Family of father killed by unidentified gunmen waits beside his body for the arrival of police SOCO in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Manila Night Prowl #3: Dead dad, no motive

By Anjo Bagaoisan

A woman cries upon seeing her father shot by unidentified gunmen in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

Arnaldo Dela Cruz’s eldest daughter cursed and shrieked when she looked at the dead man lying on the road to her house and recognized him as her father.

She was on her way home at 4 a.m. and passed through the line of twine used to mark out the crime scene. With bystanders and media men watching, she wondered aloud who the body beside a fallen motorcycle was.

When she saw the face, she exclaimed: “P*******, si Tatay!”

Shaking and crying, she walked back, this time around the twine on her way to the other side. The rest of her family was already there. They already knew.

She appealed to the police officers: “Ba’t ayaw niyo itakbo sa ospital, kuya? (Why don’t you bring him to the hospital?)

No one replied.

Gloria Dela Cruz talks to her crying daughter outside police line where Gloria's husband lay shot by unidentified gunmen in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

Gloria, her mother, met her with an opened umbrella. It had begun to drizzle. Even she could not calm her.

The daughter told Gloria: “Ma-re-revive pa yan! Kaysa hayaan niyong nakahiga diyan! (He could be revived instead of letting him lie there)”

“Sino’ng bumaril diyan (Who killed him)?” she said after squatting on a garage ramp.

No one knew the answer.

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Manila Night Prowl #2: That escalated quickly

By Anjo Bagaoisan

Police look on at police line surrounding two dead motorcycle riders killed in encounter on Pasay City. August 12, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A text message arrived past 1 a.m., August 12. We followed it to Don Carlos Village, a strikingly familiar area in Pasay City. Wasn’t someone killed there the week before? (Yes, there was.)

All we knew then was that two were dead. The rest we had to find out onsite or through the policemen there.

When media workers arrive on such a scene, the body is usually untouched and the story often complete–courtesy of the leader of the police operation.

If you’ve followed these stories for days on end since July, the narrative can become familiar. Drug buy-bust gone wrong. Or killed by unidentified gunmen. Or dead body left wrapped up with a note.

Then there are days when reporters still have to piece together what happened in bits and pieces as the details arrive. And unlike the usual stories, the plot suddenly twists and thickens in an hour or two.

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Duterte surrounded by crowd and cellphone cams as he arrives to vote at Daniel Aguinaldo High School in Davao (Shot by Dong Plaza, ABS-CBN News)

Waiting for Digong

Crowd waiting for Rodrigo Duterte to cast his vote in Davao City Daniel Aguinaldo High School (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

DAVAO CITY— The Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School hardly saw a crowd in its grounds like the one that descended outside Precinct 216 on the afternoon of May 9, election day.

It was like a mob waiting for a rock star. Many of them dressed in red and raising fists and cheers at broadcast cameras, people were jockeying alongside media and police for a view.

Precinct 216, a room labeled Aster (after the flower), was one of 14 clustered voting precincts in the school where 90,000 Davaoeños would vote.

As the noontime heat gave way to afternoon shade, fewer voters came to vote in the precinct. Still, the rush of people who wanted to see the precinct’s most famous voter did not end. The rest of the school gradually emptied, except for the area surrounding the bungalow classroom.

Some had arrived since morning, others after they cast their own votes. They were pointing cell phone cameras at the scene, on themselves, or on familiar faces from the national media, hoping their angle would capture the moment they saw him.

Couple waits for Duterte in Davao City precinct before he casts his vote (Shot by Dong Plaza, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Dong Plaza, ABS-CBN News)

The people here were waiting for Rodrigo Duterte, the man they believed would be president. And as the minutes of that fateful day passed, it was not just in Davao.

Everyone across the nation awaited him.

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Duterte-Cayetano wall mural in Davao City (Shot c/o Melchor Zarate)

Countdown to the end game in Duterte-land

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Davao City private billboard supporting mayor Rodrigo Duterte's presidential bid

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

DAVAO CITY— In the city of pomelos and durians, it’s business as usual under the scorching sun.

The streets bustle only with the rush-hour jams of vehicles driving under the mandatory 30-kph speed limit. Pedestrians shy away from the elements at high noon, except for the occasional street hawker peddling beads.

If not for the campaign posters that sparsely dot this city, you would hardly notice that it’s election season.

It still qualifies as quiet here, much as it was in the days that led to an election that has elevated Davao City and its most famous resident to national and international prominence.

Common poster area at Davao City for 2016 elections

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The quiet is also characteristic. This city has gained a reputation as a blueprint for where 16 million Filipinos think the Philippines should be.

But the tranquility masks the mix of anxiety and excitement here, as it did during the countdown to the May 9 vote.

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‘Harapan Na!’ A primer to the PiliPinas town hall debate

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

PiliPinas Debates 2016 logo (courtesy ABS-CBN)

DAGUPAN CITY, PANGASINAN–For one last day, all roads in the 2016 race for Malacañang will converge here.

At a basketball-court-sized covered quadrangle in the center of the Phinma University of Pangasinan, lights, columns, speakers and streamers have risen over the stage that will bring together Jejomar Binay, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe and Mar Roxas for a final appeal to voters.

ABS-CBN technicians and set assembly crews were the first at the campus early Thursday, selecting and securing spots for their set-ups in Sunday’s big event.

Students at the U-Pang continued on with their classes, occasionally sneaking glances at the court and casually passing through the piles of equipment as if no hauling was going on.

Venue of the PiliPinas 2016 Town Hall debate (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The venue. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Still absent are the touches of politics that will pervade this area during the weekend. No colors, posters or supporters.

But the school residents know all eyes will be on their school when all these arrive, more so the objects of all this support.

At a stairway, one student watches snippets of the last Comelec-sponsored debate on his phone. A duo of communication majors go around the school’s food court asking people they could interview their expectations on how the presidential candidates will perform.

Much indeed hangs on the April 24 debate hosted by ABS-CBN and the Manila Bulletin.

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#Halalan2016 starts here

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Live from Comelec Main, Day 1 of COC Filing 
209 days before Halalan 2016

Media flock the Comelec main office on the first day of COC filings for elections 2016 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

This week officially begins election season in the Philippines. It’s also the general elections–that time every six years where all posts from councilor to president of the republic are up for grabs.

It’s part-celebration, part-chaos, all-challenge.

The best preview of the atmosphere and the stakes is seen here at the Comelec main office in Intramuros, which opened its doors this week to people filing their certificates of candidacy (COCs) for national posts.

Despite efforts to put a sense of order, the road to 2016 still opened with drum bangs, hyped crowds, unruly shooters and comic cameos.

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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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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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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)

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