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Agriculture journalists feted

The winners of the 2017 Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards

The following journalists received prizes in several media categories of the 11th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards at Fairmont Hotel on November 17: 

Agriculture Story of the Year — “Cacao Special” by Karren Montejo of Agri Tayo Dito - ABS-CBN Regional; Tobacco Story of the Year — “Gourmet oil, bio-diesel and organic pesticide: The Future of Processed Tobacco Products” by Ian Flora Ocampo of SunStar Pampanga; Agriculture Photo of the Year — “Catch of the Day” by Erwin Mascariñas for SunStar Cagayan de Oro; Tobacco Photo of the Year — “Drying Tobacco” by Laila Austria of Business Mirror;

Best Agriculture TV Program/Segement — “Farm Mechanization Special” by Karren Montejo; Best Agriculture Radio Program/Segment — “Information Dissemination on Avian Flu Outbreak at San Luis, Pampanga” by the DA Regional Field Office 3 for MANA: Maunlad Na Agrikultura sa Nayon Mag-agri Tayo - DWRW 95.1 FM Pampanga; Best Agriculture News Story National — “PHL retraces journey toward food security” by Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas of Business Mirror; Best Agriculture New Story Regional — “Pitch for Phl rice production in sufficiency and competitiveness” by Anselmo Roque of Punto Central Luzon; Best Agriculture Feature Story National — “Can 13-year-old manual save PHL from bird flu?” by Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas; and Best Agriculture Feature Story of the Year — “Cinderella Man” by John Glen Sarol, from Fears to Cheers Book August 2017 by PhilRice-JICA.

As chair of this year’s BLAJA judges, I delivered the following speech (excerpted here):

Guest of Honor Senator Cynthia Villar, PMFTC President Roman Militsyn, External Communications Director Varinia Elero Tinga, Corporate Affairs Director Richard James, Head of Corporate Communications Dave Gomez, Communications Manager Didet Danguilan, fellow judges, this year’s Bright Leaf Agricultural Journalism Awards winners, ladies and gentlemen…

It’s been some eight years since I first became aware of PMFTC’s Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards, and started to serve among the judges in the annual contest. It’s been a merry ride since, and this year it became a joyful one to realize that the PMFTC has finally seen fit to elevate me to the even more exalted position of chairing the board of judges.

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I hope this doesn’t mean that I’ve been raised to my level of maximum incompetence, and that next year I might have to settle down to earth as a distant observer of these proceedings.

Cliché as it may sound, it’s been an honor and a privilege to be associated with Bright Leaf. As a professional writer, essentially a creative one but who also continues to practice journalism, I can say with all sincerity that the Bright Leaf contest has been a most exemplary undertaking, and the fact that it has gone on for 11 years makes it even more so.

Given all the decades I’ve been in the business of writing, and receiving awards myself, it becomes part of the tour of duty: serving as a judge in writing contests.

I’ve judged competitions involving various genres: fiction and poetry for the Carlos Palanca Awards, the Philippines Graphic magazine literary awards, university writing competitions including for the essay, lifestyle journalism for publications, screenwriting and travel-writing contests, and submissions for literary workshops.

But the Bright Leaf competition has been something else. Beyond involving the crafting of words, sentences and paragraphs, and judiciously assembling research facts and interviews, writing about the myriad aspects of agriculture necessarily addresses the larger sphere of nation-building — indeed, of productive contribution to our entire planet.

The importance of agriculture appears to escape public attention beyond the fundamentals, which explains why not too many regular publications allow for frequent space for agriculture journalism. But certainly, a higher degree of attention to the subject is mandatory for any modern nation that respects and fulfills its responsibilities to its people.

The Bright Leaf has taken positive steps in this direction by honoring agriculture journalists and photographers. The awards embrace the full scope of media, with the variety of categories allowing for comprehensive coverage of agriculture topics.

I recall one particularly memorable piece of feature writing, titled “The Convent Gardens: Nuns as Urban Farmers,” on the Benedictine Sisters in Baguio City raising profitable gardens, which preliminarily won in the Feature Story – Regional category, and was proclaimed Agriculture Story of the Year. That was in 2012, if I recall right. The lady writer’s choice of topic, manner of journalistic documentation, and prose style all contributed to its choice as top story of the year.

           Since then, I have personally noted that the quality of the competition has risen each year, so that the conduct of judging the entries has become even more difficult.

No doubt this has been the happy result of the series of regional roadshows supervised by PMFTC Communications Manager Didet Danguilan, which are mounted earlier in the year as a way of inviting journalists from all over the archipelago to try their hand in a top-caliber writing competition.

This year, a total of 612 entries were submitted, 247 of which qualified for Phase 1 of the judging, and which in turn were further pruned down to 55 entries that were assessed in Phase 2 judging. Such has been the exacting methodology that confirms and assures the high standards set for the Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards.

           We must thank the initial screeners of the submitted entries, and the Phase 1 roster of judges that included Chito Lozada, deputy editor of The Daily Tribune; Albert Gamboa, business columnist of Business World; Marie Aubrey Villaceran, Assistant Profesor of UP Diliman; Mandy Navasero, founder & CEO of Mandy Navasero PhotoPRo Studio; Jose Pablo Salud, editor-in-chief of Philippines Graphic magazine; Pennie dela Cruz, desk editor of Philippine Daily Inquirer; and Elenia Pernia, Dean of the College of Mass Communication, UP Diliman.

The Phase 2 judges were Jake Maderazo, station manager of DZIQ; Rina Jimenez David, columnist of Philippine Daily Inquirer; Dr. Roland Dy, executive director of UA&P Center for Food and Agribusiness; Remar Zamora, chief of the photo section of Philippine Daily Inquirer; and yours truly. We were joined in the final phase of judging by Phase 1 judges Ms. Navasero, Ms. Villaceran, and Mr. Gamboa.

This year, as a judge, one comes away not only with an appreciation of the state of agriculture journalism in our country, but as always, with fresh knowledge of current developments. As with previous years, we gain marvelous information beyond the usual reasons why we still can’t gain self-sufficiency in rice production.

Instead, we pick up on quaint or curious stuff that transcends trivia — on the bounty provided by cacao in Mindanao, and how in the north, processed tobacco products  can include gourmet oil, bio-diesel and organic pesticide.

Then too, we learn about carabao raising, potential tariffs on sisig and French fries, the threat of food poisoning from salmonella, the push for organic farming in the Negros Island Ragion, “green” methods for breeding goats in Northern Cotabato, the ecologically friendly bamboo charcoal being produced in Iloilo not only for fuel but as natural fertilizer, pesticide, deodorizer, and as a soap ingredient, profitable sampaguita cultivation in Pangasinan, and in the same province, our marine scientists’ efforts to save the taklobo or giant clams from extinction.  

All this makes for fascinating reading. And that is primarily what the Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards triumphs in: opening up many new doors to allow the bright light of knowledge to shine through.

Congratulations to everyone involved in this continuing, commendable undertaking.

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