One of the most distinctive learnings that I remember when I started working with Sun Star Pampanga (then Sun Star Clark) is community service. Sun Star Clark then has become a household name in Pampanga, not only because of its basic function as a newspaper, but also because of its advocacy to help the poor and the victims of injustice.

I vividly remember a picture of a hydrocephalic child that was published on the front page of SunStar Clark in 1998. The late Jose “Joe” L. Pavia, our editor-in-chief, wanted the photo on the front page so we can help the family generate donations for the child’s treatment. My friend and former colleague IC Calaguas had been in constant communication with the family and soon I learned that the Samaritan act is actually like a mantra for Sun Star.

As a community paper, Sun Star has been a partner of regional communities in good governance and development. In Pampanga, Sun Star has been acknowledged as a vigilant and staunch protector of the public. I was still a greenhorn journalist when Sir Joe Pavia and our news editor, the late Rollie Razon, assigned a story related to graft and corruption practices reported at the Department of Education (DepEd) in Mabalacat Schools Division. It was a payroll-padding and extortion story that led to more anomalies and irregularities committed up to the provincial level. Sir Joe Pavia kept on monitoring the progress of the story. He wanted a daily “follow-up” and kept reminding us that we must do our task as the voice of the oppressed, especially those victimized by abusive and corrupt government officials. He told us never to abandon a running story unless there is a closure.

The story ran for six months with at least two “follow-up” stories per week. The SunStar copies were sold like hotcakes in Mabalacat. Almost all the schools in the city are waiting for the next story to unfold. It was during those months that I truly realized how important journalism work is, especially in communities that needed a voice amidst powerful influencers. I experienced interviewing teachers in the middle of the night to protect their identities and veer them away from reprisal. There were times that I interviewed them at their homes just to get important information that would become part of the testimonies against their abusive supervisor.

And after six months, the corrupt official was forced to resign from DepEd after administrative complaints were filed. Payrolls of teachers in Mabalacat were also transferred directly to the provincial DepEd office to put an end to the malpractice. Indeed, it is truly satisfying to see some change in the system. Thanks to real investigative journalism work.

This is just one story that has led to positive developments in government bureaucracy. SunStar has been there through the years serving the Kapampangan community. Just like other SunStar papers in various regions, we always prioritize the concerns of the poor, underprivileged, marginalized, victims of discrimination and criminalities. SunStar had been in the forefront of calamities and tragedies. I remember covering the Capitol beat in the late 90’s and early 2000’s riding trucks with government officials during the rainy season. Pampanga’s coastal areas and low-lying areas were always gravely flooded. The flood waters reach up to five feet. For our former editors, stories of the affected communities in these flooded areas are always a priority in the news desk.

The late 90’s was also a time of recovery from Mt. Pinatubo eruption. The FVR Megadike and the San Fernand0-Guagua-Minalin Tail Dike were not yet completed then . There were portions of the dikes that needed to be constructed to fully protect the province from lahar flows. One of my assignments then is to cover the dike stories. I have learned many things in coverage because of these stories. I was the “official” megadike-girl who would always bring a map of the dikes, rivers, and DPWH site plans, photos and graphics required by our editors.

For the Sun Star editors, these are the stories that really matter. The faces of people needing a voice. The happenings, incidents, calamities, or disasters that directly affect the lives of the people in the community. The so-called local stories that we can all relate to because we are in Pampanga.

I am truly grateful that I was trained by the best editors and I had the opportunity to work with hardworking, fearless, and dedicated reporters like Ashley Manabat (who later became my editor as well), IC Calaguas, Joey Pavia, and the late Tito Ody Fabian, among others.

And I would say that I am also blessed to have become a part of the Sun Star family. To serve the community and help change lives is truly the most satisfying experience I had as a full-time journalist. Thank you SunStar and happy anniversary to us!