The journalist’s duty is to tell the truth, said Jose “Pete” Lacaba in his lecture and acceptance speech for the 2013 University of the Philippines (UP) Gawad Plaridel Award on July 24, at the UP Film Institute Cine Adarna.
“Sabihin ang totoo, sagad-buto, tagos-apdo,” Lacaba told the audience composed of UP officials, media practitioners, students, and other guests.
Lacaba’s constant and inspiring fulfillment of that journalistic duty best defines his nearly five decades in print media—first as a copyeditor and proofreader then as staffwriter, editor, and teacher.
His efforts to expose the truth were greatly felt during the Martial Law years because even if he was detained for his involvement in the underground resistance, he continued writing against the dictatorial government.
His works of poetry, screenplay, adaptation, and translation also speak of the truth from different perspectives: political, social, and personal.
Lacaba is celebrated for his books—Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage; Sa Daigdig ng Kontradiksyon; and Mga Kagilagilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran—and his scripts—Sister Stella L., Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim, and Orapronobis.
Now, he adds another feather in his cap with his conferment of the U.P. Gawad Plaridel Award in the category of print media.
Named after the propagandist Marcelo H. del Pilar, the award is given to outstanding media practitioners who have performed with “the highest level of professional integrity in the interest of public service.”
Past UP Gawad Plaridel awardees include Eugenia “Eggie” Duran-Apostol (print, 2004), Rosa Vilma Santos (film, 2005), Fidela “Tiya Dely” Magpayo (radio, 2006), Cecilia “Cheche” Lazaro (television, 2007), Pachico A. Seares (community print, 2008), Kidlat Tahimik (independent film, 2009), Eloisa “Lola Sela” Cruz-Canlas (radio, 2011), and Florence “Rosa Rosal” Danon-Gayda (television, 2012).
ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH. In his heartfelt and humorous speech cum lecture, Lacaba likewise exemplified truthfulness.
The 67-year-old writer-journalist and executive editor and columnist of YES! Magazine shared his true feelings about receiving his latest award and his profession.
“Malaking karangalan itong ipinagkaloob ninyo sa akin ngayong araw na ito,” exclaimed Lacaba, who is fondly called Sir Pete by his younger colleagues, co-workers, and fans.
"Kaya lang aaminin ko na medyo nalula ako sa papuri na lumabas sa press release tungkol sa aking Gawad Plaridel.
“Ito ang lumabas sa diyaryo: ‘He also raised the bar of excellence for literary journalism to a level unprecedented in the history of Philippine contemporary journalism.’”
Lacaba humbly—though he cautioned that he did not want to appear “nagpapa-humble”—related that when he began his career in 1965, in the weekly magazine Philippines Free Press, his seniors in the editorial staff included literary giants Nick Joaquin, Kerima Polotan, Wilfrido D. Nolledo, Gregorio C. Brillantes, and their editor-in-chief, the iconic journalist Teodoro M. Locsin.
“Sa madaling salita, hindi unprecedented ang antas na inabot ng literary journalism sa panulat ng inyong abang lingkod,” he pointed out.
“May mga nauna sa akin. Sila ang masasabi nating nauna na sa pagpapataas ng bar of excellence sa larangan ng literary journalism, na kung tawagin noong panahong iyon ay reportage o new journalism, at kilala rin ngayon sa tawag na creative non-fiction.
“Saludo ako sa kanila. Salamat sa kanila, naging journalist ang isang makatang sampay-bakod at English major na hindi naman nakapag-aral ng journalism sa kolehiyo.”
In the spirit of transparency—a must in the practice of journalism—Lacaba clarified that he never became a regular member of the UP faculty.
For many years, he taught (first as a lecturer, then a senior lecturer, and finally a professorial lecturer) several subjects in different institutions in UP, namely College of Mass Communication or Masscom, Filipino Department, and Creative Writing Center.
In Masscom, for instance, he taught such subjects as scriptwriting, introduction to journalism, feature writing, interpretative reporting, and literary journalism.
He also taught in his alma mater, Ateneo de Manila, where he took up Bachelor of Arts, major in English from first year up to the first semester of his fourth year.
Over the years, Lacaba said he has learned to enjoy teaching—a career pursued by his mother Fe Flores Lacaba and his aunts Paulina Flores Bautista and Virginia Flores Abaya, as well as their own mother Sergia and their stepmother Maria.
“Suwerte na rin,” he grinned. “Kasi, kung naging miyembro ako ng regular faculty, hindi ako maaaring ma-nominate man lang para sa Gawad Plaridel, alinsunod sa mga alituntunin ng parangal na ito.”
Lacaba also admitted that despite working as a lecturer in UP and Ateneo for many years, he is terrified of giving lectures.
“Baka kinokonsensiya ako ng isang satirikal na pangungusap na attributed kay Mark Twain (pero hindi pala siya ang talagang maysabi o maysulat),” he mused.
“‘College is a place where a professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either.’”
He went ahead, anyway, and lectured on the subject titled ‘Harnessing Journalism for Nation-Building.’
HARNESSING JOURNALISM FOR NATION-BUILDING. He began by giving the dictionary definitions of the word harness, and focused on its use as a noun, which means “a piece of equipment, with straps and fastenings, used to control or hold in place a person, animal or object.”
He cited his source: Cambridge International Dictionary of English (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
“Sa pakahulugang iyan, ang literal na larawang pumasok sa suspetsosong utak ko ay ang harness o singkaw na ginagamit sa kabayo o kalabaw.
“Ang nasabing singkaw ay may kung ano-anong strap na nakakabit o nakakapit sa bibig, leeg, at dibdib ng mga hayop na ito; at ginagamit para kontrolin sila o panatilihin sila sa isang lugar... ‘used to control or hold in place a person, animal or object.’”
“Ganyan ba ang gusto nating mangyari sa ating peryodismo?” he asked.
“Gusto ba natin itong may singkaw at renda, may harness, sa halip na malayang gumagala sa lunsod at nayon, sa lipunan at sa bansa?
“Paano na ang freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of expression?”
Lacaba recalled that during the horrific years of martial law, those freedoms were curtailed and those people who stood by those freedoms were either sent to jail or went jobless.
The situation gave rise to the concept called development journalism or developmental journalism that warrants the press to push forward the Bagong Lipunan or new society that the military regime was establishing.
Then came another monster called envelopmental journalism.
“Dito, nalipat ang sisi sa mga peryodista mismo—ang mga peryodistang tumatanggap ng envelope na puno ng pera; ang mga hao shiao na nalulong sa korupsiyon at lantarang nanghihingi ng anda o ‘ang datung’; ang mga doble-karang AC/DC o mga tagamidyang ang gawain ay ‘attack and collect, defend and collect,’” he explained.
Lacaba considered another meaning of the word harness, this time the good and the useful.
“Mismong ang harness ng kabayo at kalabaw ay may silbi sa tao—para dalhin ang biyahero sa ibang lugar, para bungkalin ang lupang pagtatamnan ng pagkaing bubuhay sa tao,” he pointed out.
But, of course, he said, it was clear what his lecture’s topic was all about. It is about how journalism can be harnessed or used to help develop our nation.
He turned to his audience: “Paano nga ba?”
“Kung ako ang tatanungin, simple lang ang isasagot ko: Patuloy na igiit at ipaglaban at lalong patatagin ang kalayaan sa pamamahayag o freedom of the press,” he asserted.
Lacaba recounted the time when, a few years before the EDSA revolution happened in 1986, several artists and media practitioners met and put up the Free the Artist, Free the Media movement.
That movement later gave birth to another group called Concerned Artists of the Philippines, of which Lacaba was among those who drafted the credo or declaration of principles.
He recited those principles as:
“We hold that artists are citizens and must concern themselves not only with their art but also with the issues and problems confronting the country today.
“We stand for freedom of expression and oppose all acts tending to abridge or suppress that freedom.
“We affirm that Filipino artists, in the exercise of freedom of expression, have the responsibility to do so without prejudice to truth, justice, and the interests of the Filipino people.”
Lacaba explained that by simply changing the word “artists” to “journalists,” the goals set for “Harnessing Journalism for Nation-Building” would be met.
Moreover, he stressed that just like in the arts, telling the truth about what is happening in our country is very important.
“Ang pagsasabi ng totoo, masakit man sa tenga ng ilan, ay magbibigay ng matibay na pundasyon sa malaya at maunlad na bansang gusto nating itatag o patatagin,” he intoned.
He recited a few lines from a song that he had written for a planned zarzuela that was supposed to answer the call of the people in power then, to say only “the good, the true, and the beautiful.”
The words were:
Awitin mo ang totoo,
Ang totoo ay mabuti
kahit mapanganib sa iyo.
Ang totoo ay maganda
kahit pangit sa reyna.
He added, “Ganyan din ang tungkulin natin sa peryodismo: Sabihin ang totoo, sagad-buto, tagos-apdo.”
In Lacaba’s case, telling the truth is not just a journalist's duty. It is his way of life.
And that’s why more than being a great journalist, he is a great man.