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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cebu newsman proves mettle of community journalists

To all the local media advocates, especially those who have become my friends, here's an inspiring article to all of you.

By Marlon Ramos

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:29:00 07/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines—He could have been a full-time lawyer. But community journalism grabbed Pachico Seares.

Last Friday, Seares, after a four-decade love affair with newspaper readers in Cebu, received the Gawad Plaridel, the prestigious award given by the University of the Philippines to outstanding media professionals.

At award rites held at the Cine Adarna auditorium of the UP Film Institute in Diliman, Quezon City, the 67-year-old lawyer and editor in chief of Sun.Star Cebu said the award was a fitting tribute to community journalism, which he described as an “exhausting yet exhilarating journey.”

“I see it more as recognition for community journalism. Unlike before, they are now recognizing people outside Metro Manila-based newspapers,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of

Accompanied by his wife, daughter and two grandchildren, Seares received the wooden trophy, crafted by National Artist Napoleon Abueva, and dedicated it to his Cebu-based coworkers.

Elena Pernia, dean of UP’s College of Mass Communication described Seares as a “trailblazer in community print journalism.”

Raising the bar

According to Pernia, Seares’ advocacy of journalistic ethics and professionalism among province-based media workers “has raised the standards for the Philippine community media.

Named for the nom de plume of revolutionary propagandist Marcelo H. del Pilar, Gawad Plaridel was established in 2004 to honor individuals who have raised the bar of professionalism in media.

The first recipient of the award was Eugenia Duran-Apostol, founding chair of the Inquirer newspaper.

Movie actor-turned-politician Vilma Santos-Recto, now the governor of Batangas, received the award in 2005.

The following year, radio counselor and icon Fidela “Tiya Dely” Magpayo was the awardee.

Last year, veteran journalist Cheche Lazaro was named the nation’s best media practitioner on television.

Seares, known as “Cheking,” is the first male awardee.


After accepting the award, Seares spoke of the hardships besetting provincial newspapers and journalists.

Seares, who first joined an English-language newspaper in Cebu in 1965, noted that the problems faced by community journalists then still exist today, among them, dwindling circulation, diminishing credibility and financial woes.

Provincial correspondents suffer from lack of training and equipment, unstable incomes and harsh working conditions, he said.

Vicious cycle

He said the provincial press’ lack of resources stemmed from inadequate advertising and readership.

“Not enough resources to improve the paper to attract readers and advertisers, not enough readers and advertisers to make money and increase resources, this vicious cycle goes on,” he said.

“Standards and values are often sacrificed for the competing task of making money,” he noted.

The pages of many community papers, he said, seemed to be up “for sale” to the highest bidder, especially during elections.

Columnists of provincial newspapers are not paid, and they sometimes sell their column inches to politicians and “others with vested interests,” he said.


“Public good (becomes) just a pretext for personal fund-raiding,” he added in his 36-minute speech.

Despite the odds, Seares said he was able to convince the owners of Sun.Star to invest in training for their reporters and acquire new equipment.

Just two years after coming out with its first issue in 1982, Sun.Star was able to catch up to the circulation of leading Cebu newspapers then, according to Seares.

His mantra then, as now, was “good journalism is good business,” said Seares.

“Profitability means more independence,” he added.

Meanwhile, his paper adopted new approaches to newspapering.


Identified with cronies of the late President Ferdinand Marcos during the latter years of martial law, Sun.Star was criticized for being a mouthpiece of powerful politicians.

But unlike Marcos, the newspaper survived the 1986 People Power Revolt.

Perhaps its kinship to the community was the secret to its success, Seares said.

At Sun.Star, he said, they make sure events affecting Cebu residents are given adequate attention.

“We tell stories about the people and their communities, their failures and triumphs, their visions and dreams,” he said.

Seares has headed various media organizations in Cebu, among them the Cebu Citizens Press Council, Cebu News Workers Foundation, Cebu News Workers Cooperative, Cebu Press Center, Cebu Media Medical Aid Fund, Cebu Legal Aid and Cebu Press Freedom Week.