Remembering JOSE PAVIA: Journalist and Freedom Fighter
It is a little difficult to place myself in the chronology of recollection and to know exactly where I should stand among the speakers who remember Joe Pavia.
I got to know Joe a bit late in both our lives. I never made his acquaintance when I could have when we were young, as he was a classmate of my older brother, Roly, at the Ateneo and I went to school on the other side of the creek of the adjoining campuses in Loyola Heights. I got to know many of my brother’s classmates, although they were several batches my senior. I don’t remember any time, from the many social occasions which brought Maryknollers and Ateneans together when Joe and I were introduced.
I knew of him, of course, for everyone engaged in campus journalism during the fifties knew that Joe was the man driving The Guidon to win those awards for campus papers. The Guidon was a weekly campus paper when we in the Chi Rho struggled to put out our monthly publication. So even then, he was that star, that student journalist who had printer’s ink flowing in his veins. He was already that bright light who would become a star in the Philippine press firmament. He was among campus journalists then a god.
As journalists our paths never quite crossed until later. I had started in later in my life and while I hoped to join the Philippine Herald where he was working, I actually felt more comfortable in magazine journalism, for the greater flex time it offered. When I began writing for the Bulletin Today in the early eighties, he had already pulled out of the national press to start up Mabuhay, a community paper that was also a family enterprise.
But fortune did join in another field of work, which gave us the time to become good friends. I had established the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) which includes the promotion of ethics and professional values in press practice. And he was among the dedicated members of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) whose involvement reflected the pride in the profession. When he took over as executive director of PPI, we consolidated the institutional and individual efforts, a partnership for which I am truly grateful.
As a senior journalist, I was quite struck by the lack of cynicism. He did not exude what journalists take on as a stance, “Been there, Done that!” He never said, “That’s not going to work… Walang mangyayari diyan…” Unlike many others who could no longer be bothered by the larger concerns of the press community, Joe remained open to the emerging ideas of media development in these new times, eager to hold the forums, to engage in the bold idea of training journalists, for we all know that journalists—must already know everything.
We were generous in our mutual exchange of work favors. Meaning, he always said yes, when I needed him—ready to be part of a forum, to plan a campaign, to sit and simply be in the audience for CMFR’s programs. He was a willing member of the jury boards who helped to decide the winners of the Jaime V. Ongpin (JVO) Awards in Journalism, and later to select outstanding journalists for the JVO Seminar. Let me point out that in the former, this involved reading through over 50 to a 100 stories, and then to meet, more than once at times, to review the choices and discuss again the merits of the article. It was not easy work. And it was difficult to get good people to do it.
And so I felt I owed him. And tried to be as ready to do the same when he or PPI or Mabuhay needed me.
But it was the daunting challenge posed by journalist killings which proved to be our most promising collaboration. We organized in 2003. Joe sourced the initial funds which enabled the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc. (FFFJ) to undertake strategic work. He took over as Chairman of our Board of Trustees when then Cerge Remonde joined government.
As director of the FFFJ secretariat, I found him always willing to do what needed to be done. There were very few other journalists of similar stature, whom I could count on who would be willing to give the time to these assignments, which were mostly thankless labor, offering little recognition or glory. He never acted put upon. He and I took the 13-hour road trip to Laoag for a PPI seminar and he never complained.
Joe pushed for the formation of FFFJ’s Quick Response Team, which we would send when we received news of a journalist being arrested, threatened or killed. He would take those killing early morning flights to wherever, joined by mostly younger staff. He would meet with the family, sit through a trial hearing—because he believed besieged journalists or their families needed the presence of the larger media community, they needed to know that others cared, and we needed to show that we were there for them, providing as we could for their needs.
He marched with younger colleagues in protest of the killings of 32 journalists in Maguindanao, albeit toward the end of the route of the march from University of Santo Tomas to Mendiola. He was probably the most senior journalist to mount the flatbed stage to speak and call for justice for the victims of the massacre.
FFFJ’s template of assistance now includes fact-finding, emergency and extended humanitarian assistance, case documentation, public awareness and media defense. The FFFJ activated this five pronged assistance for the families of victims in Ampatuan. An international community has now provided continuing support, many of whom consider his death their own loss.
There was one other thing that Joe was willing to do which most of us shirked. He was ready to engage government officials, even those of the Philippine National Police, and the Department of Justice even during those periods in the previous administration when we did not feel confident about the sincerity of official commitment to justice. He was patient with appointments with task forces set up to show that government was doing something, which some of us would generally dismiss as cosmetic efforts. Joe felt that we have to show that we are ready to cooperate, to let them in government know that we are watching, but to show them too that we are open and fair.
So he brought his civility, his grace and wisdom to our advocacy and to the profoundly frustrating campaign against impunity. Even after he had gotten sick and had to be hospitalized for surgery, Joe tried still to stay in the loop and to be in touch, attending one meeting when he had to be in a wheelchair.
Tonight then, I want to thank his family, his wife, Loreto and his sons and daughters, for sharing him with us so because he helped us to do more. If Joe was willing, we could not be less involved.
Joe’s dedication to the demands of mainstream journalism in the earlier years must have taken much time from his family. In the later years, when many of his generation had retired and could not be bothered by the work for press freedom and media development, his absence from family time must have rankled. So we are grateful.
And we are sorry that we, his friends at work, could not do more for him. We can only thank you for the loving care and attention that you gave him, our dearest friend and co-worker, to the last.
Thank you all tonight for listening.
Photo credit: Ed Lingao/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism