~ The doomsayers would be surprised to learn that Tess Cusipag, editor and publisher of Balita, Toronto’s largest Filipino newspaper, has come home on Sunday, June 25 after spending 13 days in a women’s facility in Milton, Ontario. She’s shown a sunny disposition despite the ordeal that began on June 12 and followed soon after by inaccurate news accounts slanted to make her look bad. She was not in jail for stealing or killing or abusing another person. She served time as a way of accepting responsibility for the consequences of upholding and fighting for principle.
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“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.”
― Richard Lovelace
TORONTO – The embattled editor and publisher of this city’s largest Filipino newspaper was back in the saddle on Sunday, June 25, saying she’s ready to forgive her adversaries but not forget the “humbling experience” that gave her temporary pause from ongoing legal disputes.
Teresita Cusipag walked out of Vanier Centre for Women in Milton to waiting friends and motored nearly an hour to her residence in Toronto’s eastern suburb of Markham where she lives and holds office as head honcho of Balita, the 39-year-old fortnightly periodical known for its investigative reporting.
Her family gathered early in the day at their traditional home, the first time in nearly two weeks since Superior Court Judge Frederick L. Myers handed out his order sentencing her to 21 days in a provincial reformatory for contempt of court.
The fact that her release – after completion of 13 days – was unforeseen, buoyed up the already bubbly day that had greeted family, friends, and followers once they learned of the impending discharge. They quickly organized get-togethers – one in mid-morning with family, and two, an impromptu dinner with staff and colleagues in the early evening.
“It has been a humbling experience,” says Ms. Cusipag, widow of veteran journalist Ruben Cusipag who passed away in July 2013, leaving her with the responsibility of carrying out his legacy of investigative journalism as a means to serve the community by ferreting out wrongdoing.
Over the years, Ms. Cusipag had imbibed the full meaning of what her late husband wanted and did. She plunged into it with the same firm commitment, guided only by strong moral principles being played out with every issue of the fortnightly Balita.
The lawsuits she’s facing with her staff are, in a word, an insightful depiction of the extent to which she and Balita would go to stand and fight for principles. She accepted the responsibility, faced the consequences and served time less than what was imposed.
At the women’s centre, detainees found out why Ms. Cusipag was being kept there for what they thought was a “cakewalk” in comparison to their terms that run for months and years. All the more when they learned that she’d be out this Sunday, June 25, whereupon they huddled to tell her that, in their words, she’s a “hero”.
“You’re a hero,” Ms. Cusipag quotes them as saying, “for fighting for principle. You’re a hero,” they repeated, “for standing up against politicians”. A detainee named Natalia gifted her with a drawing of a cartoon with the inscription: “Always Remember That Your (sic) Beautiful Inside & Out”.
A day earlier, an envious left-leaning tabloid screamed: “Balita publisher jailed” in its latest issue that had been two weeks late in reporting the story. The sheet, published by Hermie Garcia and wife Mila Garcia who, ironically, languished in prison for their communist sympathies, had republished a faulty news account of Ms. Cusipag’s June 12 ordeal.
Even then, the downer of the inaccurate news from the Garcias’ Philippine Reporter failed to dampen the high spirits animating Ms. Cusipag. Everybody knew the tabloid was being driven by a personal and business agenda. That much was already evident in the speculation, passed on as news analysis, by Vancouver doomsayer Ted Alcuitas.
Alcuitas, a blogger, basically echoed the Philippine Reporter account, and added his own spin, to make it appear that Balita could be on a downward spiral. His article saying that “Cusipag was immediately whisked to an undisclosed provincial jail after sentencing” was erroneous.
He also affirmed the false report that the negative response from the judge “sent Cusipag and her supporters to tears”. I was in the courtroom myself and the only person I saw tearing up was Ms. Cusipag who had become very emotional at that moment.
On Monday, June 12, just before he pronounced his sentence, Judge Myers declared that “The court will compel obedience to its orders and punish disobedience. The protection of the rule of law must be a paramount concern of society”.
Ms. Cusipag had been found to have breached the injunction issued by Judge Sidney Lederman on July 13, 2016 for what Judge Myers called “very public attacks on the court and the rule of law” by online postings on her Facebook account.
“It is the court’s true wish that you learn from this experience that you are bound by the law and you must comply with court orders even if you do not agree with them,” Judge Myers wrote.
Ms. Cusipag said she harbors no ill-will as Judge Myers’ decision was fair, given what was available evidence. At the same time, however, she chided her counsel, James Chow, for his failure to comply with a number of items the judge had needed during the proceedings for which she wasn’t informed.
At the spontaneous dinner gathering that lasted past midnight, Ms. Cusipag said she was so touched by the outpouring of support sent to her via email by many people, some of whom she didn’t know personally.
“Many of them are asking me for copies of Balita,” she said. “Only one issue has been delayed and they’re already missing it”.
It was the right nod that tells her to go on. Balita will continue.