Letters for auction: The cruel fate of Gregoria de Jesus, Aguinaldo’s election fraud and other interesting stories

IMG_7785Earlier this month, I found myself dining with other journalists on a 200-year-old table which was used to entertain the likes of Jose Rizal, local elites and members of the royal families from Russia, Cambodia and Japan. As I finished my slice of Canonigo cake, I thought about how good the food – with recipes dating back to the 19th century – tasted.

Around us were paintings of Malang, Amorsolo and other famous painters. But what made me return to that place were several pieces of yellow and fragile paper tucked away in one of the display cases.

Bonifacio letters

The first time I visited Leon Gallery was earlier this year when I reported about their first quarter auction, which included letters from Andres Bonifacio to his close friend Emilio Jacinto.

The letters were deemed rare, according to curator Lisa Nakpil, because Bonifacio was “a man on the run.” Continue reading

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Slingshooting with the pros

A kid with a slingshot aiming at a bird is just one of the images that come to mind when people talk about the “tirador.” It’s one of those trusty childhood toys Filipino kids played with before they were introduced to matchbox cars and Barbies. Like tumbang preso, materials are free and easily gathered from household items and the nearby tree.

Unfortunately, that was before my time. I never played with slingshots or even tin cans. So I was quite intrigued when I was assigned to do a story on the Philippine Slingshot Federation, a group of “tirador” enthusiasts who want slingshooting to be recognized as a sport in the Philippines. Continue reading

7 churches for Visita Iglesia in Quezon City

If you’re like me and you only have one rest day for Holy Week, you’ll probably end up staying in the city. Why not make it worthwhile by following the Catholic tradition of Visita Iglesia? You not only get to pray and reflect but also visit beautiful historical and cultural landmarks.

Yesterday, I visited seven churches in Quezon City for my report for Bandila. Watch our television report below (in Filipino) or continue reading (in English) about the churches I chose.

Santo Domingo Church – Known also as the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila, the Santo Domingo Church is the largest Catholic church in Metro Manila. If you read my previous Visita Iglesia post, you’ll know that it was constructed, based on the design of architect Jose Zaragoza, after the original church in Intramuros was destroyed during World War II. Continue reading

Manila Cathedral

7 churches to visit for a historical tour of Intramuros

Ornate carvings and intricately-painted ceilings are just some of the things you’ll see as you tour the churches of Intramuros. Each church has a story to tell, whether it be about how it survived the bombings of World War II or how old ruins paved the way for new buildings.

More than a week ago, my camera crew and I were the first media group to visit the seven places after the Department of Tourism (DOT) started promoting Intramuros for faith-based tourism. You can watch my report (featuring DOT and Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks) in Filipino here or read about the seven churches in English below.

Continue reading

Cityscapes: Petronas Twin Towers or KL Tower?

Model buildings and tiny toy cars. Everything looks miniature and enchanting when you’re on top of an observation deck, looking down at a city basking under the sun or encased in a cloud of fog. At night, the city bares another side of its soul as colorful lights illuminate its skyscrapers and iconic buildings.

Petronas Twin Towers

Petronas Twin Towers

If you’re like me, you don’t get queasy at the thought of being hundreds of meters above ground. Instead, you take delight in the scenic view and the opportunity to see the city in all its glory, from its cluster of majestic buildings to its long, curvy stretches of river-like freeways.

If you’re visiting a famous city, you should at least considering visiting one observation deck. And in the case of the bustling city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia there are two iconic buildings to check out – the Petronas Twin Towers and the KL Tower.

When you’re on a tight schedule and/or a tight budget, you’ll end up visiting only one and it can be a tough choice if you know you won’t return to the country anytime soon. Continue reading

Reshaping climate reporting: four challenges and one sign of hope

GlobalChallengesFoundationA month or so ago, I wrote a piece for the quarterly report of Sweden-based Global Challenges Foundation. It was a delight working with the team and contributing to the discourse on the role of media in the fight against climate change.

Below is a copy of my essay and here’s a link to the full report: https://globalchallenges.org/…/quar…/watchdog-for-the-future

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The force unleashed by super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has been described as comparable to that of an atomic bomb. The statement should not be discarded as pure rhetorical excess. Although typhoons leave no lasting radiation behind, they do release energy that is sometimes equivalent to multiple nuclear explosions. 

The devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan confirmed this. It exploded on the city of Tacloban, where storm surges claimed the lives of thousands of people. Journalists like myself sent to survey the aftermath of the typhoon considered it a war zone. Villages were reduced to rubble. Bodies littered the streets. The living had nowhere to go. Continue reading

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.

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Sidestory

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.

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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