Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism Board of Editors chairman Howie Severino delivered these remarks during the World Press Freedom Day forum "Fight for Truth and Human Rights" on May 3, 2023. The forum was organized by the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network and the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications.
There are so many depressing trends these days, press freedom sounds like a contradiction in terms. The upside is in free societies, journalists are known to be bearers of bad news, so at least we still have the freedom to bring you that.
As a wise man once said, in countries where the media is full of only good news, the jails are probably full of good people. There are good people in our jails, but many of us are also still out here alive and kicking. So allow me to be a Pollyanna today, a bearer of optimism.
I actually have what some may see as a low benchmark for optimism: simply put, we’ve survived. We’re all survivors in this room. First of all, we’ve all survived the worst of the pandemic, far from a guarantee when many loved ones didn’t make it. And for those of us like myself who got Covid in that terrifying first year, we don’t take our existence now for granted. This must mean something.
Secondly, we survived Duterte. Not all of us did, but those of us in this room are living to tell the stories of those years, even after that regime did all it could to silence us. Instead, one of our colleagues won a Nobel Prize and has been calling attention around the world to our collective plight and heroism.
There is an absence here that we all feel, the absence of Luis Teodoro. I can imagine him scoffing at any complaints we may have about our contemporary world, having spent seven months in prison during martial law, along with thousands of others. He lived to tell the tale of martial law and was an example of staying true to his principles and acting on those principles until his last breath.
Which brings me to someone who is still very much with us, Melinda Quintos de Jesus, whom we will be listening to in a few moments. Most of you know of her as an explainer and critic of media, who comes up with thorough and thought-provoking reports on occasions like this. I knew of her long before I met her. As a young journalist in the 1980s, I looked forward every week to the next issue of Veritas, the news magazine she was editing at the time. Like many in the alternative press during martial law, Veritas was brave and enterprising. But I also recall its elegantly biting prose, and I was probably not the only one who told himself, I also want to bite with elegant prose some day. So thank you Melinda for that inspiration.
In today’s report, Melinda helps us recall that Duterte’s animosity to the press was “contagious.”
But we can also say that courage is contagious. That has been passed down from Luis and Melinda’s generation to mine and to Kara’s generation and now to many in the audience and the current leadership of the PCIJ.
May you all continue to infect each other with courage.
Maraming salamat at mabuhay tayong lahat.
Watch the other speakers in the forum: Fight for Truth and Human Rights
— PCIJ, May 2023