WRITING THROUGH THE YEARS

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire

***

So much have been said about writers and journalism.

“Journalism still, in a democracy, is the essential force to get the public educated and mobilized to take action on behalf of our ancient ideals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin said.  Walter Cronkite has the same view: “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.”

Isabel Allende also stated: “From journalism I learned to write under pressure, to work with deadlines, to have limited space and time, to conduct and interview, to find information, to research, and above all, to use language as efficiently as possible and to remember always that there is a reader out there.”

We bring news to the people – no matter what.  “News is what someone wants suppressed,” Katharine Graham once pointed out.  “Everything else is advertising.  The power is to set the agenda.  What we print and what we don’t print matter a lot.”

Some people think, a journalist is a person who influences others.  They seem to be right, but journalism is not just about writing or reporting; it is more than that. “The first essence of journalism is to know what you want to know, the second, is to find out who will tell you,” John Gunther explained.

Being a journalist is not all glamour and blitzkrieg, it also means living and advocacy.  “I think that having a job in journalism,” Ellen Goodman said, “despite all of the changes, is still a fantastic way to be – make a living observing your society and having a chance to use your voice.”

I never meant to become a writer, much less a journalist.  When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an illustrator.  Much father had a great influence when it comes to reading. At night, he brought some comics which he rented from the market. 

It was at the time when television was too expensive for lesser mortals.  During the days, we consoled ourselves by listening to radios.  There was nothing much to do at night; cellular phones, internet, and wi-fi connection were unheard of in those days.

While reading comics, I fancied myself to become a comics illustrator.  When I was in high school, my plan changed.  I wanted to become a writer – after readingReader’s Digest at our library (our English teacher required us to make a home reading report every week!).

“How I wish I can write something for this very informative magazine,” I told myself.  I tried to contribute a few anecdotes and stories for “Laughter, The Best Medicine,” but they never saw light.  (Not knowing that in 2000, I would start writing full-length articles for the magazine, but that’s another story.)

I was in college when I started writing for national magazines like Mod, Woman’s Home Companion, Express Week, Mr. and Ms., Philippine Free Press and Focus Philippines.  Unfortunately, all these magazines are now defunct.

I got the biggest break in my career as a writer when, in 1985, I heard that Rev. Harold Ray Watson won a Ramon Magsaysay Award for international understanding. He was an American missionary working in our hometown, just 10 kilometers away from the town proper.

I decided to interview him with the intention of writing a story for a national publication.  I did a profile story on him – and had it published in Focus Philippines.  I wrote another feature, focusing on the agriculture insight, that was printed in Greenfields.

A month after the publication, I received a letter from Watson if I was interested to join his staff as information officer.  I was totally caught by surprise, but after some thoughts, I accepted the offer.

Since it is a training center for farmers, I started writing agricultural and environmental stories for national publications.  I also contributed to Ang Peryodiko Dabaw, writing two columns: “As You Like It” and “Agribiz Jottings.”

Antonio M. Ajero, the editor-in-chief of Ang Peryodiko Dabaw, saw my potential as a journalist.  “Why don’t you write also for Press Foundation of Asia (PFA),” he told me.  “Your articles seem fit for its weekly dispatch called DEPTHnews.”

He gave the mailing address and I started writing for the PFA, also a Ramon Magsaysay awardee just like Watson.  (I also had a short stint working for International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, another Ramon Magsaysay recipient.)

As a regular contributor for PFA, I was given the opportunity of attending a workshop for community journalists.  One of those was business and economics reporting for journalists working in various parts of the country.  Another one was on agricultural reporting, where I had an opportunity of meeting veteran journalist Juan Mercado, then the PFA executive director.

We were in the middle of our five-day training when Mercado called me.   “Do you have a passport,” he asked.  “I have,” I replied (three months earlier, I got my passport without any intention of going out of the country).  “That’s good.  You will be one of those we will send to Bangkok, Thailand to attend the food security reporting.”

It was my first trip abroad.  Since then, I had been to Bangkok several times.  I also visited Phuket for another stint on environmental reporting.  This month, I will be going to Chiang Mai together with other journalists who won in last year’s Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards.

I also had attended three international coral reef symposiums in Bali, Indonesia; Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the United States; and Cairns, Australia.

I also attended three international AIDS conferences in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (as part of the prize I won in the AIDS Media Contest); Melbourne, Australia; and Durban, South Africa.   All trips were funded by Ford Foundation.

My two previous wins in Bright Leaf also brought me to two other countries: Beijing, China and Hanoi, Vietnam. In Siem Reap, Cambodia, I attended a meeting of Asian researchers and do reporting of what they had been doing.

In addition, I had been given the opportunity of attending an international conference for science journalists in Montreal, Canada. 

All in all, I have received 35 journalism awards – and still counting.  I bring back the honor and glory to God for all the blessings He has given me.  “It doesn’t matter how many times your win an award,” Zinedine Zidane once pointed out.  “It is always very special.”

I agree.

And I am glad I am a writer.  I can be a voice of change, a catalyst of innovation, and a tool of information.  I will write and I will keep on writing.

“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault,” Henry Grunwald reminded.  “It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumphs and the signs of horror are still in the air.”