more beauty honors. The ultimate winners symbolize not only the greatest beauties from the community but the best “brains.”

“Until now,” Romeo declares dryly, “these beauties have been far from brains.”

Romeo had noticed that the Philippine newspapers in San Diego mostly rehashed stories that originated from Manila. He wanted a newspaper that represented the community right here in San Diego.

“I believe,” he says, “the reason for this is a lack of honest-to-goodness journalists who see newspapering as a vehicle to educate and enlighten the community on the issues directly affecting them. Many newspapers have ‘publishers’ and ‘editors’ and ‘writers’ who don’t know the newspaper business and don’t know how to edit or write.”

But this is not just a tale of Romeo Marquez tooting his own horn. He has disagreements with the Filipino media, but there are exceptions, even there.

“If editorial content, layout, design, style, knowledge, and understanding of journalism were the gauge,” Romeo puts in, “I would say my [meaning Diario Veritas’] chief competitor would be the Filipino Press. That newspaper is edited by Ernie Flores, who is a fine writer too.”

But, of course, Romeo, being a true Filipino as well as a journalist, has his disagreements with his colleague. That is why he prefers his own newspaper, Diario Veritas, to any others. His competition includes weeklies like the California Examiner and the Asian Journal, as well as biweeklies such as the Filipino Press and the Philippine Mabuhay News, of which he used to be editor in chief.

I’m beginning to see that food and newspapers have something to do with the story about José Rizal’s statue. At least, all of these disparate things seem to be coming together. Or maybe I am simply hungry. Perhaps it is time to eat.

Conching’s Cafe is on Eighth Street in the heart of National City. It is a noisy, lively restaurant. We enter and immediately get in line to select our food, cafeteria-style. Romeo orders for me.

“Give my friend some pinakbet and adobo,” he says, pointing to a steam table filled with vegetables and the pork-and-chicken dish I saw earlier in the Point-Point Joint.

Everything is self-serve, and we sit down at an oilcloth-covered table that has just been cleared and wiped off.

We must be in Romeo’s territory because everyone comes over to say hello and no one seems to be avoiding him.

A group of elderly women at the next table bubble over with their enthusiasm. They are wearing incredibly colorful — okay, gaudy — nylon bowling-style jackets.

One of them has a large trophy in her hand and is now passing it around for her friends to see.

“Does this have to do with a beauty pageant?” I ask him.

He smiles. No, it does not, he says. Most things in National City have to do with beauty pageants, but not everything.

“They are coming from a Lion’s Club meeting,” he informs me.

Romeo nods hello to the elderly women, and they recognize and say hello back to him.

It is hard to hear each other in the restaurant, as every table has filled up. Everyone is noisy and hungry. It is just before noon. Luckily we have beaten the rush, and as we leave the restaurant, Romeo shakes hands and waves good-bye to people, almost as if he were running for office.

“Now I am going to take you to the place that is the reason why I started my own newspaper,” he says.

A short drive from the restaurant where we ate lunch, we pull into another mall. He parks the car in front of a large seafood store called Seafood City. We get out and Romeo saunters over to a statue.

“The center of the Philippine community,” he says.

But I can tell by the scowl on his face and the sarcastic way he makes the remark that he doesn’t mean it.

There is a pedestal topped off by a life-sized bust of José Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. This public art is not monumental. In fact, it is quite modest. If it were not plunked down in the center of a path leading into Seafood City, one might overlook the statue of José Rizal entirely.

“What do you think?” he asks.

Frankly, I am disappointed. All this buildup, I think, for what? A measly bust of José Rizal in front of a fish market. But Romeo Marquez seems to read my mind.

“It is nothing much,” he says.

“Yes,” I agree, uncertain as to what he might think of my response.

Near the statue of José Rizal, a family is picnicking. Romeo Marquez mutters under his breath. He says, “Imagine the statue of a national hero erected in front of a seafood market!” The editor-writer-publisher of Diario Veritas is hot under the collar because José Rizal was a renowned person, and Marquez feels his statue needs to be located in a more culturally significant place than a shopping center’s seafood store.

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