Cebu opinion column disappears, suspended gov eyed

A DAILY newspaper and a tabloid in the province of Cebu started the new year without a long-running opinion column. The city’s suspended governor, a relative of the publishers, denies allegations she was behind the column’s suspension.

The column, “Saksi” (Witness), appeared on the daily Sun.Star Cebu, three times a week, and in the tabloid SuperBalita Cebu, four times a week, according to columnist Bobby Nalzaro. The column had been running for at least 15 years.

In a phone interview with CMFR last 8 January 2013, Sun.Star Cebu editor-in-chief Isolde Amante said that Jesus Garcia Jr., board chair of Sun.Star Publishing, had instructed Sun.Star Cebu’s editorial board to suspend Nalzaro’s column until the resolution of Gov. Gwendolyn “Gwen” Garcia’s protest of her suspension in December.

Jesus Garcia Jr. and the suspended governor are first cousins.

Nalzaro, a known critic of the suspended governor,  told CMFR in a phone interview last that he was “one of those who called on Gwen to step down” while she was challenging the suspension order.

Aside from being a columnist, Nalzaro is also a popular anchor in Cebu. He hosts “Balitang Bisdak” (Bisdak News), an early evening news program on TV station GMA Cebu, and “Bobby Nalzaro on Board: Saksi” (Witness), a morning commentary radio program on dySS AM.

‘Blood is thicker than water’ – Nalzaro

According to Nalzaro, he was told by board members of the Sun.Star Publishing that it was Cebu second district Rep. Pablo Garcia, Gwen’s father, who requested  his (Pablo’s) nephews in the Sun.Star Publishing management to suspend his column.

Although he believes his column was suspended because of his stance against Gwen Garcia, “I’m taking (the issue) in stride,” Nalzaro told CMFR.

“Blood is thicker than water; it’s no longer the fight of Gwen, but also of the family,” Nalzaro added. “I understand and respect their decision.”

He clarified that he is not “declaring war” or “severing ties” with Sun.Star Cebu, adding that the suspended governor is not using the newspaper. “It’s up to the public. I’m not judging Sun.Star as far as reporting (of opposition to Gwen) is concerned.”

Family gatherings

Raymond Alvin Garcia, Sun.Star Publishing’s assistant vice president for legal and administrative matters and Gwen’s nephew, said in Cebuano: “In family gatherings, they would say to us that Bobby has been attacking the governor, but we would just listen. We would not take any action. There were many times Sun.Star columnists attacked her before this.”

Amante maintained that there was “no direct request to the editorial board by Gwen or her family; as to the family gathering, I’m not privy to it.”

The editor-in-chief also expressed her disappointment at the inaccuracy of news outlets when stating the ownership of Sun.Star Publishing. “Even (a national news outlet) failed to make the distinction that Sun.Star does not belong to Gwen’s immediate family, but to her relatives.”

Gag order?

“Did the camp of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia finally gag veteran Sun.Star columnist Bobby Nalzaro?” read the lead on a report on the matter published in Cebu Daily News, a competing newspaper, last 7 January 2013.

Elizabeth Francia, Garcia’s chief-of-staff, told CMFR in a phone interview that the suspended governor does not know about the column and denied that Garcia or her office reached out to anyone and requested for its suspension.

Pachico Seares, executive director of the Cebu Citizens Press Council (CCPC), said in an e-mail to CMFR that although the CCPC has not received a complaint about the issue, the members may discuss it during their quarterly meeting.

“I am inhibiting myself from the case because I am identified with Sun.Star and its media group. CCPC rules provide against conflict-of-interest situations,” Seares said.

Ares Gutierrez, a writer for Cebu Daily News told CMFR in a phone interview that the suspension “sends chilling effects to other writers.”

“It’s the sad reality. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” Gutierrez added. “It will make others think twice before writing something that might be against the (newspaper) owners.”