IN Manila, the height of craziness is to dash across the streets. It is not only messy to scrape you off Edsa or C5, but you may also jam traffic for hours and lessen the petitioners who will plead your soul goes up, not down.
On fieldwork in Cebu last summer, I observed that what’s crazy in Manila is normal in my city. Baby bump, grocery bags or cane: no impediment except a traffic enforcer waiting across the street keeps Cebuanos from crossing lanes as if they were just fetching a glass of water from across the room.
An accidental tourist in the nation’s capital for the past two years, I’ve lost the power to be street-crazy. Not only do I dutifully stop at intersections to heed the street lights, signs, pedestrian lane and the friendly enforcer lurking at the corner, I now read street names.
So it was neat to find out that there are 10 journalists with streets in Cebu renamed after them. Antonio Abad Tormis has a street in Cebu City renamed after him in 1966, a first-time honor for a peerless journalist whose campaign against corruption was snuffed by an assassin.
According to Cherry Ann T. Lim’s article, “Flame keepers,” published in “Cebu Journalism and Journalists (CJJ) 8” last 2013, Argao Mayor Edsel A. Galeos assured the approval of a proposal to name Argao streets after the late journalists Cerge M. Remonde, Wilfredo A. Veloso and Clod K. Bajenting.
When I first entered the Central Newsroom of Sun.Star Cebu as a newly hired editor more than a decade ago, I was given the table and chair that I was told were used last by Mr. Veloso.
In the CJJ8 article, Lim wrote that Veloso’s “acerbic columns flogg(ed) perceived scalawags in government,” which resulted in death threats. But according to newsroom lore, Veloso, as copy consultant, was even more unforgiving about sloppy writing and inelegant English.
When I got the ire of a frat known to dispatch victims with an icepick to the kidneys, my managing editor asked me if I wanted to be escorted home. Had I taken the offer, the ghost of Mr. Veloso might have kicked me out of our chair.
According to a CJJ timeline of press freedom in Cebu, Veloso was at his desk in the newsroom on Nov. 5, 1991, when Narcotics Command 7 chief Esa Hasan and three of his men barged in and berated the columnist for criticizing Narcom’s anti-drug campaign. Brandishing high-powered weapons, Hasan threatened to kill Veloso and his family.
It is said the columnist never blinked. Hasan’s grammar must have been better than his self-control.
The list of journalists with streets named after them intrigues. Two out of the 10 are women. Maria Cabigon was a postwar columnist whose “Bisaya” readers visited her home in Sanciangko St. to seek the counsel of “Manding Karya”. In 1979, Concepcion G. Briones founded with then “The Freeman” editor-in-chief Pachico A. Seares the Cebu News Workers Foundation (Cenewof).
The careers of these female pioneers may pale against the risks taken by “Morning Times” publisher Pedro D. Calomarde. During the Japanese Occupation, Calomarde wrote, edited and printed his guerrilla paper on a “small Chandler machine in a cave in the mountain barangay of Kang-ando, Barili,” wrote Resil B. Mojares in CJJ1. Just as he refused to kowtow to foreign imperialists during war, Calomarde stayed free of politicians after the war.
Perhaps that is what niggles about the renaming of streets after journalists.
Though we owe much of the street-renaming to the initiative of local leaders, Cenewof, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council, and the Cebu Press Freedom Week Inc., much can still be done to make citizens appreciate what drove these journalists and shaped their times.
Alongside street markers, can barcodes be set up to be scanned by mobile phones so information about the journalists can be downloaded? Can schools offer a subject on the history of journalism that introduces future journalists to not just Western and Manila-based icons but also local ones?
Can local historians deepen the documentation on Cebu journalism started by the CJJ, a publication released every Cebu Press Freedom Week?
Manding Karya did not just counsel about love but advised how women could acquire an education despite being married. A freelancer who chose independence over security, Cabigon penned nearly 400 serialized novels and hundreds of articles and poems in a career spanning 60 years. She wrote in Cebuano when everyone else wrote in Spanish. She wrote when only men wrote. She wrote.
If one can get all this insight from a street marker, think how much more we can reap if we go beyond streetwalking.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 10, 2014 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday editorial-page column