THROWBACK: The fall of Camp Abubakar

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

The MILF flag is brought down after the seizure of Camp Abubakar. (Grab from ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol)

The MILF flag is brought down after the seizure of Camp Abubakar. (Grab from ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol)

[UPDATED] Camp Abubakar, a place firmly associated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the long-winded struggle for peace in Mindanao, no longer evokes the immense respect, fear or awareness it once did almost two decades ago.

Until the late 1990s, the camp was not just the stronghold of the rebel group but also its largest settlement and seat of its Shariah-based government.

Its territory stretched to tens of thousands of hectares (initial figures were 2,000, later stretching from 10,000-15,000; in some accounts, up to 32,000), covering the Maguindanao towns of Barira, Buldon, Matanog and Parang. Forests and bodies of water acted as natural barriers around the camp, augmented by trenches and tunnels dug by the MILF.

The group’s leaders—founder and chairman Salamat Hashim and then-military chief Al Haj Murad Ibrahim—lived and held office there. Abubakar contained a school, a training academy, a hospital, businesses, farms and markets, providing for the needs of its fighters and civilian residents.

The camp meant security for those claiming allegiance to the Bangsa Moro, but caution for the Christian locals and armed forces surrounding it. None dared approach or pass through.

All that changed on July 9, 2000 when Camp Abubakar fell into the hands of the Philippine military at the end of a two-month offensive. More than 20,000 residents were affected by the clash. Continue reading

No longer playtime: Why Pinoy sailors trained with ‘toy guns’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

 

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, PALAWAN—Ridiculous. Disturbing. Humiliating.

These were among the intense reactions to an image of U.S. and Philippine navy officers handling visually distinct rifles at a training exercise aboard combat ship USS Fort Worth docked outside Puerto Princesa City.

The beige-clad U.S. servicemen brandished jet-black high-powered weapons, while their Filipino counterparts in blue coveralls held brick-colored plastic rifles lent by their trainors.

The contrast in the shot was telling: clearly, one was the real deal and the other a synthetic replica for training purposes. The meaning, unsettling for some who saw it: Why didn’t all the sailors just use similar weapons?

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How 2015 USTV intro’d TV show winners

USTV Orchestra at the 11th USTV Awards 2015 (Grab courtesy of the USTV Awards)

(Grab courtesy of the USTV Awards)

The past USTV Awards often played a recording of the theme music of winning TV shows as they were announced. This 2015 the organizers went a step further and had them performed live–with an orchestra to boot!

For any staff or on-cam talent of these shows, hearing familiar tunes played by a band surely makes receiving the awards extra special. One of them even remarked, “Nakakaiyak naman iyong intro.”

It will end up a little-noticed detail of the 11th USTV Awards, which gave awards of excellence to 4 shows from ABS-CBN and 3 from GMA 7 for winning the student body’s award 5 or more times.

Still, live musical intros are something we have yet to see in local TV awards shows. And this from a school-based award-giving body!

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When no news is good news

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

PDRRMC press con in Ilagan City after Chedeng (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

PDRRMC press con in Ilagan (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

ILAGAN CITY, ISABELA–“Sorry, guys, wala kayong maireport…”

It wasn’t pity or something sinister. No one lost a scoop nor was anything swept under the rug.

Jessie James Geronimo, information officer of Isabela province, was actually in good spirits giving this aside to national reporters at the briefing of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and local officials in the capitol.

Geronimo’s reason for saying so: “…Because we did our job.”

Everyone at the briefing shared a laugh.

After all, there was a grain of truth to it. The reporters had nothing much to report—except that the province survived the onslaught of Typhoon Chedeng (a.k.a. Maysak) a day earlier without a single casualty.

Interior Sec. Mar Roxas, in town for the meeting, smiled, exclaiming off mic: “Good news! Good news!”

In a country too used to rising death tolls after natural disasters, Chedeng left all with a sigh of relief.

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The view from Makati City Hall’s 21st floor

 By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Makati City Hall facade (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

It’s a sight familiar to many CEOs in Makati, yet also one any local government executive elsewhere would envy: The skyline of the city, as seen from the top office of the highest city hall in Metro Manila.

The coast stretches out on the far right. Low-rises fill the foreground, towered by the skyscrapers that have long given identity to the Philippines’ main business district.

The elements of the first represent the history and people of this 345-year-old town: churches, trees and decades-old apartment blocks.

The structures of the latter capture the progress this city has reached in the past half-century, with more office spaces and condominium units under construction.

This is the view that daily meets Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay, more known as Junjun, at his desk in the city hall’s 21st floor.

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Left behind at Mamasapano

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Remnants of the fight at the Mamasapano site (Shot by Gani Taoatao, ABS-CBN News)

Remnants of the fight at the Mamasapano site (Shot by Gani Taoatao, ABS-CBN News)

MAGUINDANAO—The fallout of the bloody clash of police and armed groups has long since extended beyond Barangay Tuka na Lipao, this now-infamous hamlet of one of the country’s poorest provinces.

The much-depicted wooden stilt bridge and the open cornfields it connects are again quiet. About a 15-minutes’ walk from the nearest highway, the scorching sun bears down on the scene, much as it did when shots peppered the place on the morning of Jan. 25 and ended the lives of 44 elite police commandos and at least 18 Muslim fighters and 5 civilians.

The fire, smoke and ammunitions continue, this time figuratively and turned loose in Manila. There, two congressional investigations continue to uncover how a top-secret police operation went haywire and whose decisions were to blame.

Beyond Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo the incident has spun a political crisis, altered the legacy of a popular president, rewritten the fate of contenders in the next elections and stopped in its tracks a piece of legislation that would affect more than 3 million Filipinos.

The "Fallen 44" being flown from Cotabato City. (Shot by Bernie Mallari, ABS-CBN News)

The “Fallen 44” being flown from Cotabato City. (Shot by Bernie Mallari, ABS-CBN News)

Yet down south, a town, province and region’s residents continue to reel from the impact of a shattered ceasefire and now live under the specter of a full-scale conflict that could again wreck their way of life. Continue reading

That time when journos got to be ‘biased’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Pope Francis in Tacloban, Leyte. (Photo by Damir Sagolj, Reuters)

Pope Francis in Tacloban, Leyte. (Photo by Damir Sagolj, Reuters)

When the spiritual leader of Roman Catholics the world over visits his biggest flock in Asia, expect coverage from the usually hardened and unrelenting local news media to cut slack on the bad news. Indeed, that’s what Filipinos saw and heard on their radios, TVs and devices for five days this January.

A number of enthusiastic (and at times giddy) reporters and commentators also punctuated the movements and activities of Pope Francis, who came here on both pastoral and state capacities.

“Ayan na, ayan na siya! (There, he’s coming!)” was the common response of some on the air as they annotated live images of the papal convoy as it moved to and from the Vatican mission a.k.a. the nunciature in Manila.

The aim to see Pope Francis in person landed the personal agenda of journalists, technical crews and production staff deployed to the locations in the pope’s itinerary. With cameras and smartphones in tow, their encounters showed up mainly on social media.

Also, like other Filipino Catholics who occupied the streets for the pope, some journalists themselves sought to get the pope’s attention, smile, touch or blessing—and to tell a story about the encounter. Some reporters even interrupted their live updates to shout greetings to him.

It was surely representative of the outpouring of emotion and affection in this country of 80 million Catholics that even reportedly stunned the pope. But as with the overly excited emceeing at the end of Pope Francis’s final Mass in Luneta, the on-air handling of the visit also reaps its own discussion.

The wall-to-wall coverage and program preemption was a given. A thing like this only happened in the Philippines every 10 to 20 years anyway. Add to that the immense popularity of the Argentinian pontiff, who has been a game-changer for the faith only less than two years since being elected Bishop of Rome.

Taking on the name of a saint of poverty, Pope Francis kept surprising observers by breaching the traditional confines of the papacy to embrace ordinary people. Behind the scenes, he has undertaken sweeping changes in the scandal-ridden bureaucracy of Vatican City.

Good side

With such a positive global image for one already dubbed a “rockstar” and the “people’s pope”, it was no surprise that the coverage of his Philippine trip highlighted the good side.

Of course, the visit had its mishaps, like the death of a volunteer in Tacloban after the pope’s Mass there, and heart-rending moments, like the philosophical question of a former child prostitute to the pope at a meeting with the youth. The news definitely reflected those scenes, but these did not dampen the largely festive spirit of the coverage. The impact of the reporting that came out was indeed a contrast to the provocative and controversial treatment usually seen on the nightly news. It was glowing and with some, short of fawning.

Seen another way, if it were done for any politician, the coverage would have been blasted as biased. Then again, rare are the personalities who could amass crowds without compelling them to come.

Such positivity—if it may be called such—is not unique to this papal event. Call it a five-day extended version of a Manny Pacquiao boxing match. We also see it yearly during the Traslacion of the Black Nazarene, where reports praise the risky devotion of the Filipino Catholic and reporters brave the throng to mount the anda carrying the image.

You will hardly find such stories in more secular nations like the United States. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United Kingdom in 2010, most of the complaints sent to the BBC were for “too much” or “too favorable” coverage.

Here in the Philippines, things spiritual and religious mark the calendar, impact nearly all media consumers and hardly raise eyebrows when they are celebrated on television.

A sense of reverence did characterize the months-long preparations for this event, on a scale even bigger than for the state visit of US Pres. Barack Obama in 2014. It ran parallel to arrangements for what authorities called their biggest security nightmare yet.

For many of them and many media workers, their visitor was not just any global newsmaker, but a person considered holy by millions of their countrymen.

Still, there were reminders from news bosses to take a more restrained tone to the coverage—in the words of one, to cover with “sobriety, sensitivity and dignity.” Above all, the journalists had to be well informed to begin with and to let their facts dictate their annotation, while also prioritizing the real sounds of the event.

Reactions

However, some audiences lamented the lack of depth in some instances of the coverage: the tendency to watch for the unexpected, the focus on Pope Francis’s actions and preferences over his message. This despite the pope making statements interpreted as hitting on same-sex marriage and artificial birth control, as well as corrupt politics in the Philippines. For someone who has been popularly quoted as saying, “Who am I to judge?” what, indeed, was the pope’s position on those subjects?

Others reacted to the reporting of other voices or sidelights they deemed unnecessary to the overall spirit of the pastoral visit: for instance, the rejoinders by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or LGBT community or the scene-stealing responsorial psalm reader at the Manila Cathedral Mass. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines had its own say: “More substance, please.”

Hugging children at the Meeting with the Youth in UST. (Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

Hugging children at the Meeting with the Youth in UST. (Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

And then there were questions that were unasked or unanswered during the duration of the event: how much of the bill were Filipinos footing for this event, what indeed happened to families and children living on the streets the pope passed through, and will that “good feeling” the country felt during those five days have any long-term effect?

If anything, Pope Francis from arrival to departure touched and rattled many aspects of Philippine society, from its ills to its potential for good. Nonetheless, foreseeing the enthusiastic greeting for him, the Pope reminded Filipino Catholics to direct their focus on Jesus Christ, whom he represented, and on the poor, whom he championed. The same would have held for journalists.

Appropriate or not, the experience of journalists encountering the pope face to face was an indirect way for those who had no chance to know what it was like. It also showed that media people were people and–for some–Catholics too. More importantly over the actual encounter though was how it was told.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in Manila that the pope considered journalists as “collaborators in spreading the good news,” with a “very important mission to spread the message.”

They may have been expected to report only the good side, and the overall feel of the coverage may have turned out that way. But journalists also have an obligation to report the proverbial other side–the neglected angles, the unpopular sentiments and even relevant facets that could sound contrary to the supposed “spirit” of the event. All nevertheless with the context to understand these.

Interviewing an early comer to the papal mass in Luneta. (Courtesy of Jeck Batallones)

Interviewing an early comer to the papal mass in Luneta. (Courtesy of Jeck Batallones)

One aspect of this episode that the pope might have appreciated more was reporting on the stories of the ordinary Filipinos who came to be part of history–or who were prevented from being part of it. While television zoomed the lens on the few who had personal contact with the pope, social media streamed snapshots and quotes of groups and individuals that endured the hassle and worsening weather just for a glimpse of him.

And beyond one’s own story or even that of the pope, it was still a bigger but fulfilling challenge to tell the tales of the people loved by the “Pope of the Peripheries”.

(With special thanks to Karla Thea Omelan and Carolyn Bonquin)

OTHER READS:

Stranded in Cainta

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Sept 20 Crossing Cainta by Anjo

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Our strides were slow, taking care not to slosh the water in large ripples. The rain had stopped past midnight, but the water in the dimly lit highway rose further up our limbs as we walked on. The occasional ten-wheeler drove by, making waves and raising howls from people who like us were wading through the flood in a single file.

“I can’t remember the last time I walked this deep in water,” said anchorwoman Ces Drilon.

She had been reporting live for Bandila from an upslope part of the Ortigas Avenue Extension in Cainta, Rizal. It was our broadcast point the whole afternoon and evening, trapped between two impassable pools of water caused by monsoon rains strengthened by Tropical Storm Mario.

Ces and her staff’s only hope of returning home lay in a Ford 4×4 Ranger sporting a snorkel. The Ranger also carried food and water for our Electronic News Gathering (ENG) van team, which expected to stay for the night.

Noel Padernal often hauls plastic and metal junk on his pedicab. The rains did not stop him from finding a means to earn. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Noel Padernal drives a pedicab through the flood. He usually hauls plastic and metal junk with it. The rains did not stop him from finding a means to earn. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

But the Ranger could no longer park. The pileup of stranded trucks at the upslope already extended to the water. The driver could not risk stopping his crew cab in the flood to wait. Before long, he turned and drove back to dry road at the Ever Gotesco mall a kilometer away.

Ces had no extra boots, only sneakers. Then again, donning boots would not keep the thigh-deep water out of her jogging pants. With time ticking and no dry options in sight, Ces, her producer Ferdie and researchers Irish and Niño shrugged and stepped into the water.

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SLIDESHOW: Zambo evacuees a year on

ZAMBO EVAC 25

ZAMBOANGA CITY– For many locals who fled their homes during the height of the clashes between government troops and the Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front in September 2013, this has been their residence for the past 12 months.

The open-air Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex has sprung its own community in that time, with the evacuees there building their daily routines on the makeshift cabins and amenities there.

They are now a fraction of the original 110,000 occupants of the stadium, with new arrivals from tents at the bayside. Those who already left returned to the affected barangays, others to temporary shelters in four areas in the city.

City Hall says the sports complex will be vacated by December, the evacuees to transfer to these so-called “transitional sites”.

For now, they continue to pray, play and survive in a village that’s not theirs. They fear not the specter of another armed siege, but of carrying on life with no permanent means to sustain it.

Read more about the evacuees here.
Many thanks to Chito Concepcion, whose camera was used to take these shots.

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Waiting for a permanent address

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Muslim refugees pray at a makeshift mosque at the Joaquin F Enriquez Sports Complex in Zamboanga City. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

ZAMBOANGA CITY–The midday call to Muslim prayers blares from a megaphone atop a tent of donated canvas.

Inside on plastic matting, no more than ten men stand, sit, and bow, doing the positions of the salah. Their muddied slippers and sandals wait outside. One man hurries to wash his head, upper body, and limbs with water from a soft drink bottle—the ritualistic cleanse before going in to pray.

The makeshift masjid or mosque stands unnoticeably amid more tents and shanties at the grounds of the Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, just a walk near the bay.

It’s the city’s main stadium, but for the tens of thousands of locals here, this has been their house, playground, workplace, and village for the past year.

They once lived in barangays like Rio Hondo, Santa Catalina, and Santa Barbara. But a three-week-long firefight between soldiers and rebels that began exactly 12 months ago razed their communities, left hundreds dead, and forced them from their homes and livelihood.

Here at the grandstand, the year that passed hosted an endless cycle of status quos and struggles for survival. For some, it’s only gotten worse, with no end in sight.
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