Uncovering Asia

Digging data, digging graves

Christmas came early for me this year when I was given the opportunity to participate in “Uncovering Asia,” the first investigative journalism conference in the continent.

Team INQUIRER.net at Uncovering Asia. (L-R) Me, Editor-in-Chief John Nery, NewsLab Lead Matikas Santos, and reporter Julliane Love De Jesus.

Team INQUIRER.net at Uncovering Asia. (L-R) Me, Editor-in-Chief John Nery, NewsLab Lead Matikas Santos, and reporter Julliane Love De Jesus.

For two days in November, our team attended lectures on investigative reporting, security and data journalism. During coffee and lunch breaks we were able to chat with fellow journalists from different parts of the region.

While Asia is known for its diversity, the conference showed that journalists from various nations face similar challenges. It made us realize that we can learn a lot from the experiences of our colleagues.

Uncovering Asia reminded me to think outside the box, to dig deeper for data, and to maximize opportunities for collaboration.

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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:

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?



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.

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Bon voyage, Mang Lauro

Dear Kuya Lauro,


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.

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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?

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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.