Cerge Remonde

January 28, 2010

A few months before I married Edizza in 1999, I met Joy, a Cerge Remonde relative and former dyLA secretary. “Niingon to si Cerge nga masuko siya kun dili nimo siya himoong ninong sa kasal,” she said. Actually, we had considered him as our wedding sponsor even without the reminder. But that was typical Cerge,

Cerge wasn’t in Malacañang yet at that time but he was busy with his work and other activities that went with his being a popular broadcaster and media leader. Besides, the wedding date, Dec. 18, was too close to his birthday, Dec. 21. So while we didn’t expect him to be there at the wedding, we listed him as one of the sponsors nevertheless.

Indeed, we didn’t see Cerge’s shadow during the ceremony, but I was surprised when he did pass by at the reception that was held at the back of the church in Sitio Laray, Barangay San Roque, Talisay. He was smiling when he shook our hands. “Tan-awa, di ba niari gyod ko,” he said, obviously proud of what he did. Again typical Cerge,

I first met Cerge when I decided to go back to society’s mainstream after months of “rehabilitation” in the early ‘90s. I was in need of work but was an undergrad. I had worked part-time in dyLA before and had trained at the then Broadcast Production and Training Center. I thought I had a chance of landing a job if I applied in that radio station.

DyLA then could be described as a Cerge Remonde-Leo Lastimosa organization. Cerge was the manager and popular radio commentator while Leo was the news director and popular broadcast journalist. Both were intimidating to a work applicant like me. Besides, Cerge had gained a reputation as leader of the anti-communist movement.

When I went to the radio station, I therefore made sure I brought with me a note from a military official vouching for my “rehab.” Cerge read the note then referred me to Leo. I actually expected the cold treatment. Fortunately, Leo was more accommodating and recommended that I start work immediately. That jump-started my media career.

I didn’t know that it was the waning weeks of the Cerge-Leo partnership. Just when I was transferred from desk work to the field as City Hall beat reporter in 1991, Leo would be “pirated” by dyRF, leaving Cerge to scramble in looking for a replacement. And weeks after I was designated as news director, Cerge himself left to join politics.

That also marked the beginning of the end of my stint in dyLA. Cerge ran for the congressional post in Cebu City’s north district against the formidable Raul del Mar in 1992. That meant an OIC had to take over as station manager. When Cerge lost his bid, he was not allowed to go back to his dyLA job but was instead assigned to Manila.

Meanwhile, the OIC initiated changes that tended to scuttle dyLA’s reputation as news and public affairs station. Threats of retrenchment followed. I stood by the reporters and vowed to resign if any one of them was fired. When Cerge visited Cebu, he told us to stay put because he was finding ways to return as station manager. But things came to a head fast. I was eventually forced to quit.

When Cerge stood as sponsor in my wedding, memories of my foray into broadcast journalism were receding. I also met him only in rare instances. The linkage would continue to weaken, especially during his stint in Malacañang. But that did not mean my appreciation of him had been scuttled. Reports of his passing yesterday therefore saddened me. May he rest in peace.
(This came out in my January 20, 2010 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)


Maguindanao Massacre

December 4, 2009

Conflict of schedule prevented me from joining yesterday’s march of the Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists (CFBJ) to condemn the Maguindanao massacre, which also took the lives of around 30 Mindanao journalists. At this stage, though, all of us in the media profession are outraged. We mourn the senseless deaths of our colleagues.

In this, the saddest period of our country and Philippine journalism, fortifying our solidarity is the only way to go. It therefore warms the heart that, from Batanes to Jolo and from the Philippines to the farthest reaches of the globe, condemnation of the Nov. 23 bestiality in Maguindanao can be heard. Such is needed if justice is the goal.

Days have passed but I still feel a mixture of anger, sadness and worry every time the Maguindanao massacre comes to mind. The other night a GMA 7 report put a face on the names of the journalists who died while covering the filing of the certificate of candidacy of a member of the Mangudadatu clan. I was both enraged and teary eyed.

The happiest days in my journalism career happened when I was in the field. There, the challenges in covering a developing event are always eased by our interaction with our colleagues. The faces of the reporters shown in that GMA 7 footage and fotos all radiated the same humanity that the powerful overlook in their attempt to stifle the truth.

Mourning and condemnation, however, are only phases in the pursuit of justice. We all must focus now on the next important stages, especially on the manner the Arroyo administration is handling the investigation and identification of the perpetrators. This early, I am beginning to worry if those killed will ever be accorded genuine justice.

Look closely and you will find that the magnitude of the bestiality committed in this incident is matched only by the kind of power the suspects are wielding. Andal Ampatuan Jr. is mayor of Datu Unsay town. His father, Andal Sr., is governor of Maguindanao. His brother, Zaldy, is Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao chief.

As details of the massacre are put to light, the more one sees how this power was flaunted in the crime. The backhoe used to bury the bodies of the victims is owned by the Maguindanao government. Among the armed men linked to the crime were top police officials in the area. Reports say that the perpetrators later sought refuge at the Capitol.

In short, government personnel and resources were used in the corralling and slaughtering of the victims and in the subsequent attempt to cover up the crime. That shows the height abuse of authority in Maguindanao has reached. The situation did not occur overnight; it is a product of years of looking away by the Arroyo administration.

Yet, in the current quest for justice, Malacañang is not even going through the motions of creating an impression that it is distancing from the suspect Ampatuan clan, its ally. The administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD did expel the Ampatuans, but Presidential Adviser Jesus Dureza has been babysitting the clan the past few days.

I hope the case against Andal Jr., the main suspect in the massacre, won’t go the way of that of Ruben Ecleo Jr. that has dragged on for years without clear outcome in sight. Andal is also rich and influential and can hire the best lawyers to turn the judicial process on its head. That’s why public pressure must be continuously exerted on this one.

(I wrote this for my November 27 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)

Website, Blogs and Decency

September 21, 2009

I don’t have much to say about the Cebu Press Freedom Week activity, except that I would have preferred one that is less celebratory and more inward-looking and honest. So I would rather tackle freedom in general and its twin, responsibility.

We are in a period that is the exact reverse of the one after martial law was declared by Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 2009. Today, freedom is in excess, especially with the advent of new technology like the internet. Blogs and ideas-sharing websites have proliferated, and the tendency for abuse is real.

Professional journalists are guided by a code of ethics and standards that is virtually similar from one media outlet to another, and whether one is in the Philippines or in other countries like the United States. But no such codes guides bloggers and opinion spewers in, say, the internet.

Even websites and blogs run by professional journalists are finding it difficult to rein in the abusive tendencies of some comments posters. Maligning a person and use of profanity and other abusive language often accompany sane readers’ views and the journalist must be alert at all times to ensure that decency continues to become the norm in running such website or blog.

Indeed, we are in a very complicated period, but the guideline has remained simple and basic. Civilized conduct is needed now more than ever.

Right of Reply Bill: Pimentel and Joker

March 9, 2009

I respect the views of Sens. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. and Joker Arroyo on the right of reply bill, and while I am surprised that they are for the measure, I also understand that one’s (or even a senator’s) views are shaped by one’s milieu. It is in this sense that my viewpoint now (as a family man and a journalist) is much different from that when I was still a full-time activist.

The same goes for Pimentel and Arroyo. I once attended a lecture by the young Pimentel, then a human rights lawyer, when I was a freshman in college and became an instant fan. While that was in the waning years of martial rule, majority of the country’s intellectuals have still to find their voice in the defense and promotion of human rights—the most abused under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Pimentel was in the minority.

The fight against the Marcos regime was not instant for many. It was more like a person opening his door and tiptoeing unto the street, getting the daring to pick up a placard only after seeing that others have done so already. Nene, the more popular Joker and many other civil rights crusaders in a way inspired us by their willingness to risk their lives for a cause.

But that was in another period. Pimentel and Arroyo have since gotten the prize of their sacrifices by being among the anti-Marcos personalities who have taken over the government. Different perspective, different standpoint. They who once waved the banner of civil liberties are now defenders of a bill that allows the scuttling of one of the hallowed freedoms—the one guaranteed to the press.

(I wrote this for my March 4, 2009 Candid Thoughts column)

The Quill

June 25, 2008

I received an e-mail from a staff member of The Quill, the student publication of Southwestern University (SWU), informing me about the last week of July homecoming in time for the 60th anniversary of the paper. I congratulate The Quill staff and the school administration for finally paying homage to the storied past of this campus publication.

I joined the Quill staff during one of the tumultuous times of its existence, which was in the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship. I didn’t have doubts at that time that I wanted to be a writer so I joined the qualifying exams for staff member just weeks after I enrolled in a Chemical Engineering course. I didn’t know a struggle lay ahead.

The early ’80s was the time when the wave of student activism was rising in Cebu. Acts of government and other institutions were subjected to scrutiny. Some of us staff members complained about lack of benefits and eventually sought an accounting of the collection for publication fees. That got us into a collision course with the school admin.

To get the attention of the students, one of the paper’s advisers hatched what I would call the “El Filibusterismo” strategy, referring to the actions of the novel’s main character, Simoun (Juan Crisostomo Ibarra). In my second year with The Quill, no issue was printed, forcing a school official to work in the summer so something will come out.

Meanwhile, petition-signing for an accounting of publication funds was started. We had dialogues with school officials that didn’t produce anything concrete. An issue of the Quill was eventually produced but my name and that of the others who joined the petition were dropped from the staff box. By that time I was already into larger concerns.

This does not mean I don’t have fond memories of my Quill stint. “Candid Thoughts,” for example, was my first stab at column writing, although its content was studiously checked by our adviser for any radical comment. I honed my writing there and finally had an audience for my creative works. My Quill stint was a learning experience.

Of course, things change, and I see this in how The Quill has been run since the conflicts that erupted in the ’80s was resolved. I have gone back to SWU from time to time to share with campus writers there my experiences as a working journalist. I have had cordial meetings with people who were at the opposite side, sort of, in those times.

(I wrote this for my June 26, 2008 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)

Lessons from Ces Drilon’s Abduction

June 13, 2008

Sorry, but I just don’t believe in the news managers of ABS-CBN. Honest. I lost confidence in this group led by former Cable News Network reporter Maria Ressa after that Manila Peninsula Siege. ABS-CBN people led the group of media persons that refused to go out of the hotel even when government troops were poised to flush out Sen. Antonio Trillanes and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim who were both holed up there.

When government criticized media’s actions at that time, it was Ressa who volunteered what I thought then was a somewhat arrogant rationalization. She said that ABS-CBN news managers weighed the risks of staying in the hotel and thought that, like in the Oakwood mutiny, there won’t be violent confrontation, or words to that effect. Then she downplayed the effects of tear gas, which the police lobbed in the hotel.

Of course, news managers can be cavalier to dangers in coverage because they are not the ones who are out there in the field. In the Manila Pen siege, I consider some media people’s action as adventurism and motivated mainly by goal of out-scooping the competition. In that impasse, reporters do not need to interview Trillanes at every turn. Information can be had using other means, so why risk reporters’ lives?

The abduction of Ces Drilon and cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderrama seems to be the result of the same mindset that guided ABS-CBN news managers in the Manila Pen siege. They seem to have downplayed the risk posed to the lives of Drilon and the others and bloated the importance of the exclusive stories that may be had in Sulu. The result: safety considerations became merely secondary.

Let us all hope and pray that Drilon and the others will finally be freed from captivity. As for the ABS-CBN news managers, it is time to learn from the lessons of their adventurism in the conduct of coverage.

Abduction of ABS-CBN’s Ces Drilon

June 11, 2008

The abduction of ABS-CBN reporter and anchorperson Ces Drilon and cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama reminds media persons again about the need to lay down security plans for coverage in insurgent/kidnapping hotbeds like Sulu and Basilan. This is not the first time scoop hunting became a nightmare.ABS-CBN's Ces Drilon

Journalist Arlyn de la Cruz, who was then with the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Net25 TV station, was seized in Zamboanga on Jan. 20, 2002 while trying to interview Abu Sayyaf leaders. De la Cruz had contacts/friends in the bandit group but that didn’t assure protection because of the factionalized nature of Mindanao rebel organizations.

De la Cruz survived that nightmarish experience wherein he was physically harmed and constantly threatened with execution and was released 98 days after she was kidnapped. The official line was that no ransom was paid for her release but there were talks that reached Reporters Sans Frontieres about her abductors getting 43,000 euros.

On Sept. 28 of the same year, or a month after de la Cruz was released on April 27, GMA 7 reporter Carlo Lorenzo and Gilbert Ordiales were abducted in the town of Indanan in Jolo while interviewing Arola Abubakar of the Moro National Liberation Front. They were with a guide when Abubakar seized them in Barangay Talibang.

Lorenzo and Ordiales were released on Oct. 3 as the Philippine Army launched a search for them in Indanan and local officials intervened. GMA 7 denied a rumor that a ransom was paid. “I thought they were going to kill us, decapitate us, but we are safe and well,” Lorenzo had said after their release. The rebels, though, took some of their things.

In its 2003 annual report, Reporters Sans Frontieres said that the “Philippines, and in particular Mindanao island, remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.” Since that year, however, abductions by the Abu Sayyaf and other rebel factions in Basilan and Sulu waned. Sadly, so too some journalists’ vigilance dissipated.

I was one of those who questioned the decision of ABS-CBN news managers to allow Drilon and other TV personnel to stay at the Manila Peninsula Hotel when the group of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV was holed up there and government troops were poised to attack. Fortunately, Trillanes and his group gave up without much of a fight.

But my stand on the coverage of the Manila Pen siege has not changed, and this should apply to the Drilon abduction case as well: in the pursuit of scoops, journalists’ safety should be given prime consideration.

(I wrote this for my June 12, 2008 Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu)