Journalism is such a radical thing

The author (second to the right) with officers of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines -National Capital Region.

fringes-logo Campus publications in the Philippines: Historic role in democracy and media freedom

Eventually, the things we learn and write about lead us to ask the questions “So what?” and “For whom?” Without fail, genuine disciples of journalism would ask themselves the questions “If not for public good, what for? If not for the people, why?”

By RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA
Bulatlat.com

Congratulations on being representatives of your fellow students and youth in a gathering that may put you in a position to be significant actors in our country’s long-drawn quest for genuine democracy and all its promised freedoms, including, of course, free press and expression. It gives me great pleasure and honor to be invited to be your keynote speaker having cut my journalistic teeth in the campus press and with the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines.

Nearly 30 years ago, I was once like you, a campus journalist who was later elected to the national executive committee of the CEGP. Before that, I was asked to be the area coordinator of the widest district of the CEGP that stretched from Rizal Technological University in Mandaluyong all the way to Tomas Claudio Memorial College in Morong, Rizal that included schools in Pasig, Taytay, Angono and Antipolo. When I was elected CEGP vice president for Luzon, I was concurrently CEGP Metro Manila-Rizal chairperson when the entire chapter was organized under the CEGP national office.

I like to think that in my years with the Guild, we were the biggest youth and student organization in the land, a claim backed by the most number of active chapters and member publications nationwide. In fact, whenever we sent out copies of The National Guilder, memos and letters to member publications nationwide, the paper cuts were not just on our fingers but on our tongues and mouths due to licking hundreds of envelopes. We had no emails then, only snail mail that we had to bring to the Sta. Mesa Post Office that closed a window for our exclusive use. They even allowed us to operate the stamp machines then because we were so familiar with them already.

Back in the day, CEGP’s organizing was offline, face to face. Organizers had to regularly visit publication offices and talk to the members, offering and giving journalism workshops at a drop of a dime. One time, I thought I was just visiting colleagues (via top load jeepney from Tuguegarao) at the then Kalinga-Apayao State College in Tabuk but was surprised that close to 300 high school and college journalists from all over the then single province were invited. Then and there, I gave news, feature and editorial workshops because it was what they wanted. And it was not only in that northern province that it happened. Organizing was so good that we were able to form the High School Editors’ Guild of the Philippines.

Of course, CEGP being what it has already become by then, it was not just campus newspapering that we were concerned with. CEGP, as indeed journalism by its very nature, was about social involvement. In both writing and actual mass actions, we had campaigns against tuition and other fees, democracy and student rights in and out of campuses, clean and honest elections, the repudiation of onerous public debts, land reform, workers’ rights, and many other issues. We were so effective in these and in letting our thoughts be known to all that some conservative “titos” and “titas” of journalism at the time called us “cretins”. By the time that our batch graduated from the CEGP, a good majority of us officers offered what we have learned from the student publications and the CEGP to various social causes: workers, farmers, academe, urban poor, indigenous peoples, and, of course, journalism—both in the dominant and alternative—among others. Many of us remain as workers of the causes we have espoused since then and some have become martyrs, giving their very lives to the cause of genuine democracy and freedom of the Filipino people: Randy Malayao, Randy Vegas, Benjaline Hernandez, Bambi Santos, and many others.

Campus journalism in our country’s history has always been thus. Let us not forget that Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Mariano Ponce began writing and publishing when they were nearly as young as you are now. Granting that their publication La Solidaridad was not a student paper as we know them now, it is historical fact that they were students like you when they published it. Their First Propaganda Movement helped pave the way for the revolution against Spanish colonization that made us ever so briefly a republic, Asia’s first.

Let us not forget that CEGP’s founding president, Wenceslao Vinzons, did not choose personal safety over the need to take up arms to defend our country from the Japanese invaders in the biggest war humanity has ever fought. He was a martyr, a hero of Philippine liberation like so many youths of his generation.

It is in the same spirit that the campus press helped expose and oppose what was then an emerging Marcos dictatorship in the late 1960s. The likes of the Philippine Collegian, The Bedan, The Guidon and other student publications, edited and staffed by brave student journalists who published and serialized articles by Renato Constantino, Jose Maria Sison, Claro M. Recto and other patriotic writers, helped expose Marcos, United States imperialism and the evils they spawned on our people. They were so effective that Marcos shut them down, along with other media outfits critical of his anti-people policies when martial law was finally declared in 1972.

When Marcos was forced to lift martial law and allow the reestablishment of student newspapers, the campus press picked up from where it left off and contributed to the eventual ouster of the despot and world class thief in 1986. They were integral parts of what history now calls in various names, including The Second Propaganda Movement or The Mosquito Press. I also call them freedom fighters and icons of democracy.

I remember the campus press being very active parts of the exposition of the corrupt and immoral Joseph Estrada regime at the turn of this millennium, just about the time when most of you are newly-born. Many special issues by CEGP member student publications on the people’s uprising were published. As one of the several emcees of EDSA II, I know that the CEGP and its member publications were there, playing their part in history.

And so, in at least four momentous occasions in our country’s history, the campus press was present and doing its job. But the campus press holds aloft the light for freedom and democracy even at times when our country seems to be enjoying relative quiet. It is there whenever it puts an issue out or publishes an article. Its presence is magnified when it covers issues beyond the parochial interests of its publishers, the students and youth, but issues that matter to society in general. It is loudest when it insists to discuss ideas and thoughts that are extraordinary, such as LGBT rights, climate justice, women’s empowerment, right to self-determination by national minorities, and, yes, democracy and freedom. It is there when it takes sides.

Be ever wary therefore of impertinent people and impertinent ideologies that insist on the inviolability of absolute balance and absolute objectivity in journalism. Those are the people who would say journalists should only write about safe and happy topics. By safe, they mean topics that do not aim to question authority, dominant thoughts and ideas, the existing social order they want to preserve. They are no different from the people who criticize news reports about bad decisions in hosting the ongoing South East Asian Games, saying those are mere negativity in a bid to cover-up what are obviously bad decisions such as 55 million peso cauldrons. They are the same people who rail against news reports of the mass murders around us by crying why can’t we just be supportive of Rodrigo Duterte and his so-called drug war.

Absolute balance and objectivity in journalism is a square wheel, a nice sounding absurdity. In a country where poverty is dominant, government corruption is rife, most farmers are landless, most workers have no permanent jobs and just wages, where foreign powers rule, real journalism should be biased, biased for truth, for change, for justice. It should be biased for the victims of injustices, the marginalized, the oppressed.
Young colleagues, writing or taking photos and videos is a dangerous thing. The very act of picking up a pen–or booting up a computer, clicking the buttons–to write, produce and publish puts one in a position to let his or her thoughts be known to others. In a country without genuine freedom and democracy, that is an alarming sight to some who would rather let all of us keep our thoughts to ourselves. Mind your own, just focus on yourself, they would say.

Journalism is a radical thing. It begs you to say something new, something of consequence that puts you in a position to inform people of what is happening and of what import are they to the lives of the people.

Eventually, the things we learn and write about lead us to ask the questions “So what?” and “For whom?” Without fail, genuine disciples of journalism would ask themselves the questions “If not for public good, what for? If not for the people, why?”

And only when these questions are asked and their answers are acted upon does journalism perform its role and only thus can it contribute to democracy and freedom. The campus press and the CEGP are always thus challenged.

Maraming salamat.  ()

* Delivered at Lunsaran, 41st Region-wide Writers’ Convention of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines—National Capital Region held at Hive Hotel, Quezon City on December 7, 2019

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