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). Photos by Kristine Sabillo
(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 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 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
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
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
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
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)