Neri: Looking back

·4 min read

Tomorrow, SunStar marks its 39th year. I was there from the very beginning—from its birth in 1982, to its full development in the succeeding years as a multi-awarded newspaper. It has been an exhilarating ride for me all these years. Sure, there were bumps here and there but then that’s part of every ride.

I fondly recall how our Lifestyle pages started out as a single Woman’s Page. In time, that one page expanded to a full section and our team of writers increased. As executive editor, l presided over brainstorming sessions on what to feature in our pages. It was somewhat of a challenge to come up with interesting, informative and relevant topics for our lifestyle section. Fortunately, we had writers who were gems but this is not to say that all of them were. One or two had to be reminded of our SunStar Code of Ethics.

I remember one time when an underling insisted on publishing a pictorial of girls in skimpy bathing suits posing seductively (lying on the sand with legs apart and the like). I vetoed the pictures because I found them immodest and told him so. I would not allow “tabloidish” photos in Lifestyle, not during my watch. He didn’t take my decision well and went around telling people who’d care to listen that I decreed that posing in swimsuit is immoral, and then added that I fancied myself as a guardian of morality. Anyway, I just ignored him. Too bad he chose to misquote me... or maybe he actually believed that immodest and immoral can be interchanged. Dictionary, please.

SunStar has come a long way since those “growing up” years but today we are faced with a totally different challenge. We are experiencing the bumpiest of all rides in this time of the pandemic. However, we remain optimistic and look forward to better times. More feathers have been added to SunStar’s cap this year as it has been adjudged by the Philippine Press Institute for the nth time as the “Best-Edited Community Newspaper” in the country and “Best in Business & Economic Reporting” nationwide.

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It was in 1984 when I first got involved in the Miss Cebu search. The competition then was called Miss Cebu Japan and I was asked to be one of the panelists during the preliminary interview. After that, the organizing committee invited me to be part of the annual undertaking. The project was soon adopted by the city government, and when the then-Cebu City Mayor John Henry Osmeña appointed me as commissioner of the Cebu City Tourism Commission (CCTC), I was tasked to oversee the annual search which was now renamed Miss Cebu Tourism in tandem with the project chairman from the private sector and Monette Aliño from the academe.

One of the things expected of me was to help find girls who would be suitable candidates for Miss Cebu Tourism. I tried but the feedback I got from possible candidates (and their mothers) was that they were not comfortable parading in swimsuits during the show. At that time, all beauty competitions had a swimsuit portion. When I suggested to the then-project chairman to do away with the swimsuit parade so that we can attract more contestants, he countered, “What’s a beauty contest without a swimsuit competition?”

It was Vice Mayor Renato Osmeña during his time as project chairman who listened to my plea to cut out the swimsuit portion in the show and to put the Miss Cebu Tourism search on another level—more of a personality/intelligence competition in addition to beauty and grace. He understood my argument that since our aim was to find a worthy ambassadress of tourism, we should focus more on the total personality of the girl. He also agreed to streamline the show with the invaluable help of Dr. Milagros Espina, Ph.D., founder of the USJ-R Dramatics & Cultural Ensemble, who he appointed as CCTC commissioner. It was Dr. Espina who introduced lectures and workshops on personality development to the girls. Also part of our team then were fashion designer Philip Rodriguez and Cinbeth Orellano of VM Osmeña’s office who are now tourism commissioners.

After 15 years of involvement in the Miss Cebu Tourism project, I resigned as CCTC commissioner in February 2000. It was time to give way to new blood. Shortly after, the new team changed the title to Miss Cebu and it went on successfully. However, the project was shelved by a city government official some years ago. Now it is making a comeback with the selection of Miss Cebu 2022 scheduled in January. The candidates have been busy with lectures, workshops and getting acquainted with Cebu’s tourism jewels.

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