Travails of the community press

COVID-19-Chronicles-05-2048x1280

In these critical times of pandemic when vetted information and content are necessary
for survival, journalists as frontliners have become both instruments and messengers of
facts and truths. They brave the odds amidst scare of the contagion, proliferation of
disinformation, and despite being demonized by some segments of the society for their
stories perceived to be critical by those in power and position.

But what happens when they are constrained to write and file stories due to restricted
mobility brought about by the lockdown and government-required accreditation so they
can go about their usual routine?  More importantly, what happens when their already-
struggling news outfits have ceased printing or publication?

That is exactly what is happening now with most of community newspapers in the
Philippines which are members of the 56-year old print media organization, the
Philippine Press Institute, whose reporters go to communities to cover the pandemic,
and now experiencing the brunt of the loss of livelihood.

At least eleven publications (3 from Mindanao, 7 from Luzon, and 1 from the Visayas)
have ceased printing temporarily and shifted since then to digital format. These are:
Mindanao Times, Mindanao Gold Star Daily, Mindanao Observer, Baguio Chronicle,
Mabuhay, Pahayagang Balikas, The Northern Forum, Palawan News, Sun.Star Baguio,
Ilocos Times, and Negros Daily Bulletin.  Two multi-awarded community papers, Baguio
Midland Courier and Visayan Daily Star have resumed publishing printed editions but
with reduced circulation and number of pages.

“Under ECQ, there are no street sales and few ads.  We’re struggling to keep afloat and
pay salaries,” said Carla Gomes, an editor of Bacolod-based Visayan Daily Star.  But
her paper had not stopped publishing online during most of quarantine time.  She added
that this enabled the readers to continue to get the news daily even while under
quarantine.  “We also continued to bring the news to our readers as events happen on
our Facebook page.”

In the case of Samar Weekly Express, senior reporter and editor Ricky Bautista said his
paper encountered delays in the delivery of hard copies “but we’re able to activate our
digital medium whose followers and online readers increased by seventy percent”.

In Northern Mindanao, particularly in Cagayan de Oro City, by far, only two twin-papers,
Mindanao Daily News and BusinessWeek Mindanao have unimpeded operations both
in print and online.  Iloilo-based and widely-circulated Panay News takes pride in being
the last standing community newspaper in Region VI in both print and online.
Herbie Gomez, editor-in-chief of Mindanao Gold Star Daily in CDO reported to PPI
through its informal survey first week of May that the paper will resume printing any time
soon.

With scarce or meager resources to get by, they persisted to hound for news to serve
the publics who hunger for journalistic pieces.  But journalists, whose newspapers are
off newsstands, would never have their stories see print and are left with no choice but
to seek for opportunities to peddle their stories.  Most of the community papers were in
transition during lockdown.  “There were no ads, no newsstands, no delivery,” said
Frank Cimatu from Baguio Chronicle.

For seasoned investigative journalist and PPI training director Tess Bacalla, it is difficult
to imagine the impact of local papers folding up on the communities since the national
media cannot be relied upon to pick up the slack.  “I hope online editors are continuing
though,” she said.

Recognizing these enormous problems on economic survival and changing newsroom
dynamics brought about by the spread of the Wuhan virus --- and in keeping up with its
mandate of "Building Better Communities Through Civic Journalism", the Philippine
Press Institute, also known as the national association of newspapers since 1964, has
embarked on a pivotal and landmark project, mainly to: have more narratives coming
from the ground in the absence of some community newspapers, give print journalists
the legitimate platform for release of their outputs, and thereby provide compensation
for their articles to help them survive in these difficult times.

Titled COVID-19 CHRONICLES, the  www.ppinewscommons.net  was initially introduced
in December 2019 and came into full operation first quarter of 2020 for the sole purpose
of collecting community stories from its members in the regions under one common
website.  It took a different turn in March this year when stories about the Wuhan virus
inundated all media platforms. For March alone, it has posted more than two hundred
stories from journalists all over the archipelago.  “We have reviewed the stories and
some of these authors will get remunerations for as long as they pass the standards
and criteria set forth via the civic journalism framework of the PPI,” said Rolando
Estabillo, PPI chairman and president.

Web administrator Kier Labrador said more stories are still being uploaded in the
website for the months of April, May, June and up to December of this year.
“It is a work in progress and we cannot thank our partners Nickel Asia Corporation and
Hans Seidel Foundation enough for taking on the challenge with us for the sake of
journalism and altruism on the side,” said Ariel Sebellino, PPI executive director and
head of training operations and special projects.  He further added that the PPI cannot
pay for all stories written but will award most with modest fees which passed the criteria
on a monthly basis.

The multi-faceted projects will take many forms; it can organize webinars, forums,
awards, and exhibits, as the organization deems to stay relevant and addresses the so-
called new normal.

On June 12, 2020, it conducted for the first time a webinar on “When Reporting Duty
Calls” which gathered via Google Meet some of the best community journalists in the

country as speakers and panelists.  It was the opening salvo that would set the tone for
future activities of the overarching project, that gave the opportunity for media
practitioners in the regions to share problems and concerns affecting their papers and
immediate communities.

Seasoned reporter Julius Mariveles from Digital News Exchange (DNX) in Bacolod City,
a new player in local media,  highlighted the problem over access to information in view
of the mobility restrictions and lack of transparency in government offices. “Perhaps we
also have to consider that government offices are on skeleton-force set up and they
may not have enough people to cope with work demands. But then, that should not be
an excuse,” he said.

One of the good things Covid-19 pandemic has brought upon us is, as Mr. Estabillo said
in his opening remarks, “we were forced to embrace technology and learn how to use
the digital tools to be able to keep doing our job”.

Another creative approach in turning challenges to opportunities is what Mindanao
Times editor-in-chief  Amalia Cabusao termed as co-branding, or working with schools
to offer a program such as a newspaper in education, or using the newspaper as part of
the curriculum. She said, this would not only help increase subscription but also make
the students aware of what’s happening around them and to help the students develop
a sense and culture of media and information literacy.

For Tita Valderama, former head of the The Manila Times School of Journalism and
now editor at Vera Filles, the problem with disinformation exists and has grown bigger.
“While we are expected to churn out accurate information, the problem gets worse when
official sources present inconsistent or incoherent data, information, or policies.”
Media organizations, like PPI, which depend on grants and donations, also struggle to
keep the organization alive and kicking during this pandemic.  In the absence of
physical gatherings, it has found ways to gather media practitioners to continue
discussing and sharing various issues affecting media industry, like it always did in its
past regular workshops and conferences, as if nothing changed, but only the technology
required a whole new skill and approach to delivering the message and service.
After all, no matter what, journalism is about saving and changing lives, one story at a
time.

(Ariel C. Sebellino is the executive director of and trustee at the Philippine Press Institute.  He also heads training operations and special projects.)

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COVID-19 Chronicles:  Sharing Stories, Caring for Communities

COVID-19-Chronicles-05-2048x1280

In these critical times of pandemic when vetted information and content are necessary
for survival, journalists as frontliners have become both instruments and messengers of
facts and truths. They brave the odds amidst scare of the contagion, proliferation of
disinformation, and despite being demonized by some segments of the society for their
stories perceived to be critical by those in power and position.

But what happens when they are constrained to write and file stories due to restricted
mobility brought about by the lockdown and government-required accreditation so they
can go about their usual routine?  More importantly, what happens when their already-
struggling news outfits have ceased printing or publication?

That is exactly what is happening now with most of community newspapers in the
Philippines which are members of the 56-year old print media organization, the
Philippine Press Institute, whose reporters go to communities to cover the pandemic,
and now experiencing the brunt of the loss of livelihood.

At least eleven publications (3 from Mindanao, 7 from Luzon, and 1 from the Visayas)
have ceased printing temporarily and shifted since then to digital format. These are:
Mindanao Times, Mindanao Gold Star Daily, Mindanao Observer, Baguio Chronicle,
Mabuhay, Pahayagang Balikas, The Northern Forum, Palawan News, Sun.Star Baguio,
Ilocos Times, and Negros Daily Bulletin.  Two multi-awarded community papers, Baguio
Midland Courier and Visayan Daily Star have resumed publishing printed editions but
with reduced circulation and number of pages.

“Under ECQ, there are no street sales and few ads.  We’re struggling to keep afloat and
pay salaries,” said Carla Gomes, an editor of Bacolod-based Visayan Daily Star.  But
her paper had not stopped publishing online during most of quarantine time.  She added
that this enabled the readers to continue to get the news daily even while under
quarantine.  “We also continued to bring the news to our readers as events happen on
our Facebook page.”

In the case of Samar Weekly Express, senior reporter and editor Ricky Bautista said his
paper encountered delays in the delivery of hard copies “but we’re able to activate our
digital medium whose followers and online readers increased by seventy percent”.

In Northern Mindanao, particularly in Cagayan de Oro City, by far, only two twin-papers,
Mindanao Daily News and BusinessWeek Mindanao have unimpeded operations both
in print and online.  Iloilo-based and widely-circulated Panay News takes pride in being
the last standing community newspaper in Region VI in both print and online.
Herbie Gomez, editor-in-chief of Mindanao Gold Star Daily in CDO reported to PPI
through its informal survey first week of May that the paper will resume printing any time
soon.

With scarce or meager resources to get by, they persisted to hound for news to serve
the publics who hunger for journalistic pieces.  But journalists, whose newspapers are
off newsstands, would never have their stories see print and are left with no choice but
to seek for opportunities to peddle their stories.  Most of the community papers were in
transition during lockdown.  “There were no ads, no newsstands, no delivery,” said
Frank Cimatu from Baguio Chronicle.

For seasoned investigative journalist and PPI training director Tess Bacalla, it is difficult
to imagine the impact of local papers folding up on the communities since the national
media cannot be relied upon to pick up the slack.  “I hope online editors are continuing
though,” she said.

Recognizing these enormous problems on economic survival and changing newsroom
dynamics brought about by the spread of the Wuhan virus --- and in keeping up with its
mandate of "Building Better Communities Through Civic Journalism", the Philippine
Press Institute, also known as the national association of newspapers since 1964, has
embarked on a pivotal and landmark project, mainly to: have more narratives coming
from the ground in the absence of some community newspapers, give print journalists
the legitimate platform for release of their outputs, and thereby provide compensation
for their articles to help them survive in these difficult times.

Titled COVID-19 CHRONICLES, the  www.ppinewscommons.net  was initially introduced
in December 2019 and came into full operation first quarter of 2020 for the sole purpose
of collecting community stories from its members in the regions under one common
website.  It took a different turn in March this year when stories about the Wuhan virus
inundated all media platforms. For March alone, it has posted more than two hundred
stories from journalists all over the archipelago.  “We have reviewed the stories and
some of these authors will get remunerations for as long as they pass the standards
and criteria set forth via the civic journalism framework of the PPI,” said Rolando
Estabillo, PPI chairman and president.

Web administrator Kier Labrador said more stories are still being uploaded in the
website for the months of April, May, June and up to December of this year.
“It is a work in progress and we cannot thank our partners Nickel Asia Corporation and
Hans Seidel Foundation enough for taking on the challenge with us for the sake of
journalism and altruism on the side,” said Ariel Sebellino, PPI executive director and
head of training operations and special projects.  He further added that the PPI cannot
pay for all stories written but will award most with modest fees which passed the criteria
on a monthly basis.

The multi-faceted projects will take many forms; it can organize webinars, forums,
awards, and exhibits, as the organization deems to stay relevant and addresses the so-
called new normal.

On June 12, 2020, it conducted for the first time a webinar on “When Reporting Duty
Calls” which gathered via Google Meet some of the best community journalists in the

country as speakers and panelists.  It was the opening salvo that would set the tone for
future activities of the overarching project, that gave the opportunity for media
practitioners in the regions to share problems and concerns affecting their papers and
immediate communities.

Seasoned reporter Julius Mariveles from Digital News Exchange (DNX) in Bacolod City,
a new player in local media,  highlighted the problem over access to information in view
of the mobility restrictions and lack of transparency in government offices. “Perhaps we
also have to consider that government offices are on skeleton-force set up and they
may not have enough people to cope with work demands. But then, that should not be
an excuse,” he said.

One of the good things Covid-19 pandemic has brought upon us is, as Mr. Estabillo said
in his opening remarks, “we were forced to embrace technology and learn how to use
the digital tools to be able to keep doing our job”.

Another creative approach in turning challenges to opportunities is what Mindanao
Times editor-in-chief  Amalia Cabusao termed as co-branding, or working with schools
to offer a program such as a newspaper in education, or using the newspaper as part of
the curriculum. She said, this would not only help increase subscription but also make
the students aware of what’s happening around them and to help the students develop
a sense and culture of media and information literacy.

For Tita Valderama, former head of the The Manila Times School of Journalism and
now editor at Vera Filles, the problem with disinformation exists and has grown bigger.
“While we are expected to churn out accurate information, the problem gets worse when
official sources present inconsistent or incoherent data, information, or policies.”
Media organizations, like PPI, which depend on grants and donations, also struggle to
keep the organization alive and kicking during this pandemic.  In the absence of
physical gatherings, it has found ways to gather media practitioners to continue
discussing and sharing various issues affecting media industry, like it always did in its
past regular workshops and conferences, as if nothing changed, but only the technology
required a whole new skill and approach to delivering the message and service.
After all, no matter what, journalism is about saving and changing lives, one story at a
time.

(Ariel C. Sebellino is the executive director of and trustee at the Philippine Press Institute.  He also heads training operations and special projects.)

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NICKEL ASIA’s EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM AMONG FIRST RESPONDERS IN MAKILALA

PHOTO: Rolie Jamil is a member of Nickel Asia’s Emergency Response Team (NAC-ERT) that was among the first responders in North Cotabato. The team – composed of 58 volunteer-employees of NAC -  was deployed to evacuate families affected by a landslide caused by the earthquake in Barangay Bato.

PHOTO:Rolie Jamil is a member of Nickel Asia’s Emergency Response Team (NAC-ERT) that was among the first responders in North Cotabato. The team – composed of 58 volunteer-employees of NAC -  was deployed to evacuate families affected by a landslide caused by the earthquake in Barangay Bato.

The Provincial Government of Cotabato has acknowledged those who were first to respond to Makilala, a town in North Cotabato that was the hardest hit by the recent series of earthquakes that devastated some parts of the Province. And the Emergency Response Team (ERT) from Nickel Asia Corporation’s (NAC) operating company was one of them.

The miners were among the first responders when Cotabato called for help.  Taganito Mining Corp.’s (TMC), a subsidiary of NAC, was one of those who first sent its ERT, arriving in the area a day after the intensity 6.5 quake shook Makilala and adjacent towns.

Following suit and bringing more food and water, were two other subsidiaries of NAC – Cagdianao Mining Corp. (CMC) that travelled all the way from Dinagat Islands, and Hinatuan Mining Corp. (HMC) from Surigao del Norte.

The expertise of NAC’s ERTs were quickly put to use when they were assigned to barangay Bato where a landslide a day earlier recorded at least 6 casualties. The team transported to safety some 127 residents together with their remaining possessions including pigs and pet dogs.

The NAC teams performed first-aid and distributed food packages and drinking water, mosquito nets, and hundreds of meters of blue canvass sheets.

The ERTs regularly and extensively train to be able to respond quickly and efficiently during disasters such as earthquakes and strong typhoons.

Makilala is located in the south east of Cotabato Province, next to Davao City. The town has 38 barangays.

According to Ailyn Tocmo, a government employee from Barangay Kisante who was assigned to the registration center in Makilala, “all barangays were badly affected with some people continuing to stay outdoors, afraid that more aftershock would hit”.

 

Teresa Palban, a Kagawad from Barangay Biangan, said all the houses are deemed “unsafe” until cleared and declared otherwise and the residents await the local government to guide them as to when it is safe to go back to their homes.

The NAC ERTs provided supplies and words of comfort to Biangan’s143 families.

Palban thanked the NAC team for the food packs and emphasized that the mosquito nets and the blue canvass sheets are very much appreciated since many of them still sleep outdoors.

A man who introduced himself only as Loloy thanked the NAC ERTs specifically for the drinking water. He was from Barangay Bato and his home was buried by the landslide.

I think it will be many more months before we can go back to rebuild our home, the future is uncertain,” he said.

Supplies pour in from NAC. TMC got the support of its contractors and mining services providers – FITZ-SouthernPhil Development and Marketing Corp.; HPK Construction; Nickelbase, Inc.; Tango Romeo General Construction; and Taganito Mining Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative and together pooled 3,000 food packs and 2,086 gallons of drinking water.

CMC brought 500 food packs and 200 meters of blue sheet canvass plus 500 of 10-liter bottles of drinking water.

HMC followed up with 250 food packs, 250 bottles of 6.6-liter drinking water and 300 meters of blue canvass sheets cut in size to be used for roofs and sleeping mats.

Dominga Bangot, a resident of Makilala said they know that the local government is ready to help them but they appreciate the flock of private organizations coming from all over the country.

We appreciate the food and water they bring but the people who come here make us feel better and somehow less afraid,” Bangot said.

Engineer Rennan Cuadrillero of TMC, the overall head of the NAC ERTs deployed in Cotabato, attests to how warmly the response teams were welcomed and appreciated.

“We get generous expressions of ‘thank yous’ and the people are cooperative, they are easy to organize when it comes to distribution of goods, our job here is challenging but motivating,” Cuadrillero shared.

NAC ERTs are known first-responders. Trained to be constantly prepared, they are ready within short notice when communities call for help. ERT members are volunteer-employees from NAC’s mining companies composed of mining engineers and geologists, medical practitioners and first-aiders, heavy equipment operators and carpenters, foresters and environment technologists, and social workers, headed and organized by the company’s Safety Department.

###

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Food for thought

food_for_thought

Around the world, at least one in three children is either stunted or overweight, and one in two suffers from hidden hunger. This was the main finding of The State of the World's Children 2019 report, released by Unicef on Wednesday.

The data mirror realities in the Philippines: One in three children under five years old are too short for their age. Seven percent of children are too thin for their height. A tenth of adolescents are overweight.

“More are surviving, but far too few are thriving,” Unicef said.

Growing urban populations and changing lifestyles have contributed to the increased availability of processed food and a preference for inexpensive, accessible food items that do not take a lot of time and effort to prepare.

Indeed, malnourished children have marked disadvantages at the outset – weak immunity to diseases, poor academic performance, and eventually limited opportunities for advancement and economic mobility.

Specific attention must be given to the continued prevalence of stunting among children 0-five years old, according to Azucena Dayanghirang, executive director of the National Nutrition Council.

“If we look further at the data, we will see that stunting rates among one-year olds is 36 percent, which is twice as much as the 15.5-percent stunting rate among infants 6-11 months old. Stunting rates remain at the 30 percent level or more among children 3 and 4 years old. Clearly, we have to prevent that increase,” she said.

The council is thus staring a campaign to promote greater focus on the first 1,000 days of life – from pregnancy to the first two years – using a mix of approaches like the encouragement of breastfeeding and the proper feeding of the young, with emphasis on eggs, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, fish and meat.

Pregnancy to the first two years of life make up the “window of golden opportunity” during which key health, nutrition, early education and related services should be delivered, and delivered well. Food, after all, is not the only input that ensures a healthy, well-rounded individual. Other factors contribute to the development of the individual: A safe and secure home environment, education, emotional support from parents and family members.

Food, however, is the most basic of them all. Parents and caregivers, who actually decide what gets bought in the market and what gets served on the table, must realize the awesome responsibility they carry in ensuring the long-term nourishment of their child.

Healthy children will grow into healthy, productive adults. They will propel the country forward instead of failing to realize their potential and draining the system. This is what it means to thrive. It is so much more than getting by, or staying afloat.

No one will argue that children need to be fed and fed well. There is no dearth of ideas on the “how.” The only thing uncertain is whether families and societies are willing to take that extra difficult, if inconvenient, step for better results. (Printed with permission: Manila Standard editorial, 17 October 2019)

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Governance, Democracy, Media: Building Better Communities

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As the country gears for a possible shift to a federal form of government, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. underscored the important role that media has to play in ensuring that Filipinos make an informed choice on the issue.

Pimentel, a member of the consultative committee tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to propose changes to the 1987 Constitution, acknowledged that many Filipinos still do not understand the concept of federalism.

“This is why we need the media to play its role of educating our people. We need a free media to ensure that the dissemination of information is not controlled,” he said in his keynote speech during the 23rd National Press Forum of the Philippine Press Institute at Hotel Jen in Manila.

Former Commission on Elections chairman and 1986 Constitutional Convention member Christian Monsod agreed: “Media has a big role to play, especially in education campaign and in providing the people with real news, not fake news.”

Monsod said a free and vibrant press is crucial in ensuring that developments in the political scene translate into tangible benefits for all Filipinos.

“The biggest divide in our country is not culture or identity or territory but the divide between the rich and the poor...How can we best fulfill the promise of a new social order that serves the interests of the poor, who are supposed to be the center of our development?”

Monsod was cautious, though, of the proposed federal form of government, adding that in this part of the world, unitary systems such as Japan, South Korea, China and Indonesia) have proven to be successful models.

“Federalism is a risky, intricate political experiment that is vulnerable to unintended consequences,” he said.

Pimentel, however, maintained that a federal system under a presidential form of government was meant to “advance the welfare of the people, speed up their development. and hopefully dissipate the causes of rebellion in this country.”

In the same vein, but more on the political and economic aspects, Noel de Luna, founder and chairman of Kusog Bicolandia, an agenda-based regional political party that is aimed to focus more on local or domestic interests,  "resolved to serve the common interest of fellow Bicolanos by endeavoring, first of all, to be both self-reliant and dynamic."

"Can we be an autonomous state? Can we be part of a progressive unified group of islands called the Philippine archipelago under a Federalist state?", he addressed the PPI members during the fellowship dinner.

Erwin Caliba, chief of the Legal, Legislative and Linkages of the Policy Advisory Office of the Commission of Human Rights, said the quest for autonomy is also a “mechanism to address exclusion and enhance the participation of minorities.”

Cheryl Daytec-Yangot, former Justice assistant secretary and a lecturer on issues concerning Indigenous Peoples, said all stakeholders, including the media, should move to empower minorities whose voices are drowned out in the mainstream national discourse.

Although I am not really convinced that federalism is the cure, for our indigenous peoples in the country, it may work,” she said.

Gotz Heinicke, resident representative of PPI partner Hanns Seidel Foundation, underscored how the lack of free speech and assembly is “the greatest menace to freedom” today.

“Public discussion is a political duty...such openness results in better governance and better communities,” he said.

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PPI hails Civic Journalism Community Press awardees

Awards Group Photo

As the print industry continues to face challenges brought about by disruptive technology and innovation and a changing consumer landscape, the Philippine Press Institute shone the spotlight on the best of the best among the community newspapers across the country.

Cebu Daily News bagged three of five major awards for the daily newspaper category for the 2018 Civic Journalism Community Press Awards, namely the Best Edited Community Newspaper, Best Editorial Page, and Best in Photojournalism.

Edge Davao, on the other hand, garnered the Best in Business and Economic Reporting and Best in Environment Reporting awards for the daily newspaper category.

Baguio-based weekly newspapers Herald Express and Baguio Chronicle were awarded the Best Edited Newspaper and Best in Environment Reporting, respectively, for the weekly newspaper category.

Other winners were The Bohol Chronicle for the Best Editorial Page; Cagayan de Oro’s Business Week Mindanao for Best in Business and Economic Reporting; and Dumaguete’s Metro Post for Best in Photojournalism.

“The industry is being buffeted by dizzying winds of change. Today – as in the past – any technology that accelerates information has the power to disrupt; so it is with the internet and social media...We must adapt to the technology sooner or later if we are to survive. We have to be realistic that this world has changed and adapt to the reality on the ground,” newly-elected PPI chairman and Manila Standard publisher Rolando Estabillo said.

Despite the challenges, Estabillo said newspapers, especially community papers, have the responsibility, more now than ever, to continue reporting on issues that have direct impact on Filipinos.

Speaking on behalf of the winners, Dexter See of Baguio’s Herald Express acknowledged as much: “It takes hard work, and involves pure sacrifice and passion for the job. That’s why we are here.”

The board of judges for the press awards was composed of Joyce Babe Pañares, PPI trustee and news editor of Manila Standard as chairperson; Nickel Asia Corporation vice president for corporate communication Jose Bayani Baylon; Science and Development Network Asia Pacific Coordinator Joel Adriano; University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication dean Arminda Santiago; and Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines member Angelo de Silva.

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IT SHALL NOT DIE.

PPI Shall Not Die 2019-02

On the 55th anniversary of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), also known as the national association of Philippine newspapers, established in 1964, we do not only celebrate its longevity but remind ourselves of its relevance and mandate in both national and community affairs as the fourth estate and watchdog.

While the organization remains steadfast and committed to upholding the legacy of the media workers who initiated its creation 55 years ago, and all efforts by individuals and groups in safeguarding and fighting for a free press to this day --- we shall continue to regard the principles and values of professional and ethical journalism as fundamental to serving the public and keeping up with the evolving media landscape.

Our positions on several media issues, in solidarity with other media groups remain the same: unite against and condemn any form of violence towards media workers.

The print is not dying. It will not die. It is - being and will be - challenged by other platforms, news or otherwise.

Newspapers have survived the test of times.

There's nothing like -- the smell of ink used to weave words, turning pages, headlines jumping out from the frame, sharing the paper to the next reader, fancying a menagerie of contents, running the fingers across a tapestry of creative visuals, and being part of history as it unfolds.

We thank all our partners, major and minor, for journeying with us and providing the needs for our programs. There are no small contributions. We treasure old and current partnerships, and welcome those with well-meaning efflorts and values that are congruent with PPI's.

Lastly, salute to the PPI members! You are the reason for its being.

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LGBTQ-Bicol marks World AIDS Day; urges quarterly HIV-AIDS screening by DOH

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In a low key but moving ceremony, members of the LGBTQ (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Queers) community from various organizations in Bicol Region marked the World AIDS Day with the theme “Know Your Status” as they also called on the Department of Health (DOH) to conduct the HIV-AIDS screening quarterly instead of yearly. 

LGBTQ member and registered nurse Mylene Capin said, that if the screening is only done yearly, it might be too late for the person who is infected or afflicted with the disease to recover. 

“Mas maganda na maging quarterly ang screening para maagapan pa ang sakit, kasi di ba prevention is better than cure? Sa ganitong paraan we may be able to save lives,” said Capin.

Speaking on behalf of the 179 attendees who were mostly lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders who formed the 'human ribbon' during the symbolic candle-lighting as  closer of the first Bicol-wide LGBT congress in Legazpi City on December 1, she challenged Filipinos to get tested, and for victims and survivors to avail of the government's health services. 

Rising statistics

In Bicol alone, the Health Department recorded over 200 cases of HIV-AIDS from January to September 2018.

The DOH Epidemiology Bureau recorded that the 229 cases to date were higher than 226 cases it recorded in the same period last 2017.

Philippine Red Cross (PRC) volunteer and political science student at Bicol University Sydney Joseph Torrenueva said that as a volunteer he had already undergone various seminars on HIV-AIDS.  Through his engagement with the PRC  as a concerned citizen, he is able to share his knowledge to other students in his university by conducting information drive.

“Information education talaga ang paraan para mai-iwas natin ang ating mga kabataan lalo na ang members ng LGBTQ at iba pang studyante sa sakit na ito,” said the 19-year old Torrenueva.

But Torrenueva stressed that the programs of the DoH do not reach the grassroots.  “Maaaring may malakas na campaign sa taas pero hindi ito nakakarating sa baba. Pag ako maging abogado at maging kongresista, gusto kong gumawa ng batas na ima-mandate ang LGU na seryosohin ang ganitong isyu at maglatag ng paraan para sa prevention nito." 

Pending Bill

Meanwhile, members of the LGBTQ strongly support the passage of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) bill. 

House Bill No. 4982 or “An Act Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity or Expression and Providing Penalties Therefore” is considered the first of its kind in the Philippines. Other anti-discrimination bills have been filed in the past, but these were never SOGIE-specific, lumping the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and queer sector with others such as the differently abled or the indigenous groups.

“It’s high time to legislate a law that will protect the rights of the members of the LGBTQ community,” said Albert Abitan, regional chairman of LGBTQ Pilipinas-Bicol during the first LGBTQ congress.

Currently, SOGIE Bill which aims to protect members of the LGBTQ against discrimination is now on the 3rd and final reading at the House of Representatives.

“Sana nga maipasa na ang panukalang batas na iyan para naman iyon sa ikabubuti ng mga katulad kong miyembro ng LGBTQ,” said Abitan who also stressed that this marginalized sector is a productive member of the society who helps in building better communities. 

Rights of all

Resource person Kate Aventajado from the Department of Justice (DOJ) emphasized during the gathering that all people have inherent human rights that the State should protect regardless of sexual orientation.

“My right is your right. We are all equal. Our Constitution guarantees our human rights. Ang mga karapatang pantao ay inherent sa atin, it is not necessarily defined by our legislation,” said Aventajado. 

Human rights do not discriminate. “That before we engage in community building, one should learn his or her rights so that we can demand them from duty bearers. When we are empowered we can make those people who are accountable under the force of law,” she added.

Portrayal in media

The law may not discriminate the LGBTQ members on the basis of basic human rights as constitutionally-enshrined. But such treatment is different in media.

Seasoned journalist Malen Catajan, a senior reporter of Baguio-based Sun.Star Baguio said that at least on her part she is giving extra caution if and when the subject of the story is a member of the LGBTQ community.

“Dito kami magkaiba ng DOJ, kasi special ang kanilang sector. Nagiging maingat kami. Nagsimula ang isyu sa kaso ni Jennifer Laude, kung ano nga ba ang itatawag na prounoun sa kanya 'he or she' ba. Kinalaunan, naging politically correct na ito at tinawag na siyang 'she' ", said Catajan.

She stressed that it is not necessary for the media to mention sexual preference in the news. And that there is a need to create media  guidelines for stories involving LGBTQ to protect them against discrimination and further public humiliation. 

“Pag ang isang studyante ay na bully sa school on the basis of sexual orientation at panlabas na anyo kailangan bang banggitin ang pangalan ng bata? Hindi. Kasi lalo siyang mabu-bully,” she said.

Access to LGU health programs

Bacoor City Mayor Lani Mercado-Revilla on the other hand, shared the local policies they implemented for the protection of the rights and welfare of the LGBTQ community in her city.

“Masarap kayong kasama. No dull moment. You’re very creative. Mahusay sa lahat ng aspeto. Talo nyo lahat ng babae at lalaki because you have both worlds. Kayo ay masipag, determinado at gagawin ang lahat matupad lang ang pangarap,” said Mayor Revilla in her speech, boosting the morale of the participants while putting emphasis on their capacity to rise above adversities. 

In Bacoor City, Mercado established the Social Hygiene Clinic (SYC) that caters to all residents who want to be tested with HIV-AIDS.  She wants it replicated in other cities in the province of Cavite. "If I'm not mistaken Bacoor has high incidence of HIV cases but these people get to access our health programs and participate visibly in the affairs of our city." 

Meanwhile, Maricel Banzuela from DOH-Region V discussed the health services that the government is offering for the adolescents who members of the LGBTQ in the region. "They are the most vulnerable and need to be educated the most," she said, citing alarming cases which are in the ages 15-24 bracket.  "Pabata nang pabata ang mga na-iinfect." 

Giving a platform

The first LGBTQ Congress was organized by Kusog Bikolandia (KB)  founder and chairman Noel De Luna and facilitated by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), to address issues and concerns of the LGBTQ community.  "We need to send a strong message across and that is to inform them of their rights and privileges under the law," said De Luna who also challenged legislators and prospective advocates to champion LGBTQ causes and advocacies. 

The other highlight of the event was the group activity which required the participants to propose programs and interventions for their sector.  "You are not a special lot but you deserve to be heard. It's only you who can charter your own course.  And that is your right," said Joenald Rayos, PPI trustee for Luzon and publisher of Batangas-based Ang Pahayagang Balikas.  (Lottie Salarda and Ariel Sebellino, PPI)

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PPI facilitates LGBTQ Congress in Bicol

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In an unprecedented effort, and for the first time in its long history of conceptualizing and conducting training programs for its members and the media in general, the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), also known as the national association of newspapers since 1964, will help facilitate the first congress of the LGBTQ community on December 1 in Legazpi City.

The PPI has been tapped by local organizer Kusog Bikolandia to help facilitate its landmark event that will cater to and be attended by members of the LGBT sector. Titled "“Engaging LGBTQ for Community-Building and in Nation-Building Through Narratives” will put to the fore the challenges and interests of the vulnerable community in terms of knowing their legal rights, access to health services, and portrayal in media.

Around 300 participants from the LGBT community all over Bicol Region invited by Kusog Bikolandia, are expected to attend the first congress to address various issues surrounding LGBT. "It's high time we convene them and give them a venue to raise their concerns that our leaders should take cognizance of," said Noel De Luna, founder and chairman of Kusog Bikolandia.

Kusog Bikolandia is a new breed of regional political party formed in Bicol by businessmen and former government officials as an alternative political party that seeks new and young leaders in the region. "In this congress of the so-called marginalized and highly vulnerable sector and community, various issues and challenges confronting them will be put to the fore, whereby giving them a platform to express their sentiments and aspirations for themselves and the country," De Luna said.

KB also aims to champion genuine social equality, where every Bicolano shall be given access to the same basic needs: quality health services, education, livelihood, emergency assistance, pension and shelter (HELPS).

The PPI believes that being tapped to help conduct this initiative is well withing its mandate and flagship of "building better communities". "I see this as a stepping stone to coming up with guidelines on reporting on the LGBT which we actually don't have yet. We need to be inclusive. To write about them is even necessary to erase age-old problems of discrimination and perceived bad portrayal," said Ariel Sebellino, PPI executive director.

He further added that there was a discussion years ago about coming up with a training program for this kind of reporting. "Hopefully the local organizers will find it necessary to partner with the PPI for a media training to be able to craft the guidelines, adding to what we already have on children and women."

Culminating the one-day congress is a workshop that will require the participants to write and present recommendations and programs that will benefit them. Resource persons will be from the Department of Health, Department of Justice, LGU, and media. ###

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Visayas media on federalism: there must be strong public awareness

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Journalists from the Visayas recognized the challenges they face when it comes to informing the public about the proposed federalism by President Rodrigo Duterte because of the insufficient information they are getting from the government on it.

In a seminar-workshop in Cebu City, the participants from various regions in the Visayas called on the government to have a strong public engagement and information campaign if it seriously wants federalism in public consciousness.
The journalists who attended the last leg of the seminar-workshop on Understanding Federalism in the Philippine Context  conducted by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) with support from Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) and in partnership with the Pimentel Institute of Local Governance (PILG) last November 12-13, admitted that they have limited information about federalism.

Wala akong masyadong maisulat about federalism. Uninformed media is an uninformed public. Kaya kung wala kaming nalalaman paano kaya ang publiko?” said Rachel Arnaiz, a correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in Northern Samar.

While it is the role of the journalists to make any topic such as federalism interesting for the readers, it is imperative for the  government, especially the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to strengthen its efforts for massive information dissemination up to the grassroots.

They challenged President Duterte to take a definitive stand and endorse a draft on federalism which he thinks will be good  for the country.  "Every provision in the draft charter that he is supposed to endorse matters a lot to every citizen in this country," said Jon Amio from Iloilo-based Panay News.
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The participants proposed that every barangay must conduct a forum on federalism and not sugarcoat the pros and cons of various issues surrounding it in order for the public to have an informed vote during the plebiscite.

They noted that the seminar provided them the basic concepts on federalism that included decentralization of powers, judicial structures, equalization of funds, and taxation, to name a few.

Secretary Jesus G. Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process  highlighted the importance of knowledge of the journalists on federalism as are duty-bound to inform the public on national affairs and matters involving governance.

“If you are a real journalist, you go for the truth. If what you are quoting is accurate but your interviewee is not telling the truth, kaya may responsibility din tayo na alamin ang katotohanan,” Dureza said. “You also have to check the other side as much as possible. Yung expertise natin is something we have to work on.” Dureza.

PPI executive director Ariel Sebellino emphasized again that PPI is in no way promoting or campaigning against federalism.  "This is our way of educating our colleagues on the matter.  We find it important to bring this matter to the public since there are already efforts to disseminate information about this," he said.

The PPI, PILG, and HSF will conduct a short version of the program for the academic and communications sectors on December 10 at the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) in cooperation with the Philippines Communication Society (PCS).

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