By Jovy T. Gerodias and Rebelander S. Basilan

Clock ticking on return of press center building to government hands

People with common interests must have a venue for learning and camaraderie. Coming together in one place from time to time, exchanging ideas and developing their craft together, not only strengthens their bond but also helps them grow as a community.

For members of the Cebu press, reunions and group learning often happen in the Marcelo B. Fernan (MBF) Cebu Press Center. Sitting in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City, the center hosts activities organized by media organizations, mostly seminars and forums during the Cebu Press Freedom Week every September.

Members of the Cebu News Workers Multi-Purpose Cooperative (Newscoop), which holds office in the building, also conduct their general assembly in the center; as do stakeholders of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council, who meet four times a year.

“It erases the need for media organizations to look for a venue for their activities,” Marissa Fernan, managing trustee of the Cebu News Workers Foundation (Cenewof), said of the facility.

Marissa Fernan, Managing trustee of the Cebu News Workers Foundation

Education center

How did the MBF Cebu Press Center come about?

On March 27, 2000, Cenewof and the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (Decs) signed a memorandum of agreement for the conversion of an idle building into a venue for educational activities for journalists and students of journalism and mass communication.

The Decs is now the Department of Education (DepEd).

The agreement was signed by then Decs secretary Bro. Andrew Gonzales, then Cenewof chairman lawyer Ramon Osmeña, then Decs-Central Visayas director Dr. Eladio Dioko and Cenewof president Dr. Pureza Oñate.

Under the agreement, Cenewof will use the unfinished three-story dormitory building of Decs in Barangay Lahug to house a media library, conference and seminar halls, Cenewof offices and other related facilities.

The foundation will renovate or finish the building and then use it—except for the third floor, which Decs will use as a teachers’ dormitory—for free for 25 years.

In lieu of rental, Cenewof will turn the building over to DepEd after the contract expires. Fernan said the foundation got P15 million from the government to finish the building.

Donations also came from the private sector. She said Cenewof received P2.7 million in private donations.

The facility started operating in 2003, Fernan said. Aside from activities organized by media, the MBF Cebu Press Center has also become a venue for cultural shows and embassy events,
among others.

“It has evolved into a community center,” Fernan said. During March and April, the center also becomes a venue for school graduation ceremonies.

But even if it accepts bookings, Fernan said the center’s income can barely cover the cost of maintaining the building.

Because the center doesn’t charge fees for media activities and it charges relatively lower fees for other users (the fees range from P4,750 to P10,000), Fernan said Cenewof has to resort to other sources of income.

In 2013, the foundation received P1.5 million from SM Prime Holdings Inc. for naming rights. The center’s theater is now called the SM Prime Theater.

Fernan said it was a timely deal because the center needed funds for repairs after the October 2013 earthquake.

For P250,000, Fernan said, each of the three Cebu dailies—Sun.Star Cebu, The Freeman and Cebu Daily News—also got a seminar room named after them.

Two more rooms—the reception hall and the boardroom—are available for naming rights.

These funds, Fernan said, ensure that the center is well maintained “so that when the media needs it, it is available and workable.”

COMMUNITY CENTER. The Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City has become a venue not only for media events but also school events, cultural shows and embassy events. It boasts of function rooms and the SM Prime Theater that can seat up to 300 people

What the press want

With fewer than 10 years left to utilize the press center, members of the Cebu media expressed their hope for a more dynamic and “working” press center able to provide activities aimed at improving their welfare and profession.

While she lauded the efforts of the Cenewof in the establishment of the press center and its mandate to ensure professionalism and welfare of the Cebu media, Cecille Quibod-Castro, segment anchor of GMA Network’s “24 Oras Central Visayas,” said that with the recent trend of media convergence, there is an immediate need for Cenewof to initiate orientations and seminars for media practitioners on harnessing their journalistic skills while utilizing these new media techniques and available technologies.

“This is to further equip our media men and women to cope with the propelling changes that the media convergence has presented to our newspapers and broadcast organizations. After all, this trend of mixing digital media with conventional media has significantly changed the business model of every media institution here and abroad,” said Quibod-Castro, who is also an instructor of the University of San Carlos Department of Communication, Languages and Literature.

“Our future journalists who also aspire to become practitioners need similar preparations. This trend necessitates our Communication students to be trained in skills that are required to succeed in the industry of media convergence. Linkages between the academe and the media industry must be strengthened to address skills shortages and ensure future employment opportunities,” she said.

Castro is also looking forward to amore modern and innovative MBF Cebu Press Center that can cater to and be at par with the digital generation of media producers and consumers.

Ryan Mark Borinaga, Banat Hugyaw entertainment editor and dyRC Cebu program host, said his dream for the press center is for the management to organize weekly or monthly seminars for media practitioners and students to learn and polish their craft.

“Also, maybe it can come up with a kapihan, similar to the (one organized by the) PIA (Philippine Information Agency) for information dissemination,” said Borinaga, who also suggested that Cenewof organize the showing of media-themed films for free. This way, he said, more people would know that there was a press center in Cebu.

It would also help if Cenewof encouraged media personalities like Leo Lastimosa of dyAB, Bobby Nalzaro of dySS or lawyer Ruphil Bañoc of dyHP to hold their radio programs there once in a while, added Borinaga.

The Freeman senior reporter Michelle Palaubsanon hopes the press center will be used for its intended purpose. She wants to see more media-related activities organized by Cenewof in the center.

Palaubsanon said the press center should also open its doors to the Cebu media to write their stories there by providing computers with Internet connection “while drinking coffee for free.”

Sun.Star Cebu reporter Justin Anjuli Vestil, on the other hand, suggested opening the press center to more ventures outside of media.

Vestil, who covers the Talisay City and church beats, suggested boosting the center’s marketing efforts to advertise the press center to universities and other institutions for seminars and forums to increase usage of the building.

Media’s role

Fernan said media organizations have a part to play in realizing the center’s vision as a venue where journalists can hone their craft.

The initiative to establish a media library, for instance, should come from the press, she said. Fernan said the center used to have a computer room, envisioned to become a media library, but it was rarely used by the press “perhaps because of its distance from media offices.”

With approval from the Cenewof board, the foundation may allot funds to create the media library, she said.

Limitations

However, Fernan emphasized that there are limitations to what the foundation can do with the center.

“We are limited in a way, because we don’t really own the center. We have use of the center, but it stands on a piece of land owned by DepEd. And in a way, this center, because it was built using government funds, really belongs to the government,” she said.

“I want to disabuse (the public of ) the impression that Cenewof owns the building. We don’t own the building,” she added.

The contract between DepEd and Cenewof will expire in 2025, but it can be renewed.

Fernan encouraged media organizations to initiate more activities in the center, saying Cenewof—although it can organize some activities like livelihood trainings for dependents of media workers—has limitations.

“This is how I look at it: my responsibility is to maintain the center, to make sure the air-conditioners are running, the bills are paid. I think that we are not set up to do the activities. I mean we don’t have the people to organize activities simply because we also don’t have the money to hire these people,” she said.

Management turnover

Elias Baquero, Newscoop chairman, suggested that Cenewof turn over the management of the building to the media cooperative.

Baquero said that when the Cebu Media Medical Aid Fund (Cemmaf) administered by the Cenewof was stopped, several members of the media who got sick and hospitalized failed to get medical assistance.

Cemmaf was funded by the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Rep. Raul del Mar (Cebu City, north) and then congressman Tony Cuenco (Cebu City, south district) in 2006. The PDAF was declared unconstitutional in 2013, however, following reports of its widespread misuse by some lawmakers, cutting off Cemmaf’s source of funding.

Baquero said that once Cenewof turns over the management of the center to the Newscoop, the building will be leased to interested corporations and the proceeds will be disbursed for the maximum benefit of the members of the tri-media (radio, TV and newspapers).

He said 30 percent would go to Cenewof, 30 percent would be added to dividends of all Newscoop members, 30 percent would go to medical assistance, and the remaining 10 percent would be used as reserve funds.

Baquero said that under the 25-year usufruct agreement between Cenewof and the Department of Education, there are only more than nine years left before the center is given back to the government agency.

“The MBF center must be open to all members of the media, so they can feel that they have their own media center. I believe Newscoop can do it,” he pointed out.

The Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists, which is also chaired by Baquero, had passed a resolution asking the Cenewof to turn over to Newscoop the management of the building.

On the suggestion that Newscoop manage the center instead of Cenewof, Fernan said: “I have to throw it to the board. But I don’t think it’s easy to manage a center… I think the coop should keep to the business of growing the coop.”

She also pointed out that the contract is between DepEd and Cenewof. “In a way I am a bit protective because the center carries my father’s name, but I am bound and the board is bound to keep their end of the bargain with DepEd,” she said.