Arts and Culture

On Spotlight: Gemma Cruz Araneta

By Eana Maniebo, Staff Writer  |

Beauty contests and journalism do mix, after all.

At a time when beauty queens are being criticized for having beauty alone, Gemma Cruz-Araneta, the former 1964 Miss International, reminded people that it is not impossible to have both.  If intelligence and beauty alone is astounding, how much more would elegance and a know-how in journalism do?

downloadThat is because writing runs in the bloodstreams of Araneta.  The first Filipino to win the said trophy is the daughter of well-known and respected journalist Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, and a descendant of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

The Manila Times College (TMTC) was lucky enough to have her as a speaker for the F. Sionil lecture series last Tuesday, November 12, 2013.  Instead of focusing on how she fared against other countries in the 60’s, she told the students of her mother’s humble beginnings.

The Second World War left the Aranetas without their padre de pamilia.  As a result, her mother applied as a proofreader in a newspaper and her opportunity came when one reporter failed to submit an article on time. The editor told her to write an article to fill the space, and she wrote about things you find in a woman’s handbag. Her editor saw her talent, and so started her journey to being an outstanding newsperson.

Being a journalist and having written a few books herself, Araneta generously gave useful tips for would-be journalists that she also picked up from her mother.

Araneta started the lecture with a very important yet often neglected principle in journalism: proper introduction.  She noticed that the younger people and journalists themselves are making a habit of introducing themselves by their nickname, which is improper, because one should always introduce by stating their full name.

“Journalism is something you don’t learn in school.” Araneta said.

“Flexibility is also essential. Journalists should be prepared to cover whatever’s assigned to them. This requires a broad cultural background and general knowledge in many subjects, which will be achieved by being a wide reader.”

She enumerated another characteristic that shape a good journalist: importance to language.  According to her, one must master a language because it is always connected to the thought process, especially in this field where every word is essential due to the limitation in space.

She added that being resourceful, disciplined, observant and interested in everything will help a lot because there are deadlines to be met everyday.  Along with that, she urged the students to read classic books and newspapers where the writers are considered good journalists, not only to acquire information, but also to enhance their original material, which she said is a vital thing in Journalism.

“That is you, your very own attributes.” Araneta said.  “You are the original material.”

But the crucial question will always be, can you make a lot of money as a journalist?  In her point of view, it is a very personal decision.  She presented a choice to the students:

“Are you going to accept bribes to become wealthy, or are you going to be a responsible journalist and report things as they are, without lies and conjecture?”

Hanoi Diary

Araneta said that her biggest challenge as a writer was writing her historical book entitled Hanoi Diary.  During the Vietnam war in 1968, she and her husband made a secret trip to Hanoi and stayed there for a month, visiting the provinces in the North that are supposedly the most bombed by the United States.  Luckily, the Vietnamese government welcomed journalists from other countries who wanted to see their side of the war.  Upon returning to the country, she published her book with accounts of well-documented events.

Just two years ago, she received a phone call from the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, the same hotel where she and her husband stayed.  She was told that the Metropole discovered a bomb shelter under the hotel.  The ambassador of Vietnam to the Philippines told the manager that she was there in the bomb shelter, as written in her book.  They asked her to reprint the Hanoi Diary, although an old book, so young Vietnamese will know what their elders went through during the war.

Being a titleholder

Some people do not know that Gemma Cruz Araneta was not a Binibining Pilipinas titleholder, but a Miss Philippines International.  She won before Stella Araneta organized the Bb. Pilipinas pageant.

Her mother still blames her for all the Filipinas who want to be a beauty queen.  She said Ariella Arida finishing 3rd runner up in the Miss Universe 2013 is good for the country and aspirational.  For Gemma, there’s nothing wrong in yearning for it, as long as it doesn’t become the center of your life and existence.

For the first Filipina to bring home the Miss World crown, she said Megan Young should’ve used her mother’s maiden name, Talde, to have at least some kind of connection to the Philippines.  Megan Talde Young would’ve been nicer and doesn’t sound too foreign.

She also voiced her opinion on having an interpreter for the Philippines in upcoming pageants.  She said that if a Filipina feels she’ll do better if she speaks in her native tongue and wants to highlight her language, then she should ask for an interpreter.

To everyone’s amusement, she shared that she was once asked to judge a Mister Philippines contest, but declined when she learned that there would be no question and answer portion.

Passion for history

Araneta is the Chairperson of the Heritage Conservation Society.  Her love for knowledge, heritage, and history was evident: she expressed her disapproval on the wakeskating stunt in the Banaue Rice Terraces, saying that the fragile rice paddies were constructed in a very special and sophisticated way.  Although it gave a lot of publicity as a tourist attraction, it will attract the wrong kind of tourism.

She also criticized Lorenzo Tan, a Filipino-Chinese businessman who owns Antonio Luna’s old house and uses it as a warehouse for noodles. The owner’s refusal to let people enter the house is also unacceptable.

“Don’t just go in and out. Immense yourself in what it has to offer.”

Being the advocate that she is, she encouraged the students to visit places like Cebu’s heritage trail, Philippine churches, and the National Museum, to enrich their appreciation for the country.

Most of the churches destroyed beyond repair by the Bohol earthquake were already declared National Cultural Treasures, and it will cost P100 million per church to restore it to its original glory. She hinted that maybe the Vatican should pay for at least one.

As a last word, she expressed her sadness for the victims of the earthquake and the super typhoon Yolanda, and agreed that journalists should stop pointing fingers but instead focus more on informing others on the situation and how to help the victims.

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