Carl Sebastian Arabiran

July 25 is Philippine Campus Press Freedom Day. With the recently-concluded 2023 National Schools Press Conference, it is timely that I share my reflections on schools press conferences and how I think it shapes the country’s campus journalism landscape.

Cartoon by Aureus Ken Pupa

When the news that I placed fourth at the 2023 CALABARZON Regional School Press Conference (RSPC) broke, I could not help but think how it would be better for me if I did not win at all. You see, I took home the championship last year, and the goal (or what was expected of me by everyone, at least), was to repeat the same feat. I was not able to do that. 

With eight years of experience under my belt, not once did I think that I would ever be ungrateful for winning. It was my own—as well as every campus journalist's dream, after all. But, regrettably, I was. Looking back, my ingratitude definitely was rooted in the Department of Education’s (DepEd) sudden decision to reap the NSPC delegation only from the first-place winners of every RSPC—a move that shattered the spirit of every campus journo in the country, including mine.
The pressure of doing just as exceptional as I did last year got to my head. I was so lost in the competition that I forgot how earning a place at the podium did not even matter to me before—how all I ever wanted was to be given the privilege to write about the truth, share my thoughts through my words, and advocate for the greater good. To write was my own way of winning; just not this time—this time, I only wanted to be the best.

I am hoping that by this point, you can already see the problem: it should not be like this. The Campus Journalism Act of 1991 was ratified to uphold and protect the freedom of the press even at campus levels. It is meant to encourage the youth to be involved in nation-building— to be agents of change, and protectors of truth and justice. By continuing to treat school press conferences as mere indicators of the supposed ascendancy of one school, one city, one province, or one region to another, we are skewing the very principles upon which this law is built. Campus journalism does not exist only to produce an enormous roster of winning writers, it exists to hone a generation of socially-aware youths capable of transforming words into actual change.

This is not to say that one cannot win while staying true to the essence of campus journalism (I certainly hope that I do). It is just that, more often than not, journos lose the heart to write because they think that it was only ever about winning. I nearly did. The competitive aspect of schools press conferences eclipses the very reason they are held in the first place: to tell the truth. When these young journos—who were programmed to only ever win—graduate from school and are no longer eligible to compete in these events and win medals or trophies, who will write for the truth then? No one. To them, journalism has become pointless because they would not climb any podiums for writing for the truth anymore. 

That is why I call for the Department of Education, along with all of the educational institutions across the Philippines, to start treating campus journalism less like a sport. Instead, I hope they begin looking into ways that could help these journos go beyond writing for their student publications and competing in school press conferences. With the continuous growth of the Philippine media landscape, embracing digital journalism would be a big step as it will encourage young journalists—whether they are a part of a student publication or not—to continue writing for the truth in an era plagued with propaganda.

In this regard, I am extremely grateful to be a part of Explained PH. It is truly a privilege to be around an excellent group of volunteer journalists who, like me, are driven to uphold the tenets of truthful newsmaking. If it were not for this organization, I would not have been able to see firsthand the ways in which I can go beyond just winning medals from schools press conferences. If it were not for this organization, I would not have continued doing what I love. If it were not for this organization, I would not have been able to share this article with you.

Anyone can write, but it is the purpose of our formidable words that sets us journalists apart. May the observation of this year’s Campus Press Freedom Day serve not only as a reminder of our duty as part of the fourth estate to uphold democracy, but as a clarion call for us to do more. 

The state of campus press freedom in the Philippines will always be under threat. As the nation's foremost defenders against the injustices committed by those in power, we bear the crucial responsibility of fighting for what is true, what is right, and what is just. In recognizing that the true essence of journalism extends far beyond the pursuit of victory, I hope that more young journalists will abandon their quest for more medals and trophies, and hold the line with those of us who have already embarked on this journey to protect the truth.  

Truly, there is more to journalism than just winning. I know that now. Do you?