The female voice lends a richness to the field of journalism. It is a perspective that is often unheard, an unfortunate reality that is pervasive in too many places today. Having a more women journalists on the field is a definite boon, we think, their feminine viewpoints providing a more nuanced accounting of the events that have transpired.
Being a woman in the male dominated field of journalism is intrinsically difficult. It requires a certain bravado, a special combination of courage, passion and integrity to carve out an identity, much less excel in the field. In honor of International Press Freedom Day held recently, we salute some of the phenomenal ladies in local journalism–past and present. From a brave reporter who cleverly sidesteps any obstacles to chase a lead, to a feisty yet feminine editor-In-chief, to the woman who earned the wrath of a President with her bold exposès, the field of journalism is peppered with these fascinating women as the standard.
Letty Jimenez Magsanoc
Words, when wielded properly, have the power to shape the fate of a nation, as veteran journalist Letty Jimenez Magsanoc has proven. In her 24-year term as editor-in chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), this spirited stalwart of the truth has toppled dictators, ousted presidents, sent corrupt politicians to jail and earned the ire of countless of other powerful personalities through her unbending commitment to chronicle the truth. Under Magsanoc's aegis, the fearless narratives found in the PDI captured and held the public’s attention during events of national import, stirring disquiet among the populace about a status quo riddled with corruption and transgressions and instilling a yearning for a governance that is better and more.
The darkest hours are often a breeding ground for mankind’s best and brightest, as evidenced by Lourdes Estella-Simbulan (pen name: Chit Estella). Having honed her skills for journalism in the Martial Law era, where writing subversive articles are a matter of life and death, Simbulan forged beyond the danger, relentlessly pursuing stories that were muzzled by the dictatorship. Her track record for impeccable, unbiased reporting remained unblemished, even during the darkest hours of her professional career. As editor-In-chief of the Pinoy Times, Simbulan refused to pander to power, fearlessly exposing corruption in the highest levels of government of then President Estrada. With other esteemed colleagues, she became instrumental in forming groups that practiced and upheld integrity in journalism, namely the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and Vera Files. The UP Journalism professor died in a horrendous car accident on Commonwealth Ave. in 2011, prompting further discussions on the traffic system in that area. In 2013, UP held its first Chit Estella Journalism Student Research Award in honor of the departed professor and her untarnished principles in journalism.
This site's editor-in-chief Barry Viloria recalls of his Journalism 121 (The Newsroom class) professor, "She was too proper you wouldn't think she was badass throughout her career. I remember one note she left in one of our homework. She asked us to do a sample layout of a frontpage of a paper if we were to edit it. And as usual, I overworked myself and even used colored pencils to make mine, well, unique: 'You tend to do more than what is asked for. Keep things simple. Effort is recognized, though.'
Non-partisan reportage and infallible factuality: such is the advocacy of Malou Mangahas, Executive Director of the PCIJ. Mangahas has committed herself to defending the public’s right to know, unearthing ground-breaking stories on numerous tales that shed light in the inadequacies and corruption that riddle our society. As previous editor-In-chief of the Manila Times, her term came under fire from then President Estrada who filed a libel case against the daily broadsheet for drawing attention to his hand in an anomalous multimillion power contract. After the owners of the paper caved to political pressure and published a public apology, Mangahas and some of her fellow editors, including above mentioned Chit Estella, tendered their resignation.
As founding president of Probe Productions Inc., a production house that pioneered investigative journalism on Philippine television, Che-che Lazaro is no stranger to changing the landscape of Philippine journalism with stories that highlight and analyze matters that affect the lives of the Filipino. Her staunch dedication to integrity includes returning gratuity envelopes that are commonly distributed among the members of the press. In 2003, her show The Probe Team was set to air an episode of a lifestyle check of then-PAGCOR chairman Ephraim Genuino. The network, GMA-7, felt that the story was lacking in substantial facts, a potential demolition job that could ruin a man’s reputation. Lazaro defended the right of the show to air the story, showing full documentation and supporting evidences of their claims. This led to GMA-7 terminating their contract with Probe Productions prematurely.
As a seasoned journalist, Ces Drilon expertly wields anything and everything in the name of chasing a story. In her colorful career, she has snuck past uniformed guards, dodged barricades and charmed her way into restricted areas. Her dedication has been rewarded by in-depth coverage of dangerous situations such as the capture of then Army renegade Col. Gregorio Honasan and the 2007 Peninsula Manila siege.
A hard and fast rule of journalism is to cover the story, and not be the story. In the pursuit of a much valued scoop, Drilon inadvertently crossed over from being a reporter into being the subject of a harrowing narrative. Along with her two cameramen, Drilon was abducted by al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants who held them captive for 9 days. Her eventual release serves as a poignant reminder to journalists that no story is worth a life, where the brave quest for the truth should be tempered by responsibility and wisdom.
In order to be effective, a journalist needs to ask hard questions to promote a deeper understanding of issues that plague society. No one does this best than Query Queen Karen Davila. With her uncanny ability to ask perfectly timed, pointed questions, Davila unwraps hidden layers of certain personalities on air, holding the various parts of their personas up to the light, slivers of truth displayed in all their stark, naked, and often gory, glory. All this makes for unforgettable viewing fodder, with notable and infamous celebrities suffering under the glare of scrutiny: former Vice President Jeojomar Binay, former Senator Bongbong Marcos, incumbent Senator Manny Pacquiao, and Alma Moreno.
Before Maria Ressa co-founded an independent news site, she has garnered substantial credentials in the field. She served as CNN’s bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta for 25 years, with the bulk of her work focusing on terrorism in Southeast Asia. She also helmed the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs division for 6 years, directing more than 1000 journalists in the Philippines across a variety of platforms.
As a multimedia journalist, Patricia Evangelista seems to represent the future of journalism. Evangelista was the brain behind ANC's now-defunct Storyline, which introduced first-person storytelling and cinema in local journalism.
ALSO READ: In Focus: Iconic Pinoy Male Journalists Who Have Carved Their Own Brand Of Badassery
Photographs from Commons.wikimedia.org, Instagram.com/cesdrilon, Instagram.com/maria_ressa, Instagram.com/patevangelista, Instagram.com/iamkarendavila, Instagram.com/girlieverdict, Instagram.com/batanes_boy, Barry Villoria
Banner photo by Jana Jimenez