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Point of no return for Bobby Nalzaro

/ 08:47 AM January 10, 2013

I had the shock of my life when I heard that my friend and media colleague Bobby Nalzaro was no longer allowed to write opinion columns for Sun Star and its tabloid Superbalita. Reports say the family of Jesus “Sonny” Garcia Jr. who owns the paper, acceded to Rep. Pablo Garcia’s request to get rid of the columnist because his comments against his daughter, suspended Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia had become rather personal. Sonny is Gwen’s first cousin. Their fathers, the late lawyer Jesus Garcia Sr. and Congressman Pablo are brothers.

I read Bobby’s opinion in the online edition of the paper and didn’t even notice that his articles were “bahaw” (stale) when the New Year rolled in.

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Cebu Daily News’ page 2 story last Monday prompted me to call him. Our phone chat became the basis of the news article, “Nalzaro 2nd columnist to be dropped” (CDN, Jan. 8 issue). The story alluded to a previous sacking of another opinion writer, former Sun Star columnist Marit Remonde.

Allow me to give a background on Marit’s case since I had the privilege of writing two exclusive stories for this paper when the controversy broke out.

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The fate that befell Marit in October 2000 was an offshoot of the political tension arising from then incumbent Mayor Alvin Garcia’s decision to bolt Tommy Osmeña’s Bando Osmeña – Pundok Kauswagan. Back then, Cebu City’s political pot was boiling in anticipation of the 2001 midterm elections, wherein Alvin was to clash with Tommy in the mayoralty race.

Alvin had succeeded Tommy in running Cebu City when the latter’s three successive terms ended in 1995. Alvin was reelected in 1998 and was looking at a third and last term but Tommy was committed to foil his plans.

Alvin’s position on various issues like a US $500-million investment scheme, the F.E. Zuellig asphalt deal, the South Reclamation Project Pond A, etc., was being flogged by print and broadcast media. Marit had written an article criticizing the performance of a councilor who had just bolted the BO-PK to join Alvin’s Kusog. The piece angered Alvin’s wife Ninette, who was prompted to buy space in the paper to rebut the opinion.

The tension arising from what pro-Garcia sectors called “anti-Alvin” opinions and reportage “devoted only to the destruction of Alvin” eventually claimed the head of Marit Remonde.

The incident rocked political and media circles because while the issue struck at the very heart of press freedom, Marit was married to a media bigwig who was also perceived to be powerful and some people were anticipating a head-on collision.

The late Cerge Remonde was then station manager of radio dyLA and the national president of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas. Unlike other corporate executives, he was not a pencil-pushing manager but an active media practitioner. As lead anchor and commentator in the station backed by the federated Associated Labor Unions and Trade Union Congress of the Philippines ALU-TUCP and opinion writer for Sun Star, he was a key figure in the community.

Many people urged him to quit writing for the paper as a sign of protest, but he continued, saying he didn’t want “vengeance” but would press on by “taking the high moral ground.”

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The conflict between the media community and owners of a big media organization receded in the background as the campaign for the 2001 elections reached fever pitch. Alvin lost the race in 2001, a close match that Tommy won by a slim margin.

The bitter episode would have been forgotten if not for news that Cebu’s favorite tri-media personality had been shoved off by the paper that he has devotedly served for the past 15 years.

Bobby Nalzaro is a staunch critic of Gwen’s projects like the Suroy-Suroy tourism program and the purchase of the submerged Balili lots, among others. He is also critical of Garcia’s ill temper and recently, her defiance of a presidential order suspending her from office for six months. She has been holing herself up in the office of the governor since Dec. 19, and there’s no indication she will yield to the presidential order.

Bobby may not have the national clout that Cerge possessed when he was still around, but Bobby is hugely popular in print and broadcast. One cannot build a media following if he is not credible. Bobby is an asset to the organizations where he belongs and the media community as well.

The disappearance of Nalzaro’s byline is supposed to be temporary, to be lifted once the impasse at the Capitol is resolved. I think my friend submits to this line because I haven’t heard him criticize the paper or equate his suspension with curtailment of press freedom. He called his engagement with the paper a privilege, not a right.

Whatever it is, I told Bobby the wording of the notice of disconnection somehow softened the blow but at the end of the day, a gag is a gag. He has been silenced in the paper and that sends a clear signal to those whose opinions may be similar to his.

A colleague told me that people think media practitioners are powerful, but ranged against the power of media owners, journalists are powerless. Well, only if one believes that the freedom to speak is limited to structured media like in a newspaper or radio station.

We recall the late broadcaster Inday Nita Cortes Daluz who was jailed by the military during martial law. The loss of a broadcast facility did not deter Inday Nita, who vowed, “Mosibya ko’s bukong sa lubi,” (I will attack the regime by broadcasting on top of a coconut tree) if push comes to shove.

In the case of Bobby Nalzaro, he has a fall back in his TV and radio broadcast commentaries. He was still attacking the suspended governor last Tuesday, which tells me that what he is doing is past the point of no return.

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TAGS: Bobby Nalzaro, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Jesus “Sonny” Garcia Jr., Media, Rep. Pablo Garcia
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