Melinda Quintos de Jesus
I never set out to be anything but a wife and mother. My degree in Liberal Arts from Maryknoll College, which was run by a pretty progressive order of American nuns, was described as providing intellectual preparation for more learning and for life; which made me think that could probably do a decent job of anything I may have to do to make a living.
I felt well equipped to take on whatever life presented. This included working at university bookstores in Lawrence, Kansas and in New Haven, and teaching Pilipino to non-Filipino graduate students in anthropology and history who were preparing to do field work in the Philippines. With a typing speed that topped the test chart, I also worked as secretary of the dean who administered the entry of the first female students into Yale College.
Living in the US during the turmoil of the sixties, we immersed ourselves in the terms of debate and discussion about the US role in the war in Vietnam, about race and civil rights, the issues of which sparked riots in the streets. Coming home in the seventies, we were not eager to go into the political field. Life was given to the raising of our three daughters, including the shared responsibility of parents managing the school cooperative where they were enrolled.
But opportunities opened up quite by serendipity. From free-lance work which included working on government and corporate assignments, I moved to edit two publications, TV Times, the first magazine on television in the Philippines; and Balikbayan which was designed for the emerging market of Filipinos working overseas.
The political initiation began when I started writing a twice-weekly column for Bulletin Today, a leading daily at the time of press controls, owned by Hans Menzi, an admirer of President Ferdinand Marcos. A wealthy businessman, Mr. Menzi served as the president’s aide-camp for years.
I thought that I would write on soft issues, the kind that usually goes to the so-called “back-of-the-book”: the influence of television, school and learning, and other social questions. But I found myself provoked by the propaganda rhetoric of a food distribution program, launched by the National Food Authority and a column criticizing its empty claims started me on hard-core political commentary.
I would not have succeeded without readers who sent me leads about disappearances, the repression of church groups, as well as the stirring discontent and dissatisfaction among ordinary people.
With talk about the return of the opposition leader, Benigno Aquino Jr., from the US in 1983. I was eased from the job, along with other women writers who were fired before me, Arlene Babst, Letty Magsanoc and Ninez Olivarez, Cielo Buenaventura, among others.
After the assassination of Aquino, I was invited to help edit Veritas NewsMagazine, launched by a group of businessman who invited Cardinal Sin to provide the protective mantle of the Catholic Church over the publication. As part of the alternative press, the weekly paper provided news and commentary which could not be published in the Marcos crony press. In the next three years, the so-called ‘mosquito press’ galvanized the growing political wil to protest the abuses of the regime and to call for the end of the dictatorship.
After the People Power events of February, 1986, as democratic restoration opened up newspapers, I wrote my column in various dailies, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star. I also broadcast a column-on-the air on radio and joined Jose Mari Velez as his co-host for the weekly TV program, This Week With Velez on GMA-7.
I helped to establish the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR) where I have been executive director since 1989. Joined by working journalists, the Center which is funded modestly by international and national donors, has carved out a special area of media development, promoting ethics and responsibility in journalism, press freedom protection and the recognition of best practice.
I still think of myself as a journalist. CMFR reports critically on the conduct and coverage of the media and its impact on public affairs. It is a critical beat that deserves public scrutiny. It is this perspective that I bring to this stage of Second Thoughts.