Dark years of dictatorship, struggle for freedom, and an unparalleled passion for the written word are what bind a sisterhood that has changed the landscape of Philippine democracy.
Surviving the tough years of Martial Law, the Women Writers in Media Now (WOMEN) has honed talents, ignited spirits, fought battles, and stood firmly for the truth. Starting as a small group that gathered in the Heritage Art Gallery to simply hone their writing skills or critique one another’s works, there emerged a sisterhood that fought for press freedom amid the difficult dictatorial regime.
This sisterhood of eighteen women withstood decades of “dangerous writing” in all genres of writing. The 18 women journalists include Leonor Aureus Briscoe, Arlene Babst-Vokey, Sheila Coronel, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Fanny A. Garcia, Mila Astorga-Garcia, Sol F. Juvida, Fe Panaligan Koons, Marra PL. Lanot, Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, Sylvia L. Mayuga, Gemma Nemenzo, Lilia Quindoza Santiago, Paulynn Paredes Sicam, Rochit I. Tañedo, Marites Dañguilan Vitug, and Criselda Yabes. In celebration of the 18th Paz Marquez Benitez Memorial Lecture, the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (Aliww) showcases the life and works of these 18 women journalists in one exhibit entitled “Women Writers in Media Now” from February 21 to April 30 at the Ateneo Art Gallery.
“They have been writing for the last 30 years. They have sought hope especially when it was difficult to feel it during the political turmoil of the 80’s in the Philippine society,” Dr. Marlu Vilches, Dean of the School of Humanities of Ateneo de Manila University said.
WOMEN WRITING DANGEROUSLY
Ceres Doyo, Marites Vitug, and Jo-Ann Maglipon, shared their own stories of writing dangerously, navigating lawsuits and online writing, and raising the bar for entertainment writing.
In her first major article, Ceres Doyo recalled how her feature article about the killing of the Bugnay chieftain Macli-ling Dulag got her in trouble. “That was my first story, I got my editor and myself in trouble.” She and then Panorama editor Letty Magsanoc had to undergo a public interrogation because of her article.
“To get to Bugnay village we scaled hills and crossed the raging Chico River with the help of Kalinga braves in G-strings. In the home of Macli-ing, I saw the blood on the wall and ran my fingers on it. I listened to the people’s stories and took photographs. After that I don’t know what possessed me but I just sat down and wrote. I sent the story and trembled. A dam inside me had burst,” Doyo said as she remembered her “starting days” as a writer. When Pope John Paul II came in 1981 for a visit, he handed Doyo a Catholic Mass Media Awards trophy for her Macli-ing story.
She was later interrogated by the military on Macli-ing Dulag. This was the first interrogation she underwent.
It was repeated in 1983 for her magazine stories on the military’s human rights abuses in Bataan, particularly on rebel-priest Fr. Zacarias Agatep. Then the Macli-ing story was again brought up. They filed a case against the military officers and won.
Doyo, together with other colleagues, came up with “The Philippine Press Under Siege” Volumes 1 and 2 that contained “dangerous writing” stories that provoked the dictatorship.
“Still and all, I say, what a great and sobering adventure it has been. Doing the stories gave me great times—of terror and joy and sadness and fun. As I always say, nobody told me it would be like this,” Doyo said in her more than 3 decades of writing “dangerously.”
A SHARED STRUGGLE
Renowned Showbiz Authority Jo-Ann Maglipon, editor in chief of Yes Magazine, shared her learnings throughout her journey as a writer and an editor. Having survived a number of libel suits from famous celebrities, she had gained “courage” in reporting the ins and outs of show business.
“A truth about showbiz reporting: courage is at times in short supply. But, truth to tell, this is also the same thing that is at times in short supply in any beat. If anyone asks what I admire most in a journalist, I would not go for facts, nose for news, accuracy, networking or industry, I would go straight to courage,” Maglipon said.
Being in the business for several decades now, Maglipon said that as a journalist, you must be prepared to face all challenges and consequences. “You are bound to irritate someone. But as a journalist, it is not in the business of being popular. You just think of telling the story the best way you can.”
Fierce as she is, she presented a paradox everyone is familiar with when it comes to reading showbiz magazines. “This is the paradox of celebrity journalism. Everyone reads your magazine but they will always say they read it by chance in the parlor. Everyone wants to know what’s happening to Maricel and Gerald, to Maja and Kim, to Sunshine and Cesar but no one will right out admit it…. Some people buy magazines in the supermarket but put Vogue on top in the take out counters..”
Maglipon then shared how to survive in this business, amid all the glitz and glamour. “The only way you can do good work in the entertainment beat is to respect it. To treat the star, the film, the contract, the controversy, the intrigue, and the issue with the fairness expected in any other kind of journalism.
“You deal here with real life stories that have captured the imagination of a people interested in people, and it will get you in trouble because in inspecting this beat, you will show the pretty and the ugly. You will not show up the false guards. You will not feed the press release. You will not feed the image.”
Confirming Maglipon’s statement was Rappler’s editor at large Marites Vitug who spoke about navigating lawsuits and online writing. “The stories will speak for itself. No matter how much care you put to a story, you will hurt some people and make them angry. After all, journalism is not about making nice to people, it’s not about seeking to be good, to be on the good side of the powerful. It’s about telling the story straight, unvarnished.”
There’s no doubt that this sisterhood had been through a lot. Three decades ago, their stories both as journalists and as women began. As author Neni Sta Romana Cruz puts it, “So what binds all of us together? It’s all the three decades of a shared struggle, our enduring friendship, and sisterhood, and our romance and passion for the written word.”