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Opinion

It's Press Freedom Week in Cebu

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman -

September is Press Freedom Month. The declaration of martial law in 1972 killed press freedom in this country. It was Ninoy Aquino’s death that gave the Filipinos the courage to stand up and fight. And so alas! even before the dictator Marcos was ousted freedom of the press in the Philippines gradually got its force back.

Today marks the beginning of press freedom week around the country. For some reason however, Cebu has been the most active player in celebrating press freedom week. This just goes to show how the Cebuanos really mean ‘business’. They will continue to keep tradition and be the guards or the watchful eyes of freedom of the press in this country.

My dad never liked discussing “freedom of the press.” He said. “You don’t talk about it. A journalist simply has to remember that freedom carries along with it the burden of responsibility. Prying and inflicting hurt isn’t a “right” of press freedom. Sometimes journalists and media people go arrogantly overboard when they pester and harass victims – no other noun will suffice – about their feelings, their injured reactions, and their private thoughts. It’s cruelty, even sadism – not journalism.”

My dad paid his dues in the fight for press freedom. He was in prison in his own country, booted out of three countries – Singapore, Burma (Myanmar), and South Vietnam for his reporting and was convicted and sent to jail again when sued by President Cory Aquino – until he was cleared and acquitted by the Court of Appeals. He added, “In everything we undertake, we in media must be fair, respectful of others’ rights, privacy, dignity, and always strive to be courteous. Rudeness is not liberty. Democracy must never be an excuse for bad manners.”

I have been working on my father’s biography written by Nelson Navarro. The book is entitled, MAXIMO V. SOLIVEN: The Man and the Journalist. In this book you will understand the life of a journalist in this country during the pre-martial law period to the present. I am excited to launch this book published by La Solidaridad on November 10. It contains fascinating tidbits about (the inside scoop) on issues and events that happened in the country. My father has been dead for five years now but the book has just brought him back to life. I’ll write more about it in my future columns.

* * *

America’s most distinguished and admired volunteer group, PEACE CORPS is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive Order to promote world peace and friendship. Since its inception, nearly 200,000 American volunteers have served in 139 countries.

Although Kennedy is credited with the creation of the Peace Corps as president, it was actually initiated by Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr. from Minnesota, who introduced the first bill to create the Peace Corps in 1957 – three years before that speech at the University of Michigan where Kennedy challenged the students to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.

I write about the Peace Corps because there is something nostalgic about their presence here in the Philippines. The Peace Corp volunteers have been a part of this country’s landscape since 1961.

Peace Corps Philippines is actually the agency’s second oldest program. It began with the arrival of 130 education volunteers in October 1961 to teach English, Mathematics and Science. Today, 250 volunteers continue to work with Filipinos to train primary, secondary, and tertiary teachers; to support organizations working with children, youth and families at risk; to assist in the management of coastal resources, water systems, and waste management; to provide livelihood assistance; and to promote biodiversity conservation. Peace Corps is in almost every island in the country particularly in Cebu, Samar and Guimaras island.

Today, Peace Corps Philippines is working closely with the DepEd, DSWD and the LGUs in the implementation of its programs to empower Philippine communities to work towards sustainable human development. More than 8,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in the Philippines. Many Filipinos particularly in the countryside would always recall with great fondness former volunteers who passed their way and changed their lives.

I just received a heartwarming letter from Denny Robertson, Country Director for Peace Corps Philippines, saying, “When I think about 50 years of Peace Corps in the Philippines, I think about the many faces of US-Philippine friendship that have existed over the years. The ties span war and peace, literature and Hollywood, good times and bad. Peace Corps has had the privilege of being next to Filipinos at their best moments and has stuck by their side during the worst. To me that is the real spirit of friendship. We count our accomplishments together and our bounty is immeasurable.”

It is also fascinating to note that our country may have inspired the creation of the Peace Corp. In the book entitled Adventures in Vietnam written by Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, S.J., it was noted that Tom Dooley who pioneered the work that would one day be known as the PEACE CORPS volunteer program was inspired by our Philippine team of nurses and doctors who were sent to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during World War II. This team belonged to the Operation Brotherhood International foundation headed by the late Oscar Arellano.

Today the spirit of OBI is continued by Operation Brotherhood Montessori Center’s 28-year old foundation — the OB Montessori Child and Community Foundation. It has made the Montessori system of education affordable to the children in the rural areas through its twin projects: the Pagsasarili Preschools and the Mothercraft Training and Literacy Course for Village Mothers. In coordination with the local government units, NGOs and funding agencies, 153 Pagsasarili Preschools have been established in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

It is all about nation-building and volunteerism. Our country has a long way to go. If we all continue to contribute in our different ways, especially in the less developed areas, then we will have a better Philippines.

ALTHOUGH KENNEDY

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