Behind the Scenes: Revisiting the deaf community

(Behind the Scenes is my attempt to shed light on how journalists — specifically me — research and do leg work for their stories. I hope that through such posts, the public will understand how a news or feature article is conceptualized, framed and packaged. Media literacy and transparency are a must in today’s cyber world of fake news and trolls.)

Earlier this year, I decided to again pursue a master’s degree. It was an eye-opening experience as I (and my eight classmates from all over Asia) attended daily classes and spent sleepless nights working on our papers. MA Journalism at Ateneo de Manila University is more difficult but also more impressive than I expected.

My favorite class is Advanced Reporting, undoubtedly the toughest subject this semester. During one of our sessions, we agreed to pursue children’s issues for our final paper. I chose the topic children with disabilities since I had always wanted to work on an article about persons with disabilities (PWD).

A few years ago, I researched about Filipino Sign Language and sign language insets for news programs. I met a lot of amazing people and learned more about the deaf community. I feel that many of the issues they face do not get enough attention from the media and the public even if there is a lot of terrific material available.

So for my final paper, I decided to write about the challenges that poor families face in sending their deaf children to school.

Revisiting old sources

I chose that topic even if I didn’t know anyone from the public sector that dealt with deaf issues so I ended up starting with institutions I was familiar with. I reintroduced myself to the people at St. Benilde’s School for the Deaf, which was one of the leaders in advocating for Filipino Sign Language. My interview with the dean gave me an idea of what the best practices are in deaf education. It is unbelievable that 98 percent of the school’s population are scholars and that the La Salle brothers spend P1.2 million for each student.

It was in their faculty center that I met Raymond, who is flying to Malaysia next year to study e-learning for deaf students. Raymond, who was born deaf, persevered in public school and received a coveted scholarship from Benilde, later becoming the school’s advocacy coordinator.

IMG_3013.jpgI ran out of people to talk to after that and I ended up e-mailing the Department of Education’s media office to set up an interview with a resource person on deaf education. The people at the media office were very accommodating and I ended up conducting a phone interview with Salve Olinares of the Student Inclusion Office (although it took me several days to finally get in touch with her). I made a surprise visit to Ms. Salve’s office the other day and she gave me a list of all public schools offering classes for deaf students, as well as the breakdown of deaf student enrollment this year. She said there are 77 public schools offering classes for the deaf plus 50 more from the private sector.

Facebook search for journalists

She couldn’t refer me to anyone from the local schools specifically so I decided to use my incredible Facebook search skills. I wanted to learn more about the Philippine School for the Deaf so I searched the name on Facebook and started reading posts about it from teachers, parents and students. I think I stalked messaged almost 10 people before I bagged an interview with a parent of a deaf elementary student.

Arlene, who works in Dubai, was very nice to me. She was kind enough to share with me her family’s story. From there, she gave me the contact details of her friend Rowena.

Through Rowena, I was (finally) able to enter the Philippine School for the Deaf, which has a nice big lawn and a garden where the children play. Hearing them laugh and shriek as they play tag made me realize that deaf children are just like other children. The only difference is that they use a visual language — sign.

I met Arlene’s son Bien and husband Benjie at the school. Both Rowena and Benjie were very candid and sincere in their interviews, recounting the difficulties they face in raising their children.

Rowena also introduced me to the guidance counselor, who in turn brought me to the school’s officer in charge.

During my interview with Ms. Irish and Ms. Cristina Amon, I learned that 22 percent of their students are from Cavite and that each class only has 10 to 15 students. They also told me that the biggest challenge they face is not lack of facilities or teachers but the inability of some parents to devote enough time to guide and communicate with their deaf children.



While browsing on Facebook, I came across a sign language video from a page called “Mata News.” I later met George, its founder, and his sister Kat at a coffee shop in Makati. The concept of Mata News is quite simple — for the deaf to deliver news to their fellow deaf Filipinos.

George, who is deaf because of a genetic disease, said deaf people often do not understand television news reports because of the lack of subtitles and inaccurate sign language interpretation.

I am using my interview with them for a sidebar story.

Serializing reports

Now that my first draft is in, I am thinking of ways to make my report more palatable and easy to digest. I will have to break the longer story into shorter pieces. My professor said serializing the report would be a great idea, especially since readers seldom have the attention span and the patience to read through a thousand-word article. A lot of people liked my last story — a 4,000-word article about a gay communist fighter who died two days before the ceasefire — but said it was too long.

I will have to rethink my goal of writing long-form reports and maybe find creative ways to present them to our audience.


For our readers, what else do you want to know about the deaf? For my fellow reporters, do you also use Facebook to find interviewees? How?



Long-form journalism: 7 must-read features on crime, death and tragedies

(Note: Didn’t mean to release this on Halloween but it’s only now that I found time to finish this blog post. Good timing, I guess.)

Lately, I find myself reading more crime features — chilling stories of rape and murder that leave me feeling both scared and awed.

I come across them on my Facebook feed, just before I head to bed. I read the gory details late at night until I strain my eyes.

Almost as long as a novelette and with a more incredible plot than the staple crime novel, these pieces are part of what we now call long-form journalism.

People like me who work in online media are often told of the shrinking attention span of readers. And yet there is a growing market for long-form journalism.

I am not the kind of person who is captivated by violence (In fact, I find it difficult to finish reading Nick Joaquin’s compilation “Reportage on Crime”) and yet my eyes are glued to these multimedia stories that document the macabre and the depraved. Continue reading

Going on adventures with Dad

I guess you could call me a Daddy’s girl.

While I spent most of my infancy with my Mom, it was my Dad who had more time in his hands when I started going to school. He would help me get ready every morning by tying my hair into pigtails, a cute memory that would later make me think if it was his decision to have my hair chopped off so I can sport the then trendy (but ugly) “apple haircut.”

On weekends or during vacations, I would remember having short walks with him — to the nearby store or club house. Sometimes, he would carry me on his bike (One day we both fell off and I had a nasty wound on my knee, which was also the reason why I have vowed never to ride a bicycle again).

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Interviewing Bongbong Marcos. Screengrab from Inquirer's Youtube channel.

Behind the scenes: Interviewing Alan, Bongbong, Leni and Sonny

Four vice presidential candidates, a pair of sofa chairs, a smartphone on a tripod and a multi-camera set-up.

It was our first Facebook Live interview series and I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to ask the candidates questions face-to-face.

Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. each had their chance in the hot seat to answer queries from social media, our editor in chief John Nery, and me. Continue reading

7 reasons why I enjoy flying (despite incessant thoughts of a plane crash)

PR1815 bound for Davao City — (12:25 nn) I am tens of thousands of feet above ground as I write this. The flight has been turbulent despite the good weather (Yes Mr. pilot, this is a shout out to you) but I don’t mind. Here, above cumulus clouds and blue waters, I am at peace.

Usually, when I ride an airplane, I brace myself for a crash. It’s because I believe that the more I travel, the higher the probability that I will figure in an accident. I am like that when I ride almost all forms of transportation (except trains, which are my favorite). I am fatalistic and I consider death an inevitability. But I digress. Continue reading

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco


In between travels, I finally finished this book.
Book #2016001
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
The plot of Umberto Eco’s latest novel, Numero Zero, had a lot of promise — conspiracies, fascism, journalist hacks and murder. Unfortunately, the execution was disappointing.

It was a slow, excruciating read for me. I had to trudge through 4/5 of the book with only dialogue pushing the story forward.

I got a few nice cynical quotes on journalism but other than that it wasn’t what I expected it to be. Nevertheless, I am impressed by Umberto Eco’s use of intertextuality.

Favorite quotes:

“Don’t use the word ‘blackmail.’ We publish news. As the New York Times says, ‘All the news that’s fit to print.'”

“To know what to include in a newspaper, you have, as journalists say, to set the agenda. There’s no end of news in this world…It’s not the news that makes the newspaper, but the newspaper that makes the news.”

“Note that ‘making news’ is a great expression. We’re the ones who make the news, and we must know how to make it emerge between the lines.”

“The point is that newspapers are not there for spreading news but for covering it up.”

What’s it like to be a strong woman’s daughter

My mom and I have a complicated relationship. We love each other very much but keep us in one room and sooner or later we’ll find something to disagree on or quarrel about.

I tell her that I acquired my quick temper (which I am able to manage when we’re kilometers away from each other) from her. Or perhaps I’m just less patient with her. You see, my mom, like every other concerned mother in the planet, can be overbearing at times.

This is one of the reasons why I choose to live away from home. We definitely have a better relationship when we’re away from each other and our interactions are reduced to concerned text messages and calls. After all, doesn’t absence make the heart grow fonder?

(As a manager though, she’s had very good relations with her agents. I guess she’s just overbearing with her children :p)

The truth is, people are probably right in saying that we have the same personality and that’s the reason why we often clash.

I can imagine my mom reading this and shaking her head. Isn’t this supposed to be a tribute to her? But it is. Despite everything that we have been through, at the end of every emotional struggle in my life, I would have to say that “mother knows best.”

My mom has kept our family together. She has provided for us, done a lot to keep us happy during challenging times.

I might see her as overbearing at times, but instead of pushing us away, she scoops me and my brother back into the family circle.

She is the most rational person I have ever met and that trait of hers has kept me afloat. She also thought me not to be judgmental and instead be more caring towards other people.

She is the epitome of sacrifice. She has given a lot up for my father, me and my brother. She is the most non-materialistic person I have ever known. Isusubo na lang, ibibigay pa sa amin. She waives her share whenever we buy treats, just to satisfy our own cravings. Such simple gestures remind me that she loves us so much.

And so despite our clashing personalities, my mom remains my biggest fan, supporter and benefactor. I feel at ease knowing that when the going gets tough I can always go home and rely on her…to remind me that even if the rest of the world hates me, rejects me, I will always be loved by her and our family.

Thank you ma for loving me unconditionally and teaching me to become a strong woman like you. Happy birthday ma!


Learning from Humans of New York

Since re-discovering Humans of New York, I have been religiously reading each post, as well as some of the top comments. I am not ashamed to say that I cry almost every week now because of some of the things I read there.

It has allowed me to see parts of the world that need to be seen and read about stories that help me put my life into perspective.

It inspires me and reminds me why I wanted to become a journalist in the first place: to tell stories that matter, make an impact and move people to do things that they don’t normally do.

Every day is a new experience, a new insight.

I share stories that I find moving, funny, or relatable. But the most powerful ones for me are the stories that I cannot personally relate to–stories of tragedy, of unsurmountable challenges, of deep and unforgettable heartbreaks. These are the stories that inspire, give hope and convince people to change the world–if only to make it better for people who have already suffered a lot.

Screengrab from Humans of New York Facebook Page

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Storming through Davao Oriental

Earlier this month, my wish to return to Mindanao came true. I was given the chance to visit three towns that bore the brunt of typhoon Pablo’s wrath in 2012.

As someone who has spent her whole life living in a city, I marveled at the beauty of Davao Oriental’s enchanting mountains and photogenic shores. How remarkable it is that I am looking at the Pacific Ocean while in one of the most fascinating places in the country!

Dahican beach in Mati, Davao Oriental

Dahican beach in Mati, Davao Oriental

But the ocean’s strong waves reminded me also of the threats faced by the province. What was once a region known for its predictable weather has now been battered by strong typhoons, killing hundreds of hapless residents. “Pablo jolted us to the reality of climate change!” said one of the local environmental planners we interviewed.

A fellow reporter and I went to Davao to get interviews and data for’s special report on climate change. During our visit, we learned about how local governments implemented disaster risk reduction plans and how residents were trying to recover.

It has been almost three years since the towns of Banganga, Cateel and Boston were devastated by typhoon Pablo but the effects of the typhoon will probably be felt for a long time. Imagine majority of coconut trees being wiped out in less than 24 hours, instantly stripping rural communities of livelihood and source of food.

We still have a lot of work to do and the results of our investigation will hopefully be published in the coming months but the visit has also given me insights on issues not covered by our report.

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Saying goodbye

More than a year ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. His body and mind started to weaken. We didn’t understand what was happening. As a septuagenarian, he was a relatively strong man and had managed to leave the house on his own to regularly visit relatives in Metro Manila. But that was before his illness caught up with him. By 2014, he couldn’t walk anymore. One of his doctors said he had Parkinson’s disease as well.

Exactly a week ago, he passed away, at age 78, leaving behind my loving grandmother, my mother and the rest of our close-knit family. His death certificate says the immediate cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest aspiration pneumonia. We didn’t expect it. Just days before his death, my uncle bought him a mattress pad to prevent bed sores.

Needless to say, the past week had been tough for all of us. Up until the very end, my grandmother couldn’t let go of him. I had trouble concentrating on work and would cry at the littlest of things.

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

Team 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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