Journalists Must Protect Our Freedoms

May. 07, 2007

It is only by standing by your principles as mediamen that you can be called as such. Deviating from it makes you irrelevant.

By Alex Roldan

DAVAO CITY — When I was asked to make a testimonial tonight, one question came to dominate my mind. That question is, after all the years of struggle and idealism about press freedom, what have I contributed towards this aim as a mediaman? This created a vacuum on my innerself which is suddenly filled with more doubt of my ideals if it is really realistic and achievable or just a plain utopia and maybe better leave it that way so that the next generation has something to continue. I know there are more worthy experiences of practicing media in the past, all I want is to share my story and thoughts about the my experiences and struggles as a mediaman.

I became a radio reporter of then dxmc, the manager during that time was mr. Antonio ajero which we fondly called nong tony. I was still 17 then, and that was my baptims to the life of being a mediaman waking up early and chasing informations to keep with the stations expectations. I was doing without even knowing why am I doing it, and did not even understand its implications to my later realization of the mediamans role in nation building.

The social condition during the martial law years accelerated my understanding about the role of the media in establishing a free society. The harshness of the martial rule has sharpened my intentions to be and effective mediaman. The dictatorships suppresion of press freedom shaped my idealism and most importantly, it strenghtened my resolve to democracy.

I was already with another station, dxrh owned by Manila broadcasting company, when I first tasted the real fire of those dark years. In 1980 I was arrested by the philippine constabulary while delivering the panindigan my regular 5 minute news analysis/commentary of the days issue. I was making an analysis of the San Pedro bombing that happened the prior night. I cant quite remember how I felt during that time when I saw the figure of a military man peeking at the doors glass portion of the announcers booth, with angry eyes projecting a message that something is very wrong. I was in the middle of my prepared script when he banged the door. Despite the cold feeling that slowly crept into my body, I was able to finish my commentary without giving the public a hint of what is going on. I did not resist the arrest. My manager was worried that something will happen and asked Tony Figueroa to accompany me. We were brought to a military headquarter at ecoland where I was interogated by one major asis. He was the deputy metrodiscom commander.

Never mind the verbal abuse and threat during the trip to the headquarters. The most dehumanizing part was when I was made to sit on a chair in the middle of the room with an incandescent bulb above my head just like the movies where criminals are interrogated. The chilling part of that event is when one of the military men inside, probably irked by my answers pulled out a gun and pointed it at the back of my head which until now to tell you frankly, I can still feel the cold barrel of the gun that touched the back of my head. I was not sure of what happened next, but afterwards everything seemed to cool down. I used that opportunity to ask them that I need to use the comfort room which they hessitantlyagreed. Towards the comfort room I saw a telephone and secretly called my manager and asked him to come. Moments later I saw a familiar beetle car coming, and upon realizing that nobody was watching, I hurriedly went out and quickly rode my managers car and sped away. Maybe the military was not really serious of eliminating me that they did not bother to chase us.

The mediamen in Davao City stood with me after that incident. Radio announcers that some of them I do not even know personally, were one in condemning the military. Newspapers came with screaming headlines showing their disapproval of their acts. It was only lately I realized that I was not able to say thanks to those who stood by me during that time.

This incident I was sure, heightened the publics interest on the facts surrounding the april 1980 San Pedro bombing that eventually became one of the biggest public investigation in Davao.

The united stand of the media generated support from other sectors that no less than the then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile came to Davao and comitted to an open investigation of the boming incident. He also personally ordered general olano to ensure my safety.

The military and personalities supporting Marcos showed their dislike on the way I handle the issues on the following years. My critical stand I told them is not that I am against the government but because I want to defend the rights of the people to be informed and protected. I was not spared from the traditional red scare, name calling such as a spokesman of the communists, the radicals and the like.

Together with some the young mediamen from papers and radio, we organzed the Davao intermedia guild in the effort to help budding newsmen understand the real issues of the country during those days. Many believed that the revolutionaries were behind in the creation of that group to penetrate the ranks of the media, somewhat true, but to make the record staight, I agreed to lead the group because of the belief that true mediamen should take active role in the change process. I lead because I believe that mediamen should not only inform like an echo of the source of information, but should have the ability to understand the in-betwens of those facts and actively exercise their inherrent role as the messengers of truth.

Our idealism was so high that the regime classified us a red front. I dont care during that time, is it true or not, I dont care, because I have already assumed a role of molding new breed of mediamen. We even ventured into publishing local papers in the hope of expanding our reach and support base.

Some might not have known this, I secretely helped unifying the moderate and progressive labor unions in the region to stand against Marcos with the late nonoy librado. I would be a hypocrite not to admit that with it is an adventure of a lifetime, that ony very few of my age are given the opportunity and look, it is all for the country.

I am aware that the station where I am working with was pressured, but my commercial value during that time proved to be more important to them. Second, their reluctance to fire me came from the next phase of the peoples struggle after the death of senator ninoy aquino. Many of those coming from the elite who fear the appetite of the Marcos cronies, were openly and directly supporting the call for the regimes fall. Many companies even allowed their employees to join protest marches and rallies and joined complete job stoppage during welga ng bayan. That condition kept me from being fired from my job.

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