It’s been a year since the veteran journalist Jaime “Nonoy” Espina passed away. Nonoy was a former chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, a fierce press freedom advocate, a tireless campaigner for the welfare of media workers, a respected reporter, editor, and photographer.
Nonoy’s death will be felt for some time, even by people who did not get to know him.
When an esteemed journalist like Nonoy moves on, the space they leave behind remains empty for a long while, and citizens sense their absence when something horrible goes unreported, under-reported or misreported; when injustices are papered over, when stealing takes place openly, when dishonesty is openly celebrated, and when the state’s iron hand falls heavily on those who question and confront unfettered power.
Nonoy was easy to love. Nonoy was a musician, an orator, and a pugilist writer raring to take on powerful private interests and state instruments of repression and control.
I first met him in Bacolod in 2001. Negros Occidental and the deadly sugar cane fields of the hacenderos were his hunting grounds, for injustice was rife in his province then as it is now, with peasants confronting daily the brutal power of landlords and the armed forces at their command.
Along with good organizations like the Visayas Daily Star and equally good people such as the Inquirer’s Carla Gomez, Nonoy had covered the women-led, community-driven campaign to keep Negros free of climate-killing coal power pushed by powerful peddlers of dirty energy. Nonoy was writing then for the newspaper TODAY.
Nonoy was relentless, and he covered the campaign from the very start, until the government was finally forced to recognize that the coal-fired power project was completely unwanted, the permits and studies backing its necessity thoroughly infirm. The government then revoked with finality the permissions it had provided before.
From town centers to the provincial capital to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Department of Energy to international financing institutions in France, Australia, Japan, and the United States, Nonoy chased all the leads raised by women community leaders, and he reported on all the developments.
We chose to name the Jaime Espina Klima Correspondents Fellowship in Nonoy’s honor because, in doing so, we honor the professionalism, the bravery, the grit, and the commitment to a higher calling of Filipino provincial correspondents, who operate outside the protection of the huge spotlights NCR-based journalists enjoy. It is already perilous to be a journalist – and environmentalist – in this country, because danger nowadays seems to lurk around every corner. But it is also in many ways far more dangerous – and far less rewarding, unless one counts the spiritual benefits – to take on the journalist’s job outside Metro Manila, including environmental activists in the provinces. But journalists carry on because, as Nonoy has so often said, “The press is free not because it is allowed to be free. It is free because it insists on being free.”
We organized the Jaime Espina Klima Correspondents Fellowship because, while specialization is vital, energy issues should not be the domain of energy policy experts and journalists alone. It’s time we take greater interest in understanding better how we can improve the life of our neighborhoods, cities, and our communities, by recognizing how essential energy is in advancing inclusive, sustainable, and resilient development. And, no question about it, an energy transition in the Philippines is underway, but it needs to pick up speed, and the public needs to be more involved.
There are simply so many stories to be told, and journalists who are also non-experts in energy policy will likely raise questions lay people are asking. It’s time to go beyond narratives of vulnerability alone. We need to dwell on the growing sense of agency carried by communities and small businesses, which are steadily seeing the role flexible, distributed generation can play in advancing genuine democracy and in re-shaping the country’s future.
We are thankful other climate-related media fellowship initiatives have come before us, because anything that helps support journalism in the Philippines should be welcomed. The fellowship named after Nonoy Espina is our modest contribution to nation-building, particularly in its bias for province-based journalists whose work we choose to focus on as we honor the life, the fire, the spirituality behind the commitment to pursue the greater cause of democracy, embodied in the name Jaime “Nonoy” Espina.
(Editor's note: The author is Executive Director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities)
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.