Photo by Luisa Morales
Text by Paula Angeline Calayan
“There were years when people lived in fear of the knock on the door in the night, which often ended with people dying or going missing to this day,” multi-award winning journalist Tina Monzon-Palma said, remembering the dictatorship that stained the streets red with the death of activists, journalists and more.
“But wait,” she added, “this generation is living through a version of that time.”
History is repeating itself: what they called the crony press is reminiscent of fake news sites; martial law has again been implemented, albeit on a smaller scale. It takes only one slip for journalists to be discredited, sometimes even none at all. When news organizations are silenced, trolls and propaganda machinery dominate the discourse.
“The best weapon against lies is to be transparent, thorough and provocative. You will never be afraid if you know what you write about. You cannot be challenged if you have the truth,” she advised.
Monzon-Palma is this year’s recipient of the UP Gawad ng Plaridel, the only award the University of the Philippines System bestows upon remarkable media workers.
She has come a long way since immersing herself in the art of reportage, spanning multiple media including print and broadcast. Starting in elementary as a protégé of her Irish mentor, Sister Mary Pius who trained her in declamation, she has demonstrated the passionate drive for her profession which led to her success.
“She dedicated her life to this industry, from being a responsible journalist to being someone who’s not afraid to stand up for the truth,” head of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs’ live events arm Francis Toral said.
Through the crisis and chaos of martial law, when the media were repressed by the Marcos dictatorship, Monzon-Palma broke boundaries by fervently uncovering the truth and being one of the first few women to take higher positions in news organizations.
“These were the years when almost everything you watched, heard or read were a tepid, timid and whitewashed version of reality,” Monzon-Palma said in her speech.
Even so, she gave precedence to the journalist’s responsibility to relay critical information to the people. One of her attempts was asking then president Marcos upfront what the many needle marks on his body meant, which was a stark indication that the president was in bad health; this was at a time when digging too deep meant death or prison.
Years later, during a 1990 coup attempt, Monzon-Palma was asked by a high-ranking general to refrain from broadcasting details of the coup d’etat. Despite the intimidation, Monzon-Palma decided to run the broadcast, instructing then reporter Jessica Soho to finalize the report.
“People had to know that there was this bunch of military guys who wanted to establish the republic of Mindanao,” Monzon-Palma argued, “they had even printed their own currency at that time.”
Monzon-Palma has always been straightforward with her work.
“She doesn’t like nonsense. She’s the boss who taught you that it’s never acceptable not to know, you have to find your way”, VP GMA News and Public Affairs, Marissa Flores said on Tinig ng Paninindigan, a documentary prepared by the college to honor this year’s Gawad awardee.
When Marcos shut down the press and took over the big networks, Monzon-Palma moved to GMA-7, the only commercial station allowed to continue operations during the martial law years.
Monzon-Palma called this the regime “the years when all hope seemed lost and no silver lining was in sight.” Yet she, along with many other dedicated journalists, continued her duty. Newspapers like Mr. & Ms. and WE Forum reported on issues the administration kept from its people.
“In a way we’re back in the wilderness – when before we had censorship, now we are in a wasteland of hate and intolerance,” Monzon-Palma said. Journalists who uncover stories that reveal the government’s inadequacy are branded “bias media”, even when there is sufficient data backing the report.
With the rise of misinformation and obscure administrative processes, Monzon-Palma enjoins journalists to keep asking the hard questions.
“We try to pretend we are brave and somehow that little piece of courage sees us through,” she said, adding that there is little to fear when the truth is your defense.
Monzon-Palma, a journalist who stood her ground during the country’s most devastating years, reminds this generation’s media workers: “May karapatan tayong tumuligsa, magtanong at magpahayag.”