NO SHRINKING VIOLETS. (Clockwise from left) Then The Freeman reporter Nini Cabaero, TV anchor and reporter Bingo Gonzalez and Sun.Star Daily reporter Edralyn Benedicto speak in a forum during the celebration of Cebu Press Freedom Week in the mid-1990s. Lelani Echaves (second from left) hosts Cebu City’s first television public affairs program, “On the Spot,” featuring Brig. Gen. Jesus Hermosa, then commanding general of the Visayas Command, with co-hosts Jane Paredes and Frank Malilong Jr. Stet members (seated from left) Eileen Mangubat, Echaves, Thea Riñen, (standing) Paredes, Melva Java and Benedicto, with Msgr. Achilles Dakay, celebrate New Year’s Eve at the residence of Cardinal Ricardo J. Vidal, then Archbishop of Cebu. (Contributed Fotos)

It was the mid-1980s and a period of anxiety for several women journalists in Cebu.

A list of so-called leftist supporters in media was supposedly being circulated, and in it were the names of women journalists. We had a lot in common: In our 20s; graduates of journalism programs in the country’s leading universities; energetic; idealistic; and we were women.

We were field reporters who quickly built reputations as serious practitioners. It was a time of political instability following the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., the staging of People Power I, and the shaky start of the Corazon Aquino presidency.

Eileen Mangubat, then Sun.Star Daily reporter and now publisher of Cebu Daily News (CDN); Thea Riñen, Sun.Star reporter and now CDN vice president for advertising, marketing and circulation; Edralyn Benedicto, then Sun.Star reporter and now bureau chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer; and I, then reporter of The Freeman and later of Sun.Star and now editor-in-chief of the Sun.Star Network Exchange. We covered the political opposition, local government, the church, labor unions, protesting activists and the underground movement.

Lawyer Jane C. Paredes, then news manager of radio dyRC and now senior manager of Smart Communications Inc.; Nene Parawan, then dyRC reporter; lawyer Bingo Gonzalez, then a television reporter and anchor and now practicing lawyer; Noemi Fetalvero, then of GMA 7 and now columnist of Sun.Star Cebu; and Lelani Echaves-Paredes, host of the local television talk show “On the Spot,” and Melva Java, then GMA 7 news anchor, but both now newspaper columnists, educators, entrepreneurs, and grandmothers.

Misunderstood, threatened

Because we gave voice to the voiceless (which is journalism’s mission), we were misunderstood, mostly by people with small minds.

We were out to do a good or even better job as journalists compared to some of our male counterparts. We exerted effort to get to the truth, resorted to “off the record” sessions with controversial news sources to have a better grasp of issues. But the threat to our safety and sanity was serious.

Then, someone thought of picking a name for the group. Some names were considered until I remembered our department publication at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. “Stet” was the newsletter name of the journalism department.

“Stet” is a proofreader’s mark to mean disregard the change and let the original stand. In the age before computers, when editing was done by hand, an editor may change a word but on second thought find the original more apt. To signal to the typesetter to let the original stand, the editor writes “stet.”

We decided on the name “Stet” for our informal group. Our practice of journalism was questioned, but we soldiered on and stood strong in our belief in journalism principles. Let it stand. Let the practice of good journalism regardless of the journalist’s gender stand.

A Manila newspaper columnist once wrote about Stet and described us as “naughty” for choosing a name that means “Let it stand.”

When night fell

But Stet was not all work. We had fun in almost nightly outings to bars, sing-along joints, and at times the beach. We finished work by 9 p.m., left newsrooms after deadline and returned home past midnight or at dawn. The group grew to include men and spouses who understood us and were behind us in the struggle to prove that women journalists can be serious and ethical practitioners in this then male-dominated industry.

Twenty-five or so years down the line, Stet is still around with the women journalists and the extended Stet (also called “Stuts”) remaining as friends and bearing witness to weddings of children, births of grandchildren and deaths of parents.

Birthdays and the holidays are occasions for us to gather, reminisce, laugh, gossip and dish out commentaries. Our favorite hangout is the Nivel house of Judge Meinrado and Jane Paredes. New Stet members and friends join our gatherings. Non-journalists in Stet include a monsignor, a priest, a justice, a judge, lawyers, an official of a regional government agency, an educator, and telecoms people. There is no application form or opening or membership committee.

With women holding leadership positions in media now, Stet has become simply a gathering of friends kept together by shared beliefs and passions.