Press freedom is more appreciated if it is defended and advanced and not merely celebrated. A journalist’s determination to fight tyranny of any form cannot be proven by mesmerizing people in forums, waving banners or raising glasses during cocktails. It is proven in the journalist’s response to periods or situations when tyranny presents itself.
Cebu media has been tested once, in the “dark days” of Martial Law, and the response of individual practitioners to it measured their adherence to the cause of press freedom. I wasn’t a journalist then; I was into a bigger struggle. But while majority of the present crop of media people are post-martial law practitioners, some veterans are not.
Response by media people in that trying period was varied. Some were coopted by the Marcos regime, even bought outright. The others either chose to be silent (to save their jobs) despite the dictatorship’s assaults on our freedoms or openly fought Ferdinand Marcos’ rule later on despite risks to jobs and life. I won’t judge their actuation, though.
That period can smack into my formative years. When you are young you tend to look up to ideal character traits or acts that hew closely to it. Like intelligence, or in those times, courage. While our immediate concern then was family and neighborhood, the country drew our attention, too. We didn’t have TV, only radio and at times newspapers.
I can not say when my interest shifted from entertainment/sports to politics. Entertainment and sports loomed large because media hid a big chunk of political info, especially in the shell-shocked years from the early to the late `70s. Fernando Poe Jr. and Bruce Lee vied for my attention with cage stars Manny Paner, Ramon Fernandez, etc.
The people’s first acts of awakening coincided with my intellectual growth—when I was in college. I befriended journalists like Manny Lumanao, then with the Visayan Herald, and Job Tabada, editors with “activist” past (The Sillimanian of their student days). They were among those pushing the limit of what the situation allowed.
I say the 1978 elections allowed a widening of democratic space. One time, I strayed into the Pusyon Bisaya headquarters near Fuente Osmeña and was awed by the eloquence of a Talyux Bacalso waving copy of an Amnesty International report on the human rights abuses of minions of the dictatorship. Media did not touch that report then.
Pusyon Bisaya won, solidifying the position of the political opposition in Cebu and Region 7 and energizing the media somewhat, especially in the early `80s. The Visayan Herald became Cebu’s version of Malaya, called the alternative press only because most papers were conservative. Then radio erupted with a new sense of purpose.
Lawyers Migs Enriquez and David Ompoc drew listeners with their commentaries combining tirades against the dictatorship with wit and humor. Then came Nenita Cortes-Daluz, Inday Nita to many, who refused to be cowed by attempts of Marcos’ stooges to silence her. These people became icons of my youth for their defense of our freedoms.
Somebody once asked me why Press Freedom Week in Cebu is being celebrated in the week that embraces Sept. 21, the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law. I am not among the event’s organizers so I won’t answer that. Suffice it to say that Sept. 21 is not about the silencing of media but about the heroism of some of its practitioners.
And remembering that should also be what Press Freedom Week is about—lest we forget.
–I wrote this for my September 19, 2007 Sun.Star Cebu column