By Erma M. Cuizon
It was 30 years ago when Cebu media in 1984 came together as advocates of truth in community living and to declare the power of the voice in the press. From then on, Cebu media tried its best to celebrate press freedom every year. This Sept. 20-27 is the 22nd celebration of the Cebu Press Freedom Week, continually empowering the efforts to unify and speak for the people.
Years before the Cebu press came together with one voice on its freedom, there were instances of persecutions from the 1970s up to the ‘80s during the Martial Law regime, especially in the ‘80s when there were cases of persecutions, killings and arrests of Cebu media personalities in a period in Philippine history when the voice of the people was stifled, not only in Cebu, but throughout the country.
But it was also in the ‘80s that Cebu media started to work in groups, to celebrate the freedom of the country after Martial Law was “lifted” and dictator Ferdinand Marcos fled the country while the Edsa Revolution would then show the world the Filipino spirit for freedom.
Former editor-in-chief of Sun.Star Cebu, now public and standards editor Pachico Seares, pushed media groups in the ‘80s as president of the Association of Cebu Journalists (ACJ) to celebrate and watch over freedom of expression in the community.
The first celebration of Cebu Press Freedom Week was undertaken by ACJ, the Cebu Newspaper Workers’ Foundation (now the Cebu News Workers’ Foundation) and Cebu News Correspondents Club. It was held on the third week of September 1984 led by Seares, with movers from Sun.Star Cebu (then called Sun.Star Daily) working on the resources needed in the week’s memorial lecture and forums from Sept. 9 to 15.
Aside from the 4th President Sergio Osmeña Memorial Lecture, marking the weeklong fete were a floral offering on Borromeo St., Cebu City where The Republic News editor-columnist Antonio Abad Tormis was shot dead, a press freedom symposium with assemblymen Marcelo B. Fernan and Adelino B. Sitoy and the Associated Press bureau chief, and a press conference with two former senators.
Other activities included an exhibit on Cebu newspapers, a film showing, an open house of Cebu newspaper offices and printing plants, and a luncheon fellowship hosted by Cebu Gov. Eduardo Gullas and Cebu City Mayor Ronald Duterte.
In two years’ time from there, the Edsa revolution took place.
In 1988, the Council of Cebu Media Leaders (CCML), an umbrella organization of the heads of 11 media clubs in Cebu, with Seares as acting chairman, led the Press Week celebration. The CCML organized the celebration again in 1994.
And it’s been held yearly ever since, except for 1996, when the fete was cancelled.
In 1997, to ensure that the groups involved were of the real working press, the celebrators of press freedom were enlisted as working individual members of media outlets, said Seares. This was formalized two years later by having Sun.Star Daily, The Freeman and Cebu Daily News take turns in convening the celebration year after year.
With more sponsors coming in and the watch staying firm, the Cebu Press Freedom Week on its 22nd celebration is strong and hale. The voice of the press is solid and one in the matter of free expression.
Nowhere else in the country do you see a radio and television connection like in Cebu’s ABS-CBN’s “Kapamilya,” GMA 7’s “Kapuso” and TV 5’s “Kapatid”—with AM and FM radio station personalities and newspaper workers coming together, as in a family—to keep in touch with each other and connect on the hottest media issues of the year.
The Cebu press is set on its 30th year of watchfulness. The watch for rights is the heart of the mission.
12 radio stations, 4 TV stations closed
On Aug. 28, 1987, during a bid to overthrow the government of President Corazon Aquino, PC/INP Regional Command 7 Chief Brig. Gen. Edgardo Abenina in Cebu “ordered the takeover of three government buildings and two residences … and the closure of TV and radio stations, except for dyLA which they used for rebel propaganda,” according to The Final Report of the Fact-Finding Commission: IV: Military Intervention in the Philippines: 1986-1987.
The broadcast stations were left with no choice but to go off the air after “uniformed troops in full battle gear entered our stations,” dyKC station manager George Suazon said in a Sept. 2, 1987 Sun.Star Daily report.
“The Armalite was more powerful than the microphone” was how dyRF station manager Fr. Margarito Alingasa, SVD, described the tense atmosphere as the radio stations fell silent from 3-4 p.m.
As National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) regional director Danilo Sy declared that under the NTC Code’s Act 38-46, only the Philippine President could order a radio station closed, dyRF filed a complaint with the NTC in Manila against the local military for its closure.
Saying the move echoed the media oppression of the Martial Law years, the National Press Club of the Philippines-Cebu Chapter on Sept. 3 condemned the closure of the 12 AM radio stations and four television stations in Cebu, calling it a violation of the Constitution and a threat to the survival of a free press.
On the other hand, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP)-Cebu, chaired by dyLA manager George Carlos, received flak for failing to criticize or take action against the closure of the broadcast stations, with Alingasa lamenting on the public affairs TV show “On the Spot” that: “When the crisis comes, each of us acts on our own.”
Carlos said it was still unclear who ordered the closure, even if the radio stations had reported that rebel soldiers or policemen carrying out the closure placed Abenina behind the orders. Carlos also defended the station’s broadcasting during the failed coup, saying, “Everything was done with objectivity and professionalism.”
KBP-Cebu stood by its chairman, passing a resolution during a Sept. 1 emergency meeting expressing its continued support for his leadership. The group also rallied behind dyLA, branding as “political interventionism in media” pronouncements by House Speaker Pro-tempore Antonio Cuenco that dyLA’s management would be made to explain before Congress its participation in the aborted mutiny of rebel soldiers. Cherry Ann T. Lim
Other victims of the good fight
Nov. 13, 1949
After it prominently covered the fraud and violence that marred the Nov. 8, 1949 presidential elections, The Pioneer Press displeased local politicians and their leaders. Its publisher-editors Angel Anden and Alfredo Cruz soon received death threats. When heavily armed men started visiting their editorial office, the pair decided to shut down operations and flee to Manila. In its last issue on Nov. 13, 1949, the paper said it was making its exit because it was “not servilely pliant with every stirring wind, but straight and firm and uncompromising.”
July 3, 1961
The Republic News editor and columnist Antonio Abad Tormis was shot in his car parked in front of the Masonic Temple building on Borromeo St., Cebu City. The gunman, Cesario Orongan, and the mastermind, Felipe Pareja, Cebu City treasurer at the time of Tormis’s murder, were convicted and imprisoned for the crime. Pareja had been the subject of Tormis’s commentaries on graft.
Nov. 6, 1987
Bearing long firearms, several long-haired ex-Rangers led by Jose Sabandeja and Choy de la Sala barged into the Sun.Star Daily office looking for columnist Wilfredo A. Veloso. The former Scout Rangers were in the news for their defiance of the law and Veloso had written: “Ex-Rangers need a psychiatrist.” Sabandeja said: “It’s an insult to our persons. You Sun.Star Daily people should do something to counter what Veloso had written.” After reporter Noemi Fetalvero interviewed them, the Scout Rangers left.
Oct. 18, 1996
During the visit of President Fidel Ramos to Mandaue City, staff sergeant Diosdado Pobre, an alleged member of the Presidential Security Group, struck Sun.Star Cebu photographer Amper Campaña and Mike Alquinto of the Manila-based Today newspaper for taking photos of him grabbing a placard from a rallyist. Sun.Star Cebu, in a series of editorials, and other media organizations, condemned the attack.
May 5, 2003
Without provocation or leaving instructions with staff that he wasn’t letting the media in, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña ordered Sun.Star Cebu photographer Amper Campaña out of his office. Osmeña didn’t want Sun.Star, a paper owned by his political rival, to profit from him. Campaña had taken only five steps into the mayor’s office when Osmeña confronted him. “Who gave you the authority to get in? Get out!” Osmeña told his bodyguards, “Escort him out of the building!” The two guards escorted Campaña to the elevator.
July 9, 2007
Around 20 supporters of Bogo City Mayor Celestino Martinez Jr. punched and kicked Sun.Star Cebu chief photographer Alex Badayos outside the Bogo Municipal Hall after he tried to take photos of those who had snatched a ballot box from Cebu City North District Election Officer Marchel Sarno. The supporters also took his camera and laptop. He suffered injuries in the head, ribs and arms. Reporters covering the incident were also jeered at, shoved and accused of siding with the police.
Feb. 11, 2013
While police watched, four Koreans, including John Lee, who introduced himself as general manager of the Cebu Korean Association, “violently collared” and “grabbed by the neck” GMA Cebu’s Balitang Bisdak reporter Bexmae Jumao-as and cameraman Leofil Labastida outside the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office as they wrested the camera from the news team. The news crew had captured the Koreans on camera after they refused to be interviewed on a killing involving a Korean suspect. In the homicide section, the pair was forced to delete the footage after police, they claimed, did nothing to help them recover their camera from Lee.
HOW THE CEBU PRESS FREEDOM WEEK IS RUN
Ad hoc convenors, continuing board of trustees
Lead convenors alternately run Cebu Press Freedom Week (CPFW). Sun.Star, The Freeman and Cebu Daily News used to take turns but since 2011, The Freeman has dropped out, preferring to join the activities but not in managing the annual celebration.
In 2012, CDN was lead convenor; in 2013, it was Sun.Star. This year, the board of trustees, through an Execom, oversees the activities. Then back to CDN in 2015.
While the convenors are ad hoc, the board of trustees is a continuing body, assuring uninterrupted system of governance.
Cebu Press Freedom Week, Inc. is duly incorporated and registered with the Securities & Exchange Commission. Its board of trustees lays down policies on the management of the weeklong activities.