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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, January 12, 2018
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Come to think of it
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

A New Start?


One of the interesting topics of 2017 was the escalation of the disagreement between the Diocese of Bacolod and the Board of Trustees of St. John's Institute over the Queen of Peach Parish Church and the school that culminated with the decision of Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon to pull out of the church and the school along with the declaration that Saint John's Institute is no longer a catholic school.

That spat deprived the parishioners of Bacolod of a church and stripped the catholic school status of St. John's Institute, one of the premier schools in Negros Island. While the displaced church goers have moved on to other places of worship in the aftermath of both parties inability to come to an agreement, the students of Hua Ming are unable to move on as easily because the status of their school as a catholic school remains in limbo due to the Bishop's declaration, and the valid questions surrounding it.

Such a hot topic that involved faith, religion, power and the foibles of men made the Hua Ming issue a subject that made for many interesting discussions in social media, coffee joints, and barbershops during that time. It naturally attracted the attention of columnists and opinion writers and it turned out that the opinions of fellow columnist Modesto Sa-onoy regarding the brouhaha didn't sit well with many influential Johnians whose disappointing solution to a difference in opinion with a columnist was to boycott an entire local newspaper that had been their partner and proven its integrity among Negrenses in its three decades of service to the community.

The Queen of Peace Church had been my family's first option when it came to hearing masses together and I had a lot of friends from Hua Ming so I had been sympathetic to their cause as I watched the issue unfold from the sidelines. However, when the bigwigs of Hua Ming decided that their idea of conflict resolution over the disconnect between their opinions and that of a columnist was launching an arbitrary boycott against the entire newspaper that I work with, it was difficult not to form my own opinion on how and why things could've turned ugly in their negotiations with the diocese.

As we tried and failed to convince them through various channels that opinions from all sides are always welcome in The Visayan DAILY STAR, they remained silent but steadfast in their boycott. Modesto Sa-onoy's series of articles on the SJI issue grew in number without a counterpoint because their boycott probably meant no contact from them. There was no way that I, an outsider and non-Johnian, could come to their defense without the proper or authorized documents or a credible resource person and no matter how friendly I was with many Johnians, I wasn't going to go out of my way for a group that didn't even try the path of dialogue before actively trying to cripple the newspaper I work for. It was probably naïve of me to expect them to send us a letter to the editor or a reply to the columns they disagree with that we could publish because they were apparently serious about the sticking to their boycott guns.

The last time I wrote about this issue was June 2017, to vent frustration over the boycott but continue to offer my space for those who want to air their side in an attempt to point out that not all opinions in a newspaper's opinion section have to be the same. The offer to give them as much space in my column as they needed remained even if what was genuine sympathy for their cause had turned into apathy.

That was many months ago. I know that the boycott may have utterly failed in trying to stop the Tightrope series from being published but I also know that if the intention was to hurt us financially, they were relatively successful. Bacolod is a tightly knit community and the SJI alumni who instigated the boycott and those participated out of a sense of loyalty to their peers or catholic school proved their unity. My hope is these people that we respected and were our partners in the past do not consider their boycott of a local media outlet that was only doing its job an achievement they can be proud of.

The good news is that this depressing chapter in this story might be nearing its end and a new beginning could be within sight. The New Year brought with it an unexpected but pleasant surprise when I was told that the people from SJI wanted to talk. We have almost given up that this day would come so welcomed this initiative and hope that the start of dialogue will help us mend fences and maybe we can even build a better relationship where we understand each other better and strive to talk things over before losing our cool.

I have always been willing to listen and help anyone who needed a platform to air their legitimate grievances or concerns and because I never took back my offer to help them in any way I can, I will read and listen to what they want to say so I can explain my understanding of their point of view the best way I can in my succeeding article(s).

Now that is off my chest, we can begin.

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