Veteran Journo and Press Freedom Hero

March 8, 1962 – July 7, 2021

In the statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Jose Jaime Llavore “Nonoy” Espina was hailed as the press freedom hero worthy of admiration and emulation. From the Marcos dictatorship until the Duterte administration, he consistently served the Filipino people by upholding the truth.

Nonoy Espina had been a journalist from high school to college, editing University of the Philippines Visayas’ Pagbutlak. He majored in humanities in UP Visayas Iloilo, where he was a member of the Silak Fraternity.

A man of many talents, he drew, he danced, he composed, played the piano and sang, mostly jazz and blues, in a distinct gravelly voice. He loved classical music and the blues.

He wore many hats, but he was first and foremost a journalist.

He was member of community media group Correspondents, Broadcasters and Reporters Association—Action News Service, or COBRA-ANS, which was part of the “mosquito press” during the Marcos dictatorship.

He was also an editor of the local Courier, served as a correspondent of the defunct Today Newspaper and worked for a time in the Lifestyle magazine of The Manila Standard. He became an editor of the online news outfits Inquirer.net and InterAksyon. He sat as managing editor of the Dateline Philippines, one of the early independent online news portals.

Nonoy preferred to mostly practice his journalism in Negros Occidental, his home province.

Nonoy also helped colleagues deal with the traumas of the profession. He fought hard for press freedom but always liked to stress its natural link to all freedoms for all citizens and human rights.

Espina was also among the first responders at the Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao in 2009. Writer Joel Pablo Salud recalls the lesson he learned from Nonoy as they covered this unfortunate event: always be wary of the narrative of those in power. Salud shares, “in the course of our coverage of the Ampatuan massacre, the clan which perpetrated the slaughter of 58 people, more than 30 of whom were journalists, began changing their image in the eyes of the media. They started referring to themselves as ‘freedom fighters,’ which at the onset lured some members of the local press to believe their claims. Nonoy saw through the lies and began raising the absurdity of that statement. Insofar as the 200 or so hoodlums involved in the mass slaughter were concerned, the clan needed to ‘elevate’ their status to ‘revolutionaries’ in order to garner sympathy from the public.”

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines honored Nonoy with the Marcelo H. Del Pilar Award, the highest honor that the organization gives its alumni. In its citation, CEGP called Nonoy “without doubt, a leading force in the defense of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country today.”

Like many journalists, he was materially poor. But in his devotion to the profession and our people he was, as Danny Fabella sang, hindi pangkaraniwang tao.

To his last breath, he waved that banner. Patriot, journalist, loving husband, father, and brother, he will not be forgotten. Nonoy is survived by his wife, Leny Rojo Espina, his children Mayumi Liwayway Rojo Espina and Daki Ojor Espina.

Early this year (2021), Nonoy had just turned over the NUJP chairmanship to the new set of officers, but even amid health problems he shepherded the union through challenging times for the Philippine press. Nonoy has always said, “we exercise press freedom not because we are allowed to. We exercise freedom because we insist on being free.”

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