HerStory: Women journalists speak out

In honor of Women's Day on March 8, Rappler brings you the stories of 3 of the best women Filipina journalists

REFLECTIONS. (From left) Ceres Doyo, Jo-Ann Maglipon and Marites Vitug have all faced libel lawsuits in their career as journalists. All photos by Pia Ranada

MANILA, Philippines – What better prelude to International Women’s Day on March 8 than a commemoration of 18 of the best women journalists in the Philippines?

Last February 21, the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (ALIWW) accepted a collection of writings from Filipina journalists Leonor Briscoe, Arlene Babst-Vokey, Sheila Coronel, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Ma. Ceres Doyo, Fanny Garcia, Mila Astorga-Garcia, Sol Juvida, Fe Koons, Marra Lanot, Jo-Ann Maglipon, Sylvia Mayuga, Gemma Nemenzo, Lilia Santiago, Paulynn Sicam, Rochit Tañedo, Marites Vitug and Criselda Yabes.

In an article on TheGuidon.com (the Ateneo de Manila University college newspaper), ALIWW director Rica Bolipata-Santos said, “It is a treasure trove of so many wonderful things — their publications, their articles, their manifestos. It’s great for the Ateneo but it’s also great for the country.”

To honor the contribution, ALIWW held a talk titled “Women in Media Now” as the 18th Paz Marquez-Benitez Memorial Lecture-Exhibit on the same date at Escaler Hall in the Ateneo de Manila campus.

Paz Marquez-Benitez authored the first Filipino modern English language short story “Dead Stars,” published in the Philippine Herald in 1925. She is widely regarded as the Mother of Philippine literature.

During the talk, 3 of the 18 honored women journalists shared their experiences in the field. They were Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Ceres Doyo, YES! Magazine editor-in-chief Jo-Ann Maglipon and Rappler editor-at-large Marites Dañguilan-Vitug.

A decade worth of learnings

WOMEN IN MEDIA. The 3 veterans share their experiences as women journalists

“Better dead than read.”

This was how Doyo described the climate of writing news during Martial Law under former President Ferdinand Marcos when she was a journalist for Panorama magazine.

She recalled how she had been summoned to a “very different Fort Bonifacio” where she was interrogated for an article about military and human rights abuses in Bataan and another about the rebel priest Fr. Zacharias Agatep who was killed in an encounter with soldiers.

After the interrogation (which made front page news), she and fellow female writers began to create a case against the administration.

She shared, “We strode into a jampacked Supreme Court to question the National Intelligence Board on the creation of the military dictatorship to cow writers. We won.”

Doyo faced a P10-M libel suit for her Bataan article which was dropped when Martial Law ended and Corazon Aquino rose to power.

Looking back, Doyo said, “A great and sobering adventure it has been. Doing the stories gave me great times of terror and joy and sadness and fun.”

The crazy world of show biz writing

WRITINGS THROUGH THE YEARS. The exhibit after the talk featured writings, photos and memorabilia of the 18 honored women journalists

Although Jo-Ann Maglipon had her share of Martial Law experiences — having faced a law suit from a military general who had allegedly led an army that had burned a mountain village — her insights centered on the beat she has conquered: entertainment and show business.

She recalled, with more than a trace of bitterness, when actors Claudine Barretto and Richard Guitierrez sued her for libel.

Though writing during the Martial Law was threatened by death, Maglipon said that show biz writing can be “fatal” in another way.

“Thinking back, I understand now why I did not feel strange going up against the general. I did not need to win over the public at all. I could leave the article to speak for itself. People knew that this kind of burning happened. I was on the side of good and the public knew it.

“Claudine, in mid 2000s, was a bright and shining star. The public adored her… She could do no wrong.”

An entertainment writer for 13 years, she has discovered a “paradox in celebrity journalism”:

“Everyone reads your magazines but they will always say they only chanced upon it in a parlor. Everyone wants to know about what’s happening to Maricel and Gerald, to Maja and Kim, to Sunshine and Cesar, but no one will right out admit it.”

Surviving lawsuits

'LIKE A FIRST KISS.' Marites Vitug tells the audience about her experiences with lawsuits

The last speaker was Marites Dañguilan-Vitug, who has faced numerous libel lawsuits including one of the most expensive in the history of Philippine journalism: a P20-M lawsuit filed by former logging magnate Jose “Pepito” Alvarez.

She said, “For journalists, there is always a first time for libel suits. It is usually a memorable event, perhaps like a first kiss or a first date.”

The Newsbreak founder and author of the bestselling book on the workings of the Supreme Court “Shadow of Doubt” said that facing lawsuits “can be unnerving and disorienting but that comes with the territory.”

READ: Living with libel suits

And despite the stress and sleepless nights lawsuits can cause, Vitug declared, “I’ll choose this kind of controversy any time over opaque reporting. After all, journalism is not about making nice to people. It’s not about seeking to be in the good side of the powerful.

“It’s about telling a story straight, unvarnished.”

Though the climate for journalism has changed, Maglipon thinks some present-day issues resonate old themes. “The Cybercrime Law has to be fought because that’s practically e-Martial Law,” she said.

Doyo added, “We were under a climate of fear at the time but still we challenged the powers. It’s freer now but we can never take our freedoms for granted. Otherwise, we might lose them again.” – Rappler.com

March is Women’s Month. Read more about inspiring Filipinas here:

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