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Lolarga and Silverio win 1st Chit Estella awards

Lolarga (left) poses for a group picture after winning her prize.Text By Eimor P. Santos, Photos by Mario Ignacio IV, VERA Files

In death, Vera Files trustee and journalism professor Lourdes "Chit" Estella Simbulan continues to champion human rights campaign in the country.

The 1st Chit Estella Journalism Awards honored the best journalistic reports on human rights, Dec. 7. This is in line with the celebration of the National Human Rights Consciousness Week with the theme, "My Voice Counts in Ending Impunity: I Work for Human Rights-Based Governance."

This year's awardees were Ina Alleco Silverio of Bulatlat.com for her online story, "Three months after Sendong, Iligan residents still far from rebuilding their lives," and Elizabeth Lolarga of the Philippine Daily Inquirer for her print story, "365 political prisoners go on hunger strike."

(Links to winning stories: 356 political prisoners go on hunger strikeThree months after Sendong, Ilagan residents still far from rebuilding their lives)

The works of Silverio and Lolarga were chosen among seven other finalists, four from online and two from print which were all published between Oct. 1, 2011 and Oct. 1, 2012. The winners each received P10,000 and a trophy, funded by the Simbulan-Estella family, and co-presented by the University of the Philippines Department of Journalism and Vera Files.

The Chit Estella Journalism Awards and and the Memorial Lectures that followed  awarding ceremonies  are intended to keep alive Simbulan's ideals of excellent journalism and human rights advocacy.

Simbulan, better known by her byline Chit Estella, died in a vehicular accident May 13 last year on  Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. She was 53.

Former Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Satur Ocampo, who was the guest speaker, presented a historical perspective of the human rights situation in the country and its connection with the counter-insurgency campaign of the government.

"Araw-araw may nangyayaring paglabag sa karapatan, lalo na ng maliliit na mamamayan (Everyday violations of human rights happen, especially to the common man)," he said Satur Ocampo during the memorial lecture of the said awards ceremony at the UP College of Mass Communication Auditorium. Satur Ocampo

A journalist with the old Manila Times before the declaration of Martial Law in 1971, Ocampo spent many years in the underground movement and as a  political prisoner. He now writes a column for the Philippine Star.

Ocampo called on President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino to exercise his powers as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to  end human rights violations, especially now that more and more children are becoming victims.

He cited the report of the local rights group Karapatan which revealed that children aged 10-16 are being raped, tortured and illegally arrested by the military.

Human Rights Commissioner Cecilia "Coco" Quisumbing acknowledged the vital role of the media in stopping human rights violations.

She enjoined media to " stay away from press release journalism" and  do more research in doing reports.

Estella's husband, UP Prof. Roland Simbulan, said Chit's death has led him to another advocacy: road safety. He now heads a group called Families of Road Victims and Survivors, basically a support group but is also working on making roads in the country safe.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

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