HACIENDA LUISITA, TARLAC–The image says a lot: the head of state undergoing the same motions ordinary people go through, in the very process that made him one.
Only Pres. Noynoy Aquino now comes to the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Elementary School on election day accompanied by a bevy of aides and security. As anywhere, he is trailed by a horde of cameras.
Getting around for him is never private and even the most basic tasks are guarded. Limits also bind us covering the chief executive.
Our flyaway team arrived at the school the day before. After a courtesy call with the principal Mr. Hipolito who was lounging outside, we were allowed to set up.
The Grade 1 class spaced around 5 by 5 meters and housed 9 kid-sized blue seats. PNoy voted in the very room last May, so we had an idea how the drill would go.
Former President Cory Aquino also voted at the school, Mr. Hipolito told us. But not in that room, which was the newest building there.
We unfurled our giant dish, sat the audio-video controls in the preschool room a few meters nearby, and rolled out cables anticipating our camera positions.
An advance party from Malacañang was meeting with school and Comelec officials while we set up–the best hint if the President is due to any place.
We learned the rules before everyone else:
- No cameras inside the room except for two close-ins from the Palace.
- Other cameramen could only shoot from outside the classroom back window, which gave a frontal view of the President as he filled out his ballot.
- Reporters and the rest could not cross the fence in front.
It was clear where the President would be driven to, where he would walk, enter, sit, and leave. If he would talk to reporters after, we had no idea if and where until a few hours before.
“Stand by, andyan na siya (he’s there)!”
Our 2 cameramen readied their places by 10 o’clock the next morning. ANC would air our shots live once they saw the president. Edgar had the shot of the black BMW and the President as he arrived.
Reporter Jenny Reyes’s cameraman, Ferdie, took it from the inside. PNoy, his sister Ballsy, and nephew Jiggy went straight in and lined up for their ballots. He filled it out on the middle seat reserved for him since morning.
Never mind the scrambling and jostling among the crowd and cameramen–the live shots were as clean as they could get.
PNoy walked to the principal’s office afterward where he called a press conference. Ferdie unplugged his camera from our cable, rushed there, and connected to another one our engineer had laid out.
The President’s comments aired live.
Because we came a day early, we got to know school officials and Palace contact persons. Coming just hours before a scheduled out-of-town coverage and setting up with no coordination can be rude.
Yet even with all the coordination, the President’s protection can complicate things.
Palace security kept questioning our moves, like setting up a small mike inside the voting room to catch the ambient sound. Our Malacañang press office contact had to explain for us.
Soon after the President’s convoy sped away, things wound down. Jenny and Ferdie left to wade through the flooded town of Paniqui, which would not vote that day.
The hacienda residents continued to vote as our fly away team took the opportunity to rest. No more disruptions until TV Patrol.
The effort to deliver an image can overwhelm. All for thirty minutes of an event that once every 3 years depicts our growing, continuing democracy.
*Adapted from “Tracking the Ballot,” tag of the Philippine Collegian’s student election coverage in the University of the Philippines Diliman.