By TONYO CRUZ
On a quiet Thursday evening, we in the media and arts alliance LODI mounted a special awards night to honor journalists whose excellent and courageous work defied the current situation.
We dubbed it “Sikato!: Sigaw para sa katotohanan” and we gathered at the Pasig City headquarters of embattled social news network Rappler. What better venue could there be for a press freedom event than the office of the media outlet that the government has eyed as an enemy fit for closure by whatever means? Perhaps none.
LODI convenor and veteran director Joel Lamangan explains the rationale for Sikato! this way: “We honor this crop of courageous and outstanding journalists to tell aspiring journalists and the public that great journalism is not a lost cause under the current dispensation. Far from it, we think the situation actually summons the best and most courageous in journalism so that media could exercise their rights and perform their duty to inform and consequently empower the Filipino people.”
LODI’s Lamangan adds: “It is already difficult to do good journalism under normal circumstances, but it is more challenging now under President Duterte who seem to want a pliant, blinded, submissive media. We need to look up to and aspire to be worthy successors to the likes of Marcelo de Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Antonio Zumel, Joe Burgos, Tony Nieva, and Letty Jimenez Magsanoc whose works shone through the nation’s dark periods.”
Aside from the awardees, present at the LODI event were respected and brave voices in journalism and Philippine democracy: Chito Gascon of the Commission on Human Rights, John Nery of the Inquirer, ACT Teachers Partylist Representative France Castro, and the legendary business journalist-turned-activist Satur Ocampo.
Also present: former Kabataan Representative and Bayan-Metro Manila chair Raymond Palatino, blogger Noemi Lardizabal Dado, photojournalist Raffy Lerma, television journalist Howie Severino, folks from the CEGP, NUJP, and the PCP, and the AlterMidya team led by Rhea delos Santos.
It was truly a star-studded affair, if we could consider the most brilliant personages of journalism and the mass movement as stars of Philippine democracy.
Rock Bato, Skarlet (formerly of Put3ska), and the Talahib Music Collective performed at the event.
LODI convenors Joel Saracho, Mae Paner and Lamangan presided over the awarding of Sikato! trophies crafted by multimedia artist and sculptor Toym Imao, and caricature drawings by Ted Camahalan.
In no particular order, here is the list of the LODI awardees:
Maria Ressa — Winner of the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award and of the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.
Inday Espina Varona — Prize for Independence winner, at the 2018 Press Freedom Awards of Reporters Without Borders.
Manuel Mogato — Pulitzer Prize winner for international reporting, for his series entitled “Duterte’s war.”
Atom Araullo — awardee in the international awards for factual content of the Association for International Broadcasting, for his documentary entitled “Philippine Seas.”
Fernando Sepe Jr., Jonathan Cellona, and Val Cuenca — awardee in the interactive category of the International awards for factual content, International Association for International Broadcasting, for their work entitled “Stories from the Under the Rubble: Inside the Battle of Marawi.”
Jeff Canoy and Chiara Zambrano — won the Gold World Medal in the New York Festivals, and the Gold Dolphin for best documentary under the Current Affairs, Human Concerns and Social Issues category, 9th Corporate Media and TV Awards for their work “Di Ka Pasisiil.”
Raffy Tima — won the Silver Screen Award from the US International Film and Video Festival for his work “Inside Marawi: A Report on 360 Video.”
Basilio “Eli” Sepe — winner of the International Photography Awards for his work “The Enemy in the dark.”
Ezra Arayan — winner of the 2018 Grand Prize in the International Academic Forum Documentary Photography Awards for his work entitled “Duterte’s War on Drugs Is Not Over”, and of the Award for Achievement of the Ian Parry Scholarship.
Imao said the statuettes he made as trophies took inspiration from the Filipino saying about journalism: “May tenga ang lupa, may pakpak ang balita” and consisted of symbols identified with reporters and photojournalists.
Eli Sepe, one of the awardees and perhaps the youngest among them, said in his acceptance speech: “As a young photojournalist, a citizen of this country and part of the youth, I believe that it is my responsibility to expose the true and current state of the Philippines. Issues in our society can easily be concealed and denied by the administration but the camera cannot lie.”
A member of UST’s Class of 2017 and formerly photo editor of The Varsitarian, the young Sepe articulated what LODI hoped to achieve with “Sikato!” — promote and encourage bravery in the midst of rising tyranny.
Eli said: “Through my works and through the works of other photojournalists and journalists here right now, we were able to document and show to other people not just here but in other countries what is really happening in the Philippines. There is something wrong and those things have to stop.
“I know it is very alarming and frightening that this administration is trying to discredit reputed media agencies for delivering reliable news information to people and tries to silence different journalists who go against them but this is not a time to be afraid,” he added.
“A threat to the freedom of the press is also a threat to our democracy and if democracy is at risk, we must protect it. Let us all stay vigilant. Let us all stand and work together,” Eli said.
Those who think trolling, online abuse, death threats, rape threats, and legal attacks would silence Filipino journalists and turn them into slaves of a dictator, there’s your answer.
Come to think of it, Philippine media and Filipino journalists have fought and exposed foes worse than the wannabe dictator by the Pasig. LODI’s Sikato! honorees are excellently and bravely at the forefront, and deserve our support.