DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 January) — Perhaps the most empowering exercise of an individual’s personhood is manifested in her ability to define her environment and influence, if not fully control, her experience of it.
For so long, Mindanao has been defined by the description and the interpretation of outsiders until, like every collective human myth, the dominant discourse eventually settled and gravitated around a consensus. And that consensus on Mindanao is that this is a land of war, divided by religion, ideology and conflicting interests, and in desperate need of saving. Depending on who’s looking, Mindanao is either a sponsor child of foreign development aid or a threatened damsel in distress who requires ever so often the mounting of strategic military operations. Not once. Not twice. But again and again and again.
This image had been the dominant face of Mindanao. It had seemingly been the only face allowed of Mindanao, until ten years ago when an intrepid bunch of journalists and public intellectuals asked themselves how much they each stood accountable to their immediate community in the practice of their profession.
And so MindaNews was born. We come from all over Mindanao, united by our aspiration to inform about aspects and nuances of our community that had been less heard or properly appreciated. We felt it important to define Our Mindanao because it is only when we understand our community that we would be able to make choices about what we as individuals need to do to improve our experience of the world.
Those among us who are familiar with the sorry conditions under which regional journalists labor know of the hardship, the cost, the danger, and the personal sacrifices one needs to endure in order to come up with substantive, balanced, responsible, and ethical reportage. Ten years ago, the idea of an independent news cooperative operating from Mindanao was suntok sa buwan or, as Bob Timonera aptly put it: The Buang Club. And yet, we have held on to the dream, gratified by the fact that our stories were being heard and are still being heard.
Our meeting yesterday was one of the rare times that we do get to see each other. We laughed as we remembered our respective anecdotes filed under the general heading of “Between Me and Poverty…” There was, for example, Froi Gallardo who was stranded in war-embroiled Marawi with only fifty pesos to his name. For Violy Gloria, it was ten pesos. And remember that distant past when Carol Arguillas and Kaloi Zarate had to count out coins to pay for coffee while interviewing a source at a hotel lounge? We especially could not forget Merpu Roa who was prepared to walk – bare-chested if he had to – from Bukidnon to Davao just to get to the general assembly in 2004.
Obviously, we survived all that. And today, we’re still here, still delighting in what we need to do. Still poor, but better at it. Like, you couldn’t tell.
Today, we launch the monthly OUR Mindanao. This has been a long-time dream for us in MindaNews that beyond the daily reportage we would be able to offer our readers a deeper, more substantive coverage in print on issues that matter.
We thank our readers for trusting the MindaNews voice and for telling us what issues and events in Mindanao they thirst to know more about. We thank those quarters that through the years have stood by us and carried some of our burden – we especially remember Fr. Albert Alejo and how he put together cell cards to ease communications during the Pikit war in 2003 and how every anniversary he would say a prayer for us to hold on to the mission.
We also thank those quarters that help spread the MindaNews voice through their sponsorship of our publication projects, as well as of projects for capability building of local media practitioners. For OUR Mindanao, in particular, we thank AusAID and, for the first edition, the Mindanao People’s Caucus. We thank crucial sources for talking to us and more importantly for trusting us to abide by the highest standards of credible and ethical journalism. Most especially, we thank our readers for the overwhelming response.
Today, we celebrate. And we proudly say: This is OUR Mindanao. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).