Frank Hilario, The Editor Who Would Be Fired

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MANILA: You could also title this "Fire & Nice." They had Fire, I wanted Nice. Another title, "C is for Control." I had Control, they wanted Control.

This is all about my unforgettable journey with a journal in the last decade. They don't make journals like I used to anymore!

This is all about the Philippine Journal of Crop Science (PJCS); you're looking at the cover of one of the PJCS issues that I designed (in fact, I designed all the 22 covers while I was Editor in Chief, 2001-2008). On the cover of this one, August 2005 issue, the PC clip art is the illustration of my editorial, "The Challenge Of Creativity In Science & The Quest For Quality." I didn't say it directly, but I didn't find creativity in crop science at that time, and I didn't sense a quest for quality either.

I was being paid per issue off the press; I accepted that. "We can pay you only a little," CSSP President Conrad H Balatero had told me in the job interview at the Anest Towers restaurant in Los Baños; the CSSP was based within the campus of UP Los Baños, 2 km away. "I have no problem with that," I had said. I didn't have a regular job at that time; a little coming was better than more waiting for freelance work. No work, no pay.

The CSSP, Crop Science Society of the Philippines, was the publisher of the journal. They had advertised for the position of Editor in Chief; my son had seen the announcement at IRRI, and suggested that I apply. I must have written a nice letter, but for the love of me I don't remember if I said anything about being a one-man band, that I would be desktop publishing the journal all by myself, no extra charge, no problem. I was 63. If you told me it couldn't be done, as long as it had to do with words and the PC, I would go ahead and do it.

My Mission: To bring the science journal of crops perennially late to up-to-date, and at the same time ISI, or of officially recognized world-class quality. I had no problem with those either. I had taught myself desktop publishing, and I was ready to prove (or probe) it. I had been directly involved as one of the editors for the Philippine Agricultural Scientist to achieve ISI status, as that journal's Quality Editor, I might say. The PAS was coming out regularly, but somehow it lacked quality - you know of course that quality is in the details, and I was a nitpicker, so I was perfect for the job of assistant editor. So, I had personal ISI experience; you can ask former Editor in Chief OK Bautista (c/o pas-uplbca.edu.ph) about that. We hit ISI status before the year was over, 2001, with 4 issues.

For the PJCS, to accomplish my mission, as Editor in Chief, I knew I had to have full control of the production of the journal. I just assumed it, and nobody questioned that. To explain and to encourage, I was writing editorials. And I was personally using the personal computer to edit as well as desktop publish the manuscripts, from draft layout to camera-ready pages. If that's not full control, I don't know what is.

And that's how the PJCS came off the press with increasing regularity from April 2001 to April 2008. Like I said, 22 issues. And you know what? I was a one-man band; I was literally the only staff! Believe it or not.

Today, we go back 6 years, to 2007, the year they would fire me.

We are witnessing the Board of Directors of the CSSP meeting formally at the Conference Hall 2 of the Development Academy of the Philippines in Tagaytay City (from Minutes of the Business Meeting, 15 June 2007, prepared by Gretchen Ocampo, Executive Secretary and approved by Renato Reaño, CSSP President, from the CSSP website cssp.org.ph). This must have been after or during a National Scientific Conference of the CSSP. This was not only important but historic; the 1st item in the agenda was those problem BOD members; the 2nd item was another problem, me, Frank Hilario.

Those present were: Abigail Joy Rodelas, Ambrocio Castañeda, Antonieta S Tumapon, Antonio A Alfonso, Apolonio M Ocampo, Carlos C Huelma, Cleotilde A Caldo, Darlene L Sanchez, Dindo Tabanao, Edwin G Hondrade, Emma K Sales, Gabriel Romero, Gliceria S Pascua, Gretchen S Ocampo, Jayfred Gaham V Godoy, Jessica D Rey, Jocelyn Zarate., Jonathan C Descalsota, Jose E Hernandez, Juanita B Salvoni, Juanito A Atiwag, Lilian F Pateña, Ma Elizabeth B Naredo, Manuel Gaspar, Manuel Jose C Regalado, Marilou N Infante, Naomi C Lamata, Nelly S Aggangan, Norvie L Manigbas, Pilar D Burgos, Ramon A Oliveros, Reianne M Quilloy, Rey Rodriguez, Rhodesia C Manzano, Rhodora R Aldemita, Rita P Laude, Roberta N Garcia, Roel C Rabara, Rosalinda P Mediano, Rowena H Oane, Rufino B Calpatura, Sonia A Torio, Tahere A Sigari, Tamerlane Mark S Nas, Thelma F Padolina, Tiffany P Laude, and Tonette P Laude.

47 names. I wasn't there; I didn't know about this Business Meeting until today, 6 years later, when I was googling for more information on Rebong, who just happened to be a member of the Board of Directors of the CSSP at this time, 2013, leading me to the CSSP website. (My story of Democrito Rebong, Branch Manager of PhilRice Isabela, appears in my blog dedicated to UPLB Alumni (Alumni In Villages, blogspot.com).

What to do with Frank Hilario as Editor in Chief of the journal? There were 48 warm bodies present, including Renato Reaño who was the presiding officer, and the report was in the negative. This is from the minutes:

The ISI application for the Philippine Journal of Crop Science (PJCS) is still under evaluation. It was agreed that a new technical editor-in-chief shall be hired by CSSP. The CSSP already invited prospective editors-in-chief. Dr Azucena Carpena signified interest to become the editor-in-chief of the PJCS.

It looks like they were blaming me for the perceived delay in the granting of the ISI label. It is important to emphasize that ISI is a desired heaven for technical journals; it's the Good Housekeeping seal for scientific publications; to achieve ISI status is, to borrow from Shakespeare, "a consummation devoutly to be wished." This time, the consummation of the services of the Editor in Chief was being sought after without asking the person his side! Guilty by affirmation.

Dr Edwin Hondrade suggested that Mr Frank Hilario not be fired as an editor of the PJCS, since he worked hard to provide/publish PJCS on time. According to him, based on the CSSP experience, the PJCS publication has always been three years delayed due to the technical editors.

Thank you, Edwin, for speaking in my behalf. Being a former President of the CSSP, and someone who came to know me, your word carried much weight.

At that time, 2007, I as Editor in Chief (and at the same time the publication's layout artist without extra compensation) had already made history: The previous year, 2006, I had made the PJCS up-to-date from being perennially late 3 years. In fact, a Guinness Book of World Record, I dare say. They were rewarding me by firing me!? I forgive them for their ignorance of the facts. I'm not hinting here of any hidden agenda.

That historical achievement, from 3 years late to up-to-date, was brought about by only 2 men, happily with no women involved:

One, Teodoro "Ted" Mendoza. I recruited him as Chair of the Board of Editors (necessarily international) because I knew him to be a UPLB Professor of scholarly habits, and he had the clout. He was the one person who solicited more and more manuscripts to publish - and personally visited scientists at UP Los Baños who could provide intelligent peer reviews of those manuscripts. Without those papers gathered and reviewed, there could not be any succeeding journal issue at all. We were working so fast we were always running out of papers to publish! It was unbelievable; it was also true.

Two, Frank Hilario. I was the One-Man Band Editor in Chief: Technical Editor, Language Editor, Typist, Copyreader, Proofreader, and Desktop Publisher (the person, not the program). At the PhilRice Los Baños Station near IRRI, on the CSSP desktop computer, in those ancient days working with Windows XP (I'm working with the icon-driven 2013 Windows 8 right now), I was desktop publishing the PJCS all by myself, with no extra compensation - I didn't ask for any; I volunteered, because I loved the challenge of doing what looked impossible. I have always been ahead of my time; no other Editor in Chief would dare do the desktop publishing himself! I knew I could do it.

I started using the PC in December 1985 yet and I never stopped to explore what I could do with it as writer and editor; it was now 22 years later. I'm a certified teacher, 80.6% in the first-ever Teacher's Exam, 1964. I have always been self-taught. If I needed higher computer literacy, I would teach myself. I was already 63 when I began that journey of a journal, but I knew that age doesn't matter because your gray matter doesn't age if you continuously cultivate it.

Again, from the minutes of that business meeting:

Mr Reaño clarified that Mr Frank Hilario will (neither) be fired nor replaced. He will still be an Associate Managing Editor. However, a technical editor will be hired to edit the technical aspects of the papers submitted. It was clarified that no additional budget will be incurred in hiring a technical editor. The PJCS only needs someone who has the scientific background. Even if Mr Teodoro Mendoza (was) tapped in some instance, it was only done to fast-track paper reviews. It will still be best if there is someone who will constantly monitor the technical content of the paper.

He is saying that I will neither be fired nor replaced; I will still be an Associate Managing Editor. But Mr Reaño, I am the Editor in Chief; if you make me Associate Managing Editor where there is not even a Managing Editor, you are demoting me 3-4 steps down. You might as well have fired me!

I don't know what was the unrecorded part of the meeting, but the minutes goes on to say:

Ms Lilian Pateña also told the body that we should not sacrifice quality with speed. Although PJCS was always released on time, she got feedbacks that the journal’s quality has been degrading, thus the need for a technical editor.

That is an insult if you don't know enough English: "The journal's quality has been degrading." Wrong word used; by degrading, I know she actually meant deteriorating. But if you assume that Ms Lilian knew exactly what she was saying, saying "degrading" was too much! As a technical editor for the last 32 years (at that time), I should have been ashamed of myself!

The question is: At that point in time, 2007, was Ms Lilian and her sources essentially correct? I had at that time come out with issues from April 2001 to April 2007, a total of 19 issues. Had the quality of editing of the PJCS really been deteriorating? Quite the opposite! I say the members of the Board of Directors of the CSSP had not done enough homework, not asked enough people, that's why they thought of firing the Editor in Chief instead of rewarding him. I'm hinting here of a hidden agenda. Remember, this was June 2007. Note that the minutes also said, "The ISI application for the Philippine Journal of Crop Science (PJCS) is still under evaluation." Incorrect.

In fact, in January 2007, the Philippine Journal of Crop Science was already in the ISI list of accredited journals - Ted Mendoza and I Google-checked. (Today, 2013, the ISI is called Web of Knowledge, under Thomson Reuters, but ISI still rings a bell that WoK doesn't.)

Being in that list meant that after 18 issues, the PJCS had already been officially certified by the ISI people at least 5 months (say December 2006) before the CSSP people were trying to fire me (June 2007):

(1) that the PJCS was coming out regularly and on time
(2) that it was publishing papers with international value
(3) that it was readable
(4) that it was being well edited.

That's what being ISI means. You can't make the ISI list with mediocre publishing, editing and printing, not by any chance.

It had been I who did the final editing of the language of those manuscripts. It had been Ted Mendoza and the reviewers who took care of the science of those papers, but I still had to read. It had been I who had been desktop publishing the journal.

"The journal’s quality has been degrading, thus the need for a technical editor." We are listening to my death sentence in absentia.

The minutes said, "The PJCS only needs someone who has the scientific background." They were saying I did not have the scientific background? After 18 issues? For Christ's sake, this was all crops and soils, and I was a University of the Philippines BS Agriculture graduate, in the Dean's List once, graduating with a weighted average of 2.36 pt (I had 1s but also 5s). Not your Average Student. And I had been the founding Editor in Chief of all 3 Forest Research Institute publications that made FORI well known here and abroad: Canopy (monthly newsletter), Habitat (quarterly color magazine), and Sylvatrop (quarterly technical journal). Except that at FORI I had a layout artist, it was essentially a one-man job. And all that was achieved at the Age of Dinosaurs (large typewriters), 1975-1981, 4 years before I touched my first PC. Not your Average Editor.

Understand: Making the ISI list is doubly important. One, it is rewarding in prestige. Two, it is rewarding in dollars: When you publish in an ISI-listed journal and you are from the University of the Philippines, you get an incentive of $1,000, certainly not chicken feed!

The PJCS having achieved ISI status because of me, the CSSP should now have thought of giving me quadruple my per-issue contract fee instead of thinking of giving me zilch, instead of thinking of firing me, don't you think? Goad works in mysterious ways.

In the end, the CSSP didn't fire me. They didn't hire a new Editor either. End of story?

In this story, that was Chapter 1.

And now we go back 5 years, to 2008, the year they would fire me. Again.

After I came out with the April 2008 issue, my #22, I was summoned by the new President of CSSP, Rhodora Aldemita, to a meeting of the Board of Directors at IRRI where she was working at a high-level position, I understood. The CSSP already knew by that time that the PJCS was in the elite ISI list. She went straight to the point, not even thanking me for coming or crediting me for the ISI; let me recall what she said as much as I can (she spoke Taglish but I don't like that one, so I'll put it in English; note that she was civil and firm:

You know, Mr Frank, the PJCS is now ISI. (As if I didn't know!) And they (presumably the ISI people) are now very strict with their requirements that only those with a PhD can be Editor in Chief. (Everybody knew I didn't have a PhD. I didn't even have an MS.)

This time, I was personally listening to my death sentence.

In effect, she was telling me in front of the Board of Directors of the CSSP that it didn't matter that, one, I had made the journal up-to-date from being perennially late 3 years, and that, two, I made it ISI in 1 year. Since I did not have a PhD, I was not qualified to be Editor in Chief.

I must have interrupted her at that point to say:

"You know, you can't fire me."

Huh! Those were my exact words. I said it matter-of-factly, neither haughtily nor angrily but softly, because I knew I was damned right. I also knew I was sitting on a higher moral plane. I didn't look at their faces, but I suppose they were all shocked.

"Why? Because I did not sign anything. There was no contract. There was only a gentleman's agreement between your President, Conrad Balatero and me." I wasn't going to break a gentleman's agreement; they were.

Oh, not to worry, I said goodbye nicely.

In this story, that was Chapter 2. I hope The Final Chapter.

Before I began to write this essay, thinking of being fired, I thought of my favorite Robert Frost's little poem "Fire and Ice," and here it is:

Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Rereading Frost, now I know this poem fits precisely what happened to me, first, being fired behind my back, and second, being fired to my face. My God, with 2 different perspectives, they tried to have Frank Hilario perish twice!

Perish the thought. With his intellectual and historical journey of 22 issues with the Philippine Journal of Crop Science, this Editor will never die; he will just fade away.

I'm happily recalling now that at that 2008 IRRI meeting of the CSSP Board of Directors, I met their fire with nice. I also left them courteously. Since I could not resign technically, the next day I texted the presidential lady saying, in so many words, that I would no longer accept any offer of contract for services to produce subsequent issues of their journal. She never replied, but I had said my Consummatum est; it was consummated.

If you knew me before then, I could not have met fire with nicer.

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