Sunday, June 25, 2006

‘Struggling journalists’

Many times I am ashamed about my being a journalist. I am ashamed for having not done anything, for not having written or edited good stories, for not having perfected my grammar, for not having lived to the fullest my calling, nay, my profession as a journalist, as a witness to history, as a writer of raw materials that would, in the future, be the basis of our own kasaysayan.

I also feel ashamed about the many other journalists, especially those in the cities, who easily claim to be journalists because they cover their beats daily, write stories based on what their sources say or what the press releases wanted them to say, and worry more about what to wear, how they look, where to spend the night, where to go for vacation, what’s the next gimmick, etc.

I am ashamed because George and Macel died struggling to become journalists in Mindanao. I am ashamed because when Carol Arguillas asked me a few years back if I wanted to work in Mindanao and join her team my first question was how much would she pay me to go back to my homeland.

I felt sad after reading the article below that was written by a student who trained under George and Macel. I felt sad because despite the many training workshops and lectures I’ve attended, despite all the books I’ve read, I remain a hostage of my needs in this big city where I call myself a journalist.

George and Macel: “Struggling journalists”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 June) -- This was how George and Maricel "Macel " Alave-Vigo described themselves during their stint as regular staff members of "The Headliner," a weekly newspaper published in Cotabato City and circulated in Southwestern Mindanao from 1998 until the paper folded up in 2003.

George and Macel were members of the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality (FREE), an organization of journalists that ran and managed the defunct Headliner.

For them, being "struggling journalists" meant writing and advocating a cause, with bias for the rights of the Lumads (indigenous peoples), war evacuees, women, and exposing irregularities in government.

As "struggling journalists," they did not write for a living but "write to serve the voiceless."

The couple would tell young writers and campus reporters not to write merely to inform but to educate.

While doing media work, the two continued helping advocacy works of the Diocese of Kidapawan. Macel was then working for the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) in Kidapawan City.

A feminist, Macel maintained a column in the "Headliner" titled "Feminist Expressions" which tackled mostly issues on the rights of women and children. She once wrote about an alleged case of sexual harassment brought to her attention. The alleged harassment implicated a politician.

George regularly wrote about the rights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) particularly on the encroaching of banana plantations around Mt. Apo, which is considered sacred by the Lumads (IPs)

George, who studied for three years at the Notre Dame Seminary in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, served as secretary of the Task Force Apo Sandawa under the Diocese of Kidapawan. The Task Force advocated for the protection of Mount Apo.

In the early 2000s, the group fought to prevent the Philippine National Oil Corporation's geothermal project from expanding in the Lumads’ ancestral land around Mt. Apo. The group also staged rallies to stop arsenic poisoning allegedly caused by the power plant.

George also served as bureau chief of Headliner after Carlos Bautista, who was then with Catholic-run radio station DXND, resigned from his pos

For being so critical of a officials in the province, George, sometime in 1999, was offered, through an emissary of a politician, a post as “ghost writer” in the politician’s office. Seeing this as a trap intended to silence him, he turned down the offer.

George and Macel wrote about the church and communities' peace initiatives in different areas of the region and conducted trainings for campus journalists in Kidapawan City colleges and high schools where they also shared the idea of public and peace journalism.

While covering the 2000 war, George also worked for Tabang Mindanaw, which extended assistance to the internally displaced persons. He was also one of 17 journalists who embarked on a fact-finding mission in the different war-torn villages across Mindanao during the "all-out war" of then President Joseph Estrada that year.

In college, both were members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and League of Filipino Students (LFS).

George, 35, a native of Magpet North Cotabato, served as president of the student council of Notre Dame of Kidapawan College where he finished Political Science. He was also a member of an international fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi.

Macel took up BS Chemistry at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato but stopped schooling. In April, she received her BS Development Communication degree through the Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency Accreditation Program (ETEEAP). The other graduate under the same program was North Cotabato Governor Emmanuel Pinol, a distant relative.

Macel, 39, was part-time media relations officer of Rep. Lala Talino and was area coordinator of SPOTS (Solar Power Technology System) of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), a project funded by the British Petroleum, to distribute solar power to agrarian reform communities without access to electricity.

Before joining SPOTS, Macel was also executive director of the Peoples' Kauyahan Foundation, Inc. which was active in peace-building projects.

George, who was program coordinator of the Mindanao Youth Leadership Program of the Community and Family Services, International (CFSI) hosted Tingog sa Kabatan-unan (Voice of the Youth), a 30-minute radio program of the CFSI aired every Monday noon while Mazel hosted Talino’s Kalihukan sa Kongreso (Congress Affairs) aired over DXND every Sunday noon.

(This tribute was contributed by a young writer who counts George and Macel as among his mentors. The writer is also a former staff member of the Headliner and a distant relative of Macel. The writer now works in a non-government organization based in Davao City.)

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