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Philippines News Agency (PNA) 39th anniversary

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The Philippines News Agency, the government-owned and operated news agency, is celebrating its 39th anniversary today, March 1 amid constant challenge to become among the best news agencies in Asia.

Officially launched on March 1, 1973, the PNA is the successor of the defunct Philippine News Service (PNS), the country’s first-ever news wire agency formed in 1950 by the publishers of the then major national newspapers -– Manila Times, Manila Chronicle, Philippines Herald, Manila Bulletin, Evening News, Bagong Buhay, and Fookien Times.

Actually, PNA initially used the old equipment – teletype machines, typewriters, and mimeographing machines -- acquired by the then Department of Public Information (DPI) headed by former Secretary and later Senator Francisco S. Tatad from the PNS, which was forced to close down voluntarily as a result of the declaration of martial law across the country by President Ferdinand E. Marcos under Proclamation No. 1081 on September 21, 1972.

Although there was no actual order to close down PNS upon the advent of the Marcos martial rule, it nevertheless was forced to stop its 24-hour day-to-day operations because of lack of clients or users of its products -– news and photos from the provinces. This was because the main clients or customers of PNS -– national and community newspapers, radio and television stations -– were earlier padlocked and guarded by government troops implementing Proclamation 1081.

About four months after the start of martial law and shortly before Marcos allowed a handful of newspapers and broadcast outfits to reopen, a group of former newspaper editors asked Secretary Tatad to explore the possibility of acquiring the World War II-vintage teletype machines of PNS and take over its newsroom at the National Press Club building on Magallanes St. in Intramuros, Manila.

The persistence of such group of editors to once again establish an even more dynamic wire news agency bore fruit when the PNS was allowed to reopen on March 1, 1973, but under a new name -- Philippines News Agency (PNA) as the government’s official news outfit.
The late Jose L. Pavia, executive editor of the defunct Philippines Herald, was appointed as its first general manager. He headed the initial 11-member staff, with the late Renato B. Tiangco, also formerly of the Herald, as managing editor, and this writer, a holdover from the PNS, as national news editor.

As a government agency, PNA is not a separate entity. It was organized under a Special Department Order issued by Secretary Tatad even before the former Bureau of National and Foreign Information (BNFI), which was PNA’s first mother bureau, came into existence late in March of 1973. Thus, its fund came from the BNFI as a section of its News Service Division.

When Secretary Tatad turned on the switch to launch the PNA in the afternoon of March 1, 1973, in Malacanang, he said: “The Philippines News Agency will be operated in the best tradition of the world’s professional news agencies.”

True enough, the infant news agency proved its worth through its reportage, including transmission of radiophotos, of the first Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bali, Indonesia in 1976, showing not only to the Philippine press but also the international media that PNA could more than hold its own place in the highly competitive world of journalism.
In the martial law years, PNA, side by side with the so-called “Big Four” international news agencies -- Associated Press (AP), Reuters, Agence France Presse (AFP) and United Press International (UPI) -- covered the entire archipelago, bringing news around the Philippines and to the outside world.

PNA also served as training ground of aspiring young journalists of the period. After the February 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, with the opening of new national newspapers, the PNA-trained young reporters tried their hands at newspapering and in the broadcast field. Many of today’s ranking editors in several national newspapers had once cut their journalistic teeth at the PNA newsroom.

In 1974, a year after its birth, PNA inaugurated its first domestic bureau in Cebu City, opening a new era for the media in the country’s second largest, most cosmopolitan city. Seven small, tabloid-sized newspapers there began to carry national and foreign news, a radical departure from their former purely local coverage, and placed them in a position to compete for circulation with the major national dailies published in Manila.
The year 1974 saw the opening of similar bureaus in the cities of Iloilo, Baguio, Davao, Laoag, Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, and Dagupan. These were followed by the opening of domestic news service operations in Lucena City, Legazpi, Cotabato, Tacloban, Zamboanga, Dumaguete, Iligan, Laoag, Tuguegarao, San Fernando, La Union; Jolo, Sulu; and Los Banos, Laguna.

The peak number of domestic bureaus stood at 23 in 1975, with the opening of additional bureaus in Cabanatuan City, General Santos City and Tagbilaran City.
However, this number of bureaus was reduced drastically as a result of cost-cutting measures in later years.
Before the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, PNA, through the then Office of Media Affairs (OMA), had overseas bureaus in San Francisco, California; Sacramento, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney and Jeddah. These were closed down in 1986.
During the government reorganization in 1987 under the administration of the late President Corazon C. Aquino, the BNFI was abolished and replaced with the present News and Information Bureau (NIB) and the Bureau of Communication Services (BCS).

In June 2011, in line with the continuing reorganization plan of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) under the Aquino administration and for the purpose of streamlining and rationalizing the operations of its attached bureaus and agencies, the PNA has been returned under the functional and operational control of the News and Information Bureau.

This was contained in Office Order No. 041 by PCOO Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma on June 21, 2011 which repealed an earlier PCOO order on November 2, 2010 placing the government’s official news agency under the functional and operational supervision of the Director-General of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA).

In his latest order, Secretary Coloma said, “The PNA, through the NIB, shall be under the direct supervision of Assistant Secretary Elizardo De Layola of the PCOO for the purpose of implementing an integrated approach in communicating the 2011-2016 Philippine Development Plan which serves as the Administration’s guidebook towards enhanced growth and stability.”

Coloma said all “other previous orders and issuances or parts thereof inconsistent with PCOO Office Order No. 041 are hereby also repealed.”

The NIB, based in Malacanang, is under Director IV Brando F. Merrera, himself a former reporter and news editor of the PNA. He is being assisted by Director III Danny Jamora.

At present, PNA’s day-to-day editorial operations are being handled by acting Executive Editor Danilo C. Taguibao.

by: PNA




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