CEGP: Keeping the Flames of Freedom Alive

Jul. 28, 2006

75 years ago, a group of campus writers formed the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. It went on to become a vanguard of freedom and patriotism. Last Tuesday night, Davao-based members of the CEGP came together not just to reminisce but to keep the flames of the guild burning.

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CEGP members and alumni at the 75th anniversary bash at the Kanto Bar, Matina Town Square. (Click here for more pictures.) davaotoday.com photo by Barry Ohaylan

By Cheryll D. Fiel and Tyrone A. Velez

DAVAO CITY — It was a special day on the calendar. They could not wait for dusk to come. All roads that night led to Kanto Bar at the Matina Town Square for these individuals who are as diverse as the roles they have assumed now.

Some of them are lawyers, teachers, government employees, NGO workers, political advisers, editors and writers of the dailies, politicians, wives, mothers, fathers, the still-proud-and-crazy-after-all-these-years punks, poets, artists and bohemians by heart.

But that evening was not about who they are, who among them are successful, who arrived in the latest car model, who married whom, who has aged. Forget about that sort of triviality. Because that Tuesday night this week, they were just this: activist-writers eternal.

Seventy five years ago, an editor of a campus paper threw a birthday party with some other editors of campus publications in Manila’s universities. That night was to be the beginning — the birth, as it were — of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP). Last Tuesday night, at the Kanto Bar, more than 70 people whose lives have been touched by this organization congregated once again, this time to commemorate CEGPs 75th founding anniversary.

“Who remembers the name?” Someone threw this question to the crowd. One replied: “Ernesto Rodriguez Jr.”

Rodriguez was a writer for National, the campus paper of the National University, who saw the need for fellow writers to come together and find ways to better their lot as campus journalists.

But the CEGP could not avoid being singed no, engulfed — by the flame of youthful patriotism and indignant rage against oppression. The fire and anti-imperialist indignation of such men as Claro M. Recto, one of this countrys greatest nationalists, captivated many in the group.

By the time the country was pushed into crisis after crisis wrought by the Marcos dictatorship in the 70s, the CEGP had already evolved from a club of writers seeking to improve their craft into one of the loudest voices raging against tyranny. Campus publications became the alternative press. When Marcos closed down mainstream publications, the campus papers became the remaining sources of information for the Filipino people.

Campus writers who were members of the guild took it upon themselves to fearlessly expose the worsening condition of society under the dictator.

Suddenly, campus writers were not just mere spectators and chroniclers of events. Writing became a weapon to fight oppression. Campus journalism became campus activism. “To write was already to choose” became not just a mantra it evoked the realization of a dream, perchance an ideal, to serve the people.

But soon enough, Marcos ordered a clampdown. Mere membership in the CEGP became a crime of treason. Many fearless campus journalists were hauled to the stockades. Many managed to escape and took to the hills. Many were killed. Yet the martyrdom of these young journalists sparked more rage instead. The movement against oppression persisted.

(Later, as the struggle against Marcos continued, journalists who had been CEGP members would enter mainstream publications, acquiring clout and influence, thus further weakening the regime. This precipitated the birth of the so-called mosquito press.)

And history took another turn at the Kanto Bar that night.

“When I started joining the CEGP, I was warned not to fight the giants,” Gingging Valle, an editor (1982-1983) at Atenews, the student publication of the Ateneo de Davao, shared that evening. But reality was clear to her — the reality that there were many more problems campus writers must concern themselves with other than what was happening within the walls of the university.

“That we had to get out of the comforts of our classrooms to know what’s happening in Davao streets, to brave rural areas and understand problems of insurgency and continuing poverty,” said Valle, who went on to work for the alternative news agency, now defunct, Media Mindanao News Service.

The Jesuits, of course, caught on and, at one point, refused to release funds for Atenews. “They started asking what kind of publication is this that involved itself with social issues?” Valle recalled. But the Atenews journalists persisted.

Other campus papers in Davao Citys schools and universities found themselves in the same situation.

Cecilia Desisto, editor-in-chief of the Philippine Women’s College (PWC) paper in the 80s, said they too underwent the same questioning by their administrators for trying to do the same work.

This common experience — of fighting off attempts at censorship by school administrators and fighting for campus press freedom was the bond that strengthened the unity of Davaos campus journalists.

Indeed, they got out not just within the walls of their schools they even reached out to other fellow journalists in other parts of Mindanao who were caught in the same predicament.

Marvin Melodias, a former CEGP officer, recalled that it was during a talk to settle the impasse between the publication and the administration of the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato, that they realized the need to organize the guild throughout the island.

But setbacks were encountered later, especially toward the latter part of the 80s.

Charina Sanz-Zarate said there was no CEGP at the time she joined Atenews in 1987. “It was 1986. The student movement was at the doldrums. It was also challenging because it was the time of the Alsa Masa,” she said.

The Alsa Masa was the army’s paramilitary arm that recruited civilians to join in the fight against the New People’s Army (NPA) who were at that time already operating in urban areas such as Davao.

Despite this threat (the CEGP had been tagged as an NPA sympathizer), Zarate said they continued going from one campus to another to convince journalists of the significance of the guild and why they should sign up. They even tried pooling resources together just to be able to send Davao representatives to CEGP conferences.

Today, these sacrifices have paid off.

Coming together on the occasion of the founding of the CEGP that Tuesday night was an act of passing on this patriotic legacy to new guilders.

“I felt big and proud to be in the guild. I felt not just a part of an organization. I was part of society. My eyes were opened to realities,” Valle said.

“The experience became a great part of our lives. To this day, we continue and we will continue to live out the principles CEGP stood for,” Zarate said.

Such was the fire of activism that was rekindled at the Kanto Bar that night. And those who were there did not just reminisce about it — they kept it burning. (Cheryll D. Fiel and Tyrone A. Velez/davaotoday.com)

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