Writer, advocate Luis Teodoro remembered as ‘pillar of Philippine journalism’

Michelle Abad

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Writer, advocate Luis Teodoro remembered as ‘pillar of Philippine journalism’

JOURNALIST, ADVOCATE. Press freedom advocate and educator Luis Teodoro dies on March 14, 2023.

UP System Information Office

'Dean Teodoro, the staunchest advocate for the best in the profession and the most savage critic of its worst practices, has touched and inspired the lives of countless in our ranks and will continue to be a guide for journalists,' says the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – Journalist, free press advocate, and educator Luis Teodoro died on Monday, March 13. He was 81.

The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC), where Teodoro served as dean, confirmed his passing on Tuesday, March 14.

His stepdaughter Sibyl Jade Peña also confirmed the news, saying: “My stepdad, former dean of UP Mass Comm Luis V. Teodoro has passed on. Details of wake will be announced later.”

In announcing Teodoro’s death, Altermidya called him a “pillar of Philippine journalism.” Teodoro was the founding chairman of the network of independent and progressive media outfits, institutions, and individuals.

“He is credited with advancing the ideals of pro-people journalism both as a respected member of the academe and through the alternative media that he helped organize in the Philippines,” said Altermidya.

Altermidya pointed to books that showcased his journalism tenets, such as Divide By Two and In Medias Res: Essays on the Philippine Press and Media.

From campus journalist to educator

Teodoro was involved in journalism from his college days, in 1961 becoming editor in chief of the Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

According to the Collegian, Teodoro, together with editorial staff, protested the intervention of then-Collegian faculty advisor Francisco Arcellana in the publication’s weekly newspaper.

He went on to teach journalism in the UP CMC, including media law and ethics, a graduate course on the political economy of mass media, and contemporary issues in communication. He became a three-time chair of the UP CMC journalism department, and then dean of the college from 1994 to 2000.

Under his deanship, the UP CMC saw two of its departments – the journalism department and the communication research department – named as Centers of Excellence by the Commission on Higher Education.

UP said Teodoro held a number of professorial chairs before he retired as a full professor of journalism. Teodoro conceptualized and raised the initial funds for the construction of the UP CMC Media Center. The media center’s cornerstone was laid during his deanship.

“As educator, editor, and journalist, Dean Teodoro was pivotal in fostering academic excellence in our discipline, upholding integrity in the practice of media, and defending our freedoms of the press, speech, and assembly,” said the UP CMC.

Press freedom advocate

Jumping from UP, Teodoro took his press freedom advocacy to organize independent media groups often outshone by mainstream media outlets. In October 2014, in the UP CMC’s first National Conference of Alternative Media, Altermidya was formed.

Altermidya or People’s Alternative Media Network, claimed to be the first national network of alternative media practitioners in the Philippines. Members included media outfits from all island groups in the country, and was inclusive to all forms of media: print, broadcast, and online.

Teodoro was elected the chairperson of Altermidya, with Rhea Padilla as the national coordinator.

According to a Bulatlat report, Teodoro said that the group’s formation would boost the role of alternative media in filling in gaps and telling stories that mainstream media sometimes avoids, given corporate interests.

“Many journalists in the dominant media depoliticize the issues, contributing to the depoliticization of the audience,” Bulatlat quoted Teodoro as saying. “Dominant media outfits have failed to explain or even refused to expose the roots of poverty, corruption, political dynasties.”

In 2019, Teodoro was awarded the Titus Brandsma Freedom of the Press Award.

The Titus Brandsma Awards recognized Teodoro for being a journalist, editor, and journalism educator “whose incisive critiques of Philippine media have inspired generations of media practitioners and scholars.”

“Many of the latter are now established journalists, editors, and media scholars who, in turn, imparted to their audience and students the ethical principles and the professionalism of the craft of journalism that they have learned from Luis. His sharp analyses in his columns often step on the interests of the powerful and the mighty, and necessarily so as the overall thrust of his media advocacy is a democratized access to information for a learned society,” the Awards said.

Despite pushing an emphasis on raising up alternative media outfits, Teodoro supported the Philippine free press as a whole.

When former president Rodrigo Duterte threatened to revoke media giant ABS-CBN’s franchise, Teodoro said in January 2020, “The shutdown of any media organization – whether big or small and whatever its views – reduces the number of contending voices on which citizens depend to get at the truth.”

Teodoro also served as deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and a member of its board of trustees.

Writer until the end

Teodoro wrote political commentary for BusinessWorld in a column called “Vantage Point.”

One of his last pieces, posted on March 2, criticized European Union parliamentarians’ declaration of the human rights situation in the Philippines as “improved” despite continued reports of activists’ arrests and abductions.

His very last piece, posted on March 9 – four days before he died – was about hazing and the culture of violence, in relation to the death of Adamson University student John Matthew Salilig.

He wrote about the nuances of banning fraternities due to the factor of abridging the right of citizens to organize. He ended on a note of hope: “The Anti-Hazing Law must also be amended and its flaws corrected. One can only hope that both could help reduce the numbers of those victimized by the culture of violence and impunity that so distressingly afflicts the whole of Philippine society.”

Teodoro also wrote for ABS-CBN News, Manila Standard, and The Manila Times. He was editor and columnist of the National Midweek magazine.

The journalist was also a fictionist. The UP Press published Teodoro’s collection of short stories, The Undiscovered Country, in 2006. The collection included award-winning works.

Respect and gratefulness

Filipino journalists mourned Teodoro’s passing. In a number of tributes, many of them recalled the lessons they learned from him.

Rappler executive editor Glenda Gloria expressed gratefulness for Teodoro’s courage, wisdom, and “clarity of thought and heart on what journalists and journalism should be and should aspire for.”

“You would always say in so many words and in various forums: Journalism is not about you, it requires perspective other than your own; you cannot eat your cake and have it too; you cannot be too comfortable as to be unable to cause discomfort to the powerful,” Gloria said.

“Philippine journalism has lost one of its pillars,” said Filipino journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Manny Mogato in a Facebook post. “He was truly a giant among Filipino journalists. Although I had very little time working with him directly, I admired and respected him.”

Inday Espina-Varona, Rappler head of Regions who sat with Teodoro on the Altermidya board, remembered how the former dean kept himself relevant in the age of the internet and social media: “He also skewered erring government officials – especially Rodrigo Duterte – with sizzling shorts on Twitter. He wielded his pen (then) and laptop/tablet (more recently) with consistency and tenacity and sharp analysis mixed with a graceful telling.”

To her, “Bayani si Luis. Salita ang gamit…. His columns [were] blueprints for ethical, critical journalism.”

Rappler managing editor Miriam Grace A. Go spoke of the generations of journalists mentored and inspired by Teodoro: “You have encouraged, inspired, shaped, and prepared the many generations of journalists to try and give their best to keep the press free, ethical, intelligent, responsible, compassionate, and pro-people.”

She added: “UP-CMC produced some of the fiercest journalists I know – thanks to the mentorship by the gentle, gracious soul that you were. We love you, Dean!”

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines also posted a tribute to Teodoro, calling him the “staunchest advocate for the best in the profession and the most savage critic of its worst practices.” The NUJP said that Teodoro touched and inspired lives, and would continue to be a guide for journalists.

The NUJP recalled that Teodoro often refused to speak in front of big crowds, but battled his stage fright in speaking out to call for justice for the Ampatuan Massacre victims in one protest in Mendiola.

“He inspired the alternative media and community media practitioners, and was instrumental in the establishment of Altermidya, where he served as the founding chairperson. He also supported the Graciano Lopez Jaena Fellowship for Community Journalism. He was always generous with his time and wisdom, never saying no to requests for training,” said NUJP.

“The current and the future generations of journalists have been gifted by Dean Teodoro’s lessons on journalism. We pledge to continue his legacy of wielding the pen in the service of the people,” NUJP added. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.