Philippines: Farewell to a tireless champion for press freedom

The Philippines’ media fraternity and journalist unions globally are mourning the loss of a giant of media freedom following the death of Filipino unionist and journalist Nonoy Espina on July 7. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) today paid tribute to a spirited union leader who inspired journalists to fight for press freedom and shone a light on the critical issues affecting journalists in the Philippines.

Nonoy Espina. Credits: National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)

Jose Jaime Espina, popularly known as “Nonoy,” died from liver cancer after recovering from Covid-19, his family said. He was 59. Nonoy turned over chairmanship of the NUJP early in 2021, leaving the respected union in the hands of a crew of young journalist leaders that, for so many, he had mentored and encouraged to take the wheel of the collective of which he was a founding member.

A veteran journalist and fierce advocate of freedoms and human rights, Nonoy was a humble yet inspirational leader whose favourite line was: “We exercise freedom not because we are allowed to. We exercise freedom because we insist on being free.

A talented photographer and writer, Espina was among the first responders at the Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao in 2009 and became a dominant voice in the campaign for justice for the victims, which included 32 media workers. He was always present at commemorations and in activities leading up to the verdict in 2019. 

As NUJP chairman from 2018 to 2021, he led critical NUJP campaigns to fight the endemic impunity for murdered journalists in the Philippines and to support journalists impacted by the trauma of the profession. As a member of the directorate for multiple terms, he led the NUJP through waves of attacks and harassment by the government. More recently, he was among the loudest voices at rallies in support of the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise, leading a march in Quezon City in March 2020 and later joining similar activities in Bacolod City, where he was based.

The NUJP said: “He was a 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.” 

The IFJ pays its respects to Nonoy Espina and gives condolences to his family: his wife, Leny Rojo Espina, his children Mayumi Liwayway Rojo Espina and Daki Ojor Espina and his siblings. 

The IFJ said: “Nonoy’s commitment to fighting impunity, supporting journalists in the Philippines and around the world cannot be understated. Nonoy’s organising has touched the lives of many. He leaves a gaping hole, but his legacy will remain. We thank him for his dedication, commitment and many years of service in pursuit of the truth and justice. Vale Nonoy.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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