“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.” – Henry Anatole Grunwald
How does the pen write dissent at the time of oppressive silence? Defined the contours of involvement at a time of fear? How does it posit alternatives at a time when there seems to be no choice but subservience? The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) has 80 years to illustrate the answers, for its history is witness to how journalism can shape institutions and even draw revolutions.
CEGP is now on its 80th year, and remains to be the widest alliance of student publications in Asia-Pacific. From a small, prestigious organization of writers, the alliance has expanded to more than 750 member publications in 68 out of 78 provinces in the country. The Guild, however, has retained its prestige as it steadily acquired more member publications. It has a long list of alumni luminaries, such as veteran journalists Malou Mangahas and the late Lourdes Simbulan, across different sectors. Indeed, CEGP has become a growing movement through the years.
The history of CEGP is not just a history of sterling credentials. It is more characterized by persistence and unfaltering commitment to press freedom and people’s rights.During the turbulent Martial Law period, the CEGP has engaged in the strong mass movement against the dictatorship. The Guilders then believed that to write well was not the end-all, be-all, and that writing without a political purpose was as good as not writing at all. More important, writing in itself was never enough. It was necessary to be directly involved in the struggle.
When all media outfits were kept under the iron heel, it was CEGP and its member publications that fearlessly condemned an administration which failed to cater to the interests of the majority. The campus press remained antagonistic at the time when the media was silenced, at the time when even the hard-hitting journalists chose to be silent. It was the campus press that helped maintain – and even heighten – the agitation among the youth, the catalyst of social change.
In the 1970’s, it was only logical to discard the antiquated tenets of neutrality and take a side. CEGP, and its martyred members during the Martial Law period, were even revered for doing so. The conditions that prevailed during the period of the dictatorship were similar to the conditions that the society now faces.
Like Marcos’ government, the Aquino administration does not address the root causes of poverty such as landlessness, inaccessible education, dismal labor conditions, among others. Instead, it insists on using palliative solutions such as dole-outs, or flawed policies that only exacerbate the situation.
For one, it claims that it was not able to do anything with the spate of price hikes because it was a global phenomenon. This is a lie, because the uncertainties in the global market were perpetual and recurring under this system of economies. It is clear that the problem lies with how this government has cushioned the impact of the crisis. The problem is its indecisiveness and its refusal to make radical turns for the benefit of its constituents.
It has no definite program for land reform, and in terms of land distribution, the average number of hectares given out per month was lower than that in the previous administrations. Aquino also refuses to speak on the Hacienda Luisita dispute, although he has all the powers of the chief executive. The potential of the Philippines as an agricultural country was never harnessed because of retrogressive policies in the agriculture sector.
The trend of state neglect of education also continues under Aquino. Following the historically massive budget cuts in several state universities, some 300 schools were allowed to increase tuition this year, regardless of whether or not there was consultation. This administration still chooses to cut on social spending, notwithstanding the deteriorating conditions of basic services.
And now, instead of transforming its unambiguously ineffective agenda, the government continues to crack down on progressive individuals, as if an overkill can solve the perennial dilemmas. The death toll in extrajudicial killings has climbed to more than 40 in the first months of Aquino’s term. Resistance remains to be demonized, regardless of whether it is a legitimate struggle for people’s rights, lives and self-determination.
Given these conditions, to be a “neutral” journalist, to pretend that it is possible not to take a stand, becomes a crime. Now, more than ever, the society needs advocacy journalists to usher genuine change that this administration has promised.
The 80th year of the Guild only marks the beginning of more active social involvement. It is a declaration of a firm commitment to protect campus press freedom. The expanding alliance will continue its 80 year legacy of critical thinking. It will continue to show how campus press repression was only a repercussion of the worsening education crisis, and how the education crisis was born from the crisis of the society as a whole.
This year is CEGP’s 80th year. This year, we continue with the passion for truth and change. We continue with the journalism that turns the cogs of history.
JULY 17, 2011
80th ANNIVERSARY STATEMENT
Pauline Gidget Estella
National media officer