Category Archives: Speeches & Workshops

Doing journalism in a dangerous time

PJRC 2018

The real highlight of the first part of the Philippine Journalism Research Conference, held at the main campus of the University of the Philippines, was the McLuhan Fellows Roundtable with Tess Bacalla, Lynda Jumilla, and new Pulitzer prizewinner Manny Mogato; the thoroughly engaging discussion was moderated by Kara David. They struck the true keynote; I merely picked up the tune, and some of their themes. 

It is a privilege to speak at the Philippine Journalism Research Conference, and a pleasure to be back at the University of the Philippines; I was very happy here, when I taught a class in opinion writing for a few semesters. Some of my students became my colleagues at work and in the industry; I hope some of you will become journalists too. Not just from UP, but from the University of Santo Tomas, from Visayas State University, from Southern Luzon State University, from Ateneo de Manila, from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila, from Wesleyan University, from De La Salle University in Dasmarinas—and I’m just listing the schools where this year’s finalists are from. We certainly need you and others like you in other schools. We need you, in our newsrooms and in the field, in this turbulent, dangerous time.

I would like to raise three baseline questions today, and the first of these is specific to our time: What does it mean to be a journalist, or to do journalism research, in the Duterte era?

It means fighting back against “fake news” and other forms of disinformation. It means doing journalism at a time of hyped-up hostility against journalists. And it means countering the brazen lies about journalism, press freedom, and free speech that President Duterte and his subordinates propagate. These lies become myths, and are used to justify all manner of suppression of dissent and criticism. We must, all of us, each of us, debunk them. Continue reading


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The Pope and the Protectors


At about 45 minutes long, it was the longest speech I had written—I teased the participants (some 200 nuns, third-order members and other lay persons active in ministry, plus a handful of priests and seminarians) that it was going to be like doing penance, except it would be them doing it. But I was grateful for the chance to reflect at necessary length on Pope Francis’ Message on “fake news”—and on the journalists (“the protectors of the news,” he called them in English) whose special responsibility it is to inform the public. It was my first time at the central house of the Pauline community in Pasay City, but as I told Sister Pinky Barrientos, I felt immediately at home.

[Good afternoon.

You honor me with your invitation. Thank you; I am delighted to be here. I received Sister Pinky’s invitation with a mixture of optimism and a creeping sense of fear—the exact combination of feelings I get when a priest invites me to confession! Only, in this case, and because I prepared a rather lengthy speech, it would not be me, but you in the audience, who would do the penance. My apologies in advance!]

My focus today is on “The Pope and the Protectors of News.” My perspective is that of a believer, in both the purpose of journalism and the faith that gives life purpose, but firstly, principally, my point of view is that of a practitioner—I am a practicing journalist and a practicing Catholic. Continue reading

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“In the real world”

NSPC 2018

It was my privilege to serve—on February 19, in Dumaguete City—as this year’s keynote speaker at the National Schools Press Conference, the annual and massive enterprise an education official called the “Olympics of campus journalism.” Channeling Rizal, I had a few things to say:

Maayong buntag sa inyong tanan.

Secretary Briones, Governor Degamo, Mayor Remollo; education officials, distinguished guests, teachers and coaches and parents; not least, the 5,000 student delegates to the National Schools Press Conference: Good morning. It is my privilege to join you at the largest annual journalism-related conference in the Philippines, the “Olympics of campus journalism.”

As a journalist who believes in the necessity of journalism, in the role of a free press in a developing democracy, I am happy to see so many young campus journalists here, with the proverbial pen in their hand and idealism in their eyes. As a newspaper and online editor who has had the opportunity to serve as a judge in division-level press conferences, I am—like you—thrilled to finally take part in the national finals.

I had the chance yesterday to tell someone that I was at this year’s National Schools Press Conference. My friend, who is now a lawyer working at the Senate, immediately replied: “Wow I remember back in high school I joined that and made it to editorial writing nationals. Didn’t win though haha. Very good training ground!”

There was no mistaking the enthusiasm in my friend’s voice, or the joy he felt in reliving happy memories of press conferences past. I am moved to say to all of you: Stop. Take a deep breath. Look around you. Remember the details of color and sound and scent. Enjoy the moment. You are making a memory that will last a long time, and for most of you, that memory, win or lose, will be a happy one.

Congratulations! Continue reading

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“To the gallant journalists who work in Catholic media and to the Catholic journalists who work in secular media”

Signis 011918

A response to Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s keynote speech at the “Catholic Media in Challenging Times” forum in San Carlos Seminary, Makati City. Friday, January 19, 2018.

The responsible shepherd 

It is an honor to be here; I don’t know if taking part in today’s forum qualifies as a plenary indulgence, but this sinner certainly jumped at the chance when the invitation arrived.

I share Cardinal Chito’s misgivings about not having a female perspective on this panel; I hope we can help cure that in the Q&A. But I look at the panel and I realize—this is not only missing the female perspective, it’s missing other male perspectives too, because we are all graduates of the Ateneo. It’s the Jesuit mafia at work! But keeping our limits in mind is good. We are only offering our views from the limits of our own experience.

My experience is primarily that of a journalist.

Indeed, I am wearing black today because today the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and other alliances and associations are marking #BlackFridayforPressFreedom, in support of our colleagues at Rappler, the staff at the 54 Catholic radio stations whose licenses to operate have been I think deliberately ignored, and other journalists on the receiving end of the government’s iron fist.  Continue reading

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Imagining Independence

Rooting through my files yesterday, I found the presentation deck I prepared for the first of my two lectures at the Yuchengco Museum in 2011. I remember the thrill of the moment — it was among the first public lectures I gave after I had written my book on Jose Rizal’s influence on Southeast Asian nationalism — but I had all but forgotten the slides.

I started with a famous painting, zoomed in on a much less famous but illuminating illustration, and discussed three episodes tracing Rizal’s influence. (I included possibly the most celebrated example of all.)

I’ve attached a PDF version of the slides — all 48 of them!


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Column: Paid hacks and retards?

Published on April 28, 2015.

The other week, I had the privilege of addressing the national conference of the Philippine Association of Communication Educators on a vexing subject: the quality of discourse in today’s new media. In preliminary remarks, I made two contrasting assertions. In the last couple of decades the overall quality must have risen, because the Internet has made access to the best sources and references possible; at the same time, the volume of offensive language has also obviously increased, creating Augean stables of gratuitous insult and hate speech.

But my main purpose at the PACE convention was to raise two specific questions, based on a reading of online comment threads, including that of the Inquirer. Why are “paid hack” and “retard” the preferred terms of abuse online, and what can the country’s communication educators do to discourage their use? Continue reading

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Column: Media’s ‘right to be believed’

Published on February 24, 2015.

A student at a “peace camp,” held on the grounds of the Southeast Asia Rural Social Leadership Institute in Manresa, Cagayan de Oro City, raised a troubling, provocative question during a session I took part in last Saturday. Given all the speculation and inaccuracy and rank irresponsibility in media coverage of the Mamasapano incident (these were his premises, shared it seemed to me by many other students in the peace camp, a good number of whom were Muslim): “Does the media even have the right to be believed?” Continue reading

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Column: Recapture ignorance!

Published on October 21, 2014.

Last week, I had the privilege of taking part in two workshops on the importance of local history, organized by the redoubtable Mozart Pastrano and held in my hometown of Cagayan de Oro. Like the other journalists I joined in a roundtable discussion on the second day—Grace Albasin, Froilan Gallardo, Herbie Gomez and the Inquirer’s own JB Deveza—I was invited on the assumption that writing or editing the so-called first draft of history can shed light on the writing of history’s more permanent drafts.

I highlighted four strategies in writing, and illustrated them using sample texts from Cagayan’s own history. The first of two extended excerpts follows: Continue reading

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Column: ‘You can’t go back again’

Published on February 4, 2014.

The Akbayan party-list group invited me to speak, as “an outsider looking in,” at its 16th anniversary program last Thursday. I began by adverting to what I supposed was “a time of mixed emotions” for the party I had occasionally voted for, following its entry into mainstream politics and its mingled success and failure in last year’s election. Then I offered three points for reflection, as follows:

You cannot go back again.

By that I mean that now that you are part of mainstream politics, you can no longer act as though you are an alternative political party. At least, public opinion won’t allow you that leeway…. Let me explain with an example from a previous political crisis. Continue reading

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Outside, looking in

Remarks at the Akbayan party-list group’s 16th anniversary program, held on January 30, 2014.

Thank you. I am honored by your invitation. At the same time, I must confess to an inconvenient concern: a journalist in a political assembly should be on the sidelines, not at the podium. So if you will allow me, I will rationalize my presence here today, in my capacity as a writer of columns and editorials, as an act of truth-telling. Incomplete, certainly; maybe even incoherent; but independent truth-telling.

It must be a time of mixed emotions for Akbayan. Your political base remains robust enough to regularly send representatives to Congress, major legislation that you support such as the Reproductive Health bill have become law, some of your leaders are serving in high government offices, and you have the President’s ear. But Risa’s second run for the Senate ended up just short again, and the prospect of a national consensus behind either party leader or political program looks less bright than a year ago.

But in fact, Akbayan did better in 2013 than it did in 2010; Risa [Hontiveros] gained over a million more votes than the first time, and her vote total in 2013 was twice that of Teddy Casino of Bayan Muna. But the rules of political arithmetic are unforgiving. Population growth, electoral cycles, and (not least) campaign funds are as much a determinant of success at the polls as candidate character or party platform.

Where does Akbayan go from here?
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Notes on opinion writing

Last Saturday, I met with about a dozen highly engaged law school students to discuss opinion writing (mainly the writing of editorials) and online journalism. I used Inquirer editorials from the last two months as examples — it helped that the Supreme Court decision on the Neri case was then very much in the air; the examples proved doubly relevant. Herewith, some notes.

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At home in the world

Another speech.

That (apart from the usual and full-time Op-Ed related responsibilities) is how I’ve been spending most of my time these days: writing speeches and preparing presentations, and then imposing my thoughts on captive audiences. (That explains why four of the last five posts, and seven of the last 10, were columns. My apologies.)

After hosting the 3rd Inquirer Briefing on November 27, three engagements came in quick succession: first the Rotary Club of Manila (the so-called "mother club" not only of the Philippines but of all Asia), then the Philippine College of Surgeons and then,  just this morning, the First Business Education – Industry Summit, at the AIM.

If the 170 deans and educators who paid some serious loose change to attend the day-long summit (theme: "Developing the Global Filipino")  remember only one thing from my 25 minutes behind the rostrum, I hope it’s the looming possibility of "SM Nation."

The parts in italics are the parts I skipped; I also omitted the first two (introductory) paragraphs.

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Democracy, only more so

The following remarks were read last Saturday, at the Annual Conference of the American Studies Association of the Philippines, held at the National Computer Center, in the Diliman, Quezon City campus of the University of the Philippines. (Because the conference was running late, and because I was acutely aware that I was mere “front act” to Among Ed Panlilio’s star turn, I skipped some portions of the speech.)

I will post Among Ed’s speech once I get my copy by email.

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High fidelity

One of the best things about my job as a newspaper editor and opinion writer is the opportunity, several times a year, to talk shop with journalism or communication arts students or with professionals interested in the theory and practice of journalism.

I usually come prepared with a simple PowerPoint presentation or with notes written in my trusty (Korean-made) reporter’s notebook or on my Office-capable cellphone. When professor Bruce Banaag of De La Salle Lipa invited me to speak on “Ethics and News Reporting” at his school’s Annual Media Forum, however, it occured to me that reducing my thoughts to writing may be worth a try. (I have also been reading colleague Conrad de Quiros’s latest book, Tongues on Fire, a compilation of the speeches he had given over the years.)

At any rate, I went out and wrote something down. I’m glad I did, because the audience in Lipa (the three-hour forum took place yesterday) was rousing and most receptive. With the exception of the introduction (the portion in italics, which I largely skipped), what follows is the speech as I read it. What followed after the reading was gratifying: a steady stream of pertinent, probing questions. We had to cut if off after over an hour, and only because it was time to vacate the hall.

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