7 events that made my first year as a reporter memorable

 

When I was in college, I told myself that while I wanted a career in journalism, I  didn’t have the quick wit and intellectual stamina needed to become a reporter. That and the fact that I was afraid to fail. I was afraid of being rejected. I was afraid of so many things that even if the world of breaking news piqued my curiosity, I shunned it. I quit before I even started.

 

But a couple of years passed and I found myself wondering a lot about how it would be like to work in media, the stories I would write, the lessons I would learn. I wanted to see and understand the world…how the concepts of power and money transformed it. I wanted to talk to people — to leaders and men on the street alike. I wanted first-row seats and backstage passes to history’s episodic plays.

 

I left my job, moved back home and sent in my application. After an agonizing wait, I found myself inside a newsroom, learning the daily news grind. But it was outside the newsroom – on the streets and inside the halls of government – that I learned the most.

 

Last August 4 marked my first year as a reporter. I thought the best way to commemorate it would be to list down the seven events that made my first 12 months worthwhile:

 

1. The ruins of Samar and Leyte – November 2013

Super typhoon “Yolanda” was the strongest, most terrifying storm that hit the Philippines (and the world) in 2013. Its strong winds and storm surges demolished houses and killed thousands of people in Eastern Visayas. During my fourth month as a reporter I was asked to go on a “road trip” across the region to survey the damage and pick up stories of survival and resilience two weeks after the typhoon struck. Every day of that unforgettable week was a new experience, reminding us that humans are but mere inhabitants of Earth and that tragedy brings the best and the worst out of everyone.

 

Some of the photos I took during our week-long coverage in Samar and Leyte (November 2013).

Some of the photos I took during our week-long coverage in Samar and Leyte (November 2013). Photos by Kristine Sabillo

 

Lessons learned:
(1) Research pays off. Reading about what was happening on the ground and gathering information from friends who had visited the place helped us plot our route and plan ahead.
(2) When the going gets tough, journalists stick together. When we were in the “war zone” we received a lot of help from fellow media practitioners. A TV5 crew even let us stay overnight in their makeshift camp in Guiuan. In Tacloban, we stayed with our brothers from the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
(3) There are different truths to a story. Always talk to the people on the ground. Don’t rely on government statements alone.

 

 

2. Hope for Bangsamoro – Cotabato, Maguindanao – April 2014

A month after the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was inked in Malacanang, I found myself on a plane to Mindanao. Joining a group of European ambassadors, I got a glimpse of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Camp Darapanan.  The two-day trip was exhausting but truly worth it. I was able to engage in small talk not only with the ambassadors but also with the MILF fighters. I learned a lot, enjoyed the company and the delicious food of our Muslim and IP brothers from the South.

 

Two days of back-to-back meetings and community visits in Cotabato and Maguindanao.

Two days of back-to-back meetings and visits to communities in Cotabato and Maguindanao (April 2014). Photos by Kristine Sabillo

 

Highlight of the trip: When we visited Camp Darapanan and the nearby school. Apparently the camp itself is a community of MILF fighters and their supporters. We also visited the Bangsamoro Transition Commission office where we enjoyed sumptuous servings of local food (including unbelievably large sugpo and a variety of sweet delicacies unique to Mindanao) and cultural performances.

 

Why I enjoyed the two-day visit: We were able to sit in on discussions with some of the stakeholders — the MILF, the communities, and the ARMM government — and learn more about their beliefs and stand on issues.

 

 

3. The religious frenzy of the Nazareno  – January 9, 2014

The Feast of the Black Nazarene was my longest coverage ever. We had three teams deployed to report on the procession and our pair (hello Nestea!) was assigned to cover the last leg, which lasted for 16 hours. While we did not swim in the sea of devotees (that would have made it impossible for us to post stories and livetweet), we were able to talk to the people and observe how the crowd behaved during the procession.

 

Devotees of brave a sea of people to reach and touch the image of the Black Nazarene.

Devotees brave a sea of people to reach and touch the image of the Black Nazarene (January 2014). Photos by Kristine Sabillo

 

Highlight of the coverage: The last leg of the procession when the Nazareno was being pulled into Quiapo church. The procession dragged on for 22 hours but the devotees were as energetic as ever. It was a chaotic and marvelous sight as the front of the church was bathed in light and devotees waved white towels and shouted, “Viva El Senor!”

 

4. Million People March – September 26, 2013

The Million People March was our (shoutout to Julliane) first big coverage as cub reporters. It was the biggest rally I had been to (not sure how it fared compared to the crowd after Corazon Aquino’s death). We were so tired that day because there were a lot of things going on at the same time. We had to be on the lookout for personalities, listen to speeches, look for color stories and also post updates on social media. I got tired from just walking around the park.

 

At the same time, it was a really interesting event. The middle and the upper classes, the ones you don’t normally see attending rallies, were there. It was a pity though to see some people doing their own thing, not really mingling with the other groups.

 

Police estimates around 100,000 people joined the march against pork barrel on August 26, 2013. Photos by Kristine Sabillo

Police estimates around 100,000 people joined the march against pork barrel on August 26, 2013. Photos by Kristine Sabillo

 

Lessons learned: (1) You should be familiar with personalities both in politics and entertainment. The next big news may be a bevy of celebrities attending the event; (2) Always be on the lookout for unusual stories.

 

5. Ruby Tuason testifies before the Senate

That look. Benhur Luy stares at Ruby Tuason as she testifies before the Senate (February 13, 2014). Photo by Kristine Sabillo

That look. Benhur Luy stares at Ruby Tuason as she testifies before the Senate (February 13, 2014). Photo by Kristine Sabillo

I was the assigned social media person for the day, livetweeting the event. I enjoy tweeting but it’s really challenging when you are competing with other media accounts. Be fast, be descriptive and post photos! During lull moments I was able to help out in breaking stories. And just when we thought our day was over, Senator Jinggoy Estrada allowed media to ask him questions in his office.

 

Favorite photo: The one that captured the smug look on Benhur Luy’s face as Ruby Tuason testified and bolstered his earlier statements.

 

6. World Economic Forum in Manila

I regret not taking a business reporting subject in college, especially after becoming mildly interested in political economy years later. And since I decided to take development studies (MA Philippine Studies) in grad school, I really wanted to cover the World Economic Forum in Manila. During the 2-day conference, I attended as many sessions as possible. The schedule was really really tight but I enjoyed rushing to and fro…I guess it was more of an educational experience than a coverage.

 

Information overload at the World Economic Forum on East Asia, held in Manila last May. Photos by Kristine Sabillo

Information overload at the World Economic Forum on East Asia, held in Manila last May. Photos by Kristine Sabillo

 

7. PMA grad – Baguio

Remember Cadet First Class Aldrin Jeff Cudia who was dismissed from the Philippine Military Academy? Oh how his family’s protest rocked the boat of an otherwise reserved institution. The graduation of Class Siklab Diwa was my first out-of-town coverage as a Palace reporter. We thought our day had ended (on the eve of the graduation) when printed statements from Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin were delivered to our sleeping quarters just across The Mansion in Baguio City. It confirmed that President Benigno Aquino III talked with Cudia’s family for two hours and promised them that their case will be personally handled by AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista.
The Long Gray Line (March 16, 2014). Photo by Kristine Sabillo

The Long Gray Line (March 16, 2014). Photo by Kristine Sabillo

 

 

Honorable mentions:
Obama at Malacanang – It’s not everyday that the president of the US drops by to have dinner at Malacanang
Bangsamoro Agreement signing
State of the Nation Address (SONA)

Reporter’s notebook: Trail of destruction outside Tacloban

Last week, Filipinos marked the first anniversary of the onslaught of super typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), which left more than 6,000 people dead when it struck the country in November 8, 2013. For our website’s special site, I recalled how our three-man team visited the different towns in Samar, which were affected by the typhoon.

 

Eastern Samar two weeks after super typhoon Yolanda. Photo by Kristine Sabillo

Eastern Samar two weeks after super typhoon Yolanda. Photo by Kristine Sabillo

Day 1 and 2: The new norm

Our three-person INQUIRER.net team left Manila on November 19 and reached Matnog port in Sorsogon the next day.

Expecting a long line of vehicles waiting to board roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) ships, we were surprised to find the roads clear. The port congestion caused by the massive pouring in of aid had already eased, after more ferries and ramps were deployed.

Travel was rough mid-way to Samar island, heavy rainfall pummeling the ship as it thrashed against large waves. Only an hour away, however, was the sunny and picturesque town of Allen in Northern Samar.

Read more: http://www.inquirer.net/142332/day-1-and-2-the-new-norm

 

Day 3: Tale of two towns

Reaching the eastern coast of the island, we began to see the effects of Supertyphoon Yolanda. Instead of the lush forest in the mountainous area we passed earlier, the trees near the coast looked lifeless, not a single leaf left. Even the mangroves weren’t spared as some were swept inland by the storm surge. Slabs of asphalt littered the sandy dirt-roads.

We drove in silence. Based on the trail of devastation alone, it was clear that Yolanda was something the country had never seen before.

Read more: http://www.inquirer.net/142353/day-3-tale-of-two-towns

 

Day 4: Forsaken land

It was definitely not part of our plan but we picked up a hitchhiker, a 69-year-old man in Salcedo, 16 kilometers away from Guiuan.

Mang Antonio was hoping to reach Tacloban, then Ormoc City, to catch a ferry to Davao where his other relatives lived.

We almost missed him, if not for a group of children who shouted and gestured at us to stop.

Picking up a hitchhiker seemed like a risk, but with no other vehicle in sight, the team decided to make room for another passenger.

Read more: http://www.inquirer.net/142414/day-4-forsaken-land

 

Day 5: War zone

Residents were opening up their makeshift shops, selling lechon (roasted pig), cigarettes and toiletries.

Lechon may be the last thing you would think of in a place like Tacloban, but with bodies still floating at sea, buying fish was out of the question.

Some of the men we talked to admitted to looting the items they were selling from factories or stores across the city. Others bought noodles at exorbitant prices from Catbalogan.

Read more: http://www.inquirer.net/142418/day-5-war-zone

The fallacy of SanrioTown and Hello-Kitty-not-a-cat announcement

Netizens woke up to bad news on Thursday.

No, it was not President Aquino’s statement accusing the Supreme Court of uber meddling. It was not even the very long press conference of Chief Justice Sereno.

image

Netizens all over the world learned that their beloved cartoon character Hello Kitty was not a cat…but a girl all along.

Read: http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/169833/hello-so-this-kitty-isnt-a-cat-after-all

So the cat is now out of the bag…well in this case, the girl.

“My life is a lie,” many young women posted on Twitter.

If we were led to believe that Kitty was a cat then what else could we have missed out on?

(more…)

Breaking news and breaking bones

On Wednesday, an accident at the Metro Rail Transit left at least 36 people injured. The wayward MRT coach was derailed and overshot the railings at Edsa-Taft station. People were shocked, to say the least.

My photo of the derailed MRT coach, several hours after the accident.

My photo of the derailed MRT coach, several hours after the accident.

I was at the media center at that time and was among the first who noticed the news. It was just a flash report, a four to five word breaking news head flashed at the bottom of the television screen. Reading the words aloud caught the attention of those seated beside me. For the next few minutes we scoured social media and found pictures and more reports on the accident.

(more…)

Ode to Sundays

On Sundays I wake up to the sound of my alarm then steal another 5 minutes of slumber. I close my eyes and imagine the nearly deserted roads outside.

For a change, I’m in a good mood, taking time to chat with my mother. I remember the years I lived alone in the city, the simple joys of making pancakes and scrambled eggs during days when I am already gloriously late for work.

On Sundays I let my skin breathe — just a touch of powder and a swipe of lipstick.

There are no long lines at the terminal or at the MRT. I breeze past deserted streets in Makati while listening to the soundtrack of the day. No radio news for me, let me worry about that when I get to the office.

(more…)

Rewind: Estrada 1-2-3, De Lima’s inspiration and Nora Aunor

Looming pain

Did you know that loom bands can make your pets ill? To be honest, I have no idea how and why loom bands became popular among Filipino adults — to the extent of Senator Jinggoy Estrada considering taking it up as a hobby while in jail.

***

I surrender – Estrada 1

Speaking of Jinggoy, the beleaguered lawmaker on Monday surrendered to his father, former president and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. Smart move. Was it the Estrada camp’s tactic to maintain dignity and save face? But then, did it really make a difference on the public’s perception?

***

Kapitapitagan

While President Aquino was busy meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim and Jica officials in Japan, comedienne-singer Cynthia Patag was apologizing to netizens for her earlier rant against “Yolanda” victims. Were all the victims “squatters”? But more importantly, after the unprecedented tragedy that hit the Philippines, don’t they deserve the right to seek government assistance and humane treatment? Fortunately, Filipinos were quick to accept Patag’s apology.

Instascrutiny – Estrada 2

Uh oh. Another lifestyle check via social media. Jinggoy’s son Jolo Estrada came under fire after allegedly posting photos of his “extravagant” lifestyle. Netizens have started comparing him to Jeane Napoles. Looks like our netizens are on a roll this week.

(more…)

Bon voyage, Mang Lauro

Dear Kuya Lauro,

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Kuya Lauro at San Juanico Bridge.

I had just arrived in Manila from a short trip to Mindanao when I received my editor’s message about your untimely death  caused by heart attack. It was the first message I received upon turning my mobile phone on.

My first thought was that you would have probably wanted to come with us…had you learned that we were going to the MILF camp in Maguindanao. The next was that I just saw you smiling last week.

I couldn’t really remember but I bet you had asked me about when we’ll be going back to Samar.

It was an indeed unforgettable trip for us. Our road trip to Samar and Leyte last November was like no other. It was an opportunity to learn about what our brothers in Eastern Visayas experienced during the onslaught of Super Typhoon “Yolanda,” what they were going through after the tragedy, and what we could do to help them. It was perhaps one of the most difficult coverages I had been through, especially since I was just a new reporter then. But you made things easier for us.

You not only drove us to our destination but also made the trip worthwhile. You made us laugh during an otherwise depressing week. You made sure we had something to eat and were comfortable in our sleep.

(more…)

The bearer of bad news

I should be happy now that I’m doing what I have always wanted to do. But I can’t help but think of the terrible news we have been writing about. I don’t believe in the idea of having/being a “jinx” but ever since I started writing news, really bad things started to happen in the country — monthly.

In August, there was flooding caused by the “habagat” that inundated Metro Manila and nearby provinces. In September, the Zamboanga City clashes between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front. In October, the Bohol quake, which also hit Cebu and other areas in Visayas and Mindanao. And in November came supertyphoon “Yolanda,” which washed out many villages and killed thousands of people.

Guiuan, Eastern Samar two weeks after supertyphoon "Yolanda" (Haiyan) devastated the region with its terrifyingly strong winds and deadly storm surges.

Guiuan, Eastern Samar two weeks after supertyphoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) devastated the region with its terrifyingly strong winds and deadly storm surges.

What is happening to our country?

These do not even include the incessant media killings and blatant assassinations. Just a while ago, at least four people were killed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Meanwhile, politicians waste time mudslinging instead of tending to policies and laws that will improve the lives of many people.

I don’t know if I’m just more sensitive now because I monitor the news almost everyday but even the old people say that things are getting worse. I can imagine that it will continue to happen until…until change happens. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I ponder…Is this a good time to be a journalist? No. If you think about the killings and the lies and the lack of accountability in the government. But also Yes. If you’re going to write and report about the truth (the real truth, not the ones peddled by a few) and the real situation of the people on the ground. Yes. If you are going to be part of a group that is not afraid to question the status quo. If you are someone who is determined to explain the news to the reader, to enlighten the public.

It is a perfect time to be a journalist because it is a perfect time for change.

(If you are not for change then what are you writing for?)

 

It has only been less than five months and I feel that I’ve been through a year of stories. I have been learning a lot and I expect to learn more in the years to come. There are days when I love the challenge, others when I fear it. But I have also learned to embrace that fear and use it to my advantage.

To be honest, I am scared of what will happen next year. I am afraid to fail. I am afraid that I would get lost. Almost everyday I wonder if what I did was right. If I wrote that story the way that it should be. If I let myself be used unwittingly by spin doctors.

We are always chasing stories. Sometimes we are running so fast we fail to read between the lines.

I am young. I have my faults. But I’d like to think that I am not that naive.

 

It is true. We are the bearers of bad news. We count the dead in our stories — reducing the heroes, the brave, the martyrs and even the criminals (poor and rich) to mere statistics. But it doesn’t have to be that way always. Many claim to be objective, to the point of being indifferent. But I would also like to think that the straight facts and clear language that we use make people feel something about the news.

I’d like to think that we write about those things not for the shock value or the controversy or the views but for people to draw lessons and strength from it.

We are the bearers of bad news but I hope that will push people into doing something good.

 

 

—–

P.S. If you’re a new reader, you should understand that I tend to write based on my stream of consciousness. I seldom edit myself when I write in a blog. But sometimes I do revise my work for the sake of clarity.

Some readings: The Story of 2013, Our Road Trip to Ground Zero (coming soon)

Changing lanes

Much has happened and changed this year. In fact, change is an understatement.

I’ve changed careers, relationship status (and back), and priorities.

It has been a rollercoaster ride these past few months and I struggled to deal with such big changes, mostly on my own.

Since I was a small child, writing has been my outlet. Now, I do it for a living. But there are still a lot of other things — some personal, some work-related — that I want to share with the world.

I hope that by reviving my blog, after more than a year of hiatus, I would be able to make sense of what I am going through and what is happening around me.