Unapologetically passionate

I didn’t “breeze through” the media industry. Nobody who puts story above self ever does.

I didn’t survive just by showing up and doing well each day at work. I literally used up my own money for stories to get out. Yet in all of that, the story was always priority for me. Not myself.

Even when times were tough financially, I said no directly to people’s faces (politician, PR) when wads of cash were dangled in front of me. I left a job when an editor exhibited unethical decision-making, even though the retainer fee was a big deal for me then as a freelancer. I took all types of jobs imaginable — and at the most bottom of the pyramid even though I already had previous full-time multimedia reportorial experience — in the industry just to prioritise stories (and yes, showcase my enterprising spirit) as a freelancer, while my peers stayed on in mid-level positions more relatively stable than I had. Etc.

In all that, I never let my words or behaviour precede the level of actual output under my name. (Yes, many types of media work I did involved not carrying your own byline.) People I worked for (even though they say I worked with and not for them) taught me that.

It’s easy to say you can do this or that, until of course you’re actually the one placed in a position to make those decisions. As my former boss always says, you draw the line. But you can’t really test yourself until somebody attempts to push that line, shove it up your ass while the conditions around you make it tempting to blur the line.

People’s tastes are for a reason, and it’s mostly because of experience.

So, yes, I take my job seriously and am very grateful I overcame the tough times.

I still consider myself lucky, not in relation to my social circle (because entitlement pervades among us) but in relation to my story subjects. That luck is for me to appreciate, not for others to use as artillery to devalue my efforts. After all, I make sure I use that luck to help generate empathy to those not too lucky.

With all that’s been invested, it’s not just a vocation for me. As long as I don’t step on or harm other people, I’m unapologetically passionate about my work.


(Still) Trying

I entered journalism around six years ago seeing it as this purely enjoyable, unlimited source of happiness. It was, for quite some time for me. I loved writing. I was genuinely curious about the world and other people’s lives. I then got assigned to beats that exposed me to how unfair society is, how the moneyed almost always gets their way, how those with connections are at a disproportionate advantage, and how social problems have become more or less cyclical. So when it became a source of frustration and at times even of deep sadness, I started rejecting it and wanting to abandon it. I jumped ship, leaving the profession I so loved. I resigned from what was then my dream job. After two months, I came back to the profession with more clarity in intention and maturity in my approach to processing social power dynamics. Experience forces you to come up with what your acceptable calculus is in life. It forces you to contemplate what you truly value — what you are willing to risk losing and what your principles cannot stand to forego. And, after that experience, I have come to accept that the ills in society may not ever cease to exist but it’s nice to try to end them anyway while we can still try.

I’m re-sharing this Youtube video below of my favorite athlete, Alicia Sacramone (now Alicia Sacramone-Quinn), as a reminder that good things may not ever come but it gives you peace of mind to know that you tried.

Sacramone retired from gymnastics after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, falling on her feet during a simple landing and going off bounds in her floor routine as well as falling off the beam during her beam routine.

She then returned to her craft at an age very few gymnasts would peak at, but modelled grace and gave the best performances of her career during her comeback.

She never made it back to the next Olympics due to the make-up of the US team in 2012. There was an abundance of vault specialists in their pool. US even had the then reigning world champion (and later Internet meme sensation), McKayla Maroney, at that time. Although Sacramone garnered Olympic-level scores and even placed second on both her events during trials, being a vault and beam specialist, Sacramone was sidelined in favor of all-arounders and the badly needed bar specialists.

Still, she had a solid world-class two-year run after her initial retirement.

She is celebrated to this day as the comeback kid, with stellar performances in her 20s even when gymnasts usually peak in their teens. For all the subsequent as well as future Olympic gold medalists in US gymnastics after her, I’m sure she inspired and will inspire dozens of them. She was mother hen to them during her comeback.

She is now among the most decorated gymnasts in the world in terms medals bagged in the yearly world championships, owing to her longevity in the sport. Even though my work has nothing to do with physical tumbles, she is still a powerful source of inspiration to me to this day.

As she put it about her comeback, she wasn’t trying to change how others viewed her but how she viewed herself. That picture of her falling in Beijing in 2008 — what she called an “uncharacteristic mistake” — kept popping up. So she decided it won’t be what she is reminded of when she thinks of her career, that she will end it in a high note she wanted. And she did. She retired after the 2012 US Olympic trials.

I’m sharing this now for those like me who might find this real-life woman of steel a source of inspiration, one way or the other.

Happy Women’s Month!

New year’s resolve

In my teenage years, I would type my feelings away like a madman for the world to consume. (Oh, Multiply!) These days, that can get too emotionally taxing considering I get to witness others’ emotional toil on a regular basis. For that reason, I can’t tell you how my year went.

I can, however, tell you how the year went for many others who I most likely only got to spend a day or a fraction of a day with. I reckon that short time to an extent defined their year.

That’s the thing with a journalist’s job. You get to be there during other people’s most vulnerable moments — their triumphs, their most painful sorrows.

I still don’t know why they talk to us. But if it in any way helps with the pain, I’m glad I lent an ear.

I can tell you that just before the previous year ended, the parents of a slain soldier from the 5-month-long Marawi battle took us to their son’s grave at a state cemetery (supposedly) reserved for heroes. That they stared at the grave teary-eyed while I pounded the questions needed for a soundbite.

That when the brother and sister of a slain Filipino migrant worker whose body was found inside a freezer of an abandoned apartment in Kuwait came to see their sibling’s remains arrive back in the Philippines, we were there to shout and say someone was blocking the frame of the camera zooming in on their loud cries.

That at the start of the year, a family living along a dirty creek in Manila’s Chinatown opened their doors to me and my cameraman for a Chinese New Year story. Their hospitality put a 5-star hotel’s to shame.

That when the Philippines’ state rice reserve ran low, a family of eight reliant on state-subsidized rice who survived on a mere 90USD a month opened their doors to me and my cameraman. They did not ask for anything but they shared their daily life anyway.

That when the paradise island of Boracay shut down, dozens of informal workers, tribespeople, and locals opened their doors to my team. Six months of the island’s closure meant their children stopped schooling, their needed maintenance medications could not be bought, their debts piled up. None of them asked for anything.

That when local executive officials started getting murdered in almost consecutive days — 3 in 5 days — the living kin of these officials had to endure grieving in front of television cameras. That we listened to their funeral speeches of what a great father politician x was, and we let the world know violence can be spread through words too.

That when Typhoon Mangkhut hit, farmers were back on the fields at the first sign of the typhoon dying down, checking for losses. That the people in evacuation centers are the same people you’ll see there each typhoon season — families living in houses made of light materials, rebuilding homes after each typhoon hitting their locality. That in the village of Ucab in the mining town of Itogon, dozens of families grieved for miners whose bunkers were buried in a massive landslide from the side of the mountain that never experienced landslides before. That families allowed us into funeral masses and fathers and mothers cried before our camera, without asking for anything, without making us feel like we were vultures. They just shared their story.

That by the end of the year, when it became clear that the Philippines’ record-high inflation in September (the highest in nine years) coincided with the lowest ratings of the country’s leader and the poor getting poorer was the story of the year or at least the story to end or recap the year, a limping (due to her paralysis) homeless mother let us into her corner of the sidewalk and showed us her daily life, cooking rice with her improvised stove. Since prices of goods shot up, she only got to eat once a day instead of twice a day previously. Her husband died of hepatitis. Her children are all married and living with their in-laws, and she doesn’t want to be a burden or cause of disagreement. Their community in Cavite province had suffered a massive fire, and she has since called that corner of the sidewalk her home.

I can tell you so much more, but I’ll stop there.

I can tell you that in all these times and more, I hope I have done more. Perhaps if there is any resolve I should dare muster this coming year, it is that I do more. It is a self-reminder, lest others think I’m making them beholden to my own standards. It’s been 6 years that I’ve been doing this thing professionally, but the shame is still there. (Somebody older tell me if the shame ever goes away.) I am ashamed that I haven’t done enough. The best we did was to tell a story that got read or viewed and then forgotten.

This is not a post apt for a holiday greeting. But for what it’s worth…

Here’s to the resolutions we aim to keep, to the relationships that sustain us, the roofs over our heads shielding us from the rain, the physical spaces we get to call our own. Here’s to the workplaces that secure both our comfort and needs, to friends who value us, to conversations that enrich the soul, to the work that keeps our minds busy and our stomachs full — filling both our hearts and tummies. Here’s to our lives’ passions, to the feeling of accomplishment for work well done. Here’s to sights that behold, keeping us in awe of life and the giver of life. Here’s to food that awakens the taste buds — reminding us of the good life not everyone is privileged to experience, but in that moment even for a brief midnight meal, we actually get to.

It is a happy new year!

Abuse of women must not go unpunished

Worldwide, one in three women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Thirty-eight percent of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner. [1]

These numbers reflect not necessarily the actual incidence of violence against women but the number of reported incidents, which means victims need to be empowered to be more courageous in reporting abuse.

According to the World Health Organization, unequal gender norms including attitudes accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women make men more likely to perpetrate violence against their female partners which can lead these women to depression, post-traumatic stress and other anxiety disorders, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.

Maria (alias) is a survivor of intimate partner violence, after her live-in partner repeatedly shoved a knife to her face. She was thrown out of their shared apartment with only her undergarments, begging for help.

No one in their building dared help her. People even shut their doors, as her partner shouted over and over that he was going to kill her.

When a knife is shoved at your face one too many times by the person you love, the world becomes confusing. The forces of good become evil, and love as you perceive it to be is no longer safe. When the person you love does that to you, in that moment, you feel like nothing is ever secure anymore.

A common theme in intimate partner violence is the narcissist-empath dynamic, where one partner feeds off the selflessness of the other.

Each time the abusive partner drains you, you let out little squeals of help. He projects to others around him that you’re crazy and that he is the stable one. But he is standing on your broken back, leaning on shoulders made fragile by him.

Domestic abuse victims often find themselves burdened even more by the psychological warfare launched by their partners.

Lawyer Mary Antoniette Calimag, who investigates cases of violence against women and children (VAWC) for the Philippine government, explains that violence directed towards women-spouses is often cyclical. [2]

Calimag believes a husband who has abused his wife for the first time often adapts to a pattern of violence in the home, which is why even first-time offenders must be prosecuted.

Women may be stuck in abusive relationships if their partners are left unpunished.

She said a number of domestic violence victims withdraw their allegations against their partner, after filing an initial complaint. In the end, it is always the choice of the woman that must be respected.

One of agent Calimag’s most memorable cases involved an allegedly abused pregnant woman, who came to her office while having contractions. Visibly suffering from pain, the woman was told to go home in the meantime.

Unknown to them, the woman was also the subject of a criminal complaint for qualified theft filed by his abusive live-in partner. The woman suddenly found herself the one faced with prosecution.

Advocate-lawyer June Ambrosio, who has handled and secured legal victories in high-profile VAWC cases in the past, explains the need for continuity of care to make sure victims are coping with trauma even after perpetrators have been charged. [3]

In jurisdictions with VAWC legislation, acts of violence against women and children are considered a public crime. Ideally by law, those who report such incidents must be accorded immunity from suit in relation to their reporting.

“You have every right to step in. If you’re just a neighbor, but you saw the act of abuse, you can come in and report,” explained Ambrosio.

“Before, when it comes to domestic violence, people relegate it to mere marital dispute. Now, that’s no longer the case,” she added.

In the case of Maria (alias), she was already begging one of their neighbors for help in calling authorities during that episode when her knife-wielding partner exhibited violence towards her.

“It’s hard to get involved in things like that,” her neighbor told her in the vernacular, as he shut his door.

The numbers are alarming. Forty-two percent of women who experience intimate partner violence report an injury as a consequence of this violence. Women who experienced intimate partner violence were 16% more likely to suffer a miscarriage and 41% more likely to have a pre-term birth. They were almost twice as likely to experience depression and problem drinking.

Ensuring accurate statistics is also a challenge, as not all incidents are reported. Women need to be better empowered to report cases of abuse as well as leave abusive and cyclical relationships.

Less than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort in majority of countries with available data, according to UN Women. This, despite records showing that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against women are current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends. (END)


Involved in post-crash care for a year

To those who don’t know, this is what’s been up in my life in the background the past year: http://workersofph.com/2018/10/09/road-safety-2/

As a producer across the sea gives my cue through an earpiece to go live on air, someone close to me was lying in a hospital bed. Never told a single editor. Never made it an excuse.

I still couldn’t write about it from a first-person perspective, but my editors in this journalism fellowship saw that it was fine to write about it in an article about road safety. Here’s another related article I wrote about road safety under the same fellowship: http://workersofph.com/2018/10/04/road-safety-1/

I am amazed at the resilience of the human body and by the goodness of God. Stronger of course is the man who himself went through the actual incident.

We are better for it. I am, for sure. Life’s been good, because God is.

To the Overseer and Chief Musician, in this musical called Life.


Mothers’ influence could help counter spread of violent extremism among youth, research shows

Women have always been seen as victims in the context of war. But they are uniquely positioned to be purveyors of peace.

A mother’s influence over young people at risk of being swayed by recruiters of violent extremist groups could help prevent eventual radicalization.

This was among the research findings reinforced in a series of focused group discussions held in early 2018 in various parts of Southern Philippines, areas of which have long been hounded by recurring clashes between government troops and various militant groups.

The subject focused group discussions were part of a larger project supported by the Global Center for Cooperative Security involving research and advocacy on women addressing violent extremism in the Bangsamoro, an envisioned Southern Philippines entity and governance structure seen as a solution to decades-long conflict in the restive region.

Philippine congress passed the law creating the so-called Bangsamoro entity that will share power with the national government but at the same time have fiscal and economic autonomy, prompted by a peace deal between the government and leaders of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The focused group discussions were held in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Norte and Maguindanao. They were participated by women from tribal communities, civil society organizations and the youth sector from these areas as well as from Lanao del Sur including Marawi City.

According to the women in the discussions, recruitment of young people by radical Islamic militant groups was happening in their areas and mothers are seen as influencers over their children’s decision-making.

Given this influence, parents and adult guardians were recommended to engage young people and to openly talk to them about the alarmingly dangerous consequences of being recruited.

In May 2017, members of the homegrown terror group Maute which pledged allegiance to the global jihadist terrorist group Daesh or ISIL took control of key parts of the Southern Philippine city of Marawi. The five-month long battle that ensued in the city led to the deaths of 87 civilians, 974 militants and 168 soldiers, as well as the displacement of some 200,000 residents.

Intelligence reports indicated that recruitment by the Maute group continued even after Marawi was declared liberated from terrorists by the government in October 2017. Such reports later became the basis, among others, for the year-long extension of military rule in the entire Southern Philippines.

Emerging themes in the subject discussions, however, went beyond the Marawi context. They included the forms of violent extremism perceived and experienced by women in the covered Bangsamoro areas as well as the key role of family in preventing violent extremism.

“When your father and mother respects each other and loves you as their child, there is a sense of security in your personhood,” said one of the participating women in the vernacular, as documented by the group’s moderator.

Researchers involved in the project acted as moderators in the discussions.

In Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, a lot of the women in the discussions were afraid to speak, according to their moderator.

Peace Education

Young people are pushed to the the brink of extremism by usual factors such as poverty and social neglect. Indications surfaced in the focused group discussions that they are wooed into recruitment by militant groups with money, gadgets, vehicles and, in some cases, even with husbands for young women and scholarship programs.

Being in the grip of poverty and out of school made young people especially vulnerable.

A demographic of rich, intelligent young people being radicalized was also noted.

One recommendation that surfaced in the discussions involved the incorporation of peace education in the teachings of senior Muslim religious leaders — who are members of Ulama Councils in these conflict areas — to counter misguided radical views. These councils provide scholarly interpretation of the Quran and are respected in the community.

Given the vulnerability to radicalization by virtue of very limited options for social mobility of not just the youth but individuals of all ages who have been displaced due to conflict, it was also recommended that Ulama Councils bring their peace education efforts in evacuation centers that temporarily house internally displaced people.

To combat erroneous perceptions that incite division based on religious beliefs, women participating in the discussions likewise recommended continuing interreligious dialogues in these areas.

Technology play a role in the recruitment process by Islamic militant groups, with young people being recruited through social media given the high participation rates of the youth in these online platforms.

Women involved in the discussions proposed for more “youth-centric counter-approaches” against extremism, including sports fests and peace camps on top of more traditional peace-building measures such as dialogues and conferences.

They also urged parents to monitor the social media accounts of minors under their care.

Women’s Awareness

Among the forms of violent extremism perceived and experienced by women who participated in the discussions were clan feuds, human trafficking, politically-motivated violence, lawless acts by groups that misinterpret the Islamic tradition, and military atrocities.

Indications surfaced that women in the covered areas are aware when dubious deals are being peddled by such groups with vested interests.

“If money is the first thing given to you before you are asked to do something, that only means it is not a good transaction,” another participant was quoted as saying by one of the researchers.

Women were observed to have been recruited and participated in acts of violent extremists by facilitating the sending of money that funded their operations. Women were seen as less intimidating and drew less suspicions compared to their male counterparts. 

Women likewise observed the proliferation of firearms and high-powered weapons in conflict-ridden areas, usually concealed in sacks.

Political dynasties were seen as a breeding ground for conflict.

In Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, violent extremism was attributed to political violence more than anything else including violence perpetrated with warped religious underpinnings.

Clan feuds — locally known as “rido” — were also seen to have paralyzed the development of the community.

All in all, mediation, education and the provision of livelihood were seen as common solutions to these various forms of violent extremism. (END)  


In support of Rappler’s brand of journalism

Rappler isn’t perfect. Far from it.

The editors know this. The reporters are young. Or at least, much younger than many of their counterparts in print and television. It’s probably only in Rappler where fresh graduates can cover the prime beats that are usually handed to veteran reporters, a supposed transition treated in the newspaper world as a reward for seniority in experience and in talent. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be one of the young reporters Rappler’s editors invested in.

When you’re a bright-eyed twenty-something journalist certain to slay dragons and you’re thrown in the middle of a pack who could – as the idiom goes – do the work in their sleep, it is a world of seemingly endless navigation of the trite and sometimes destructive industry tricks.

The status quo is there for a reason. It is convenient. It works for many. It doesn’t always and necessarily mean that it’s bad. But it also doesn’t mean it’s the best that we can do.

It was in my first beat where a veteran journalist questioned me – with all the candor of a Filipino reporter that I’ve come to love – about the funding of my employer. Almost everyday, Rappler was the butt of jokes about funding sources and ownership. There was a theory that the tycoon Manny Pangilinan owned Rappler, and another theory that it was built solely for the purpose of having the late Chief Justice Renato Corona impeached.

Perhaps, people were just curious about these seemingly unconventional young lads and lasses equipped with Macbooks and iPhones running around government offices like there was always an emergency, constantly on the phone with an editor, constantly on his or her smartphone tweeting this and that. Looking back, we actually looked pretty funny in those times.

Before anyone else in Philippine media started doing Facebook lives, Rappler reporters were already recording interviews with government officials using their iPhones for the now-defunct online-only 6 PM Rappler Newscast that Maria Ressa anchored. The Rapplers were the in-betweens, the odd ones in the pack. The radio and print reporters had their radios, recorders, pens and papers. The TV reporters had their cameramen. The Rapplers had their smartphones video-recording the interview.

Today, almost every reporter regardless of their employer’s primary medium is using his or her smartphone for reporting or livestreaming of an interview. That wasn’t always the case. Back then, it was always the Rappler reporter who the television cameramen shouted at to say, “Ulo mo, miss. ‘Yung cellphone, sapaw! Cellphone! (Your head, miss. Your cellphone is blocking our frame! Your cellphone!)”

I mastered the art of successfully physically elbowing much taller men as a young Rappler reporter. But boy is it a rat race now of cellphones in the air blocking TV camera angles in sudden doorstep interviews. Things have… changed. And journalists are doing a lot more work than they used to.

It was the Rappler reporter who broke stories first because he or she had to tweet a line, and everyone else had full-story deadlines much later in the day. Now, live-tweeting has become a norm. Back then, people dreaded that. Or maybe they still do now, but their employers have either encouraged or required them anyway.

Rapplers were a burden to the traditional journalist, because they provided them with added work. Now, news agencies have started hiring separate digital-only journalists to support their primary reporters.

Rappler was in many ways a first mover in Philippine media, especially in digital media.

But the whispers about Rappler’s ownership had always been there since day one, like there was some sinister ploy by Rappler’s Maria Ressa to unfairly take down powerful people.

What readers don’t always know is that so many much juicier and newsworthy issues never see print. When you’re a reporter, you hear directly from sources at the beat how things actually are. But as a journalist, you are bound by publication standards. You can’t always publish anything you hear or see. Journalism ethics require that you examine newsworthiness, probe further, find and present proof, gather from multiple sources, etc. That takes time and grit.

When a government official is comfortable enough with you as a reporter, the stories are endless. He tells you one at lunch. He tells you another one over the phone. He tells the pack a juicy story after the on-camera interview. He tells the pack another story when out on dinner.

At Rappler, perhaps because there is no strict hierarchy, you tell your editors everything. Back then, my editors were like my counsellors not just in journalism but also in my personal life. And because the conversations are casual, you also tell them this juicy bit that Source A or B told you. Your editors tell you the dreaded phrase: “That’s a story.”

As a Rappler, you are now tasked to probe further, present further proof, gather from multiple sources, etc. Others don’t necessarily have to, because they treat the juicy bit as one of the many tales that will be untold to the public and that reporters have been used to from sources their familiar with.

Alam rin namin ‘yan (We also know that),” they would say about Rappler’s stories. Thing is, for a story to see print, you need to work on it. Most importantly, your editor needs to approve its publication. There are many extra steps to make sure the juicy tale only a small pack of journalists knew reaches the public they serve. And when they fail to do so, boy do you see regret in an editor’s eyes.

Space and airtime is too precious to be squandered. Not every story is told. Prioritizing sometimes means some voices are not heard.

In the end, newsroom management is still the most important factor in ensuring important stories see the light of day.

For example, Rappler back then assigned reporters dedicated solely to non-traditional beats such as environment, labor, science and technology, etc. While others also covered labor or the environment, these beats are usually lumped together with other beats geographically close to the department’s office or are part of general assignments. Pia Ranada, before becoming Rappler’s reporter to the Presidential Palace, was a long-time reporter focusing solely on environmental issues. Her environment stories have won her several awards as well. While other news agencies had reporters who covered the labor department lumped together with the health department, Rappler had a reporter solely covering labor issues and another solely covering health issues.

Rappler’s reportorial beats as I remember were issue-based more than geographic. That’s a crucial newsroom decision that made sure there was focus on underreported stories caused not necessarily by a lack of responsible journalism but by journalism as it has come to be structured. Status quo works for many, but it can be made better.

When I was Rappler’s anti-graft court reporter, a justice who I saw at lunch with a defense lawyer walked up to me after and said that the scene I just saw was nothing. He told me rather defensively that the conversation was only polite pleasantries, as they saw each other in the hall. For the record, I wasn’t asking him. I was starving and busy with my lunch. Hindi kita inaano, justice. But he came up to me anyway to explain what was it all about.

“Of course!” I realized to myself. I was standing on the shoulder of giants. He was concerned of his behavior.

But isn’t that what journalism is supposed to be?

Aren’t government officials supposed to shudder when they know they have or at least appeared to have crossed some line? They’re not supposed to just laugh with you, confide with you obviously questionable acts and expect no repercussions, much less talk over you. Too much familiarity gives them the opportunity to do that. But your stories – which reflects your integrity, credibility, and sometimes just pure and simple guts – is what prevents them from doing that.

Rapplers allegedly see dubious intents where there is none. But isn’t that the beauty of vibrant press? That there is a voice that keeps government officials on their toes?

They are indebted to the people with explanations. When you press a government official for answers, you’re not doing it for yourself. You’re asking in behalf of readers who deserve to know.

If all the allegations about the supposed dark agenda of Rappler is true, Maria Ressa would have to be one heck of a con artist to have fooled us all at Rappler. For in my rather short three happy years of employment with Rappler, I have never felt so free as a writer especially in comparison to the many horror stories I’ve heard from my peers in the industry.

At Rappler, my story pitches were valued, even if it meant my employer had to shell out a few more resources for my travel and the time I spent on that story away from my daily reportorial tasks.

As a cub reporter, I told my editors I wanted to write about corruption in medicine procurement. They let me. About handline fishermen who spent long days at sea for very little pay. About their wives who waited and cried for their absence. They gave me the opportunity to do these pitches and guided me along the way.

When they felt that I lost track and got drowned by the daily routine of the work, that I was no longer pitching stories the way I did, they called me to the office for a one-on-one talk. Those were fun times. Imagine your editors telling you, “We want more than the daily news!” Other reporters I know would love to have the opportunity to do more than the daily news.

It is hard to find a company that lets you do that. Or, to depersonalize this a bit, it is hard to find a news company that would invest in stories that matter but will probably not sell. Rappler has always been doubted. It was the new kid in the block. It challenged the way big business works, the way news has been delivered.

I no longer work at Rappler and have nothing to gain saying these things. Of course, you are free to question my bias. That is the beauty of a democracy. I wish Rappler will be accorded the same when it questions government policies and officials’ behavior.

After work hours on the very same day that a colleague in the beat asked me about Rappler’s funding sources, I confronted my editor about it. Yes, I was that kid who would just ask away. I’d like to believe I still am. I just learned through the years to ask with more tact. I’d still like to believe my unintentional tactlessness had helped me in my earlier years.

As taught in journalism school, the best way to explore an issue is to go directly to the people involved.

My editor kindly explained things to me that evening. This was years ago, but what they told me then are the very same things they tell the public today. There was only one difference. At that time, Rappler had an angel investor. My editor gave me the name of the angel investor at that time.

The next day, I went to my beat with a piece of paper with that name written on it and gave it to the colleague who asked. What a kid I was. “That’s just a name,” he said when I shared the name.

Rappler has since disclosed to the public all investors including the previously undisclosed angel investor. To this day, that is the same name I see in Rappler’s disclosures online.

Many in Rappler’s workforce may still be trying to navigate the ins and outs of their jobs. But that is where their model works. Because that seemingly lost kid has an editor who is a friend more than a boss. That relationship dynamics makes it work.

There is a veteran editor with decades of experience who has lived through it all in their younger years. You gotta be in constant communication with her. Yes, the editor is usually a woman.

When I tell my editor about a particular story I’d like to write, she tells me a similar story she’s worked on in the past. Right there is an automatic contextual reference about the cyclical nature of the social issue you’re tackling in your story. Their experience and your idealism mix well together. You actually talk about the story before publication. You don’t just see the revisions in publication.

It is in fact in the interest of the company – an online-only news distribution channel – that their reporters be digital natives. Hashtags and visual elements are second nature to them. This is not a trait that makes them automatically better as reporters. It is, however, a trait that provides them with tremendous advantage in the age of increased usage and consumption of digital media.

This week, Pia engaged in yet another tense exchange with the president in one of his press conferences. The president was irate about Rappler’s story alleging his aide Bong Go’s intervention in a military deal.

Sumobra kayo (You crossed the line),” the president said harshly.

The National Press Club also argued in a statement that Rappler’s closure will not curtail press freedom because Rappler is just one of many voices in the Philippine press. Countless others will remain to exist even without Rappler.

I remember jokingly asking the late investigative Rappler journalist Aries Rufo, “Who are you taking down next?” during one of his rare appearances in the office.

At that time, an anti-graft court justice he wrote about for supposed ties with an alleged plunderer had just been sacked. With the humility he has come to be known for, he just told me, “I don’t bring them down. They do that by themselves. I just write.”

In many ways, Rappler’s reporters… well, they just write.*

Life, journo lessons at 26


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Having worked in multiple newsrooms of varying platforms (online, broadcast, print), I have learned that many times judgments are thrown at one newsroom to another profusely and rather unfairly. Many times these generalizations are all a matter of not being able to understand the nuances of another form or another audience, of over-appreciating your own (Groupthink theory), and of looking down on work that is not yours and devaluing the pains it took for others’ work to be done (Ikea effect). I guess it’s true that you can’t really know unless you’ve been there.

As I hit the pause button (deadlines here and there!), I reflect on the following lessons in life and journalism, which I’m packaging yet again as self-reminders, lest people think I’m making them beholden to my own standards:

(1) There is always Groupthink at work. Try being a devil’s advocate in your group. It makes you better as a person, and it tests if the group is one you would want to stay with. Openness to criticism is a trait required of people whose jobs it is to point out loopholes and problems in status quo.

(2) The things that make you respect a newsroom/newsroom managers/editors are things rarely brought out in the open. Prevailing perceptions can deceive. I’ve worked for an editor who has a bad reputation among reporters, but who only really wants to get the work done and has the readers in mind. Despite the grudges they hold, reporters are better for it.

(3) Judge by the output. One can be an over-sharer. One can be timid. One can be the party-pooper and the other its life. One can be a total ass, but that’s another story. Point is, many personality traits are not mutually exclusive with competence. One can be many things but be very competent. Noise is just noise. It’s loud, but it’s not a report.

(4) The same goes with all the behind-the-scenes coverage chatter. They draw attention to you during coverage, but readers and viewers don’t benefit from that.

(5) Learn to say things with love. Our days are all important, so don’t ruin another person’s.

(6) In journalism as in life, avoid gossips. Fact-check. Do not believe rumors you haven’t verified direct from a person involved. Gossips drain the energy out of you. It has no added value in your life, and it’s just not good journalism. I’ve seen and heard some terrible, rock-bottom behavior for example of one person saying this about another, of one treating another this way, etc. from all sorts of people from different newsrooms and from different government agencies. I don’t go around telling others how bad these people are. It doesn’t make me better than them by doing so. I just think, it shouldn’t define them. Maybe they had a bad day. Maybe they didn’t get enough sleep. I extend whatever benefit of the doubt I can give. If it’s unverified anyway i.e. you don’t have the entire context of what happened, there’s absolutely no point judging based on it. By gossiping around over some unverified claim, you define that person in a small way. You create a narrative that is unfairly sown together. Okay, this is now becoming long and winding. Just don’t gossip. Ask the person directly. Be polite in doing so. Probe with a good intention. They can lie about it or if they happen to be mere victims of lies thrown around, they can clarify things to you and then you learn something new about them. Even if they lie, you’ve done your due diligence.

(7) Cultivate good relationships at home. When work gets tough, you don’t need to stress out.  You know you have a wonderful group of people you call home and that you’re at work because of and for them. Of course, it will always be “para sa bayan” (for the country) or “para sa readers” (for the readers). But sometimes, in the most dreadful of times, the concept of “the nation” or “the public’s interest” just won’t cut it. Believe me. Posibleng ma-burn out kahit gaano mo kamahal ang ginagawa mo.

(8) Gender bias and inequality exists. It just does. If she achieves something, there will be people attributing that success to something other than competence and hard work. A woman will be judged by her looks. No matter how well she is positioned in society, her protruding teeth will still be an issue to others. Some will respect that she just wants to get things right but to many she’s a bitch. I’m raising these examples, because these are things I actually routinely hear people say about women.

(9) Finally, at 26, I’ve learned that some people who are really good at what they do are really, really terrible human beings. It doesn’t mean you won’t learn anything from them. It just means that when your conscience is clear and your intentions are good, you get additional impetus to be better than they are. Take the good, leave the bad. To borrow a phrase from Tina Fey, you just go “over, under, and through.” Kebs lang, bes. Deretso lang. By deliberately pulling others down, these people are investing in their own downfall. Karma is the universe screwing up people who screw other people over. Once you’ve gone over and through their nonsense, you’re in a better position to influence others to not be like them.*

Instead of murder

Each with their own two cents, many on my social media feed are enraged because of the sudden surge of killings of suspected drug pushers and users.

A lot has been said about how the killings seem isolated to a single class – i.e. the country’s poor. The rich ‘drug lords’ in their gated communities somehow seem immune from this brand of (in)justice, as if poverty makes a man’s life of less worth.

Insiders point out that those killed are the small-scale dealers who can lead us to the big-time drug operators and the men in uniform who protect these operations.

Given the promised “cleansing” underway that catapulted President-elect Rodrigo Duterte into power, fear of getting caught and having their large-scale underground money-making ventures brought to a halt pushed them one step ahead. What better way to silence potential witnesses than not having them at all?

Online, there is aggressive talk about how murder registers as a crime regardless of who commits it and who it is committed against.

Likewise, perhaps alarmingly so, there is increasing sentiment justifying the killings from supporters of this so-called new era of a drug-free, crime-free Philippines.

Labels are powerful because they define.

Criminals. Scum of the earth. Lawless elements.

But definitions are always abstract until they become personal.

Until it is a loved one trying a hit. “Talk to him, because he listens to you,” a request is made.

Until you learn that in your own social circle people have struggled with addiction. “I have lost a partner to shabu,” another one tells you.

Until you are not alone.

The labels become more nuanced. You try to mentally and emotionally navigate the best you can the grey areas.

The literature is fascinating.

Author Johann Hari – the controversial British columnist who had lifted quotes of his interviewees from their past interviews and books but made it appear the words were said to him – argues in his comeback book Chasing The Scream that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but connection.

He talked to a crack dealer, a scientist, a hitman from a Mexican drug cartel, a homeless addict, etc. He makes recordings of the interviews available on the Web.

“They taught me, in their different ways, that when we give in to our anger towards addicts, or drugs – and there’s some of it in all of us – the problem only gets worse; and when we choose a deep kind of love, the results can be amazing,” Harris writes for The Guardian.

Compassion and courage are contagious, he writes further.

Alix Spiegel, who has covered psychology and human behavior for the NPR for a decade now, has written about the state-sponsored study on heroin-addicted US soldiers deployed to the Vietnam War during the Nixon presidency. Almost all of them (95%) returned to the US and lived sober lives upon return.

A change in environment provides a strong impetus for a change in human behavior because of the human tendency to “outsource control to our environment,” it’s explained in her NPR piece.

And then there’s the famous Rat Park study showing that signs of the rats’ dependence on morphine withered in the presence of distractions. Rats preferred plain water over morphine-laced water when there were other activities they could do inside their rat cage.

Scientific consensus on these things may be hard to come by, but they are worth sharing. The point is that humane interventions exist.

In the Philippines, big-time drug operations continue to prey on victims of drug abuse, who are often also the victims of social neglect, poverty, and difficult upbringings. The conversation surrounding drug dependency is deeply intertwined with class.

Even the small-time dealers are often driven by the need to put food on the table and the lack of a gainful employment, all while at the beck and call of operators driven by want and excess.

Who are we going after? Let’s go after all crooks, but give them all their due process rights accorded to them by the democratic Constitution our People Power revolutionaries so valiantly fought for.

The war on drugs is a complex policy debate and may be for another time or additional space to discuss.

But beyond that, we all know that violence perpetuates violence. One day it is a pusher, the next day it is a rapist, then a snatcher. All just suspected. Who comes next? When do we begin to look at them as father, brother, friend? Perhaps not ours, but definitely somebody else’s.

Each killing creates a new set of victims – a new widow, another fatherless child.

Each loss shapes another lived experience negatively, pitting the government against the poor, creating an us-versus-them mentality – a breeding ground for radicalism and distrust.

To practice a little compassion takes believing that a system will work, trusting that a reformed mind and body is possible.

It can seem hopeless.

Legal structures that punish perpetrators don’t seem robust enough while bureaucratic strains weigh heavy, making it an impossible task to weed out crime. Prosecutors know this first-hand.

The ugly truth lurks — that money and connection provide leverage to anyone seeking to circumvent rules or hammer on its loopholes. It makes you gravitate towards the side of doubt.

Overworked prosecutors aren’t paid enough. Asset forfeiture by the state more often than not comes too late that injustice prevails as far as the victims defrauded are concerned (with the Marcos heirs’ ill-gotten wealth as the biggest case study). There’s clogging in court dockets, perceived pressure by public prosecutors from superiors to approve indictments, and case delays. Witnesses need more protection not to fear disclosure of wrongdoing. Enforcement of existing laws is always a problem.

It really can become quite hopeless.

But if you’re a father and your son for some reason or another became a pusher or a substance abuser, will your solution be simply to have your son killed?

Closely evaluating the deeply jarring, impactful costs behind this sweeping vigilantism and reckless killings based on evidence unexamined by judicious arbiters, behind the lifeless bodies on the streets that bear cardboards labelled with alleged crimes, must move us to respect and pressure authorities to respect due process rights enshrined in the Charter of a democracy uniquely restored through a peaceful revolution.

Maybe we’re forgetting that these men are people like us, who may have been born into and grew up with a different set of circumstances that had led them to make these choices.

We know not how tough some difficult neighborhoods in this country can be, how survival sometimes means taking the wrong turns.

We are lucky some of us never had or have to make that choice in our lifetime.

This is not to justify pernicious actions and illegitimate acts. This is to say that a day in court means getting to know whatever mitigating factors there are which the court would deem worthy to be incorporated as it issues a verdict.

It may also mean that the innocent are spared, at least the best we know how.

When a family is willing to stick it out with their father in jail or in rehab – to continue their fantasy image of what a family is even with an incarcerated family member (as a number of Filipino families still do), to consider that as a more viable option over his death – then that family must have that chance and freedom to do so.

A day in court means a chance at rehabilitation, no matter how poor the system is.

Most of all, it means we will work towards improving that system – fairer good conduct and time allowance schemes for the imprisoned, drug prevention programs for the youth, or, as Harris argues, countering addiction with connections, preventing further violence, providing illegal substance dependents with distractions similar to the Rat Park study, and taking away stimuli or changing the environment that had driven them to substance abuse to begin with.

We should utilize these tools and other such interventions with everything we’ve got, instead of murder.

Design of the mind

The thing with strong-willed women is that everything’s a calculation, a careful reading based on (foreseen) outcomes and utility (including level of happiness derived). Undermining their choices easily becomes an offense. The will is strong because it is acting on a painstakingly crafted design of the mind. Actions predicated on design are hard to question, suppress.

Mistakes, heartbreaks are mere miscalculations, a ‘CE’ (Clear Entry) button to return to null and solidify future equations if need be, an inevitable part of the curve in learning what works and what doesn’t. We do the math each time.

Do we blank out? Does the memory registered clear? No, but the knowledge of that inability to truly ‘Clear All’ by the end of an operation was part of the equation to begin with. It’s those fingers trying to hit the buttons for a string of probabilities that make the game beautiful. Solutions, answers aren’t always expected but we’ll be damned if you get it right. Idyllic blurs and all.*


There are days I wish you came with a manual, the swings in your mood and sudden changes in your temperament explained, a life raft to hold on to when I’m drowning in your confusion. Sometimes, the urge to understand, the raging desire of the unsatisfied intellect naturally fizzles out. Most times, it’s just there, lurking in the dark corners and spaces between the unspoken words and unanswered questions of the night’s charade.

I have learned to embrace the ruggedness of my dimensions, the rough edges and sharp contours. I have yet to embrace yours.*


Leather scratching on bare skin / Causing swelling and a foul smell / Which you indulge in jest / But it does not amuse / Anger, you say, is the enemy / Holding on, you say, will not make it better /