By Severino C. Samonte

Spotlighting the PNA at 50

This columnist was one of those invited to the celebration of the golden anniversary of the government-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) in its editorial offices at the National Media Center along Visayas Avenue in Quezon City last March 24. I accepted the invitation enthusiastically for two main reasons.

First, I wanted very much to see and meet again at least some of the former PNA men and women -- editors, reporters, photographers -- I have been missing since they left the agency from the last half of the 1970s and after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolt and transferred to other media outfits or fields of endeavors or profession, either locally or overseas.

Second, to find out how the present PNA staff members would narrate the history of PNA since its birth on March 1, 1973, or five months after the controversial Sept. 21, 1972 imposition of martial law in the country by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr.

I like the way the PNA's 50-year history from its inception on March 1, 1973 was retold in an audio-visual presentation prepared by the PNA Program Director Raquel Bonustro and her staff. I noted that the narration maintained the interlink of PNA with its predecessor, the privately-owned PNS or Philippine News Service.

Most of the former PNAers I have long wanted to see again did not come. It was easily understandable for me. Many of them are no longer capable of taking long travel from home due to age and other reasons. Some of them are very busy with their present work or now staying overseas. And worst, a number of them, I know, have gone beyond the journalistic life.

The highlights of the celebration included the unveiling of framed portraits of former PNA general managers and executive editors from 1973 to present; presentation of greatest appreciation awards, including one posthumously, to former PNAers; announcement of photo and essay writing contest winners; and awarding of top performing editors, bureau chiefs, reporters, photographers and other employees.

The photo gallery was unveiled by Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Undersecretary Cherbett Karen Maralit and News and Information Bureau (NIB) Director IV Raymond Robert C. Burgos.

NIB, by the way, is the present mother bureau of PNA. It used to be the Bureau of National and Foreign Information (BNFI) which was abolished during the 1987 Government Reorganization implemented by the late former President Corazon C. Aquino's administration.

The gallery features the portraits of eight former PNA general managers led by the agency’s founder, Jose L. Pavia, who died in April 2011. The seven other photos in that section of the colonnade are those of Vergel O. Santos, German C. Galian, Gil H. Santos, Ernesto Banawis, Jorge S. Reyes, Vittorio V. Vitug and Casiano A. Navarro, in that order.

Also in the same photo gallery are the portraits of six former executive editors: Severino C. Samonte, Iluminado "Jun" Varela, Ruben B. Cal, Danilo C. Taguibao, Faye P. Velasco and Luis A. Morente, plus that of the present one, Demetrio B. Pisco Jr.

The posthumous award for Pavia was presented to his widow, Mrs. Loreto Q. Pavia, who was accompanied by her son Chicoy. The award was in recognition of Pavia's distinctive stewardship of the PNA during its early years as a "martial law baby."

Cal and Samonte received "greatest appreciation award for the many years of dedication, service and continuing support to the Philippine News Agency."

For the record, Cal, until his retirement in November 2010, never left the agency since he joined it in 1974. He initially covered then Gen. Fidel V. Ramos at Camp Crame as Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police (PC/INP) chief and later as Defense Secretary at Camp Aguinaldo. When Ramos became President in June 1992, Cal shifted his coverage to Malacañang until the end of the former President's term in 1998.

On the other hand, Samonte was cited for being the first national and provincial news editor of PNA when it was established in 1973. He actually came from the PNA's predecessor, PNS.

Among the former PNAers who came, aside from Cal and this writer, were Vot Vitug, one of the former general managers, Angel R. Calso, Filomena F. Cayaba, Sherrie Ann C. Torres, Gloria Hernandez Grejalde,Lulu R. Principe. Ma. Lourdes Casimiro, and Jerry M. Reyes, who used to be PNA-BNFI's representative to the ASEAN News Exchange (ANEX) Desk in Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and other ASEAN capitals.

On the same occasion, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. called on PNA officials and staff to use its platform to combat misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation for a more informed and empowered citizenry.

Marcos said the PNA should keep the Filipinos well-informed of the initiatives, advocacies and programs of the government.

"Use your platforms to enable our citizenry to become healthily engaged in public discourse and to be more aware of their role in fighting against all forms of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation," Marcos said in his video message.

In congratulating the PNA on its golden anniversary, Marcos recognized the news agency's efforts to pursue its mandate of delivering "timely, reliable and accurate news" to Filipinos, noting that this important milestone is a "testament" to PNA's "relentlessness" in serving the people.

He expressed hope that the PNA, serving as the government's official newswire, would help make the Philippines a "more just and empowered nation."

The PNA was created on March 1, 1973, through a special order by the Department of Public Information (DPI) Secretary and later on Batasang Pambansa Member and Senator Francisco S. Tatad.

The private news outfit PNS was the country's first news agency, organized on Oct. 1, 1950, but it had to cease operations after martial law was declared.

At the time of its closure, PNS had some 120 news correspondents from 70 provinces and 60 cities.


About the Columnist

Image of Severino C. Samonte

He began his journalistic career by contributing to the Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines in the 1960’s. He was the night editor of the Philippine News Service when Martial Law was declared in September 1972. When the Philippine News Agency was organized in March 1973, he was named national news editor because of his news wire service experience.

He retired as executive news editor in 2003. He also served as executive editor of the Malacanang-based Presidential News Desk from 1993 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2008.